“ Just get the suntan lotion and be quick about it. “ Lilly Thorn told herself “ just go into the store, back to shelf where they have probably kept the Personal Care and Beauty aides in the same place for the last 40 years and go. You don’t even have to be nice to the clerks because they don’t know you, they can’t know you, not only are you not 6 years old anymore you are just old, all those people who used to work there are either dead or moved on to work in other Mom and Pop Grocery stores by now and if they are still the same people working there they are not going to recognize you.
– so just get the Suntan Lotion and go.”
So, what kind of person forgets to buy Suntan Lotion when they’re packing for two weeks in Hawaii ?
A person like Lilly Thorn-that’s who- and for that stupid oversight she guessed she deserved to have to make a pit stop on the way to the airport to pick up Suntan Lotion at a corner Grocery Store where she had the misfortune of peeing on the floor when she was six years old.
If you don’t think it could have gotten worse for Lilly after doing something like that in front of her friends and neighbors your’re wrong.
The worst part of the Pee Incident came after an angry phone call from the store’s owner. Mrs. Lee. Not only did she bar Lilly from the store for life in that angry phone call to Lilly’s Mom, she also demanded that Lilly come to the store and get on her hands and knees and scrub the floor herself.
Lilly’s mom made her do it and Mrs. Lee watched.
The thing of it is, nobody ever asked Lilly why she peed on the floor and she wished they had because then maybe the ghost that Lilly met at the Pink Store that day wouldn’t have worked it’s way into her head where it has lived now for over 40 years.
When Lilly and her family lived up the street from Lake William all of the kids in the Neighborhood used to go to the Pink Store and buy the penny candies. If you had a little more money you could also buy candy bars and comic books or in Lilly’s little candy tarts called “Sweet Sprees “that came in packages with pictures of people sailing in boats or walking on beaches or hiking on mountain trails.
The candies were hard and always tasted slightly dusty but the pictures were pretty and Lilly used to collect them and used them for posters in her Doll House.
One day, after school Lilly and her friends went into the Pink Store, which back in Lilly’s Grandma’s day used to be a Speakeasy called 32 Pinkerman (the building number and street address, back then places like the Pinkerman didn’t have real names-sort of like the shady characters that owned and ran them.) when she looked over at her friend Domino and asked, “Hey that’s my Grandma’s favorite song.”
“What?” Domino asked as she started to choose her candy from the baskets on the shelf.
“That song- “Lilly pointed up “my Grandma sings it all of the time.”
Domino shrugged and went back to her baskets, she didn’t hear anything and she didn’t bother to say anything because when your Mom was feeling generous and gave you 50 cents to spend on candy- choosing fifty pieces of penny candy took all of your concentration.
Especially if you weren’t exactly proficient at counting to fifty yet.
So as Domino counted Lilly could hear the music get a little louder and then the air started to smell like Lilly’s Mom and Dad’s house around the holidays (only there wasn’t the smell of Christmas Trees or roasting turkey woven into the mix) and then someone walked by (though she would always think of it as through ) her and Lilly looked up into the face of a man with a black eye.
He was talking to someone standing in back of her and too afraid to turn around Lilly kept looking up and the man with the black eye was holding a black bag up and saying,
“I’m telling you I never opened it, I went to Greene’s like always and made the pickup. I never open these things, you know that Ben. Come on Ben put that thing down. You gotta believe me Ben I’d never cross you. I’d never cross anybody. You know that”
When Lilly looked around the store was gone and the candy was gone and so was Domino and there was Lilly at 32 Pinkerton, six years old and watching a man beg for his life.
“Ben, please …” Lilly saw an arm over the top of her head and she saw something in it’s hand and she saw the gun pressed against the man’s forehead. “ This isn’t right, it’s not-“
There was a bang and Lilly watched the man with the black eye snap his head back and then his head slumped to the side and then she watched him fall to the floor.
When she looked up again everyone in the store was watching her pee all over herself.
After that Lilly went through her life always feeling that someone was standing just behind her, someone faceless and monstrous, somebody who could make a grown man cry and then shoot him in the head and then haunt the only witness to the murder- a six year old girl at least 50 years after it committed it’s crime- for the rest of her life.
Trips to Hawaii ? Her Wedding Day? Her Divorce Day? When she buried her only child who died when he was only 12 after being knocked off his bike by a car and could have survived if only one of the dozens of cars that day that drove by him had stopped to ask if he need help.
On all of those days Lilly was never really there because part of Lilly was still at The
Pink Store and the part that was here was thinking about and feeling that dark soundless thing behind her.
She guessed then it was normal that on the day she went into the Pink Store to expect she wouldn’t be going into it alone.
It was funny then how alone she did feel as she pushed the door open and the Pink Store-, which had been outfitted with new shelves and stainless steel coolers and even bigger windows.
She walked –
no she ran by the aisles where the candy and comic books and spin racks where the paperback books used to be-
and when she got to the back of the store she got lost.
Everything was different- The Pink Store wasn’t a grocery store anymore, it was more like a walk in refrigerator lined with coolers full of beer and energy drinks and frost covered boxes of pizzas.
The shelves in the middle of the store were shorter now, which didn’t matter because there was nothing but cases of beer and more energy drinks waiting to go into the coolers and as far as personal care products- unless you counted can openers cans of soup with faded labels and packages of cookies and bread and peanut butter that in all likelihood would be consumed or used by one person there wasn’t a personal care section.
Stupid, Lilly thought to herself, why didn’t I just buy the lotion at the airport or in Hawaii? Why do I always do these dumb things and then she knew, as she had always known that Lilly was never really all there.
As she turned over the many, many ways she could screw things up she heard her Grandmother’s favorite song and instead of looking up into the face of the Man with the black eye she found herself looking into the face of a teenager with a black eye and behind her she could feel-
It was going to say something to her, after all these years of making her less without actually saying a word to her it was going to speak and it said…
“ Let’s go.”
“What.” Lilly felt something she hadn’t felt in years, if ever.
It was rage.
That was it? Lilly’s brain screamed in her skull, after all of these years of saying nothing by making me afraid by just standing there it says…”
Lilly turned around and he was a man, just a ghost of a man with a gun still clenched in his hand.
“I’ve spent my entire life scared of a man who shoots unarmed boys and haunts little girls? And I let you ruin my life? Are you serious? God. You don’t even look like a killer; you look like my fourth grade teacher. What was I thinking?”
Lilly wasn’t finished talking.
“ Hey, here’s a thought. No. We aren’t going anywhere. I’m going though…and so is he.” She pointed to the boy. “ You. You stay here. “ She put her face close to his and said “ Coward.”
And as he became less Lilly became more and on her way out the door she fought off the malicious urge to pee on the floor.
Instead she grabbed a gritty bottle of suntan lotion jammed between some cans of cat food that went off of the market six years ago, put it into her purse without paying…
And then she went to Hawaii.