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by Norita Dittberner-Jax
My father got me the job, selling 99-cent wind-up
toys. Twelve-hour shifts, ten days. Fifteen years old.
Weary children watched me turn the key,
ratcheting the gears until the mechanical chipmunk
sprang down the platform, paws pumping
the acorn up and down until the key unwound
and the acorn froze. Mid-air.
I took up smoking in the bathroom. I did not know
you could break the law so easily, a few coins
in the machine, a low rumble, and out popped the Pall Malls.
After the cigarette, a snow cone from Carl who knew
how to catch every drop of strawberry syrup.
I told him I was eighteen. He said he was starting
medical school, both of us awkward. Not the smooth
movement of machines.
Everyday, we spoke and smiled. I felt good,
lying and breaking the law and all the time
I was doing my job, making children
who didn't get a prize in the ring toss, happy.
Something to take home.
On the last day the barns emptied of prize pigs.
Cows with their miraculous bones
lumbered out. That first boy and I kissed each other
good-bye, a long, slow kiss as the strings of colored lights