A lonely alley ran along the back of our dilapidated Eugene rental home, and my brother and I would spend hours riding our bikes up and down the dusty strip, our ankles caked in grime by the end of the day.
I’d lean over the handlebars and pump my short legs with determination but my ancient tricycle could never keep up with Aaron’s two-wheeler. One day, as he left me in his wake again, I paused, considered, and headed out of the alley and onto the sidewalk.
When I reached the end of the block, I looked back. The empty sidewalk lay behind me. No one called my name. I faced forward, rolled down the curb and continued three blocks until I reached the Albertson’s.
As I rode up, the store’s automatic doors opened so I kept on pedaling. The tile floors felt smooth under my wheels after the cracked and bumpy city sidewalks I’d tackled in route. Riding up and down the aisles, passing startled shoppers, I at last found what I was seeking.
I climbed off my bike, pulling at my corduroy pants — a hand-me-down from my older brother that was too wide at the waist and too long at the feet, requiring constant adjustment. My mother kept my dirty blonde hair short, and between that and the hand-me-downs, I was often mistaken for a boy with pretty, long-lashed eyes.
The candy shelves towered above me and stretched far in each direction.
I recognized a candy bar shaped like a potato that my Idaho-born grandfather preferred, and started there. I bit through the chocolate coconut coating into the marshmellow filling, holding it in my mouth as the sweetness slowly melted, smelling hot cocoa with each bite. Bits of chocolate dropped onto my shirt. A nosy woman stopped and with hands on hips, asked me where my parents were but my mouth was too full to answer. She swung her cart around and started back toward the front of the store. I chose a Hershey’s bar next, savoring the quiet snap as I broke off sections to pop into my mouth. Rather than letting the chocolate slowly melt on my tongue, I chewed more quickly, feeling my time was likely limited.
Shoppers continued to pass me in the aisle, slowing down to take in the scene of the parked tricycle, a growing pile of empty candy wrappers, and a chunky three-year-old, sitting cross-legged in a chocolate haze. A curious crowd gathered.
By the time the store manager had been alerted, he found me working on my 3rd bar, the collection of torn wrappers at my feet and smeared chocolate on my face and hands.
He said hello and I smiled up at him and kept eating as he looked at me with both a frown and a smirk.
He took my trike in one hand and offered me the other. I was led to an upstairs office where I was rewarded for my crime with chocolate ice cream in a wafer cone. I was unable, between licks, to communicate where I came from and how to reach my parents so the police were called.
Two officers came to collect me with smiles and laughter — I grinned back boldly, feeling the attention.
Leading me to their cruiser they tossed my trike in the trunk, buckled me in the backseat and we drove a short block away to the police station where they sat me in a room with a large dark window through which I could see the top of my head reflected. I was given a can of Coke to slurp. I kicked my feet as it began to dawn on me that I might be in trouble. One of the smiling officers told me my mother was on the way. I asked if she was going to be angry with me.
No, he said, she’d be relieved to see me.
She blew in the door with worried rage — her glasses fogging up, her long brown hair falling out of a loosely piled bun held together with chopsticks.
She yanked me by my upper arm. There was still dirt under her fingernails and in the creases along her hands from gardening. It was clear conversation would wait until we were in the car. She thanked the officers, I waved goodbye, face still smudged with chocolate as she pulled me toward the door, my feet trying to keep up, alternately dragging, gaining, dragging, gaining.
In the car, she began to cry. I kept quiet in the backseat.
The next time it happened, the store knew who to call and she knew where to find me.
Author’s Note: I have been told this story over and over by my parents. I have very little memory of it and what I do recall appears to be incorrect. For example, I remember most clearly being at the police station — my mother (who would know) says the police kept me at the grocery store.
I am simply imagining my mother’s reaction above. When I asked her, she said she was relieved and embarrassed the first time. The second time…mad. There was no third time.