by Ron Van Sweringen
Sally Miller ker-plunked her nickel down on the marble counter top and waited for Mr. Klopman to finish with his customer. He wore a red wool stocking cap to keep his bald head warm, but the strangest thing about him was his eyes. Each one pointed toward his nose and he wore eyeglasses as thick as coke bottles which made them look even bigger.
“Alright little girl, what can I do for you?” he said, after sliding a fat chicken into a brown paper sack.
“I want a dill pickle, please,” Sally replied, trying not to look at his eyes. “A big one if you don’t mind Mr. Klopman.”
“A big one already is it?” he smiled, “Well young lady, here is the fork, pick your own out of the barrel.”
The metal fork was half as tall as Sally and very heavy. She guided it around in the dark brew of the barrel with both hands, watching the pickles rise to the surface. Finally the king of all dill pickles floated up and Sally jabbed it with the fork.
“You’re making me go broke,” Mr. Klopman said, “All that pickle for a nickel!”
“Yes sir,” Sally smiled, “and a straw too, please?”
“And a straw too,” he mumbled, bending down to look in the little girl’s face, “I’m going to the poor house because of you, young lady.”
Mr. Klopman was so close to her that Sally decided that now was the time to ask him the question she had wondered about. “Do you ever have headaches Mr. Klopman?” she asked, pushing the straw into the end of her dill pickle. “My mother says with those goggles you wear, you must have a lot of headaches.”
“Only when you come into my shop do I have a headache, Sally Miller,” he said hanging the pickle fork back in its place.
Outside it was a warm spring day and Sally took her time strolling down Main Street sucking the juice out of her pickle. A few people stared at the ten year-old girl in her wrinkled cotton shift, worn white sandals with falling down socks and stringy blond hair.
“Hi Sally,” called a dark haired girl, sitting on the concrete steps of an apartment building. It was Carla Brown and she had her doll carriage beside her. In it was an orange tabby cat wearing a pink lace cap tied on with a blue ribbon. “Wanna play mothers and fathers?” she asked, “you can have the baby and I’ll be the father.”
“No thanks,” Sally replied, “you always get to be the father and the last time I gave birth to Fluffy, she scratched my legs.”
Sally saw him for the first time when she reached the corner of Fillmore Street. He was sitting on a mound of dirt and old bricks in the middle of an empty lot. When he looked at her, one ear went up. He wasn’t very big, hardly more than a puppy. He was white with black spots over both of his eyes, but the best thing about him was the fact that he was not wearing a dog collar. Maybe he didn’t belong to anyone; maybe he was a stray and could belong to her.
“There he is, get him!” someone yelled from the other end of the empty lot. Sally’s heart froze when she saw a big man in a dog catcher’s uniform running toward them. He held a large net on the end of a pole, waving it in the air, screaming, “Come here you little runt!”
There wasn’t much time, Sally knelt down and called, “Come with me, before they catch you.” Miracle of miracles, the little dog flew off the dirt mound straight into her arms.
The chase was on as the skinny little girl took off with the squirming bundle in her arms. She crossed Fillmore Street with cars honking at her and then dodged around the corner to 6th street. She took a deep breath looking back, hoping that no one would be there, but the dog catcher’s net sailed around the corner.
“Stop that girl,” he yelled, as Sally took off with such a giant step that she dropped her dill pickle on the sidewalk.
He was gaining on them and she thought the jig might be up, when his foot came down directly on the pickle, smashing it to mush.
“Whoa!!” he yelled, as his leg slipped out from under him while he sailed backwards. The last time Sally looked, he was lying on the sidewalk with the net over his his head, seeing stars.
A few blocks later, they reached a park with lots of open grass. Sally sat down under a tree, her new friend in her lap. She looked into his black eyes and put her cheek against his wet nose. “You and I have to make a deal,” she said, stroking his back. “You trust me and I’ll trust you and don’t worry, I’m not the girly type. I won’t dress you up in dolly clothes or make you play house.”
The little dog cocked his head, watching her with keen eyes. Sally laughed and fell back in the grass after receiving her first kiss.
“Oh!” she giggled, rubbing her hand over her mouth, “it’s better than a dill pickle!”