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World's Finest

by Kim Samsin

When you were tiny, I watched you sleep and made promises. You will do the same; you will vow there is no wall you would not tear down, no jungle you would not clear. Your imagination will fail you. Someday, I will remind you of this: You brought home boxes of World’s Finest Chocolate bars from school, pack after cloying pack, and I told you I would take them to work to sell for you. Every day you brought home more. I tried to sell them, I did, but every parent in town had their own chocolate burden. I canceled my hair appointment. Twenty dollars. I sold your father’s comic books. Sixty dollars. I told his mother she would never see you again if she didn’t buy a box. Twenty-four dollars’ worth of chocolate, Carolyn, really? “Worth” is the wrong word for it, but yes. Twenty-four dollars. That was the month we lived on spaghetti and I let you sleep in your blanket fort so that I could turn down the thermostat. I hid the boxes in my closet, in an old hardside suitcase, and hoped they wouldn’t attract mice. I stacked them in my filing cabinet at work. I stored six boxes in my car trunk and then the temperature spiked and I had the world’s finest plaque of chocolate and carpet fibers and almonds and foil wrappers. The waxy, sweet smell imbued everything I touched. And you won. I won. I came home from work and you were sitting on the floor in front of Woody Woodpecker, your legs splayed out, your glasses smeared and slipping off your nose, and you launched yourself at me. It was the last time you hugged me like that, your face in my belly, your arms around my waist. Three days later, I stood at the side of the hockey rink while a man lifted you up and put you on the back of a Zamboni. Most of the audience was filing out for intermission. Someone announced your name over the loudspeaker. Seventy-seven boxes of candy sold, they said, a school record, congratulations going out to Kevin. The arena speakers boomed with “Eye of the Tiger” and they drove that machine over the ice at about three miles an hour and you shook your raised fists in the air.

Author's Note

We were talking about filmstrips, the old instructional kind. Still images in sequence, a synchronized audio cassette, the lowered metal blinds that made the classroom artificially dark. The teacher would stand beside the AV cart and listen for the doot signal to turn the projector knob to the next image. From filmstrips I learned about scarab amulets, commercial chicken husbandry, sexually transmitted diseases, and the electoral college, a sentence or two at a time, doot after doot after doot. A few weeks later I was reading through one of several overlong, overcrammed drafts of this story. I skimmed through it, looking for the bits that mattered, and in my head I heard the doot every time I zipped ahead to the next one. I could smell the dust on the hot lamp in the projector. I cut everything that didn’t feel like it was seconds away from that dissonant, vibrating tone. Before I knew it, the lights were back on in the classroom, and the remains of the story curled up and fit in a tiny plastic canister.

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