by Claire Lawrence

At five, I wanted to become a real lady.

Mum dipped into her pocketbook and, with great flair, produced thirty-five cents. ‘For your birthday,’ she cooed. Before handing it over she asked, ‘What will you buy?’ I wanted a handbag.

Together we strolled the three blocks to Beams Department Store, passing boat-like sedans moored diagonally along a dust-rimmed road. Inside, we headed directly for the trough of plastic goods made in Japan. Among the white belts with happy, yellow faces and the cotton panties with days of the week were the purses. Little girl bags with shoulder straps and daisies, smelling of formaldehyde. I chose one with pink flowers. It was wide and had a zippered pocket inside for change. It cost twenty-five cents.

Mum had wandered off to look at girdles and pointy bras. I was mesmerized by a mountain of costume jewellery, all garish and gorgeous. I found a bracelet to go with my bag. How I loved the chunky beads. I looked around, then zipped it into my purse.

Mum returned holding a thigh-hugging panty girdle and a bra big enough to carry two boulders. I was embarrassed, but fascinated. I wanted to touch the soft, padded cups and run my fingers over the silk and lace front of the girdle. The items were feminine, dainty and forbidden. I vowed to explore Mum’s drawer.

At the checkout I presented the cashier with a quarter but refused to hand over my purse. The woman laughed.

Two blocks from home, Mum said she needed cigarettes. Happily clutching my purse, I marched into the corner store and said hello to Mr. Picarelli, the divorcé. I didn’t understand the scandal. To me, he was the dapper candy man.

I asked for a paper bag and filled it with pixie sticks, licorice laces, and a pair of wax lips. I opened my new purse and dove for the dime. But the pilfered bracelet was stuck in the zippered pouch. I attacked the zipper while Mum told Mr. Picarelli what a lady I was. The zipper wouldn’t budge.

I handed back the candy bag and said I didn’t want it any more.

‘Nonsense!’ Mr. Picarelli said.

He grabbed my purse and unzipped the compartment. I was about to run when he produced the dime and returned my purse and candy. Mum and I headed for the door.

At the tinkle of the doorbell, Mr. Picarelli called me back. He wanted to give me a birthday treat. Mum said she’d wait outside.

The candy man asked me to open my purse.

‘It’s gone!’ I cried.

‘Do you mean this?’ Mr. Picarelli said, holding up his arm and clicking around the counter.

He was wearing my bracelet—and red heels!

‘Is there a problem?’

I shook my head no.

‘I want earrings to match,’ he said, giving me an extra candy.

Claire Lawrence is an emerging writer and a graduate of the Southbank Writer’s Program from Simon Fraser University, British Columbia. Her winning entry to Ouen Press’ international contest was published in an anthology entitled, Last Run. Claire won the Sampad South Asian Arts International Writing Competition and was published in an educational book entitled Inspired by Gandhi. She has a number of other prize-winning short stories, which have been published in Canada and the United States. Her illustrations have appeared in The Fractured Nuance.