Candy, Candy, Candy
Your dad filled his pipe with cherry-flavored tobacco and kept a roll of cherry Life Savers in the pockets of all his coats. We might eat one in a pinch, but were more interested in his loose change, which we swiped to buy other, more desirable penny candy from the back of Ryskinds stationery store. Deeming the quarters too blatant a trespass, we took the pennies, of course, and the nickels and dimes, exchanging them for Wack-O-Wax Cherry Wax Lips and Bazooka bubble gum, Nik-L-Nips and Lik-M-Aid, long skinny Tootsie Rolls and Smarties. Sometimes I would cash in the better part of my share for a Chunky. There was always plenty of change left in those deep pockets, and whether your dad, in his manic days, didn’t mind the weight or left it there purposely for our less-than-stealthy trips to the closet, I couldn’t say, but I considered him someone I could count on. All the way up until the point I turned 18, when he offered to keep me supplied with cocaine if I’d sleep with him. We’d gotten high with him at Christmas, on pharmaceutical grade, and I’d like to say I didn’t think about it for a second before reality set in. The other day I was in the Dylan’s Candy Bar at Columbus Circle, looking for Good & Plenty or something comparable, when I saw, beside the bubble gum cigarettes, the familiar silver wrapper of a Chunky. Instead of a nickel, it cost me $3.50, and the chocolate was so bad I had to spit it out.
In all the time that you lived in New York, the things you missed most from Sweden were salt licorice and the creamier milk chocolate. Ikea opened in New Jersey and you stocked up on Marabou bars. Eventually, a Swedish candy shop opened in the West Village. Then you got pregnant and moved back to Sweden to raise your son, and I moved out to San Francisco. I wasn’t good about keeping in touch, forever promising but failing to visit. By the time I did, he’d turned 16, and I got into a fight with him my last night, when instead of the supermarket with the fantastic selection of bulk candy — which, unlike the cheap, crappy bin candy here, is first rate in Stockholm — he took me the long way around to a different store that didn’t carry Dumle, the chocolate-covered toffee I favored. We did see a pair of double-humped camels set out to graze in the moonlight from a circus packing up, so I should’ve been grateful, but was only irritated. Once he turned 18, you moved back to Manhattan, and whenever I came east we’d revert to our old habit of walking around town with a bag of choice Swedish candies in hand. And then, just as I was moving back to New York to look after my mom, you gave up on the city and moved back to Sweden. Your last day here, it was sunny and in the high nineties as we wandered toward the Hudson River clutching white paper bags. When we finally sat down on the pebbly cement, in what meager shade we could find, my gummy raspberries had stuck together in the heat, and all my Dumles had melted.
In February, when my mom’s still in rehab after a fall, I start buying the small point-of-purchase packs of Cadbury Mini Eggs at the Rite Aid around the corner from the skilled nursing facility. I’ve been working up to moving from California back to Queens to live with her, but only slowly will it dawn on me that I’ll become her primary caretaker. As Easter approaches, I advance to the 8-ounce, then to the 18-ounce bags. Alone in the house I grew up in, I often mix the pastel-shell-coated chocolate eggs with kettle-style potato chips, which roughen the edges of my front teeth, so that, after many brands tried, I settle on the less brittle Whole Foods brand of ruffled chips. I’m with my mom most days, spend the rest reconfiguring the house for her return, so I can only get the chips on rare visits to Manhattan and they’re often sold out. By May, when she finally comes home, the Mini Eggs have disappeared from the shelves of every drugstore. For a while, I find them on Amazon, stale, cracked, and then eventually unavailable there too, leaving me crushed and craven, forced to wait till next year. After a while, I believe I am over them, briefly filling their absence with Cella’s milk-chocolate-covered cherries. But when the next spring rolls around, I start buying early and stock up, storing the purple-and-yellow bags of varying sizes, depending on the sales, in a Sterilite bin, stashed amidst the linens, in a cool upstairs closet.
A graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, Sue Mell’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Newtown Literary. A collection of her flash fiction was recently selected as a semi-finalist in the Black Lawrence Press chapbook competition.
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Art (cropped) Do-ho Suh/Thomas Guest CC2.0