Evening Special

by Jenny Halper Read author interview December 15, 2014

Moon pies taste best eaten outside in the rain, especially when she hasn’t paid for them and police are parked across the street. She finds a cigarette, still smoking in the gutter, and dangles it above her nose. She is twelve, almost thirteen, and wears hole-striped stockings stolen from her mother. She wears beige lipstick stolen from Rite Aid; she wears eyeliner—silver—stolen from the purse her teacher leaves on her desk during lunch period. Dressed like this she is a different person, not the slow, wide girl in school. Her curved reflection glimmers off a car windshield.

In the bodega the boy behind the counter winks at her. He always does, sometimes with both eyes, like he’s trying to swat a bug away. He wears a tight Star Wars T-shirt, Obi Wan Kenobi, over skinny muscled arms. He offers her the evening special, grinning—enormous crooked braces. She wants to be nice to him, give back crackling packets of ring dings and moon pies she has stolen. She eats them for lunch and throws out the turkey sandwiches her mother makes.

“Describe this special,” she says, grabbing one of her wrists behind her back. He can’t see how her hands shake. There are already five moon pies in her backpack, which is patterned with peace signs and pumpkin-colored dolphins, and she wishes that it wasn’t.

He holds out two lottery tickets and tells her the jackpot is up to four billion dollars, a number impossible even for her to imagine. He says the special tonight is a lottery ticket, liter of Sprite, and unlimited cake, but he hasn’t named the price.

“Those aren’t things that go together,” she says.

“Says who?” he asks, elbows on the counter.

“You can’t just give away a lottery ticket,” she says.

He grabs a handful of moon pies, holds them up. “Ten for the price of one,” he says, and she calls him a liar, and he corners her by the refrigerator that holds so many sodas. She hasn’t taken a liter of Mountain Dew, just a can because it’s almost dinner, and he presses her against the handle, pinching bones she didn’t know she had. The cash register dings.

“I have enough change for a moon pie,” she says, and he swears he’ll give her more than that. Someone has taken his place behind the counter—his brother maybe, or his father—and this man watches, tugging at his beard. The boy smells of peroxide. The store is cold. Soon the moon pies will be snug and creamy in her stomach. He breathes into her mouth, his tongue sticky as a lollipop. She pushes back. It is easier than she expected—his shoulders are sort of limp. She slides under his sweaty arm.

“I don’t want them that badly,” she says, meaning moon pies, because after all she’s had them for free, she could get anything and everything for free. She drops the can of soda, it cracks and leaks, glowing yellow. The man behind the counter comes over with a mop. She runs before he can ask her to clean it, dumps the moon pies on a curb, an uneven row where someone hungry will find them. The streets are dark and slick. When she gets home she peels off the stockings, balls them up into the garbage, and sits bare-legged at the kitchen table. She spoons Ovaltine into a glass of milk. She writes in her journal: first kiss tonight.

About the Author:

Jenny Halper's stories have appeared most recently in Chicago Tribune Printer's Row, Southeast Review (Pushcart Prize Nominee 2014), Day One, PANK, Necessary Fiction, Hot Metal Bridge, and Joyland, among others. She won the 2011 Emerging Writer Award from Our Stories, received a 2013 artist's grant from Vermont Studio Center, and works as director of production and development at Maven Pictures.