Posted on: September 9, 2013
The sixth grade card sharks were upping their stakes. It was Halloween, and Mallory was going to teach them how to play poker.
“Bring your candy stash tomorrow,” she ordered. “Everything you’ve got. We’re going big.”
The girls all nodded. They’d wanted to try poker for a while, but gambling, like smoking, taking the Lord’s name in vain, and boy-girl relations, was prohibited at Fellowship Academy of Christ. Halloween and the ruse of “trading candy” was to be their ticket.
Andi had a lot of problems. Namely, her off-brand wardrobe had gained her only probationary admission to the card circle. Outside of break, most of the girls ignored her. She hadn’t been invited to anyone’s slumber party yet, and sometimes Mallory made fun of her hair. So even more pressing was the matter of Halloween—of getting hold of the candy she’d need for the ante.
“Halloween is the devil’s night,” Andi’s mom said that afternoon. “I don’t want you and your sisters out there while spirits and sinners and drunk teenagers run wild. It’s not safe, and it’s not godly.”
“But what about the church party?” Andi pleaded. “Can we at least go to that?”
“I don’t agree with churches offering some kind of consolation prize for Halloween. They’re still celebrating a night that belongs to Satan, and we’re not having any part of it,” her mother said. “I don’t know why you’re worked up all of a sudden. We’ve never done Halloween. We’re not going to start now.”
Andi stomped up to her room to sulk. She took out her Teen Bible and scanned the index for Halloween. Nothing.
I bet Jesus never said one word about Halloween, Andi muttered under her breath. She rushed through her math homework and did a half-ass job on the dinner dishes in protest. When trick-or-treaters rang the bell, despite Andi’s mom turning off all the lights downstairs, Andi looked down on them from her bedroom window. They didn’t look so satanic to her. Just happy.
The next morning, Kim from next door picked her up for Wednesday morning prayer breakfast. Kim was a junior. She had wide-set eyes and a voice like a Disney princess. She was devout, and Andi’s mom thought she was a very good role model, so she’d talked her into this carpool arrangement. Kim was a vegetarian, but the last prayer breakfast of the month featured chicken biscuits from Chick-fil-A. Kim wanted to stop off at Pop’s Korner Mart to buy a few bananas.
“Why don’t you just eat the biscuit part?” Andi asked Kim as they climbed out of her rusty old Volvo.
“It still tastes like meat,” Kim said. “I think they just take the chicken out and re-wrap the biscuit. I can pray better if I just have fruit,” she chirped.
Andi wandered through the aisles while Kim puzzled over produce. Pop’s Korner Mart was a weird hybrid of a place—like if you meshed a general store with a gas station. Andi’s dad liked to remind his daughters that Pop’s had been open when he was a boy; that he had even known Pop himself back in the day. He couldn’t go to Pop’s without grumbling that any day now the new Wal-Mart would force gems like Pop’s to close.
Today, Andi agreed that Pop’s was better than Wal-Mart because the candy aisle was a treasure trove of poker ammunition. Candy cigarettes, cinnamon jawbreakers, and ginger zingers were the good stuff, worth way more than a whole palm full of candy corn or powdery Smarties. She felt around in the pocket of her skirt. A washed gum wrapper and some lint, but no money. Andi never had any money.
“Allowance?” her father had scoffed the one time she brought up the subject. “I pay for your food and put a roof over your head! Why should I pay you just for being alive?”
A thought flashed through Andi’s mind. She could take what she needed. The Bible said steal from the rich and give to the poor, right? And Pop’s Korner Mart was obviously rich if it was as old as her dad.
Andi slid her hand into a bin of licorice. With one eye on the front of the store, she slid five licorice sticks up the sleeve of her sweater.
That was easy, she thought. And she didn’t look any different than she had a few seconds before. She moved on to the Lindor truffles, slipping a few into each pocket. She partially unzipped her backpack and lingered for a second in front of each candy bin, grabbing a few pieces, then easing them through the opening in the zipper.
Andi gulped, releasing a handful of mini Mars bars back into their basket.
“You ready to go?”
It was just Kim, clutching her paper bag of bananas.
“Yeah,” Andi said. “I was just…thinking about getting some gum.”
“Oh, I have some in the car,” Kim said.
Back in the Volvo, Kim sang along to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. Andi sat very still so she wouldn’t crinkle from all the truffles in her pockets. All through prayer breakfast, she hugged her backpack to her chest, afraid someone might go through it and know what she’d done.
At break, the sixth grade girls sat Indian-style on the pavement and dumped their loot into their laps.
“Wow,” Mallory said, eyeing Andi’s haul. “You must have gone to the rich neighborhoods. Hey, you should come to our slumber party this weekend.”
Thank you, God, Andi thought, lifting her eyes toward heaven.
“Sure,” she said. “Now deal me in.”
Photo by: Emily Blincoe
Written by: Dot Dannenberg
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