July 19th, 1969
I was passing Marnie’s Bakery & Dry Goods on the way home from the library today. I suddenly had a craving for one of those small custard slices that they sell.
Hannah was busy packing and pricing baking trays onto the shelves in the section of the shop that contained the baking goods.
Her face lit up when she saw me, and she rushed over to greet.
“Hello, Connie!” she said too loudly and excitedly for my comfort. I turned a nervous eye towards her father at the front counter. She placed her hands on my shoulders and asked, “How are you? I heard you had to have your tonsils out?”
“Hi, Hannah! Much better, thank you. And you?”
“Oh, I’m fine, thank you” she sang. “I still remember when I had mine removed. It was awful. Every time I ate, it was like swallowing needles.”
I put a hand on my throat. “Yeah, that pretty much describes it. What’s new?”
“Oh, not much! Momma had her hair permed. And, oh yes, poor Poppa was at the doctors again yesterday. He hates this time of year.”
“For two reasons. His hay fever starts acting up bad because of all the pollen in the air.”
“And because of all the bees. He’s allergic, you know?”
“No?” I lied, but then asked with absolute curious honesty, “How allergic?”
Her father suddenly shouted, “Hannah, what have I told you about getting too friendly with the customers.”
“But it’s Connie Crane, Poppa? You know I always babysit for his mother. Momma plays bridge with…”
“Don’t backchat me, girl! You want me to get the strap?”
“No Poppa, please! I’m sorry!”
“Go see how far your mother is with the baklava.”
“Yes, Poppa!” she said and disappeared into the back of the shop.
He looked at me and confessed. “I wish I didn’t have to sell that damned baklava, but the customers love it.”
“Why’s that?” I frowned.
“All that damned sweet syrup. It’s to bees what shit is to flies!” He laughed at his own comparison before adding, “This job’ll kill me one day.”
“Why’s that?” I innocently queried.
“When I was about your age I was stung by a whole swarm of bees. Ai, still today I have nightmares about it. The worst part was how they seemed to try to get into my mouth. Ai, I still wake up often in a cold sweat. Do you know that the doctors removed over eighty stingers from my swollen body? Everybody thought I was a goner. I was in hospital for two weeks but I lived.” My heart sank for a moment, but was quickly revived when he said, “Ever since then I been allergic to them. Highly, highly, deadly allergic. Just one sting now and that’s it for me.” He clicked his thumb before drawing it across his throat like a blade and making a slicing sound.
He nodded and then pointed that same thumb towards the doorway that Hannah had disappeared through. “I also believe it’s the reason why Hannah turned out the way she did; all that venom gone done something bad to my system; screwed it up. I don’t know why God had to punish me twice. I never done a soul any harm. I close on Sundays and I attend church regularly. I been a good husband and father.” He frowned down at me. “I hear they say you’re a real smart kid? So, maybe you can tell me?”
My reply was instant. “‘There are none so blind as those who will not see.’”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Sometimes God gives us the most wonderful gift, but we only realize it when it’s too late.”
“Hey, I’m thankful for all I got!”
“Sure! I got a beautiful loving wife, and I got a full stomach and a roof over my head when I go to sleep at night. What more do I need?”
“A heart,” I said calmly.
There was a row of neatly stacked baking powder cans on the shelf behind him. He gave a wary gaze toward the doorway before removing the can on the far right. “I keep my specially imported candy in here. It comes all the way from Belgium,” he said putting a finger to his lip. “It’s my secret little hiding place. If Marta or Hannah knew about it, they’d gobble them all up in a day. They got no appreciation for the finer things in life.” He popped one of the candies into his mouth and returned the can to the same spot on the shelf before asking, “So, what can I do for you today?”
I gazed into the refrigerated display case. “One of those small custard tarts with the gooseberries on the top.”
He placed a tart in a box and asked, “Anything else?”
I quickly checked my financial situation before saying, “Yeah, my mom asked me to get some baking powder.”
“What brand would you like?”
I had pointed to the row of cans on the shelf behind him.