Concise Prose. Enough Said.
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A Moment To Remember

By Mark Williams

He looked scared. The teenage boy in front of me at the Food Mart couldn’t seem to stand still. He kept staring down at the floor and shuffling his feet, then, every minute or so, raising his head to see if anyone was watching him. What really got me to worrying though was that he appeared to be standing in line with nothing to buy. The weatherman had predicted a cold front bringing in sleet and freezing rain changing to snow overnight; as a result, every check-out line was packed with people and overflowing carts. The express lane that we were in was filled mostly with men like me who had received calls from their wives telling them to stop and pick up the essentials. Most of the men had milk and bread, but several did have their carts loaded with beer. I also spotted young Alex Carson near the back of the line. A newlywed from his June wedding, he was holding what appeared to be a large box of tampons and still enough in love to smile about it.

But the boy looked out of place. I felt I should have known him—just about every kid his age had been through my American History class—but I didn’t recognize him. I thought to myself, “What is an out-of-town kid doing here on a night like tonight.” That’s when I noticed he wasn’t really empty-handed. His left hand was buried in his coat pocket and I could tell he was holding something because a point kept coming up on the side of his coat as his hand moved around inside. I thought, “Surely he’s not going to rob the store with this many witnesses around,” but in my years of teaching high school I’ve seen and heard of kids doing stupider things.

I looked down in my hand basket to decide if I really had to have anything in it tonight. The Q-tips, cotton balls and nail polish remover I figured my wife could do without for a few more days, but she specifically told me not to forget the bananas because she needed them to make a pudding for the youth choir’s bake sale on Saturday. The next thing I knew a hand dropped a small gold-colored box into my basket and picked up my bananas. I looked up. The kid had turned to face me and he actually appeared to be trembling. I grabbed the box out of my basket, intending to give it back, when I saw what it was; the profiled logo of the Roman solider was unmistakable, as were the words ‘Ribbed for her Pleasure.’ I finally got a good look at the kid too: young enough that must have just started driving, a head full of red hair, a face full of pimples, and a set of ears that stuck out like opened car doors. His eyes were pleading with me. I guess I must have had a puzzled look on my face because he started giving his head quick little jerks to the side, wanting me to look toward the front of the store. I peered around him and saw an elderly man trying to get two carts unstuck. Around his neck was a stiff white collar. I’m sure it wasn’t really glowing; probably the fluorescent lights just made it look way. I understood, that was the reason I didn’t know the kid; he went to the Catholic school. I smiled at the boy and gave him a single nod. A look of relief washed over his face.

I stood there holding that box and remembering. When I was a teenager there were only two places in town you could buy condoms. One of them was Miller’s Pharmacy on the corner of Elm and Main, but the cashier there, Martha Johnson, knew every mother in town. The other was a machine in the men’s room at Harold’s Full-Service Gas Station, out by the interstate on-ramp. I never really understood why it was called Harold’s because the man who ran it was named Gus. Anyway, that dispenser must have been a gold mine over the years; Gus would only stock one of three selections at a time and he knew that no kid would complain if the machine took their money without paying off. So, every year a new handful of boys would ride the six miles out of town on their bikes to feed the machine. I was fourteen when I made the trip. It took me three tries and more than two dollars in quarters before I heard that tiny thump in the tray after I pulled the knob; that’s in addition to the Coke and Moon Pie I bought to act like I was there on legitimate business. The one I eventually got was lime green and I carried it in my wallet so long that it caused a faded ring to wear into the leather.

Me and Jody Banks and Frankie Roberts and Bobby “Stinky” Jaworski, whose greatest achievement in school was clearing ten rows of a bleacher during a pep rally, the four of us would sit in a booth at the Dairy Queen on Saturday afternoons, take the rubbers out of our wallets, pass them around and admire them. None of us dared open one to see what it looked like unrolled; we would just sit there and talk about which girl we would eventually use ours on. I wished for Donna Hawkins. She use to sit in front of me in science class and ever since she had started wearing a bra, I had been madly in love with her. Years later I saw her at our high school reunion, all three hundred pounds of her, trying to pass out Re-Elect Reagan bumper stickers. Thank goodness for small miracles; my daddy had told me he would leave me out of his will if I ever married a republican.

A voice brought back from my reverie.

“Why Mathew, what a pleasant surprise. How is your mother recovering after her surgery?”

Well, Mathew must have still been pretty scared because his voice really cracked when he answered. “Much better, Father Thomas. She thinks she’ll be well enough to make it to Mass next Sunday.”

I had to bite the side of my mouth to keep from laughing.

Father Thomas said, “I’m proud of you Mathew. Here you are out on a night like tonight buying your mother some fruit so she can regain her strength. You’re a fine young man and someday you’ll be rewarded for it.”

Before Mathew could answer or confess—I wasn’t sure which one it would be—the cashier hollered “next” and Mathew quickly moved up to pay for my bananas.

Father Thomas turned to me and whispered, “That boy is going to be a fine priest one day. I feel certain of it.” Then he noticed what I was holding in my hand. A puzzled, almost suspicious expression came over his face.

For a moment, I could see their faces again—Frankie’s, Jody’s, and Bobby’s--grinning at me across that Dairy Queen table-top. I looked at the damp back of Mathew’s flushed neck and, thankful for the memories he’d raised, gave the Father a big smile.

“I just got my Viagra refilled,” I whispered. “Thought I better stock up in case we get snowed in.”

I’m not certain what Father Thomas thought about a balding, middle-aged man telling him this, but as he headed off with his cart I could have sworn I heard him mumbling something about “Those Episcopalians.”

Mark Williams lives in the foothills of North Carolina and spends his nights working in a cigarette factory. He recently discovered his love for writing when he returned to college in the Information Technology field. He now tolerates his job until the writing starts paying off. This is his first submission, ever.

Top photo courtesy of
Bottom photo "Pink condom XXL" courtesy of Davide Guglielmo.


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