Animal Crackers

by: Jennifer Tovell

The asphalt walkway was a beautiful thing to roller skate on, with its little hills and valleys that you could almost effortlessly glide on, ever so smoothly.

I frequented the housing complex with my metal skates clipped on over the toes of my shoes and the leather strap buckled around my ankles. What a beautiful feeling, to glide along in the sun, feeling the summer breeze in my hair. It made me feel like I hadn’t a care in the world.

This one afternoon, I took my time there enjoying the warm afternoon with no reason to hurry home for supper. I knew there’d be no “real” dinner waiting. These last few days were the leanest my family had ever seen since my father left.

My mother was great at making something-out-of-practically-nothing taste really good, but even the practically-nothings seemed to be just about gone.

But as a kid, you don’t worry too much about things like that. My sister and I would make grape jelly sandwiches (if there was any bread and jelly, and peanut butter was usually just a wish) but there was always a book to read to take my mind off of my growling tummy. I especially liked to read Dr. Seuss. But this day, I knew, would be a long one, with lots tummy-growling, lots of reading.

As the sun began to settle, resting after blazing long in the summer sky, I turned to go home. There may not have been food there, but it was my home and my family was there, and a book.

I skated back on the smooth, winding asphalt walkway making my way home. As the light in the sky grew dimmer, I could almost feel the night entering my soul.

I crossed the street and headed for our doorway. We lived in a small, second floor apartment next to Sam’s Fish Market. My mom used to go in there and ask if she could buy food “on credit”, with a promise to pay him as soon as she got some money. Sam was usually kind enough to allow it, seeing she had a large family, how could he turn her away? But she couldn’t go in there these days. No, the bill was getting just a little too high and my mother was a proud woman.

I turned toward our stoop and the big glass door that loomed just past it when I noticed there was something on the step.

Someone must have left something here, I thought. I wonder if they’re coming back?

Then, as though a light switch was thrown on in my head, it registered just what it was. Two large, two very large, brown, grocery bags, just brimming with food!

There was long, crusty bread hanging over the top of one of them, and when I peeked inside I could see spaghetti and rice and cans of vegetables and sauce and, and, cookies! Animal crackers they were, to be precise. My favorite!

I think my heart just leaped to the sky with happiness as I realized that maybe, just maybe, this food was left for us. But who would have left it here? It didn’t matter. Mom will be so happy!

I tore off my skates and grabbed one of the bags and ran upstairs just as fast as I could, making sure not to let anything spill out.

“Mom, Mom!” I cried, as I ran huffing and puffing up the stairs. I was so out of breath from the excitement that I could barely answer her question of where the food came from as I practically crash-landed the bag on the kitchen table.

“Mom, Mom!” I cried. “You’re not going to believe this, but there’s another bag! There’s another bag! I don’t know who forgot it on our step, but can we keep them?”

My mother was silent but so overjoyed that tears came to her eyes. She didn’t jump and shout like I did, and I don’t think she even got out of breath when she went down the stairs to get the other bag.

She just closed her eyes and said, “Thank you for hearing my prayer.”

At that moment, I joyfully figured we were keeping the food as she seemed to know who left it for us.