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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Grandparent(s) (04/03/08)

TITLE: Second Hand Chance
By Ann Grover


The door of the second hand shop has worn a grey crescent through the linoleum to the concrete beneath. It closes with a soft sigh.

“Well.” Grandma greets me as always, her blue eyes crinkling in a smile. “How was school?”

“I’m helping in the library.”

“Well.” She tilts her head sideways. Well. Grandma says it when something is good or bad or sorrowful, like when someone has died.

I don’t tell her I was picked last for volleyball. I don’t think Grandma played volleyball in gym class in the olden days. I envision rows of girls wearing long skirts and long sleeved sweaters, hair held in gigantic bows, doing exercises in unison on a manicured lawn.

I pick up a statue of the Eiffel Tower. Grandma doesn’t offer it to me and I’m relieved. It’s heavy and dismal and leaves a metallic odour on my fingers. Grandma doesn’t tell me the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, but I know. I’ve read most of the golden-spined magazines queued along on the bottom shelf of the bookcase. Together, we’ve looked at pictures on placemats and distorted images of the Grand Canyon, Big Ben, and Niagara Falls on mugs. We’ve admired fringed velvet cushions stitched with San Francisco sites. We fly away.

I sit and read on a stool near Grandma's feet. She’s wearing ugly black shoes because there’s a steel rod in her back. She’ll not ever wear sandals or high heels again and I think it’s an enormous and sad mystery. I wonder how they got the metal thing in her back and if it hurts and why it happened. Was it from carrying her children around or did she fall or do too much work? I can’t ask because I’m too young to know.

Grandma pulls the lever on the cash register. It is a huge, old machine, brassy and imposing.

“Go to Mort’s and have some french fries.”

The fries are stacked in a pink cardboard dish and I bathe them in ketchup and vinegar. They are crisp and hot, but creamy on the inside. I feel good and bad while I eat them. Slowly, I walk back, detouring around the telephone pole growing through the middle of the sidewalk.

Someone is in the shop buying tires and nails. He’s laughing about television and margarine.

“Which one is this?” He inclines his head toward me.

“The smart one.”

“Probably too smart for her britches.”

I’ve heard it before. Grandma asks me to get a cup of coffee from the back room. There’s a table and some chairs, a percolator, a hot plate. And a narrow cot.

I pour the coffee. Grandma likes it black, but she has a box of sugar cubes. They taste different from sugar in a bowl. Hard, like ice on the tongue, melting around the edges before dissolving into crumbly sweetness. I wonder if Grandma knows how many cubes are in the box and if she’ll notice any gone. Mothers always notice missing cookies or jam. Grandmothers should be twice as knowing. Two generations of knowing.

I carry the mug with both hands and they burn, but I don’t spill. The mug says Cache Creek. I’ve been there often and so has Grandma. Sometimes, we get ice cream, but we’d never buy a mug. It’s just a regular place.

“You have sugar on your lips.” Grandma brushes a finger over my mouth. I smell dust, tobacco, and soap.

She hands me a book from under the counter. “Thought you’d like this.”

There’s a princess and a castle on the worn cover. Maybe there’s an enchanting prince in the story, but it’ll be fine without one.

Rain pelts against the windows. Grandma gazes through the wavy rivulets streaming down the glass, like the princess contemplating the castle with a distant look. It’s time for me to go home, where there’s common sugar and plain cups.

“I made cookies for supper. By myself.”


Walking home in the rain, I wonder if Grandma’s metal rod wearies her as she sorts shovels and bottle warmers, mirrors and chainsaws, or if she aches for her home and ordinary dishes. A pale earthworm is writhing an escape from a shallow puddle in my path, and suddenly I understand that not all princes travel to foreign soil to wage war and maybe Grandma’s second hand shop offers her a better bargain than it did the laughing man with the tires.


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This article has been read 914 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Glynis Becker04/10/08
Great dialogue and interesting characters. I especially like the line 'Two generations of knowing.' That made me smile.
Catrina Bradley 04/10/08
Well. I must say this is very well written. This grandma has a lot of character, and the story flows. I like the POV, too. GREAT!
Sharlyn Guthrie04/10/08
Wonderful feel to this story. Good characterization, with a gentle tug on the heart strings.
Marsha Landers04/11/08
Very, very enjoyable!
Joanne Sher 04/12/08
This is exceptionally well-written, and a very evocative piece. Great atmosphere, characterization, everything. Excellent use of repetition too. Wonderful.
Dee Yoder 04/12/08
Ordinary moments transformed into extraordinary stories by rich details and descriptions...yes, that's your work. I love the emotions you can evoke with the turn of a phrase. The words feel like I'm selecting and savoring fine foods as I read. No sentence is wasted and every nuance is carefully placed. I aspire to create this kind of writing.
Sheri Gordon04/12/08
I love the descriptions and the voice. The mood of the story is very relaxing. Nice job with the topic.
Kristen Hester04/12/08
I really love the voice in this. It almost has a "To Kill a Mockingbird" feel. Profound observations from an innocent child. Awesome writing.
Lyn Churchyard04/13/08
For me, this had 'other world' feel about it. I love second hand stores. They are a treasure-trove of the ordinary and the extraordinary.

You brought your grandmother alive for me. Super job!
Jan Ackerson 04/14/08
Lovely! My favorite line is rich with implication and character: you have sugar on your lips. Only you could make six words say so much.
Joy Faire Stewart04/15/08
I enjoyed the thoughts from the child's point of view. Excellent!
Sara Harricharan 04/16/08
I really LIKE this! It read like the beginning of a novel, with the setting just finally coming in, the characters waiting for their story-lives to continue. lol. This was really good! I especially liked the POV and the short dialouge-the lines with 'the smart one' was my favorite, it seemed to say so much! Great job! ^_^
Debbie Wistrom04/16/08
I've been in many of these shops though none with such a great character. I will look at these shops differently in the future thanks to your keen ability to bring it to life.
Mariane Holbrook 04/17/08
Oh, I like this! I could hear, feel, smell, see the inside of the store vividly and probably could describe the counter to you. How beautiful! I could linger there quite a while longer. It brings back such tender memories of my own!
Loren T. Lowery04/17/08
Setting, atmosphere, story. What a wonderful combination to settle into and wile away the moments, even if they be but a few. Thanks for the respite from an otherwise harried day!
Joanne Sher 04/18/08
Congratulations, Ann, on placing 9th in your level and 12th overall. Excellent.