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Daniel Bird Daniel Bird
Recommendations: 47

The Cigar Store Indian


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She had a friend.

This is one of my favourites!


Mobile Alabama, August 1969



     Andy Johnston and  Peter St. Le Roux were best ‘buds’ since the day the St. Le Roux’s moved in just over a year ago, and with Peter out of State, this week was the first time in a long time that they never spent time together. Neighbours across the fence, their birthdays were only four days apart, and this morning was something of a special day for them both. It was the day they became the same age and today Uncle Dandy was in for a full morning of the youngster’s sprite imagination. This was the last week Uncle Dandy would see the boy regularly for some time now that he was starting kindergarten next Monday.


     The door sprung wide open, suddenly disturbing the little door chimes from their comfortable places on the air, and like a startled group of upside-down hanging monkeys they just leaped to life, swinging erratically as the door closed in behind them.  In the doorway, wiping the rain from his forehead, five-year old Andy Johnston could not help himself from nervously looking straight up at the sky, trying his best not to get zapped by lightning. Keeping his eye on the storm overhead, he waved to his mom as she drove away, “Bye mom! And don’t forget the ‘Animal’ Crackers and the colouring crayons!”


     With the early morning rush in full swing, Andy’s immediate presence in the store was enough to set the early morning grey to a somewhat lighter and more tolerable tone. He watched as people ran up and down the sidewalks, their umbrellas hovering over them like little flying saucers right out of the comic books! The trees were swaying in the wind and an old man’s hat jumped up from his head and went tumbling out into the rainy street like a runaway tire coming to land square in the middle of a puddle of water and traffic. It hadn’t rained for a long time. Not like this. And for a moment Andy considered it seriously, thinking to his self, God must have a really big garden. And it just slipped from his mouth, “Jesus Dickens, it’s pouring down out there!”


     A voice from behind the counter stopped him in his tracks, “Don’t be using those cuss words in this establishment, boy! Don’t you know a good man died on the cross? That His name was Jesus? That he died for your sins, and mine?”


     “Sorry sir.”


     “Well, yes or no?” The voice was stern but very friendly, forgiving, good and kind.


     “Yes sir!” He said, quickly forgetting it, his mind wondering just what kind of big old giant creatures played in the clouds with their toy rocks and boulders and their zaps of lightning and why they never came all the way down to grab themselves up a snack. And he thought of the big fatty with the potty mouth down the street Mrs. Ambrose, and the-big-meenie-blob Jimmy Bowldager and even that mean little kid, Jeremiah Winston and his terrible sister Sara. They would all make great snacks for any monster! He never did much like them. As far as he was concerned they were all bullies! And Andy forgot that too, still mesmerized by the crashing thunder and the streaks of lightning and the low rumbling in the clouds like some terrifying sky beast.


     “Get away from the windows Andy, you don’t wanna get struck!” Uncle Dandy’s own mamma, Grandma Birdy always said that to him and his sister when they were children. And mom even used to say it to him when lighting passed overhead, “Stay away from the windows.” In all his life he had never met anyone who had been struck by lightning by standing next to a window, and he had made it his ‘thing’ to find out, asking all of mom’s friends, and anybody else she stopped and talked to on the street. ‘Hey Mrs...? Hey Mr...? Did you ever know anybody who got struck down by lightning at the window?’ Mom was put off by the whole thing a long, long time ago. But he still asked everybody.


     And like that, the smell of the place, its smoky aromatic tenure, that aged gritty nicotine smell and that unmistakable cigarillo scent on the air filled his lungs sweetly, the ‘feel’ of the place - the little glass ashtrays always cleaned after every use, the two big ferns dangling down from the ceiling, the oak cabinets with their little locks, not to mention the old-fashioned-brown ‘all-natural’ impression of the place was all that he wanted. For him it was magic. The most magical place in all the world, somehow holding sway over the lives of a small few regulars, bringing them back again and again with their little change-purses and their fat wallets.


     And Uncle Dandy too, was the nicest, funniest and smartest person he knew, and he had the most friends. Important ones too! Andy was always meeting new people: Saul the Jeweller, Mr. Benzo who owned the Auto Sales off the highway heading into the city and Mr. Shinto, a Governor and one of Uncle Dandy’s old friends from when they were just little. And Uncle Dandy taught him to stand up straight and shake hands properly; firmly, while looking them in the eye with a polite smile. Andy loved how everybody was always so nice to Uncle Dandy and it gave him a special feeling in his own little tummy that it would be him someday to introduce important people to his nephews. And then he thought of Layla, his two year old sister and chuckled at the idea that she could ever have a baby! And just like Uncle Dandy, he would treat the people so well and be so kind and good and funny that they too would always come back!


     Uncle Dandy was the greatest and brightest man Andy knew. And he always answered any question Andy threw at him no matter how crazy. Even Mom wouldn’t do that. With dad gone up to Heaven, Uncle Dandy was the closest thing he had to a father. And Uncle Dandy knew almost everything about everything too. And though mom occasionally saw other men from time to time, she was far too busy in her schooling, and the men...they always left. Andy didn’t mind. He and mom were just great together, alone.


     Standing there, his eyes roaming over the Cigar Store, Andy had a sneaking suspicion that something was not right. He looked around, his eyes going over display shelves behind the counter and long cabinets filled with delicious smelling cigars, tobacco, silver and gold lighters. A wonderful place it was filled with long funny matches - all sorts of Cigarette papers, Cigar rollers and those sweet tasting Cigar leaves that cover the Cigars, while a bowl of sweet incense wafting through a tiny humming fan, seemed to give the air itself a special quality. And seeming to add to that peculiar flavour, a tall wooden Cigar Store Indian towered over him, seeming to greet him politely, as if to say, ‘Welcome kind sir, to ‘Johnston’s Finest Cigars!’ And Andy always thought it should read, ‘Johnston’s Finest Magical Cigars.’


     Andy had seen the Cigar Store Indian plenty of times, but today...something was off about it: less shiny maybe, perhaps it was just old or maybe it had changed positions. And even Andy knew that if you stood too long in one place it wasn’t good. Or maybe it was the fact that a faded ‘Red Wolf Paw’ was carved right into the Cigar Store Indian’s coat breast. It was the only thing coloured on the whole of it. Very suspicious. Inspecting it closely, he saw that the Cigar Store Indian’s Coat was all scratched up and its moccasins too, and its pants - scuffed like someone’s mamma came in here and started up with it, trying to get it all clean, scrubbing it red. And he could just picture the Old Indian’s little grey mamma saying, “Now come on Hendry, it ain’t polite to be going on about yourself like that! All dirty and what not!” The thought made him laugh. He stared at it for a long while, still something about it playing on his mind.


     The early morning coffee percolating from the back prompted him to wipe his feet and remove his jacket, hanging it up on a tall skinny coat rack. And hanging there right beside his uncle’s it somehow seemed to just fit perfectly, like the store wanted to just make it a new best friend. And the smell of oatmeal and toast took him right back behind the counter, following his Uncle to an early morning breakfast and coffee, and still, something so odd and unrevealing about the place caused him to turn back, giving it one more deep glance. And whatever it was was upsetting the natural balance – the natural order of things; the natural order of the store, the natural rhythm of his heart and the very universe up in his mind.



     “Happy Birthday Andy!”


     “Thanks Uncle.”


     “So, what’s it like being five for the first time in your life?”


     Andy shrugged, “well...I suppose I’m wiser now. I suppose I can drive soon too, I reckon!”


     “All in good time Andy. All in good time.”


     A bright light stole over him, “What did you get me for my birthday Uncle Dandy?”


     A pleasant look overcame him, “Well...I got something special for you Andy. Something no one else can give you.” And he couldn’t wait for the little boy’s face to light up at seeing his very own professional Cigar Rolling Kit made right from the things in the store, complete with Tobacco leaves, Cigar Tobacco, glue, a new cutter, a little Cigar cutting knife, tubes, binders, sprayers, punchers and wrappers. “Andy, you’re gonna love it!”


     Andy’s eyes lit up, “Can I open it up!”


     “Sure you can, but...you’re just going to have to wait til this afternoon. I don’t have it here with me now. I done gave it to your mom only a couple days ago. So it’s all nice and wrapped.”


     “Well, what is it?”


     A hand ruffling his hair, Uncle Dandy said, “Nice try, sport. Just be patient, you’ll see.”


      A tad miffed, Andy quickly forgot about it, his mind already wondering just what it was Uncle Dandy got him. And he just hoped it was one of those ordering books with all the faraway places to order stuff for the store. And maybe Uncle Dandy would let him place an order, and he just might try his luck, ‘You know Uncle Dandy, I can spell real good now too! Mamma taught me how to write the whole alphabet. And she taught me how to spell big words too! Like...I can spell...White House, President, America, I can spell Literacy and Alabama and Wiconsin and Talahassee, Wyoming and New York and Delaware...and I can even count to a hundred all by myself.” And suddenly taken, he looked up excitedly, the thought of words and numbers coming together like an explosion in his mind. “And I can even order stuff too now she said!” And though she didn’t say it, it wouldn’t be no more than a white little lie, and God really didn’t mind the tiny little lies.


     For Uncle Dandy, little Andy was a delight to look after for the day, always talking, his little brain always taking him off to strange new places, his mind, like a spider, spinning endless webs of tales and images, scenarios and thoughts up in his mind. Fascinated and thoroughly entertained - enjoying every minute of the boy’s company, Uncle Dandy always pried, and today something rang on the little boy’s face like a secret – something perhaps he wouldn’t tell anyone but ‘Petey.’


     Fixing the kid a bowl of hot cereal, toast and jam, complete with a glass of milk, Uncle Dandy settled them both out in the front just behind the cabinet. Placing a second stool next to his, he lit a Cigarillo and sipped his coffee. And it was a curious thing that the boy did not immediately inquire of the Cigar Store Indian, that he seemed unaware that it was not the same one. And what would Andy think of old Red Paw when he came to deliver back the newly painted Cigar Store Indian. Uncle Dandy supposed it would hit the boy like a quick surprise. And it would be the first time too that he would be meeting a real life Red Indian. “So, big boy, what you got goin on in that brain of yours today? I know you never came here to be quiet, so...what’s doin with you?”


     Andy looked up at his uncle, his hands running over the smooth polished Oak, his little fingers walking along, as if to be tip-toeing, smudging the glass, “Oh...just...stuff...” Wiping his hands on his pants, he hopped down from his stool, forgetting his breakfast altogether, lowered a little and - unable to help himself, opened the sliding door of the cabinet, his little gestures saying straight out, ‘I promise I won’t touch anything Uncle, I just wanna smell em!’ And he loved the aroma that they gave off. Everything about them he loved, their brown tobacco-leaf paper, the fact that important business men – powerful and distinguished men – smoked the best, and he knew the proper way you had to warm the tip with the flame, and turn it in little circles before lighting it.


     And he knew that there were some very special Cigars with funny sounding names like “Chubby’s,” “Cucaracha,” “Smoking Toad” and “Fighting Cock,” and he always thought of Roosters dancing around a little ring with little boxing gloves on, swinging wildly. And then there were those rare Cigars too, from the other side of the world that were all wrapped up like Jewels in special wooden boxes with special stickers letting them on all the trains and planes. With that, something about the store caught his attention, but ‘what’ exactly, he could not say. He looked around intently, suddenly feeling somehow as though something was amiss here this morning, but he did not know what it was, could not put his finger on it, not with so many things on his mind today.


     His patience running thin, wanting to delve into the little boy’s world inside his mind – for his own amusement – Uncle Dandy said, “What’s on your mind kid?”


     “Well, Uncle Dandy...I been thinking...” Opening the little day sack that hung from his waist, he retrieved a brown paper-bag, dug a hand in and produced a couple ‘ANIMAL’ Crackers – a giraffe and a Lion, instantly making the Lion chase the poor Giraffe across the plains of Africa, leaving a tiny crumb trail on the Oak countertop. And nothing could escape the King of the Jungle! And he made a great roar and ate the Giraffe savagely, believing himself to be the Lion, snarling all the while. And if he knew that Giraffes could kill Lions with a single kick he would never believe it! And as he nibbled the Lion in tiny bites, as if to savour it, something of a slight concern took him in the eyes. “I think... Well, I’m five now, just like ‘Petey Boy!’” He stalled, “he’s ahead of me by only four days, but I caught him right up. He thought he was so fast, but I showed him!”


     Uncle Dandy chuckled, “Well, one of these days you’ll just have to pass him up and dust him!”


     “I thought of that already, but I think I will have to wait til I’m age enough to change my whole name. Then the law will let me pass him up! And then maybe they will let me have my birthdays on Friday’s. And then I will have to get me one of those ‘Suits’ who talks-up for the Niggers and the Injuns! They’s good talkers mamma says. Like foxes.” He leaned to the side, seeming to think of foxes, “But I don’t think foxes can talk, but it’s just what mamma says.”


     Uncle Dandy said in a low voice, gently offering a little lesson, “I think that they would rather prefer ‘Black Man’ Andy. And just called the Indians, ‘Indians.’ It’s just proper business and good manners. After all, we’re all God’s children. In here.” A hand on his heart he whispered a little secret, “I’ll tell you a little secret Andy, just between you n’ me.”


    Andy’s eyes lit up, “What’s that?”


     “Money doesn’t know any colour! Everything is the same to money! It has no remorse and it creates both good and bad. And were a Black Man to walk into my store...or an Indian...” He shrugged gently, wiping his chin, “I would have no problem servin em.” He pointed to his eye, “Money doesn’t see in colour, Andy. Only hearts and minds. Don’t ever let colour change you Andy. Love knows no colour too Andy.”


     Andy, simply nodding – absorbing it, already onto something new, seeming to be stuck on something said a moment ago, looked up, his head tilted, his eyes squinting. “Uncle Dandy, I don’t think ‘Petey Boy’ would like to eat my dust neither.” And he always thought that magic tiny seeds and even tinier worker bugs lived in the dust. "Uncle, I seen the books myself! And ‘Petey Boy’ is...well, he’s always drinking water.” His hands and eyes went to the ceiling with a wild ruckus as though living a great image right there in his eyes, “I think he might have a big old beanstalk grow right out of him all the way to the skies!” And something about that image did little good for the safety of his friend, bringing him back to his little situation.  


     Oh how Andy wanted to let it out – this little ‘situation’ of his, but he did not know quite how to go about saying to his Uncle, ‘You know...I’m going to have your store when you die.’ And he didn’t want to come right out and say it to save his Uncle’s feelings but it had been dancing around in his mind for a long while now, ever since that day the Cigar Books came in early in the summer – somehow inspiring his own ideas for the Store. And the Magazines, the smell of the new crisp paper in full colour was absolutely amazing to him!


     And he truly did love those special order books, the feel of them in his hands – something about them was truly brilliant, and how he cared for them like precious babies, turning every page with such careful precision, even washing his hands well enough and drying them too. To him they were of another great universe inside his mind, a wonderful place where little boys everywhere helped their uncles in their stores and got to deliver all the stuff to all the people of the lands on just their bicycles. And if they were late, giant Dragonflies would come and take them anywhere they needed to go. And since Dragonflies like smoking cigars too, well...they could just take a whole box, and some for their uncles too, and their dads!


     He especially loved the pictures; his mind instantly traveling to all those faraway places, alive with great big fields of tobacco shining so green in the sunshine, almost close enough to reach out and touch, and if he just closed his eyes he could actually smell them; a waft of delicious scents and aromas, like little butterflies all singing and dancing the Gospel in his belly! He liked the pictures of the men who smoked their own brands, how, dressed all proper and suave they seemed to be showing off, as if to say, ‘you see, this here little Stogie...well, it’s the best thing since panned Gold!’ And then the pictures would come right to life before his eyes, and the men, they would be pressing their suits and tilting their hats to the side, posing fashionably, blowing thick wafts of smoke as if it was the last road all the way home to the cows! Even though Andy didn’t have any cows.


     And he especially loved the order forms, all the little technical lines that needed names and numbers and important things like addresses and signatures and stamps. And with a pencil in his hand he would come ever so close, pretending all the while he was making huge purchases – truckloads! Planeloads! Shiploads! Uncle Dandy would say, “Now don’t be messing with those order forms until you know how properly to fill em out!”


     “Naw, I won’t make a blunder Uncle Dandy. I’m just practisin!”


     “Oh yeah? Practisin huh? Well, just what is it you’re practisin' Andy?”


      And he was a smart one too, Andy, knowing the absolute right time to change the subject, injecting a quick distraction, digging in his pocket, looking up at his Uncle, “I still have this!” He absolutely loved the free Double Guillotine Cigar Cutter that came with one of the books Uncle Dandy ordered. It lit him up inside when Uncle Dandy handed it to him earlier in the summer, ‘Here. This is yours. Careful not to chop your fingers off though, them’s harder to smoke!’ He said. ‘And they stink like the dickens!’


          “Uncle Dandy...” Andy looked around, “did you change up your store or sumthin? Did you paint it?”


     “No, actually...I didn’t. But...” the old brown polish was wearing thin and the paint was peeling and the counter-top could sure use a sanding and new varnish and the windows...stained, could also use a good scrubbing. “But, maybe I ought to paint er up. That’s a fantastic idea!” And it was a fantastic idea. “So, now that it’s your birthday, what’s on the agenda?”


     He put a small finger to his chin thoughtfully, “Well, doctor Bixins said that last time I was on his agenda when I turn five, so now that I’m five I s’pose I’ll go on over and get him to fix my agenda properly so I can write with my left hand too. I try but I guess it’s my agenda. It’s broken I think.” He made a little writing motion with his left hand, unable to get that same comfortable movement as his right. And that bothered him to no end.


     Wiping the counter off, and straightening out the cigars, touching the boxes ever so slightly, his fingers somehow caressing them, Uncle Dandy said, “Well, is there gonna be guests? Cake? Lotta presents I bet.”


     Andy slumped as though a great weight kept his shoulders hunched, his head against the cabinet, his hands on the glass, taken by a deep sigh, as if the life of a five year old boy was too much at times, “Mamma says I’m a big boy now.” His mind seemed to go further away than Uncle Dandy’s questions about cake and presents. “You know what?” he asked so matter-of-factly, “I can do all kinds of things too, like...well, I can cook an egg right in the frying pan. I can make the toast! I can make forts that you can sleep in!” And he said it without ever having made a sleep-able fort himself. But in his mind, the fort was like a castle, fit enough for a King.


     And completely having forgotten the questions Uncle Dandy posed of guests, cake and presents, Andy went on with his fingers, as if to count all the ways he was a genius, “You know I can do math n stuff too! An’ I can even tell the time!” He stared up at his Uncle as if to assure him of his worth, that he was the right man for the job. “I been dressin’ myself since before I could walk too, you know! I can catch a fish in a net and I can plant a real life Tomato tree. I’m gonna be an astronaut too when I’m all growed up. Maybe I’ll just go to the sun!”


     He shrugged simply, and like that it began to work its way out like a tiny Caterpillar about to get his wings. “Well, after I run the Cigar Store for the whole morning, I’ll have to get Brandywine or Louisa, one of them lady nigg-” he caught a slight flash from Uncle Dandy, “uh...one of them nice black ladies to cook me up some snacks so I could go to the Moon and check up on things at dinner time and maybe go and visit God or sumthin just before lights out. Just for fun! Mamma says that sometimes we the ones who have to show up on God’s doorstep!” His little mind ran away with him. “I think he lives on the Moon with Santa. At least that’s what I heard.”


     And he went on genuinely, with as much manners as mamma would have from him, glad that it was finally coming out. “But after you die, Uncle Dandy...I’m gonna take real good care of the Store for ya! You needn’t be worried of your old baby,” he said. “I’m gonna fix it up!” He’d been saying that for a few months now and nobody knew where he got it from, but they suspected outright that it was little Peter St. Leroux giving him all sorts of new ideas. ‘It’s only logic,’ mamma would say, using big words to get her message across, not standing that she married below her means, left to fend for herself with two fatherless children and a family full of in-laws that she never liked anyways.


     And because ‘Petey Boy’ (as Andy called him) was a tad hyper, a bit loud and triple-God-daring, they thought he was responsible for Andy’s bright new adventure – his new ideas concerning the Cigar Store, but if they knew that underneath Andy’s mild temperament, that deep beneath that mellow facade, that perpetual happy and curious state, there was a brain working like a mad hamster on a mad wheel, going over the edge at high speed, keeping right on going, growing great big wings and flying right up on out of the earth and into space – they might just drop dead in they’re tracks. It was all Andy!


     “Oh yeah?” Uncle Dandy smirked, his curiosity peaked. “Fix it up, huh?” He was smiling now, gripped and somewhat exalted by his nephew’s genuine ambitions – his little take on the Store. “What’s wrong with it? Tell me, what should I do?”


     Turning to the cabinet directly behind him - his little feet tapping to some good old Gospel music playing on the radio - his eyes gleamed over the Cigar cutters in the display case, admiring the fine little engravings: signatures of very important men. He absolutely adored the pipe-tobacco packages, trying his best to imagine the process, and the thought of tiny Elves living under the fields sewing together sleeping-bags like mamma does sometimes to sell, filled his mind. And they were sitting there all talking, filling the sleeping bags with tobacco – sealing them up, so proud of their sweet and colourful packaging job. And then the tiny paint brushes would come out and they would spend the whole day and night painting a sweet Brand. He loved the little shelves that were somehow perfectly made for fancy cigar-boxes, like the Auto Sales Stores with their shiny new models sparkling on little showroom floors.


     “Well...” Andy said, lazily combing a hand through his hair, a big bright idea smacking him in the face, “Oh...I don’t know... Like...maybe you could hire a Circus to come to town to visit the store! And maybe you could have them come and bring all their pets!” And again his hand went into the little paper-bag producing a Tiger and a Bear. And he could not help but to ask, “Uncle, who would win if a bear and a tiger had themselves a tussle?”


     And Uncle Dandy said, “Well, I suppose the Tiger would win. But then again...there are some big bears up in Alaska.” And before he thought on it too long he encouraged his nephew, “So...tell me more about this Circus.”


     Andy – delighted, continued, “Well, I think if we could get some Elephants in here...and Tigers and Bears and...” He spilled the rest of the Animal Crackers on the counter, picking them up one at a time and shoving them into his mouth, “If you could have a...rhinoceros, a...gorilla...a...hippopotamus...” He ate them as he went along, his imagination coming alive with a great big Circus rolling through town, followed by a wonderful colourful parade with sword swallowers, juggling clowns, tight-rope walkers and tons of kids and people all coming to buy all the cigars in the whole store!


     “Well, if you got a big old Circus in here...I suppose they would bring all the people from all across the lands and they could bring all the dancers and all the happy people...” His eyes lit up, “And...well, they can buy all the Cigars too!” He was beaming now, absolutely unstoppable!


     And Uncle Dandy said, “Well...I don’t know if you’ve ever seen an Elephant, Andy...” Of course he knew the boy hadn’t, “but...well, they’re big! Really big!”


     “How big?” Andy asked, spreading his hands out full, “Like this big?”


     Uncle Dandy chuckled, “Um...no, not that big...” he went out back for a moment, returning with a broom, looking up at the ceiling, raising the broom all the way up, “They’re this big.”


     Andy’s jaw dropped, thinking Uncle Dandy must be telling a fib. “You’re fibbing!”


     Uncle Dandy said, “And Giraffes are much taller!”


     Andy’s mind spun out of control, wrestling with the idea that all these animals were much larger than he had previously believed. And for some reason he just could not believe it. “Well...” his mind seemed to be pondering how to keep them together, from running away, the idea of them fighting and killing one another never once entering his mind. And somehow all the animals lived happily together, getting along and having a fun old time, playing with the crowds of people that suddenly filled up his mind, gathered to pay the big bucks to fit right in the Circus!


     And like that, the answer came to him, “Well, I s’pose we’ll just have to shrink them down like little Crackers then.” And again he went at his Crackers, making a Lion and a Sheep play with a Camel and a Cougar, “I have a magnifying glass at home that I can use.” And he missed his good buddy ‘Petey Boy.’ “‘Petey Boy’ just likes to use it to burn Ants with, but me...” He puffed himself out, “Me, I can use it to make the big animals turn tiny.” And up in his mind he spoke the absolute truth, the thought that it wasn’t possible never crossing his mind.


     “What if it rains?” Uncle Dandy asked.


      And Andy instantly had an answer for that too, “Well, I suppose we could just make some giant magic bubbles and let them go up in the air over the Cigar Store Circus, and they can stop the rain!” And the idea of giant bubbles hovering over the Cigar Store Circus while the rain fell off and away from all the tiny people...well, that was just the best idea he ever had! “And we could make little sample Cigars for the kids and big ones for the grown-ups and even bigger ones for the Elephants and the Giraffes! And the clowns could juggle Cigars instead of balls!” And he leaned far back, laughing full-out, his little head bobbing, holding his belly, unable to stop at such a funny thing.


     And just then, at precisely nine-twenty-seven in the a.m. the Tax man Lathen Burke of Bayou La Batre, who mamma said struck it rich with the Governor’s daughter and their Money Pit – stepped in from the rain, collapsed his umbrella, wiped his feet and came forward like a friendly Bull, standing over the counter like a giant. And Andy wasn’t sure, exactly what mamma meant about the Governor’s Money Pit, but he knew it meant that Lathen Burke had a lot of money! And for a moment Andy imagined swimming in money, drowning in it, having the time of his life, hiding in the depths like a shark waiting to rise up and gobble up his morning breakfast! And he would say, ‘Petey Boy’ my best buddy old pal...maybe you should hop in and test the waters!’


     And then, just like magic...‘Petey Boy’ suddenly turned into a shark too, and for some reason he was a shark with thick pop-bottle glasses and country coveralls – like a ‘Farmer’ Shark, and Andy might have laughed if the person standing before him was just a Baker or a Butcher, but no...it was Mr. Burke! And Andy knew from past experience that Lathen Burke loved to smoke fat expensive Cigars! Andy, suddenly popping to life, stood straight up, his best manners on full display, if only to show Uncle Dandy that he was the right stuff to represent the ‘Johnston’ name and the best person to own the Store, and nobody else!


     He spoke loud and clear, looking the giant in the eyes, remembering for the first time the story of David and Goliath, and he thought for just a moment, that Mr. Burke stood before him in steel armour, saying bad things about God. And it was Andy’s duty to put him in his place, and for just a moment, he wished he had a real life sling – wished he knew how to use one in real life, before snapping back to business, “Well good morning Mr. Burke!” And again unable to help himself, his little fingers went inside the cabinet, drawing up four boxes, showing his uncle clearly that he had it under control, praying in his heart that Uncle Dandy just let him have this sale.


     And like a little professional, placing them perfectly lined up on the counter, like four little coffins, he pointed to the gold box on the far left, “This one here with the fancy writing is really, really expensive, I don’t think you can afford that one...” He struggled with the name, “Nica...rawgwa!” he moved onto the next one, the black box, “This one here is from...” his little eyes winced trying his best to remember, “I think it’s from Spain. That place where the Bulls run!”


     And clearly Burke was impressed, allowing him to further his sale, “And what about the other two? Where are they from?”


     And because he could not remember he broke into another little tale, one that he could not help but to try on, “Well...forget about that for a minute Mr. Burke.” And then he looked straight up into Mr. Burke’s eyes a slight nick taking him up in his little brain, “Mr. Burke, you’re not gonna be passin away anytime soon are ya?”


     Burke laughed a little laugh, before seeing that Andy was quite serious, “Well, no...I sure as heck hope not!” He smiled genuinely, “Why do you ask Andy?”


     “Well, you see, Mr. Burke...I’m a big boy now.” All his fingers went up, “I’m five today!”
     “Well, Happy Birthday Andy!” He reached out and shook the boy’s hand.


     “Thank you Mr. Burke.”


     “Please, call me Lathen.”


     And while Uncle Dandy handed Mr. Burke a single Cigar, helping him light it, Andy continued, “Well, you see, Mr. Bur” He cleared his throat, “You see, Lathen, Me n ‘Petey Boy’ is gonna run this place when we’s all growed up! He’s my best bud!” And he was never shy to say it. And Mr. Burke seemed to have remembered Andy’s mother telling him the last time he stopped in for a visit, ‘They go everywhere together them two. If one of them is in the mud, chances are you just have to wait a few seconds before the other pops his head up. They won’t be in till they get hungry or the light of the sun offers no more sightseeing for them.’ And he remembered her standing there, so pleasantly wonderful on the eyes.


     “I was just telling Uncle Dandy that I’m going to turn this place into a Cigar Store Circus when I take it up as my own.” Burke looked to Uncle Dandy with a grin, enjoying where this one was headed, enjoying the little guy’s driving ambitions and his imagination. And he sat there listening to Andy’s wild tales of monkeys leading the Parade as the Cigar store rocked gently on the backs of a team of Elephants as it suddenly became a travelling Magical Cigar Store. And the Cigar store Indian was the announcer, ‘Hear ye! Hear ye! Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages...!” And then soon after it became a floating Magical Cigar store with hundreds of balloons making it float in the clouds as it toured the world of its Cigar stores, like a big old King of the Cigar Stores come to pay the little people a visit.


     “Well, Andy, I think that’s a fantastic idea!” And then he turned to Uncle Dandy, “Dandy, I think the kid’s onto something! You better put him to work before I come steal him away to work for me in my office!”


     “Believe me Lathen, I would rather see him work in one of your offices, but...” he looked down at Andy, “well I think he has his heart set.”


     And Andy interjected, “Thank you Mr. Burke, I mean...Lathen, but that won’t be necessary. I don’t wanna do anything else but run the store and travel the world, and everywhere I go, people will buy my Uncles Cigars!” And to Andy it was utterly delightful that Mr. Burke bought a whole box of one of the ones Andy showed him. And Andy said, “them ones are real special.” And he took one carefully out of the box, lifted it and turned it to the little label and said, “Look here. You see the little Golden Rooster right here? Well that’s why it’s so special. Because where this one comes from...the Roosters there fight all the time. They wear little boxing gloves and they even have a little championship belt just like Mr Ali. Except the Roosters don’t have to fight in no Vietnam, and that’s why they can’t take the Champion Belts from them neither. Not like Mr. Ali.” And he repeated something his mamma had said once, “The government, always trying to force young men to go to war for their own spoils.” And though he didn’t know what it meant, he said it anyways.


     And something particular caught him off-guard, something puzzling and yet familiar, and he had to ask, “What’s that stuff you’re wearing - the smelly stuff?” And he leaned in closer to Mr. Burke, recognizing it at once, “I think mamma wears the same stuff. I smelled it on her once. A few times, I think. She wears it to be pretty I think.”


     “Andy...” Mr. Burke said, “would you mind if I came to your birthday party?”


     And Andy was delighted, “Sure you can Mr. Burke, but you have to be sure to bring me a birthday gift!” And for a moment he remembered what mamma said about asking people for things, ‘Only if it’s absolutely necessary.’ And then he said, “Because it’s absolutely necessary. But I have Mindy Weebley, Derek Lafflin, Sassy Ivlitz, Ricky Jarvis and some other people coming too, so you might have to stand cause’ I think all the chairs we have is for like the kids.”


     Mr. Burke smiled and said, “Oh for sure, I’ll bring you something.”


     “Then it’s a deal!” He said with his hand out, very interested in sealing it all up good and tight. Mr. Burke handed over some bills, had a few long words with Uncle Dandy, a couple of laughs, put out his cigar, closed the box, shooting Andy a wink and a smoking ‘gun’ finger and walked out before turning back to wave Andy goodbye.


     Andy yelled out, “Be there or be square Mr. Burke! Lathen!” And without warning he raced after Mr. Burke, “Lathen! Lathen! Wait! I have to ask you something!”


     In the rain, his little hand over his eyes, he said, “Mr. Burke have you ever seen anyone get struck down by lightning standing at the window?”


     And Lathen Burke replied, “Well, once I knew a man who did get struck by lightning, but it was out in the bayou. No windows in the bayou. Just swamps. So...be careful wandering out into the swamps. It seems like the lightning doesn’t mind lookin for ya in the swamps.”


     “Will you ask other people if they know anybody who’s been struck down by the lightning at the windows?”


     “Sure I will. For you, Andy, anything.”


      Smiling, Andy liked Mr, Burke. He turned and waved, the rain easing and the clouds rolling by in a forever gloom, and the street was wet and the leaves were all watered and the lightposts too held a sheen to them that reminded him of those little cigar holders of Uncles’s those gold and silver ones that only the really wealthy people bought. And the stores across the street: a bakery shop, a post office, a restaurant called Aunt Marie’s Diner and many other businesses were in full swing, and for some reason he had a hankering for one of Aunt Marie’s Cheese Burgers with fries and gravy. And he sure could go for a cold soda right about now. A cool, bubbly Coca-cola would be the perfect thing. He went back inside, the strange smell of Mr. Burke and Mamma somehow holding back something from him like a funny secret.


     And all through the morning he talked Uncle Dandy’s ear off, regaling his tall tales of Giant rabbits who eat little kids and giant bats in the woods who steal up little bad boys by the hair and take them away to far off horrible places and chain them to other little boys and make them work hard shovelling gravel and pounding rocks, dressing them all the same to wear striped nighties all day long in the hot sun. And all the while he boasted all the wonderful ways he was going to take the store all over the world and see all the greatest people and have the greatest adventures, keeping Uncle Dandy paying close mind to all his little stories.


     Lunchtime had him settled at the counter with a bologna sandwich (his favourite) an apple, a thermos of orange juice, a couple of cookies and small paper bag of popcorn, during which he talked and talked and talked. With a full tummy, easing himself down onto his stool, unable to finish the apple and the popcorn, bringing the afternoon round nicely with the clouds giving way to spots of sunshine out in the day, more people came into the store, seeking Uncle Dandy’s finest Cigars and his good old company. First it was the retired Sherrif Paul Sanseer, a local Michael Willis, Jimmini Hopeller and Jenicka and Louise Micklflyer who came in from time to time to get keep their husband’s lungs happy and their moods pliable, working their way into little vacations or lavish little gifts.


     And before they all left, he asked them that same old question about the lightning and people in the windows. And it sure irked him how no one came to tell him outright they knew someone who had, in-fact, been struck dead by the window. And he loved how they all thought his ideas of ‘Johnston’s Magical Cigar Store’ was the most brilliant thing they had ever heard of, patting his head, giving him all the praise in the world. And the twins Jenicka and Louise Micklflyer made him shy, pinching his little cheeks, coming down close to hug him tight. And he loved the way they smelled too, like strawberries and other stuff they sell at beauty parlours. And he waved them goodbye.


     Silently pointing at the grandfather clock, working the big hand and the little hand - calculating, oblivious to its constant tick-tock, tick-tock sound, Andy looked to his Uncle, who was even sort of a psychic and said, “Well, Andy, I guess it’s almost time to go for a real meal across the street huh?”


     Andy said, “Yep! It’s almost three-o’clock now. I think we better go have some cheeseburgers and fries before Aunt  Marie shuts the whole place down and we hafta eat with the birds. And I think you’re too big to fit in even those big old birdhouses Uncle Dandy!” Soon he was eating what he had most desired: a hot cheeseburger with fries and gravy, drinking gulp after gulp tilt the acid burning his throat forced him to stop, forcing him to burp. And he laughed at his own silliness, secretly watching all the other people eat, wishing he could try everything from the whole menu. And he remembered what mamma said about watching other people eat, how it was rude and uncalled for, especially when people pay for the comfort and the convenience of a restaurant.


     He noticed Uncle Dandy looking at his watch again and again, when Andy suddenly remembered, voicing his concern, “Uncle!” He said, his eyes wide, about to pop right out. “You didn’t lock the back doors! They’re wide open!” And he looked straight back across the street to the Cigar Store, suddenly worried. For what he could not say. But he remembered how it wasn’t safe in some parts of the countries to leave your doors open, so he kept a good eye on it, the traffic passing by in front of it seeming to separate it from his sight momentarily, affecting him somehow. And he ate fast, leaving much of his food on the plate, his cheese burger half-eaten and his fries left in a goopy gravy mess. But his pop, he finished to the last drop, pounding it back in his mouth like a thirsty little critter.


     Uncle Dandy handed him the front door keys and said, “Here, go get the cleaning started, we’ll be closing early today.”


     “But why?”


     “Well, unless you want to miss your own birthday party, we can stay til closing time.”


     “Oh yeah! Right,” Andy said, heading for the door.


     “And remember to mind the walk lights Andy! I don’t need to go back to your ma, giving her son back to her as flat as a ribbon now, ya hear!”


     “Only in the crosswalk when the little ‘walking man’ comes up, right!”


     “That’s right.”


     With that, Andy bolted out the store and down the sidewalk, leaving Uncle Dandy with the bill. And itching to get back to the store, excited to get back home to his party and his presents and his friends, he did wait for the walk light. Standing there, tapping his foot, waiting, it was agony - like waiting for the end of the world to come and take him up. And for a single moment in time he thought that they should make floating cars so little kids didn’t have to wait for the walk signals, so little kids could walk everywhere without being hit and killed and taken up to Heaven like little Barret Cheynomi.


     And then, seeing Uncle Dandy come out of the restaurant, Andy wanted to beat him back to the store and made sure to wave at both cars before stepping out into the street the moment the little ‘walking man’ popped to life. With that Andy bolted across the street as fast as his little legs would allow, tearing full-out, leaping like a jungle cat onto the sidewalk, darting off in the direction of the store, coming right to the door. Fumbling with the keys, he saw Uncle Dandy stop and talk to another man in the street wearing a black suit and tie. He hurried on in.


     Upon entering the store his little heart took off, galloping across the plains like The Lone Ranger and Tonto. He dropped the keys, his lips suddenly quivering, his mind alive and on edge, the scales tipping in his favour, his little mind working the miracle over and over and over in his head. And he wanted to run, wanted to scream, but...he didn’t. And for the split moment that he was struck by the miracle, the magic, the splendour of it all, his voice was stolen to little breaths, his hands suddenly reaching out, fingers wanting to touch. He still could not believe his eyes!


     Before him, in the exact spot where the wooden Cigar Store Indian stood not more than a few minutes ago, stood a real live Injun, standing there locking eyes with him. He gulped. Standing there in silence, looking up at him, the Indian fellow asked, “Haven’t you ever seen a real life Redskin Indian little man?” The Indian resembled very closely, the same Cigar Store Indian, the same long hair, (no headdress,) the same hawked-nose, but his clothes were just a little bit different, and Andy supposed that that was magic too. After all he couldn’t be still wearing the old clothes of a hundred years ago!


     Andy, as though having not heard the Indian towering before him simply could not help himself but to ask, “What’s your name?”


     “My name is Red Paw,” the Indian replied. “Earl Red Paw.”


     Remembering the tiny ‘red’ paw on the Cigar Store Indian’s coat breast, the one that was carved right in there and painted, Andy’s legs became weak, and a seeming dizziness took him up and away from all this like a mad dream. He fell over right there, just as Uncle Dandy walked in. Red Paw leaned down, looking to Dandy with a shrug, a palled expression splashed over his face. Dandy ran forth taking the little boy up, “Oh my! The little guy has fainted. Red Paw, would you mind going into the back and getting me a cold wet rag?”


     And like that Red Paw left, returning shortly with a cold wet cloth, to a little Andy recovering from his little spill. And Red Paw said to him, “Boy...you just up and keeled over like you saw the Devil himself! Scared the bejeebies out of me!”


     Andy, looking up, somewhat bewildered could only muster a single thing, somehow startling him back, “Are you real mister Red Paw?”


     Uncle Dandy answered for him, “Of course Mr. Red Paw is real, boy! What’s the matter with you?” Uncle Dandy lifted him to sitting, “you okay Andy?”


     Andy, sitting up, said, “I think so.” He seemed to be taken up by something, something so mysterious that neither Red Paw nor himself could gather it up properly. It was that thing that adults could never get, not like five year-old boys with overactive imaginations could understand. And like that, there it stayed, in the little boy’s mind, waiting for the right time to let it out. And who was more willing to sit and hear him tell the most amazing tale than his friend ‘Petey Boy’ who would never in a million years believe that his uncle’s Cigar Store Indian came to life for real. And Andy always knew that the store was magic. And now he knew what had been bothering him from the moment he walked in that morning.


      And Andy got to his feet, wiped his pants and climbed up onto the stool as if it had all been too much to keep on about, “Mr. Red Paw, are you here for some Cigars? We have the best Cigars in six counties!” And even though he had just said it, he had no idea if it was the truth, but he was utterly convinced that they were the very best in the whole world, “I can show you some of the...” And he saw too that Mr. Red Paw wore only blue jeans, old boots and an old blue plaid shirt. His hair was braided behind him and his hands were worked to the bone with little scratches and knicks. “Well, I can show you our poor man’s specials” he said without tact or shame.


     And Red Paw said, “Well that would be all special and fine little man, but-”


     “You can just go ahead and call me Andy Mr. Red Paw. Everyone else does round here in these parts.”


     “Well, as I was saying Andy, I would like to stick around and make company with you and your Uncle Dandy, but...I really have to get going, plus...I still have some of your uncles fine red Tobacco for my pipe. Should last me another week or so, so I should be just swell for the time being.”


     “It’s his birthday today Earl. Andy just turned five, didn’t you Andy?”


     “I sure did. I’m a big boy now! And I’m gonna run the store as soon as Uncle Dandy dies and goes up to visit daddy.” He held his head like a little pain shooting through, but it was not enough to halt him of what he wanted to say, “I got me lotsa presents waiting for me at home and I got cake and ice cream too! I even saved enough room in here for more goodies.” His hand went to his stomach. And before he could carry on, his nose started to bleed, just as the sunlight shone in so powerfully, lighting up the hardwood floors, seeming to point out the exact spot where the Cigar Store Indian stood before coming to life for real before his very eyes. And in that moment, it became a part of him forever, the way the wood transformed into a man right before his eyes. And there it stayed, waiting for him to tell all his friends.


     From the washroom, his head tilted back, tissue wrapped around it, Andy yelled out, “Mr. Red Paw!”


     “Yeah Andy?”


     “Mr. Red Paw, have you ever seen anyone get struck by lightning for standing too close to the window?”


     And Red Paw’s answer hit home like a secret of the ages, bringing it all together in his mind, the possibilities...! “Well, now that you mention it...My father was struck by lightning. Happened down there in Miss’ippi. My ma said it was a miracle. Said father couldn’t have no children before that day. She said I was a child of magic.” He shrugged standing by the door, “I guess I’m magic.” He said, sparking the boy’s curiosity, looking to Dandy with a smile. “But listen here Andy, I gots to run along here, I never did mean to stay so long but...I owed your uncle some of my time and he owes me still for a hot cup of tea that I s’pose I will have to come back for seeing as how you’re all closing up soon.”


     “Well it sure would be nice of you to come along again Mr. Red Paw. It’s a shame that you’re leavin so soon, but I s’pose you have a lot of other little boys to visit huh?”


     Not quite sure how to answer that, and unsure of the boy’s meaning, Red Paw said, “You just hold on a minute Andy, I’ll be right back. I got something for you. I didn’t know it was your birthday, else I woulda done some proper shoppin.” He returned shortly, bringing Andy’s imagination to life with the settling down of a big object just by the counter. And Andy could hear him struggling with it, and yet he was still coping with the tissue and the blood, “What is it Red Paw?”


     “You’ll see for yourself when you get done bleedin Andy, but for now I really have to run along. Got me more people to see, but you have yourself a Happy Birthday little man. And go easy on the cake and ice cream else you might get a stomach ache.”


     Andy replied, “Yes sir, Mr. Earl! And thank you for leavin me a gift. Its mighty nice of you for a stranger!” Andy his face pressed into a wad of tissue came into the hall and offered his hand for a shake.


     Red Paw took it with a smile, looking him in the eyes, “It’s my pleasure Andy. Any friend of Dandy’s is a friend of mine.”


     “But he’s not my friend, Mr. Earl, he’s just my Uncle.”


     Dandy, ushering Andy back to the sink said, “Stop in tomorrow evening Earl. I got the boxing on. I sure could use the company. Hell, I’ll throw in the cigar and the whiskey for free.”


     “Cigars? Whiskey? No dinner?”


     Dandy laughed, “I’m sure I can rustle up some cake and ice cream too! Leftover good enough?”


     “Are you kidding Dandy? Leftovers are my favourite! I’ll be here!” And he left quietly out the back, hopped in his truck and drove off.


     Andy, a tissue still wrapped over his nose came out from the back, seeing right off, an old leather necklace sitting atop the counter. On it: a huge bear claw. Taking it up in his hands, letting it run through his fingers, he was about to place it around his neck when something about the store caught his breath, causing him to drop the little tissue to the floor. Instantly mesmerized he could not believe his eyes at what he saw next! His eyes became large, his heart grew shaky and in all the world, as far up in his imagination he could go, above all the little dreams of his running the Cigar store, of taking it around the world on the backs of elephants or up in the air by balloons...Andy could no more believe his very eyes than the living world going on around him.


     With the necklace clutched in a single hand, while Uncle Dandy was keeping the books and counting the money, Andy slowly came out from behind the counter around to the front. He stood there overwhelmed somehow. Somehow taken up and shown what real and true magic was. His fingers went out slowly, his eyes, still stunned, looked straight up at it, the words slipping out as he touched the cool wood, the colours bright and alive in his eyes. The colour of leather the moccasins and pants seemed almost real. The leather coat, bone armour and headdress added a rushing magical quality to the thing. And the dark brown skin and the dark pupils, holding those same narrow eyes of Red Paw’s seemed to be stuck in a sort of half-smile.


     Andy took one of its hands as if to shake it, wondering for the moment if this was real, asking himself, “Is this real?” And he pinched himself hard, seeing the little mark rise up quickly on his arm. And he wondered too if ‘Petey Boy’ would believe him when he broke into the most amazing story of how his Uncle’s Cigar Store Indian came to life right before his eyes. And he laughed and patted old Red Paw on the arm. “Well I hope you’re still magic when I grow up and turn this place into a real live floating Circus Mr. Earl.” And now, after today nothing was impossible. “God knows how hard it is to find a real life Cigar Store Indian these days.”


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