Posted by: Peadar Ban | June 8, 2013

Mall Stories: #1 No Volunteers

It was the first really clear day in April after about two weeks of cold rain.  The first day back at her little job in the Mall for Nanny who worked at The Brass Farthing in the Food Court.  Time was when something like The Brass Farthing would have been on Main Street in Westchester with trees outside and tables on the sidewalk in the good weather.  Nanny would have gone there when she was younger; hung out with her girl friends, flirted with the boys and played songs by Patti Page and Pat Boone in the juke box; dreamed about a house and a yard and kids of her own who’d grow up and hang out down on Main Street, too.

She took the bus down to the mall after a two block walk in the clear cool weather, and gave thanks for the small things.  “God is faithful in the small things,” she told herself as she walked along, and then waited at the stop by the fire station.  Sometime it seemed to her that God was only faithful in the small things.  She’d tell that to her friend Lois when Lois wanted her to go in on ten or so tickets for the MegaBall lottery every time the jackpot shot past the 100 million dollar payoff mark.  “Save your money, Lois.  Go to the movies with me on Sunday and dream. That’s what Sundays are for.  Dreams don’t cost you a thing.  God’s only faithful in the small things for us old broads.”  They would be sitting in her kitchen smoking a cigarette and drinking a high ball.

Lois always told her it was only a buck for a bigger dream, and who knew that it won’t come true.

On the ride down to the Mall she passed the street where she grew up, and where for a while she had that house and the yard and the kids.  That was why she was called Nanny, and had been for so long that she thought of it as her only name.  The street was lined with car dealerships these days, and her house was long gone; a used car lot, full of previously owned dreams, now.  “It was ten thousand, then,” she thought.  “I wonder what it would be now, if it was still there.”


It always happened when she passed her old street on the bus; Nanny remembered the last time she saw the place.  She remembered the night she lost the house.  Jake had come home late after a night of drinking and poker down at the VFW.  Nanny was asleep upstairs, and awoke when she smelled the smoke.  She tried to get to him, tried to get to Jake downstairs, but the flames were just beginning to roar up to her on the landing, to blast down the hall to Little Jimmy’s room.  Forced back into her own room she ran to the window and screamed for help before she jumped. 

She often heard Jimmy’s last words, “Mommy!  Mommy!  No!”, when the bus was going by.  It had happened again, the living memory, Jimmy’s voice fading behind, as the bus coughed down the hill to the Mall.  When she got out of the hospital and could walk around again she went back, moved in with her sister who lived two houses down from the burned out wreck, took care of her kids while she worked.  “You don’t have to stay here,” her sister said.  “I could get someone, pay ‘em to come in.”  “No,” Nanny answered, “I got Jake’s insurance, and nothing else to do, Grace.  My leg ain’t letting me walk too much after I tried flying and failed miserably.  I love the kids, and they love me, I hope.  Go to work, feel good knowing you got the best paid volunteer on the block.”

It was the little one, the baby, Becca who shared a birthday with her, who named her.  She called her big brother Sam, “Thamoo”, and so he was.  She couldn’t say “Auntie”, and called her Nanny.

That settled it.  She became Nanny about six months into the job and Nanny she stayed.

She was always the last one off the bus at the Mall stop, the last one on the route.  “One of these days,” she thought as she left her seat and walked down to the front door, said goodbye to Al, the driver, and stepped onto the curb.  “One of these days,” she told him, “ I won’t get off and you’ll have to come all the way back there to drag me out.  I ain’t that easy, you know.”  “Be the first time you was ever dragged anywhere, Nanny,” Al said.

She stepped down to the curb and waved goodbye without turning around.  She was inside the Mall and on her way to work before the bus door hissed closed and it growled away.  Nanny waved hello to the people behind the counters at the food court; bus riders, lottery players and waiting for luck kind of folks just like her.  The Brass Farthing was on the other side from the door so she had a nice chat with the folks she’d come to know as she made her way to work, punched in and put on her pin striped black apron and her bow tie; her Hostess uniform.

The two young girls came through the Mall’s Food Court entrance headed for adventure.  They were dressed almost modestly; which is about as modest as things are these days.  No intimate body parts or organs showed, no broad expanses of skin which might have graced the pages of a photo essay in National Geographic a half-century ago could be seen.  It made little difference since everything was as if pasted on.

The girls giggled along in quick step; the march of the young teen-aged girl on the way to another day of shopping, texting and flirting.  One was a bit more tall, and slightly more thin because of it, than the other.  She was the one with braces, her hair tightly curled.  Her eyes were widely set and bright blue.  Even in the light of the Food Court they had a kind of lively brightness to them.  Her friend, the smaller of the two had a serious face.  The bit of a smile on her small mouth looked tentative, testing.  She was the one with the earrings, the bits and pieces cut out of her face and sporting pins and circles and objects of no use or significance thought Nanny as she looked at them with a mixture of curiosity and foreboding.  “Why,” she wondered as she did every time she saw the walking around.  “What don’t they have?”

They stopped when Nanny approached them, polite, smiling, waiting.  Nanny, who looked the part, worked during lunch time.  She stood in front and gave passers by a free sample of what was being served over the counter just behind her; the counter of The Brass Farthing:  Solid Food for the Serious Shopper.  That could mean just about anything, and Nanny would say just about anything about the food she had to sample.  She had a natural talent for the right remark that produced an attention fixing smile or laugh and opened up the chance for her to offer a first exciting taste for the hungry passer by.

 “Good morning,” she said.  “Is it still cool outside?”  “Yes,” they answered in unison.  The taller one added, “It should get warmer, though.”  “Well, that’s a good sign at least,” Nanny answered.  “If it’s going to rain today, I’d rather have it warmer than it is now.”

Both girls nodded, and made as if to continue their purposed march to the stores.  Nanny reached out, stepping alongside them.

“Are you thinking about lunch, yet?”  That was when she showed them the tray of samples she held in her arm.  “Would you like a taste of our treats?”  She nodded towards the store front they had just about passed, and continued, “We can’t be beat for taste or treat.  Our stuff is better than their stuff,” she finished in a little singsong chant.  Holding the tray in front of her so the girls would have a better view, she began to explain its contents to her newest friends, smiling her most winning smile.  As she swept her right hand gracefully over the rows of samples she named each one, “This is our very own Ham and Swiss on bread baked in our own ovens.  Here is Roast Beef, the best top round roast from our ovens, the best top round roast from any oven, anywhere.  It’s so good you want to hug it.”  She continued naming the all, bragging on what she had.  Picking up one of the little roast beef sandwich samples she held it out to the girls.

They looked at it, politely.  They had stopped now directly in front of the counter, the brightly lit preparation area, the display cases of meats and salads, the smiling young workers behind the counter.  And Nanny out front, trolling the waters.

“No thank you,” said the littler one with the tight smile, her words clipped, toneless.  The thing in her lip wiggled when she spoke, like some worm on a hook.  Her eyes, as she looked at Nanny, seemed older, harder.  Nanny thought, “This one is angry.  What have I said?”  “No thank you,” said the taller one, and she giggled nervously, looking at her smaller friend for the tiniest moment, then looking at Nanny again, giggling again, waiting.

Nanny pouted, pretending to be disappointed.  She was playing with the fish in the pond, now.  One of them, at least, she believed would bite.  She pouted and she sniffled as if she was about to weep.  Both girls were paying attention to her now.  The tall one reacting to Nanny’s little play, her little twitch of the lure, leaned towards her.  The small one not fooled at all, seeming now to be really angry, folded her arms.

Nanny smiled at the taller girl to show her she was only playing.  She actually laughed when Nanny smiled, relieved that she’d not hurt anyone by saying no.  It was a game, after all, she thought.  “You’re not upset?” She asked, and answered her own question, turning to her friend, “She’s not upset, Jen.”  Jen said nothing.  Stood rigid.  Smiled and stared straight ahead.  Seconds passed, as Nanny wondered what was happening.

She turned slightly away from Jen and said to the other girl, “She’s Jen.  Who are you?”

The girl jumped slightly, as if frightened, and looked over at her friend before saying, “Betsy.  Betsy…”  She paused as if she was going to give her last name, and thought better of it, ending her sentence by opening her arms.  Nanny thought the girl was going to hug her.

“Well, Betsy, you can call me Nanny, ‘cause that’s who I am, and I am always here to hand out little bits of the best food your have ever eaten, even if it was your own Nanny that made it for you.”  Nanny once again offered a sample to both the girls.  In unison this time they said, “No.”

“Pardon me,” Nanny said, “but I wonder now if you girls are both vegetarians.  You’re both vegetarian aren’t you?”  Betsy nodded her head, smiling, her little curls jiggling like bits of jewelry on top of her head.  Jen nodded stiffly, her arms more tightly locked against her, defending against Nanny’s advance.  Taking a small step toward Betsy and smiling as sweetly as she knew she could smile, so sweetly that Betsy giggled a bit like a baby giggles when its mother smiles down at it, Nanny spoke.  “Do you mind if I tell you something?”  Hesitating just a split second, Nanny put down her tray of samples on a nearby table and invited the girls to come closer.  They took a small step, even Jen edged forward.

“All of the food we serve,” Nanny began, “ the meat I mean.  None of it comes from animals that eat anything but vegetables.”  She paused and looked at them both.  Jen seemed ready to say something really angry and hurtful.  She had a fighter’s stance and her jaw muscles were working double-time getting ready, Nanny thought, to spit or shout.  She wondered if she ought to just pick up her tray and wave goodbye to these two kids.  But, then, she always thought she liked a good clean fight.  Betsy, well Betsy would buy a bridge she figured if she’d been selling it.

“Yep,” she continued, “that’s all they eat, and when you eat one of our chicken or beef or BLT sandwiches, all you’re getting is just re-cycled vegetables.”  There.  She smiled, and Betsy giggled, seemed ready to say something, looked at her friend and said nothing.  Nanny picked up her tray and held it out.

“We’re not vegetarians that way,” barked Jen.  “Oh,” said Nanny, “ what way are you?”  “We don’t believe in killing animals.”  Then she said, “Come on Betsy.”  Betsy, who was still smiling at Nanny’s little joke, stood where she was for just a second, and Nanny said, “Can I ask you both a question before you go?”  She took Betsy’s smiling nod as an answer for both of them.

“Did you know that all of our animals are volunteers?  We don’t take any animals which don’t want to be part of our delicious food.”  It was a line that had worked well on Nanny’s very few hard cases.

“That’s just stupid,” said Jen, “animals can’t volunteer to be killed.”

Nanny heard what the girl had said, and saw her face as she spoke.  She glanced over to Betsy, and saw Betsy smiling, silently nodding, her curls jiggling like jewelry on the top of her head.  Then she looked back at Jen, cold, closed, angry and smirking at her; even more ready, she thought, to spit or shout.  “Here’s a girl with a problem,” Nanny thought, and wondered how dangerous she could be as she grew older.

Jen took a step away.  “C’mon, Betsy,” she clipped.  “Wait,” Nanny said, “are you girls pro-choice?”  As the words came out, as she was saying them Nanny marveled at the thought and the words and wondered, she still wonders, how they got into her head, how the thought appeared, from where, and how it formed itself into sounds.

Jen answered, “Yes.” 

One word. 

Betsy hesitated and nodded. 


“Interesting,” Nanny answered.

“Did you know that babies can’t volunteer to be killed?”




  1. Packs a punch.

    • Thank you.


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