The Candy Man

by - June 7, 2010

His name was Wilfred but we called him The Candy Man.  He was already old when we moved in beside his yellow-brick-broken-screen farm house.  He smelled of unfiltered cigarettes and always wore green Dickies work pants held up by suspenders that dug into the shoulders of his plaid shirt.  He shod his feet in worn old-man slippers that never seemed to leave the ground as he shuffled across the faded linoleum to welcome us through the squeaky screen door and into his hazy home.  Ashtrays sat upon the formica table top, spilling their contents in an ugly display while a swirly cloud rested just below the ceiling tiles, threatening a purge of acid rain right there in the kitchen.  He would speak around that smoking coffin nail - asking how we were and wasn't it a nice day - as he shuffled to the sink, straining with one hand against the countertop while he reached for the gumdrop bag in the upper right cabinet.  One jubjube a day each.  We tried to fool him once or twice but he would have none of it.  We would wait patiently by the door, trying hard not to look at the bed in the living room to our left because that was where his wife had died, and he would labor across the little room, wheezing and coughing and sucking in fresh cancer with each pull on that cigarette.  We would choose our colour and pop it in our mouth, sweetly saying thank you and see you tomorrow.  He would show his broken, yellow teeth in what, fifty years earlier, had been a smile - when he was young and handsome and James Dean made smoking sexy.  On warm Saturdays he would sit just outside the door in a fraying lawn chair, slippers exchanged for velcro sneakers, chain-smoking and counting cars on the highway just east of us.  Sometimes he wouldn't leave his house for days at a time.

He was kind.  He was lonely and sad.  I wonder if maybe our little visits - despite their selfish intentions - were his only joy.  I expect we entertained him through dirty windows as he watched us pumping our legs on his rusty swing set, pushing ourselves so high that we would lift one of the support poles in and out of the ground with shaky thumps.  We took turns in his plastic hammock, strung between two fir trees in the front yard, rope fringe along each side that we would braid when there was no one to swing us.  We rode our bikes around his circular driveway and dug tunnels in the banks along his winter snow fence.  He made the best orange popsicles I have ever tasted.  We played fetch with Tex, his stupid, gentle, ancient Dalmation who learned quickly, after a couple shots in the backside from my dad's beebee gun, to keep his business on his own property.

He's been gone for years now, nicotine and t.v. dinners finally getting the best of him.  The house has seen new owners, fresh paint and renovations but it will forever be The Candy Man's house.  The house that allowed Trick or Treating every day.  The home that housed heart-ache and loneliness and boredom and a million dead flies but still made room for three little girls on their quest for brightly-coloured gelatin-based confection.  Maybe he found a some contentment in placing the truncated cones in our eager little hands.  Our exchanges were minimal but they may have been his only sunshine and for that I am happy I enjoyed his offerings.

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© Alanna Rusnak