Uncle Tabby came in, sniffed the air and said, “Smells like a funeral .” Then he grinned, gold tooth flashing. Though I was in the corner wriggling, he flipped me a nickel.
He looked handsome, hair slicked back fine, pin-striped suit and bowler hat, a stiff white hanky folded in his pocket. I always thought Uncle Tabby was handsome, even if Mother said he associated with the lower sort—bootleggers and ladies in feather boas.
I squirmed under Martha’s pinching fingers. “Almost done, Carrie-Anne!” she cried. “There!”
Free at last! I clattered across the dining room floorboards into the hallway (my Sunday boots made the best kind of noise) and sped downstairs to the shop to spend my nickel.
Nobody was there but me. Everyone was wedding mad, even Florence and Binny and Mr. Tulane. But the emptiness didn’t take away the good smellingness—maple syrup, cherry medicine, cinnamon and peppermint sticks. Behind the shiny counter were tins of biscuits, tobacco tins, and a glass jar of hydrophosphates Martha used for polishing our silver. Mr. Tulane kept scarier things, too, hidden in back—a whole lizard suspended in formaldehyde and a big cat, stuffed, he shot himself in Tunisia. When John-boy was alive, we’d sneak back to peek, though if Mr. Tulane’d caught us he would’ve whipped us, and then let Mother take a turn after, too.
I popped the lid off the peppermint jar and slid my hand in, found the thickest two sticks and folded them in my hanky. One for me, one for John-boy, though he was dead. Only when they were concealed in the pocket of my dress did I slide the nickel across the counter. It scraped, reminding me it was going, like it didn’t want to leave.
With the scrape of that nickel, Mr. Tulane seemed to say, “You’ve been a good girl, and today’s Gilda’s wedding. Go on and take the peppermints. Don’t worry about the nickel.” But I wondered if it still counted, him not being there to tell me in person.
The peppermint sticks were already in my pocket. Even if he arrived right that moment, he wouldn’t see them. And nobody counted the peppermints in the jar. It wasn’t real stealing taking what nobody would miss.
I reached across the counter and snatched back the nickel.
On the stairs I ran into Binny, bounced off her like hitting a pillow.
“Well, where’re you going so fast, Miss Carrie-Anne?”
“Up to my sister’s wedding.”
“Well, aren’t we all, but—”
I didn’t let her finish. I raced up the stairs. If it’d been Mother on the stairs, she would’ve yelled, “Horsefeathers!” and pulled me by the ear. But Binny’s nerve was about as soft as her belly and she let me go with a shake of her head.
Mother was in a greater flurry upstairs. “Mr. Connor is late with the motor!”
Uncle Tabby sat in a gilt dining chair, one leg folded over another, picking his nails. “You could use my motor, honey. You know it. Now stop acting like a half-baked xanthochroid and take me up on the offer.”
Mother’s heels dug into the carpet. “You know how I feel about your motor.”
Tabby shrugged. “Just saying, it’s there for the taking.”
My hand was in my pocket, my finger tracing one smooth stick of peppermint. Occasionally it’d brush Tabby’s nickel and remind me how rich I was. “I’ll ride in your motor, Uncle Tabby.”
Tabby pulled me onto his lap. He smelt of chewing tobacco and liver oil. “That’s my big girl.”
Mother bristled. “Tabby, you’re lucky to be invited to this wedding at all. Now you behave yourself.”
“What am I doing?” Tabby cried. “Enjoying my niece is what I’m doing. Of course she can ride in her favorite uncle’s motor car. It’s mine fair and square.”
Mother muttered something but didn’t argue. Tabby’d won this time. Now I’d get to ride in Tabby’s Continental.
“You’ll sit up with me, like a queen, all right, Carrie-Anne?”
I nodded and Mother blew out her breath.
A horn blared from the street.
“Mr. Connor!” Mother darted to the window. “Oh, thank God.” She crossed herself. “All right, Carrie-Anne, help with the flowers. Martha!”
We’d almost finished loading and I’d only spilled one vase of water onto the carpet, when Binny came hovering at Mother’s elbow. Tabby’s motor and Gilda’s wedding went out of me in one big whoosh. The peppermints in my pocket stuck out at odd angles and the nickel gleamed through the thin material of my dress like one of them lighthouses down by the pier.
“Mrs. Jaspers, I know this is not the most convenient time, but could I…?” Binny’s voice trailed and I hated her for it.
“What is it, Binny?” Mother was always gentle with Binny, because Binny wanted to be married but couldn’t, and Mother felt sorry.
“In private?” Binny scooted towards our house steps.
The nickel burned my fingertips. Maybe if I took the peppermint sticks out real slow, I could drop them in the gutter without Mother seeing. Maybe a motor’d run over them and crush them to smithereens and nobody would know what an evil girl I was.
“Ready for that ride?” Uncle Tabby scooped me in his arms like a baby.
“Just a moment.” Mother raised a finger. She and Binny were speaking in voices too low for me to hear. “Carrie-Anne, Binny would like a word with you. It’ll only take a moment.”
I would’ve liked Uncle Tabby to bear me away in his strong arms. I would’ve kissed his handsome cheek if he had. But he set me down on the pavement and said, “Oh, a secret meeting. Titillating,” and winked at Binny.
She took my hand, cheeks flaming, and marched me down the stairs. My knees wobbled when I saw the peppermint jar with the lid off.
I reached into my pocket to give up the peppermint sticks and the nickel, my tongue sizzling with the apology I’d have to say and all the Hail Marys later.
Binny rummaged in the jar and pulled out two peppermint sticks. She held them out.
“It’s your sister’s special day, isn’t it, Carrie? I know how much it must hurt not to have John-boy here. I thought a peppermint might help. One for you, one for him. But you know, you can eat his for him since he’s up there eating angelic ones.”
I took the peppermint sticks.
I took them and shoved them in my full pocket, though I’d never eat peppermint again, not ever, as long as I lived.
Thank you to Carrie-Anne for the three inspirational words for this story: hydrophosphates, xanthochroid and horsefeathers. If you're wondering why I'm writing short stories, click here.