Grandma, grandma sick in bed.
Called the doctor and the doctor said,
“Grandma, grandma you’re not sick,
All you need is a peppermint stick.”
I don’t know about peppermint sticks, but Grandma really likes those cancer sticks. That’s what my sister calls them.
I don’t like peppermint. It burns and takes forever to dissolve. But Grandma’s cigarette's gone in a few minutes. It gets short faster when she puffs on it. That's how the glow gets brighter and makes the white paper disappear. I watch as she talks and puffs and squints one eye to let the smoke go by. Her friends do too as they laugh and cough together.
“Go get me a pack of Marlboro 100s,” Grandma yells from our front porch, and I drop my jump rope onto the concrete. The other adults smile at me from our rusty metal chairs, holding their sticks, when Grandma hands over the money to me. “Bring me back the change, you hear?”
I hold it tight. Grandma thinks I’ll loose the money. But I won’t. She’ll see, just like a big kid. I don’t know why my sister doesn’t like to go to the store for Grandma anymore.
I run up the street to the corner store, and listen for the little bell to jangle again when I close the greasy door. Dust and that old wood floor smell dance in my nose with the nasty salami that's being sliced.
On one side is the refrigerator with butter, milk, eggs, and orange juice in it. A freezer next to this has ice cream and Popsicles packed into it. On the other side is the high counter with the huge slicer on top. I see luncheon meats and cheeses through the glass. It’s late Sunday morning and Bill’s & Joe’s isn’t too crowded.
There’s a lot of stuff on the shelves that reach the ceiling: tea, coffee, jars of baby food, bread crumbs, flour, sugar, Crisco, mayonnaise; cans of baked beans, vegetables, fruits, soups, condensed milk, Spaghetti Os, Beef-a-roni, chili; boxes of cereal, macaroni and cheese, baking soda and spaghetti noodles. There are even things hanging from the ceiling, like stuff you’d find on your dad’s work bench – if you still had a dad. Sometimes Grandma pulls stuff like this out of her big black pocketbook, like electrical tape, a screwdriver or pliers.
Next to the first counter is a smaller counter and behind it on the wall are the cigarettes. I can peek over this counter to see the smudgy apron of Joe. Or Bill. I never knew who was who. I always thought they were brothers, so it didn’t matter if you called them by the wrong name. Grandma does that to us kids, and we just answer. No one ever corrects Grandma. You just figure out who she means.
I guess the sticks are behind the candy counter because there's no room around the store to put them. The candy is inside a see-through belly like the meats and cheeses. While I wait to be served, I peek at Mallo Cups and Pixy Stixs. Wax soda bottles and Smarties.
“Yes?” Bill or Joe says stepping down from the cold cut area. I swallow and check to see if I still have Grandma’s money.
“A pack of Marlboro 100s, please,” I say, letting the coins peel themselves from my palm onto the counter.
“Soft or hard?”
“Hard pack, please.” I remember that from before, when Grandma got mad because I had brought home the wrong one.
I see Swedish Fish and Wax Lips.
Bill or Joe turns around and slaps a hand on the counter. “This is for your grandma, right?” His eyebrows were scary but his eyes aren't.
I nod, careful not to hit my face on the counter like last time, when the other Bill or Joe asked me and my sister this.
“Here you go.” He tosses the box onto the counter. “Matches?”
“Yes please,” I reply. Grandma always wants the matches.
“Wait for your change.” But I remembered and would have turned back even if he didn’t say something. “Here you go,” he adds, handing me different coins over that worn counter with its scratches and faded white streaks.
My hand is sweaty as I sprint home. But I won’t loose Grandma’s change. I squeeze tight until my nails dig into my palm and make a row of commas. The sticks I hold in my other hand tight, but not too tight; they'd be no good if I squished them. I run up the cement steps that still smell friendly from the rain last night. The black wrought iron gate complains as I swing it on its whiny hinges. Everybody must be inside getting something to drink.
“That you Elizabeth?” Grandma yells as I enter the vestibule.
“Yes Grandma,” I call back. Elizabeth’s my sister, but I know Grandma means me. Grandma must have been so busy talking that she didn’t see me come down the street. She usually is looking out one of the front windows – the one next to her chair. Grandma likes greeting people before they appear from the vestibule. Her voice booms greetings to friends and family. I'm proud to be one of them as I appear and hand over the things to Grandma. Her friends smile and say what a big help I am.
I sit on the floor near my grandma’s only leg. The warm breeze from the fan makes Grandma’s dress wave at me. This and the rubber smell from her crutches help me daydream so that I don’t eavesdrop on the adult conversation. I'm happy.