Copyright 2016 by Bill Russo
Published by CCA Media at Shakespir
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Table of Contents
My Thanks to the writers of The Creative Exiles and Hubpages where many of my short stories have appeared and to the many fine online retailers where “The Creature From the Bridgewater Triangle” and “Ghosts of Cape Cod” and my other paperbacks have found comfortable homes.
I recommend both of the above referenced websites for anyone wishing to read fresh and interesting works as well as for those who wish to gain valuable literary advice and engage in conversations with skilled authors from every part of the globe.
The very young and the very old occupy special seats in the theater of life. Their perches are right next to the doors – the entrance for one and the exit for the other. It’s a bond that they share.
Sometimes, a person vacillates between the two chairs. On very rare occasions, such as in this tale, an individual can occupy both seats at the same time.
.Chapter One: The Vanishing City Center
The old A&P Supermarket in Salem was the last ‘downtown’ market in Massachusetts and perhaps the only one left in the entire nation. It was directly across the street from where Kresges used to be. The department store, like most of the other big chains, had moved to a strip plaza or an enclosed shopping mall. Even the Salem National Bank which once was so huge that they had two armed guards, one inside and one out, had shut down their sprawling four story main office, in favor of tiny branches scattered here and there.
The A&P was the last big store in the city center. Gimbels, Macy’s, W.T. Grant, Woolworth’s, Almy’s and the others had all either gone out of business or fled to greener locales where there was plenty of parking now that everybody had cars – even the Moms who not only didn’t have vehicles, but didn’t even have driving licenses until sometime in the 1950s after the second ‘great’ war.
The Last Downtown Market
But this wasn’t the 50s, it was 1975 and still that dusty old super market remained open for business alongside loan stores, thrift shops, check cashing outlets, bail bondsmen and other small ventures that tried unsuccessfully to fill in the cracks left by the flight of the big establishments.
Entering through the double doors and into the market was like riding in a time machine. At first, until your eyes adjusted, you could see little save for darkness. But you could smell the sawdust on the floor and delight in the aroma of chickens roasting in the butcher’s corner at the rear of the store, right next to the fish department where the catch of the day truly had spent the night before swimming in Salem Willows Bay.
Salem Willows – a popular park in the Witch City since 1858
Chapter Two: Green as far as the Eye Could See
The produce aisle was one long uninterrupted row of green. Celery, lettuce, peppers, snap beans, cucumbers, and spinach lounged in icy repose – alongside thousands of tomatoes, onions, broccoli, and potatoes arranged in tidy rows.
Soon the dim lights hanging from the high ceiling on long chains pushed away the darkness and you could see the overflowing barrels of pickles and common crackers set next to a display of Ann Page canned corn.
There were no gadgets to be found. No aisles of toys or lawn furniture and accessories. The A&P was a food store not a purveyor of 10,000 impulse items designed to make you forget you came to market to buy bread and milk, not the latest fads as ‘seen on tv’.
I was in the store on an errand from Mama. As usual I forgot what it was that I was supposed to buy. She had given me a note but I guess I lost it.
As I passed the nut counter I forgot all about whatever it was that I was supposed to be bringing home. The warm cashews and glistening almonds being heated and set out on little trays in glass showcases were so enticing I decided to spend the 25 cents in my pocket on nuts – delicious hot cashews. I would spend all the money and get three bags – for they were ten cents each but you could get three for a quarter!
The smelled delicious. I couldn’t wait to get outside and start eating them. I’d probably go through almost two of the bags before I got home.
The nice lady behind the nut counter added a couple extra into each sack as she handed them to me with a smile.
Chapter Three: Go To Register One
I took the bulging sacks and thanked the smiling lady. I was barely able t stop myself from digging right into the bags.
“Go to register one,” she said.. “There’s no one working at that register now, but the manager is going to open it just for you.”
I thanked her and second time and happily made my way to the front of the building where registers two, three, and four had long lines of people with overflowing carts.
The manager, neatly attired in his crisp white jacket and a black bowtie, motioned to me. “Come to register one,” he said. “I’m going to open it just for you.”
He did it too. He rang up my order and took my 25 cents. I had five nickels. It was a lot of money. I could have gone to the double feature at the Plaza Theater on Essex Street for a dime and had money left over for a soda and candy too. But how could I pass up the hot cashews?
Besides that the Plaza Theater was across the street from the Witch House and of course I was scared of that. And also my older brother took me to see The Thing at the plaza and I was so afraid that I ran out screaming and didn’t stop until I got home and hid in the cellar.
So I’m sure you can understand why I decided to have the cashews instead of going to the movies. Besides that, the people in the store are so nice – especially the manager.
“Thanks for coming to the Downtown A&P,” the manager said to me, “we sure do appreciate it.”
Chapter Four: The Ride
He even walked me outside where there was a car that he said would give me a ride home. I guess it was an A&P courtesy car, for the driver had a starched white uniform that looked like the kind the manager wore.
I got in the automobile and began eating the cashews. Through the open windows I was fanned by an ocean breeze from nearby Salem Willows Park.
The manager of the market was talking with the man who was going to drive me home. They were talking about some poor old fellow who had wandered away from ‘the home’ although I don’t know what home they were referring to.
I crammed my mouth full of cashews and chewed happily as I heard the manager say, “They don’t watch him close enough. On warm days like this they leave doors and windows open and the old guy sneaks out. He always wanders toward my pool hall. Over fifty years ago, there was a supermarket here. He thinks it’s here still. He walks up to one of the pool tables and thinks it’s a produce counter. I always give him a bag of chips or peanuts and humor him till you guys get here.”
They have finished talking. The driver is getting in the car. He tells me I’ll be home in a minute. I told him that I was supposed to get something for Mama but I don’t remember what it is.
“Don’t worry about it. I think your mom probably wanted you to have some cashews. I’ll talk to her for you. Everything will be fine,” he tells me.
What a nice man. I like him. We are driving away now and I turn my head for a last look at the A&P but there’s a strange sign above the front doors. It says “White Jacket Billiard Parlor”. I guess they are going to put a pool hall up on the second floor above the A&P. That will be nice. When I get old enough I will play pool there.”
The AGE Illusion?
Is she young? Is she old? Is she both?
Unlike the young/old sketch, age is not an illusion. It is a reality and it is the product of the passage of time. Ancient people and the wee ones often have little in common with the average person - and yet the very young and the very old occupy special seats in the theater of life. Their perches are right next to the doors – the entrance for one and the exit for the other. It’s a bond that they share.
Perhaps that is why at a family gathering in a far off corner away from the throng you may see an uncommunicative elder happily chatting with a laughing child barely old enough to speak.
Watch and enjoy the drama from a distance but do not intrude. With luck and good health, all too soon your time will come.
Thanks for reading this short story. Please look over the next few pages for information about my other works.
Other books by Bill Russo
The Creature From the Bridgewater Triangle
Bill’s riveting account of meeting a puckwudgie
His story is featured in the films, America’s Bermuda Triangle and The Bridgewater Triangle, as well as on Monsters and Mysteries in America.
Swamp Tales and Jimmy Catfish
Two fictional thrillers set in the Hockomock Swamp (The Place of Evil Spirits) and an eerie Cape Cod Lake
Crossing the Musical Color Line
Stories of iconic singers and musicians known or interviewed by the author during a long career in radio and as a newspaper editor.
These and a number of other books can be found on Amazon, Shakespir, Barnes and Noble and from many other online stores.
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The Last Downtown Supermarket is at once a look at the vanishing city centers and an examination of the enigma that is age. The very young and the very old play a special part in the theater of life, for their perches are at the doors. The one at the exit and the other at the entrance. One going one way and the other trending in the opposite direction That they are seated next to each other at the stage doors, creates between the young the old, a special bond. Sometimes, as in this short yarn, a person occupies both seats at the same time.