Originally Published 08/31/2011

Sunlight poured through the mall skylight, throwing half of the recessed pool of benches into blinding afternoon and the other half into dark contrast. Cigarette smoke billowed through the light beams, obscuring the Maine state flag hanging from the roof. And there, on the dark side, sat the parents of Andrew and Anthony Bretton, waiting patiently as their little angels bankrupted them, buying disco records, trading cards, Smurf figures, black velvet Star Wars and Kiss posters and black-light bulbs. It was going to be a long Saturday.

Anthony especially always liked this section of the mall, down by Sears, because of the smells. In the middle, fresh smokes and butts smoldering away in sand in the pebbled ash cans. On the right, Hickory Farms and the beef sticks out front. And on the left, the Woolworths, which was two great smells in one, starting with the grill counter and moving on into the singular dime-store potpourri that was the store itself. He always insisted, upon threat of melt-down, to start and end his mall odysseys here.

He always wanted to eat at the Woolworths. It looked so cozy and grown up in there, with the lights low and the dark wood everywhere. The hot dogs, hamburgers and fries looked good, and he always wanted a Coke in a Coke glass. As it turns out, Anthony had an extra $5 tucked away.

While Andrew ran off to get a pretzel, six-year-old Anthony Bretton walked into the Woolworths restaurant and pulled himself up on a stool at the counter. A nice lady was cleaning the counter with a rag. She came over to Anthony, gave him a big smile and said, “Well, hello there, sir! Thank you for coming!”

Anthony, all grown up now, smiled back, pointed to a picture on a greasy menu and said, “Hello! I’d like a hamburger and fries, please! And a Coke in a Coke glass!”

The nice lady with the rag, taken aback by the sudden leap over the menu perusing stage, picked up a pad and a pen and wrote down the order. She smiled even bigger and said, “Yes sir! Right away!” She poured his Coke and put the order in the kitchen window. Anthony, well proud of his sudden independence, sat up a little more straight and looked around the restaurant to take stock.

Everybody was smoking in the dark, so Anthony was happy. In the back corner booth a boy and a girl were kissing each other, but they didn’t do it like his parents. They kept their lips locked together for a long time! Anthony thought about that, and thought about trying it with Becky Kelso.

Next to him at the counter was a man with thick glasses, a short-sleeve mustard yellow shirt and a thick brown tie. Anthony recognized him as the man that worked at the pet store. He was eating meatloaf very quickly and smoking between every bite. Anthony was going to say, “I know you from the pet store!” but the man put down money and left in a hurry. Maybe one of the guinea pigs is sick, Anthony thought, and blew bubbles into the Coke in his Coke glass.

Just then the nice lady with the rag set down his hamburger and fries and said, “Here you are, sir! I hope you enjoy! Can I get you anything else?”

Anthony replied, “No thank you!” proudly remembering his manners. He picked up a huge bottle of Heinz 57 Ketchup, lifted the bun on his burger and poured out a good size dollop, shaking the bottle and spraying a little on the counter. The nice lady with the rag cleaned it up, and gave him another Coke in a Coke glass.

He took a bite of his burger, and it was good! Juicy and perfect. He nibbled at his fries, and they were good too! He took a sip of Coke from his Coke glass and took a bite of burger, then a couple of fries. Anthony Bretton was finally eating at the Woolworths, and it was just as good as he thought it would be. He was enjoying himself so much he almost didn’t feel his father’s hand on his shoulder.

“Growing up awfully quick, aren’t we?!?” Albert Bretton said, holding back a bemused chuckle at his son’s intrepid streak. Anthony turned around, scared that he was going to get it. But when he saw his father smiling, he giggled and held up a fry. Dad, Mom and Andrew all pulled up stools and ordered, a bit behind the first arrival in their party.


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