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  • Sounds of shifting cellophane and the candy – brightly polished and only slightly sticky - slips into your hands. Butterscotch candy! both a color and a flavor revealed in one rich sweet unified whole. It was for these butterscotch candies that as a child I begged the neighborhood’s empty lots where the high school kids drank and parks refuse bins in the areas where their parents drank to reveal to me their hidden treasures of bottles and cans shiny with CRV – California Redemption Value. 2 cents for a can and 5 for a bottle. A dollar fifty brings you a bag of candy.

    I did not have a sweet tooth but, as the caries I have now prove, I had a mouth full of them. And both the empty lots and the park refuse bins knew it. They’d teased me, pretending not to hear my pleas, until I became sullen before they’d display a glint or glare to catch my eye. Or they confounded me with riddles, promising to reveal their stashes of CRV’s only when the riddle was solved, until my mind ached. But they would eventually yield because it was more for sport than out of malice that they were so mischievous with me and they liked the company. And the very moment they did yield, I would collect the treasure and, as quickly as my legs would carry me, carry my bounty to the store to trade for those golden orbs.

    But something happened around America’s bicentennial. A spirit came across the land. This spirit drafted first bears into its forces, then eagles and owls. A lone man, who had lived in America long before the Europeans came, saw it first and cried for joy by the side of the road as it swept past. Some called it the Spirit of ’76 and its motto was “Keep America Clean”.

    Soon the lots and bins became desolate. ‘But stay anyway’, they’d plead, ‘we still know plenty of riddles!’ “And isn’t there a chance you still might find in us some as of yet undiscovered treasure?” they’d hint (and hollowly so, I thought, at the time.)

    ...

    It was on a Tuesday. My mother, who was a beautician without a studio, would often do the hair-dos of people she knew at our house. The women would come and smoke and swear and read Playgirl while they laughed with my mother and she’d cut their hair and cover their roots. On the way out, they’d lay a twenty on the table and a tip, which always I eyed jealously. But on this Tuesday she was to make a house call and I was to go along.

    I was not familiar with the woman who opened the door to the house on the hill but she seemed soft and ancient. My mother apologized for my presence but the woman was kind and said I was welcome and could watch t.v.. My mother said, it is okay, he doesn’t watch t.v. but he’ll be fine waiting. Well, said the woman to me, if you change your mind, you are welcome to turn the television on. And with that, they left me in a room with cornflower and bluebird patterned wallpaper, powdery blue furniture, and a darkened television set, one much larger than the one we had at home.

    (I actually did watch television,by the way, and quiet a bit of it. I guess my mother was worried I'd be using up too much of the lady's electricity and that just wouldn't be polite.)

    I sat on the couch and made sure not to put my feet on it, as I was instructed, instead swinging them softly in front of me. The material of the couch was smooth and shiny and it felt good to run my hands on it. The windows in the room were curtained by breathless white drapes and the diffused light they let in made me sleepy. I looked blankly at my reflection in the television’s empty screen and sighed. It was then that I noticed it, something shiny and red in the reflection.

    To my right? I looked quickly. No, on the table on my left! A covered candy dish! And through its ruby glass I could see, yes, those rich shiny butterscotch colored and flavored candies!

    My mind raced. It calculated a math not just of risks and probabilities, but of physics. Could the cover be lifted and placed back down without the sound revealing my crime? And what about the celephane? Would one missing candy be missed? Were I caught, would the presence of the lady mediate the severity of my punishment? Would she intercede on my behalf? Could I collect enough cans and bottles to replace the missing candy before it was noticed? How would I get back to this house? Would two missing pieces be missed?

    I listened to my mother and the ancient lady in the kitchen. I could usually tell at home by the sound where my mother was at in the process and how much longer she had before she was done. Running water, quick snips, the squeak and flatulence of squeezed plastic bottles, foil being rolled, running water again and then the hair dryer. If her pattern were the same here, she was still on foil rolling and I still had time to executed my crime.

    ...

    Later that night, I sat through dinner anxiously. I wasn’t at all hungry. It was only three but now three seemed too many, too obvious. In the suspicious silence of the dinner table, I heard first what I thought was a bear lumbering just outside the window and then the dark call of an owl. The phone rang. Something heavy and noble landed on the tree across the street. As my mother got up to answer it, I heard my fork fall to the floor and my heart began beating loudly against the walls of my skull. It was the lady, I was sure, calling to tell my mother of my crime. There was a scratching of thick paws against siding that seemed to speed up and up and threaten to tear the house down.

    When I awoke, I was on the kitchen floor, a pile of salad greens covering me like an open field and my mother looking down, worried and crying.
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