Jay told me where I could get free candy. All we had to do was ask. I didn’t believe it. Jay had led me into trouble on our street before. Once, he lent me twenty dollars from his father’s wallet. His father was not pleased when he couldn’t buy his Friday twelve pack. His BO was mildly skunk-like when I paid back the money. A second time, Jay and I went fishing in the creek on his grandfather’s property next door. Steep banks required sliding into the sandy bed with its expected mud and green-greased bottoms. This time it was my father’s fishtank net I’d borrowed to catch crabs. Jay easily scooped up three tadpoles from the creekside. For my turn, I gutted the net by ripping it on tree roots exposed below the waterline.
Based on my history with Jay, skepticism ran deep. No one gives away candy outside of Halloween. What would someone want in return? And it was a scorching July day. Jay said that was all the more reason to go. The woman kept her house cool, curtains drawn, and the house was surrounded by pines. Stepping off the asphalt, the path to her house was uneven with broken paving stones, lightly covered in moss. Tree needles sprinkled underfoot and padded our way. I raised my hand to knock and hesitated.
Jay opened the screen door without concern and tapped on the glass. It whooshed inward, and she stood beyond the threshold. Unmentionable, except for her height, she was short and stout. The cane she held more like a club than for support. Jay said something to her I didn’t hear. Like a command, she turned into the gloom of her home. The smell of laundry and feet wafted outward. Before I asked Jay to run away, she returned, fist tight and extended. I opened my palm. She placed a single hard candy in along my lifelines. It’s cellophane wrapper crinkled with the movement. The lady’s hand brushed my fingertips as it and she retreated. I stepped back as Jay entered the house.
“Let’s keep things cool,” she said, shutting the door like a vault. I imagined the worst for Jay as I returned to the asphalt road with its shimmering mirage of sunwaves. I froze, unable to flee and unable to imagine how to free my friend from the house.
When Jay appeared at my side after the sun had beaded sweat around my ears, he said, “Wasn’t that great?” He unwrapped a cinnamon candy like mine. “She’s lonely is all and really likes little kids.” He popped the candy onto his tongue. “I go whenever her son’s gone off to work.”
I pocketed my candy and waited. I sensed it wouldn’t be long now before the poison reached Jay’s brain and paralyzed his body.