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Pieces of Coal are Diamonds in Disguise
A Different Relativity
Nickel Candy
Barbara Mikan

At seven, in the dismal year of 1959, most schoolmates probably considered me a geek because I wore glasses, knew the right answers to hard questions and had a mother no one wanted to cross. I had friends, but not close ones. Once, a popular girl called me an "orphan" on the school playground because I was adopted. Humiliated, I didn't know how to respond. I couldn't believe someone would be so cruel.

Debbie Cassim never cared about that or what other people said, though she exhibited grace beyond her years. She came from a poor family and wore glasses, too. Her eyes were crossed, like mine. She skipped a lot and wore pretty dresses, bows in her hair and clean white socks. She often carried a brown paper bag filled with candy.

At first, I hesitated to approach her because I had been taught it was rude to beg. Since my diet at home consisted mainly of fruits, vegetables and protein, eyeing that bag, I did the unthinkable: I asked. Delighted, she allowed me to pick whatever I wanted. While my taste buds did the happy dance, I felt guilty for taking candy from someone less fortunate than I.

Giving Thanks by Beverly Anne
"Giving Thanks"
by Beverly Anne

Debbie had been known, on occasion, to give away even her last piece, and I probably presented most of those occasions to her. Not once did she deny me, unless the bag was empty.

It's no wonder I grew fond of Debbie Cassim. I certainly wasn't starving or malnourished. I was a rather rotund child, and I hungered for the sweetness I didn't experience in my home. A nickel was docked from my allowance if I slouched or put my elbows on the dinner table. Those infractions were posted on the kitchen door and referred to daily, sometimes in front of guests. The spirit in which Debbie gave had no strings attached and was never earned.

After school one Tuesday, wanting to cross Main Street, Debbie stepped between two parked cars. She bent over to pick up something (we never knew what) and the driver in the first car shifted into reverse and backed up. Debbie's head was crushed between bumpers.

The driver was the son of the woman who cleaned house for us. I don't know what happened to him, whether he was charged or exonerated. I was too young to care, but I knew enough to know Debbie wasn't coming back to school. My mother, one of only two hairdressers in town, often went to the funeral home to wash, set and style dead people's hair, mostly women. One time, she took me with her and told me it was perfectly all right to touch an old woman's hand. It looked like uncooked chicken, but I touched it anyway. It felt stone cold and hard, and she didn't move. She never opened her eyes when my mother undid pin-curls, pulled out rollers and brushed soft-looking hair. That was dead to me, until I saw Debbie lying in her casket. She wore a pretty dress. Her hair looked styled. Her glasses were in place and her hands were neatly placed over one another on top of a satin blanket. Two lights on either side created a warm, pink glow. I had never seen lights like that or so many flowers in one place or smelled so many scents.

I stepped forward without prodding and patted Debbie's hand. Like the old, dead woman, Debbie didn't move, she didn't smile and she didn't breathe. I would never be offered a piece of candy from that bag again, but I didn't care much about that any more. Lying in that casket, Debbie was soft and beautiful and loving without the brown sack. I've witnessed since then too many freshly dug graves, sprays of flowers and tents flapping in the wind. My husband died at the age of forty, my parents within two years of each other and the last only eight months before my husband, my mother-in-law, my uncle, my biological father. My experience is not unique; death is an inescapable experience of life. No one is spared. Not even someone as innocent as Debbie Cassim. As a mother and soon-to-be grandmother, I often wonder why follies such as nickels docked from allowances take such precedence over small bags of candy. Even hands as large as mine can open them. They do.

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Artwork "Giving Thanks" by Beverly Anne
See more of her work in Moondance Arts at ..//arts/.

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