Outing to duck pin bowling, with grand-kids on Friday, brought me back to this short story. One of those sucker prize machines had a yellow ball that caught the eye of my granddaughter Penelope. She was convinced that she would win the ball with her bowling prowess.
“Benjie, you don’t need that ball,” Shirley teased. Benjie bounced it on the floor, between the tightly packed rows of merchandise, then stopped to examine it closely, turning the brightly colored sphere slowly in his chubby hands.
“But, I want it,” he replied.
“You can’t always get what you want Benjie.” Shirley preached with the wisdom of her twelve years. “Besides, Tracey isn’t gonna buy it for you.”
Tracey was Benjie’s mother who stood at the register with his baby sister Caroline. Rolling her daughter forward in her stroller slightly, she turned to investigate the cause of the argument between Shirley and her son. Tracey’s blue sneakers squeaked against the tile floor as she turned slowly, controlling the movements of her tall, thin frame to conserve her limited energy. Long, wavy brown hair fell loosely about her brown face. Her full lips were parted slightly, as if the act of keeping her mouth closed required great effort. Gazing calmly through soft brown eyes, Tracey watched as Shirley pulled at the ball and laughed.
“Give me the ball Benjie so I can put it back. Why you want it so much, anyway? Look– it doesn’t even bounce straight.”
Shirley demonstrated as she bounced the ball and watched it rebound crazily against the shelves. Benjie shuffled after the lopsided ball and scooped it up safely in his arms. Standing halfway between her daughter and her friend Tracey, Shirley’s mother, Dolores, chuckled as Shirley again wrenched the ball free from Benjie’ s grasp and returned it to its wire basket, bringing tears to Benjie’ s eyes. He started toward the basket, but Shirley stepped in front of him, blocking his path through the narrow aisle.
Dolores shook her head and called to Benjie. “Leave it there Benjie. You don’t need it.”
Tracey finally spoke as her son shoved past Shirley and retrieved his prize from the basket. “Benjie, what’s goin’ on?”
“Shirley keeps trying to take the ball from me. Can’t I get it Ma?” Benjie sniffed.
Tracey looked patiently at her son; it was a patience born of fatigue. She felt Dolores’s eyes on her as she spoke softly.
“I don’t think so honey. Please put it back.”
“No!” Benjie shouted, attracting the attention of the other customers. The open defiance in Benjie’s unexpected outburst unbalanced Tracey and irritated Dolores.
“You heard your mother–Now put it back!”
“No! I don’t ever get nothin’ –Why can’t I have it?”
Benjie screamed through sobs, squeezing the ball against his chest as though it was a living creature he was prepared to shield with his body. A tear rolled down his brown cheek and splashed against the shiny surface of the ball. His desperate shouts frightened Tracey. She had never seen Benjie charged with such intensity. While it was true she had often had to deny him, he had always reluctantly obeyed her wishes. This Benjie was steadfast. Tracy turned toward Shirley as a sigh escaped her tired lips.
“How much is it Shirley?”
Dolores interrupted, “Tracey, you’re not gonna ….”
“How much is it?” Tracey repeated.
$1.89, but he don’t really want it Trace. He’s just actin’ crazy.” Shirley answered.
“I’m not crazy Mommy.” Benjie shook violently as he spoke. “Can’t I just have it this one time? Please Mommy–Please?” Benjie wailed to wake the dead.
Tracey’s lips moved noiselessly. They now had the full attention of the entire store. All looked on, awaiting Tracey’s decision, as if her child’s life was held in the balance. She stood motionless for several seconds, then removed a bottle of shampoo from the counter and silently returned it to the shelf. Deciding not to disappoint Benjie this time, she held two dollars out to her son.
“Here Benjie, go wait on line.”
Benjie brightened immediately and looked up at his mother with love and gratitude. He bounced the ball joyfully as he waited on line. The verdict in, the crowd broke up and returned to the business at hand. They did not see the tears that ran down Tracey’s cheeks as she walked out of the store.