19 Mar The Candyman’s Lament
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"The Candyman's Lament"Written by Simon Nagel
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Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
You’d never guess it at first, but it’s sad to live the life of a candyman. He absorbs all the world’s pain and returns it as sweetness. “Having a bad day? A swizzle stick’ll wipe those tears away! Don’t be glum, the candyman’ll be your chum!” Those were the words written in chipped red paint across the walls of my candy shop. They may have been true at one time, but I have my doubts.
Peter Yates was the fattest kid that had ever stepped foot into my shop. He arrived every afternoon, fifteen minutes after school was out. He came alone and sat at the far corner of the counter. The groan of the wooden barstool under his gigantic rear end always announced his arrival, and I would bring him a Grasshopper Sundae. Two scoops of mint ice cream surrounded by three crumbled brownies and crackles of whatever leftover chocolate I had lying around. He ate in silence and he would be gone within ten minutes, but not before buying a bag of strawberry gummies for the road. This had been Peter’s ritual for as long as I could remember. I never asked questions. I just gave the kid candy.
Autumn of last year was when my marriage started to go downhill. The fun of marrying a candyman had faded with my wife, much like how sour tarts really aren’t that sour after a minute or two. We had bills to pay and the shop wasn’t bringing in money after the summer months. It was the same every year, but you can only ask someone to tighten their belt so much. It pisses me off a little that there wasn’t a deeper reason for Alice not loving me anymore, that our marriage was like a wrapper she could just crinkle up and toss into the trash. I would come home and sleep on the couch, and I’d dream of waking up the next day and going to work. Or I wouldn’t dream at all.
I had never seen Peter Yates with other children. He would barely utter a word unless he had to, but he was always polite and paid with exact change. If his early days of puberty were any sign of what was to come, Peter had rough years ahead. One day, I forget when exactly, I put Peter’s Grasshopper Sundae at his spot on the counter before he arrived. The extra scoop of mint had only ever-so-slightly melted by the time he sat down. He looked around the candy shop, spoon in hand, his eyes asking if this was some sort of joke. “Just the way you like it, Peter,” I said. “On the house.”
If I had to guess, the boy ate with a smile on his face. Heavy cream smeared the corners of his mouth into a clown grin. He thanked me and paid for his strawberry gummies, but the part I’ll always remember is the look he gave me before he left. His eyes held the deepest sense of gratitude I had ever seen. Life wasn’t so sweet away from the candy counter. The least I could do was make Peter feel like he was wanted somewhere.
I kept leaving the sundae bowl on the counter for Peter Yates. Some days he came in looking happy, others not so much, but he always looked comfortable at the counter. We wouldn’t talk much. I asked him if things were okay, he said they were. One time, I asked him if he had his eye on any particular young lady. He looked down, not into his bowl like usual but into his chest, like he was curling into himself like a soft ball. Peter said he did, and then gave the old line that shy kids always recite to themselves. He did have his eye on someone, he told me, but it felt like he was invisible to her. We both knew that it wasn’t true. No one could miss him. The Grasshoppers grew as time went on and Peter and I had more to talk about. Four scoops and four brownies. A cookie laid on the side for dipping. Sometimes a soda on a hot day.
A part of me felt responsible for how big he got. He developed acne over time, scattering white bulges the size of spider eggs across his face. His cheeks formed a natural scowl, and his pale skin and puffy eyes created a naturally glum expression on his face bordering on mean. He would show up, eat, and waddle out. I think his pants ripped one time when he sat on the stool, but he sat and ate his Grasshopper all the same. His flab hung past the bottom of his shirt like a melted marshmallow. Sad as he seemed, Peter showed up every day after school, his bowl waiting on the counter. He eventually stopped paying for his strawberry gummies, which stuck in my craw but it was my own fault for setting the precedent.
I slept in my car the night Alice asked for a divorce. I drove around listening to the radio a lot in the morning, not going anywhere in particular. I drove so much I opened the shop late. Peter waddled in, fatter than ever, and snorted at the counter. Snorted. He looked at me, his neck and head one and the same, and asked, “Where’s my ice cream?”
Where’s my ice cream.
The next day I was at work early. It was a good day, some cute pre-schoolers with grandparents in the late morning, things like that. When the after school hour rolled around, though, I locked my doors. I wanted to see Peter ask about his ice cream from outside. And then I’d watch him realize ice cream wasn’t coming, and he’d waddle his fat ass away into the sunset. No more ice cream pity parties for Peter.
That day was different though. Peter ran to the door, if such a thing was possible for him. He pounded on the glass, yelling to be let in. I saw a few boys, bigger boys, down the road and running his way. It was that delicate age when girls think you’re invisible and insecure boys have to prove they can whip you. I laughed at Peter’s predicament. All the ice cream in the world isn’t going to save you from some hurt, take it from your local candyman.
Peter didn’t come in the next few days. I didn’t know those boys had killed him for another week. They chased him down, he fell from a high place… And I locked the door on him. God help me.
I went back home to Alice. She wouldn’t see me. I told her that I was sorry for how things turned out and left her dad’s watch on the doormat. When I got back to the candy shop, which had turned into my unofficial home, there was a sundae bowl sitting on the end of the counter. It was empty. A spoon sat beside it. I checked all the doors. Everything was locked and there were no signs of entry. I wondered if I had left it out and not noticed. An old habit, you know?
And that’s when I heard the squeaking. It came from behind the counter, in the back, and it was coming my way. I should have run. I should have, but I didn’t. Peter Yates shuffled from the back room where I kept my freezer. His stomach, now loose from decay, hung below his ratty shirt. It was purple and veiny. A white puss oozed from his mouth like he had been guzzling heavy cream. He breathed loudly and his body smelled like old grease. Peter moved slow, but the sheer massiveness of his bulk seemed to give him a horrible momentum. And in that moment, that horrible moment, all I could think to do was reach to my counter and grab a bag of strawberry gummies. In a span of what seemed like nothing at all, Peter had closed the gap between us and his legs, made a sloppy crunching noise as he toppled on top of me. I lost my senses a moment. The clang of the bowl landing beside my head brought me back, although I wish I had stayed where I was. My eyes drifted to the chipped red paint on the walls. My blood sprayed across it in a new coat as Peter ripped into me. There was a sickly plop into the bowl. Followed by another, until there were four scoops in all. And then Peter Yates, the fattest corpse you had ever seen, sat down at the counter and ate one last treat from the candyman.
Credit: Simon Nagel
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