by Edith Boyd
Mr. Colton’s wife sounded nice on the phone. She called the store often, and when she did, I got a good feeling, except when she was upset about one of their kids. Then, she didn’t have time to try to guess my name.
On those days, she just said, “Is Roy…I mean Mr. Colton there?” Their son, Davey had some problems, and it was usually him she was calling about. Mr. Colton was my boss at the Winn Barn Supermarket. I think he knew I wasn’t sixteen yet, but he never asked too many questions.
Since Grandpa died, my grandmother was pretty broke, so I got a job at Winn Barn to try to take that worried look off her face. Nana tried to hide her worries, but I knew her like I knew my face in the mirror. When she rubbed her hands together, like somebody using lotion, I knew there was an extra bill, or she thought about how I would turn out.
It wasn’t like I was a bad kid, it’s just that she was getting older, and since the accident, there wasn’t any other family to keep me. The job kept me busy, and helped keep my mind from missing my mother’s voice, bouncy and up, looking on the bright side of everything. I knew Nana was as sad as I was about Mom, and my job at Winn Barn gave her a chance to let loose with the crying and praying out loud.
And watching Mr. Colton talk to his wife quietly on the black phone, gave me hope that there would be a nice guy like him in my life some day. To tell the honest truth, my guy would have to be a little more handsome than Mr. C, whose belly had a way of floating up and down when he walked.
Sometimes, I felt like Mrs. C pestered him too much, and since she didn’t have a job other than the kids, I knew it was important for Mr. C to keep his job. Nana knew better than to bother me at work. Nana knew a lot of stuff that other people didn’t know about not bothering people.
“Lizzie, keep your business to yourself,” she often said. “Don’t get into other peoples’ troubles, or let them know about yours.” That suited me just fine, as I wasn’t the kind of kid who had a big mouth.
When Mrs. Colton was in a good mood, she would say, “Is this Lizzie?” “Yes,” I would answer, a little embarrassed how happy it made me.
“Lizzie, if he’s not busy, would you put Mr. Colton on the phone?”
I didn’t mind getting him for her, but wouldn’t do it when the big boss of Winn Barn was visiting all the stores and had Mr. C in the office. The big boss, Mr. Baxter, had a mad look on his face most times. I figured it had nothing to do with how hard Mr. C worked. The big shot guy was just mean for the fun of it.
“Mr. Colton is in a manager’s meeting, Mrs. Colton, but I will ask him to call you, when the meeting is over,” I said, on one of those days.
She got quiet in a good way when I said that, and I could picture her being proud of him for being a manager, and not just a cashier.
“ Oh no, we can’t interrupt an important meeting,” she said, with the kids making a clatter in the background. I could tell Mr. C didn’t tell her when the big boss was being creepy, or Mrs. C wouldn’t have sounded so proud and cheerful.
I didn’t know what was wrong with Davey, and it didn’t really matter, cause he was part of their family, just like Nana was part of mine.
I remember the first time Mrs. Colton came into Winn Barn. Mr. Colton was done his day shift, and Mrs. C had somebody drop her off at the store. I knew her as soon as I saw her. She wore a fancy dress with glitter on it. I could tell she wasn’t a regular customer because the people coming to Winn Barn weren’t dressed like that. The way she looked around made me think of her on the phone. I took a big guess and walked over and said, “Are you Mrs. Colton?”
“Why, yes, I am. I’m meeting my husband Roy…Mr. Colton.”
“I’ll go find him,” I said, and as I was walking away she said, “Are you Lizzie?”
“Yes, I’m Lizzie. I help out here since my Grandpa died.” Then, I was ready to kick myself for saying that, but her face was so open like she was the kind of person who cared about things like that.
“I’m sure Mr. Colton appreciates your hard work,” she said, and then she blushed a little like she said too much, like I did.
Mr. Colton blushed, too, when he saw his wife. “Darla, you look beautiful,” he said right in front of me, and I pretended to be busy stacking a display shelf, cause I didn’t want to be in the way. Even the popular girls at school didn’t hear words as nice as that from their guys.
When Mr. Colton escorted Mrs. Colton out the door, I felt as if it didn’t matter that they weren’t fancy people.They knew stuff, like Nana did, about how to live.
After work, Nana usually had a special snack waiting for me. I appreciated this, but these little treats made me miss my mother a lot, cause she was interested in stories about people. Never mean ones…just stories about regular people, maybe guessing what we couldn’t see. Momma used to crinkle her nose when Nana hushed us up about other people’s business.
One night, sitting with Nana, I opened up about Mrs. Colton, and Nana listened. I think losing Momma changed Nana in some good ways. She wasn’t so sure about everything all the time.
“Nana, they had a date tonight. It looked like an old movie or something…Him so happy just to be with her.” Nana tilted back her head, and looked at the ceiling, and I felt like she was remembering Grandpa, cause her face was sweet…a funny word to think about Nana.
“Lizzie, a good marriage is a beautiful thing,” she said, and I was so surprised I nearly choked on my pie. it was so dreamy and not Nana – like.
It didn’t last… this side of Nana. Davey Colton had to spend time in the hospital, and everything at work was different and kind of sad. Mrs. Colton began calling more often, and Mr. Colton didn’t seem as happy to hear from her. I thought of asking about Davey, but realized that Nana might be right that I shouldn’t poke into other peoples’ business.
Although Mr. Colton didn’t call in sick very much, he happened to the day the big boss, Mr. Baxter was there, and I overheard the mean boss say some horrible things about Mr. Colton and Davey.
“Maybe we should get rid of that fat slob with the screwed up kid,” he said to one of the other managers, just as I was walking by. I froze behind a stack of baked beans that were on sale.
“Roy’s a good guy,” the other manager said, and the big boss said “Kid’s killing us with insurance payments.”
How I missed my mother who would listen to me tell this terrible thing, and try to paint a picture of things working out for the Colton family.
“Lizzie, maybe Mr. C. Is like Job in the bible,” she might say with a little smile to keep Nana off her back.
Or she might say something like “You have to take the bad along with the good, little lady,” in that sweet Momma- like way. But she wouldn’t tell me to mind my own business.
Not ever would she do that. People were different in their ways, even in families.
If Momma had lived, would she have over-ruled Nana’s television rules? Probably. Nana was wacky over my mother. Probably made it easier for her to like me.
The night Mr. Baxter said awful things about Mr. C., Nana let me watch a show the kids at school always talked about. I hated that I didn’t know who Duffy was, or would he get back with Meredith on the show “All That Glitters.” I took notes about everybody, so when one of the cool kids said something at the lunch table, I could join in, and maybe start to fit in.
Nana told me not to worry about the kids at school.
“Not one of them has your heart, Lizzie,” she would say peeling potatoes in the kitchen. “Not a one of them.”
I liked that Nana said those things, but I didn’t see where a heart could get me popular with the cool kids at school.
On another night that Nana let me watch the Glitter show, a local newscaster came on after the ad and said, “Breaking News- Winn Barn Supermarkets to close 50 stores.”
I couldn’t pay attention to the rest of the show, and dropped my notebook on the floor thinking about Mr.Colton, and Davey, and all the hospital bills….and horrible Mr. Baxter who didn’t like my boss or his family.
“Trust your instincts,” Nana liked to say, and my sinking stomach told me things were going to get worse for the Coltons. I could always babysit or get into another store, cause I was young and healthy, and willing to work to help Nana.
As I lay in bed that night, I pictured our Winn Barn staying open, and hoped for things that I knew to stay the same. I felt a little sorry for myself too, cause losing my mother was big enough to have nearly killed me. Most of the popular kids still had mothers. I wanted to slap them when they said nasty things about their moms.
“It’s so pathetic how my mother thinks she can dance,” one of the cheerleaders would say. And another would jump in, making fun of her mom. “At least she didn’t show up at Spring Fling dressed like a hot air balloon,” Carlie said, which got a good laugh out of the others, but then Carlie got a hurt look when the others laughed.
“See,” I wanted to shout at them, “that’s her mother you’re laughing at, and that is never right” even though the daughter fed them the line.
These were the kinds of things I heard at school that I had to keep from Nana.
She had enough, losing Mom and Grandpa and being stuck with me.
During my next shift at Winn Barn, it didn’t take long to know our store would be one of the ones that was closing.
“Did you hear, Lizzie?” One of the cashiers asked me as soon as I walked in the door.
“Hear what?” I said, doing Nana proud that I wasn’t spreading stories.
“Our store will be closing within ninety days,” said a cashier I liked to avoid cause she liked to gossip. “Some of us will be transferred to another store. Least that’s what I heard,” she said while swinging her head to deal with the next customer.
I then saw Mr.Colton shake his head in a no motion to his gabby employee. No matter how this turned out, I was going to try to get Mr. Colton to meet Nana. Seems like they’d have the no spreading stories thing in common.
In the following weeks, Winn Barn wasn’t receiving its normal deliveries except for fresh produce, and the shelves were starting to go bare.
One afternoon, when Mr. Baxter was there, I walked by the office and he was telling somebody on the phone, “I’ve got it covered Mitch. I told Colton he was getting a transfer to Monroe, but we’ll just string him along and get rid of him and that kid. Boost the bottom line in any way we can,” and then he laughed like Mr. C and Davey were just yesterday’s newspaper as Grandpa used to say.
That very day, Mrs. Colton brought the family in, and she was bubbly and telling them how she wanted them to see Daddy’s old job before he started the new one. She was pushing Davey in his wheelchair, and the other kids walked on either side of her smiling and touching a few of the shelves.
I lost a lot of interest in watching “Glitters’ or trying to fit in at school, and spent most of my time thinking how I could help Mr. Colton. Instead of bothering Nana with the story, I lay in bed and talked to my mother, pretending she was still alive.
“Mom, what should I do?”
And then it hit me like a bolt. I would save my money and take a bus to Winn Barn headquarters, three hours from here, and I would meet the boss of Mr. Baxter, and the higher boss of him. I would wear my church dress, fix my hair, and sit outside the office of some big shot Winn Barn guy, and let them know they weren’t going to get rid of Mr. Colton. They weren’t going to shave their bottom line with my friend.
They were going to give him a transfer to the Monroe store, and if they said no, I was going to tell the newspaper about it.
They were going to give a good man a way to protect his family the way Nana protected me. They were going to agree with me, and give some other Winn Barn kid a chance to be around a family where the husband says to his wife, “Darla, you look beautiful.”
About the Author:
Edith Gallagher Boyd is originally from Philadelphia. She and her family live in Jupiter, Florida. Her published stories can be viewed here: edithgallagherboyd.com