Most everyone in the Bradbury Building had radios and all anyone ate were turkey sandwiches and someone had said we were to go to war with the Canadians. Minnie and Whit often discussed maple syrup war tactics and how marble-modeled statues of compacted white bread should be awarded for silver medals. But they concluded we weren’t to have one just yet, so Minnie took to activities confined to a mile radius about the Pulitzer Fountain.
The Duane Reade at 55th and Lexington was a good drugstore. Its shelves exhibited packs of camera film, rolls of tin foil and those green army men of a new, “chew resistant” plastic for educating the next generation of Bill’s and Bobby’s in pre-packaged heroics. “Play Soldiers,” they said, “Turn your sitting room into the next Battle of the Marne.”
But the plastic things of war hadn’t crossed yet into the fronts of Minnie’s conscience. She was to buy magazines, lemon ices, shoe polish, peanut butter (the decent brand), and unwounded fruit for her mother.
She intentionally chose the newspaper magazines Katherine disliked, found generic enough leather buffer, the ices from the back of the freezer, a large jar of Skippy, three green apples and a bag of attractively wrapped cherry chews which had enabled her a sweep of PS212’s elementary voting booths.
“Anything else today?” said the counter girl.
“No,” said Minnie.
The counter girl removed the shoe polish from the pile, “Kid ate one of these in Maine.”
“What’s that gotta do with me buying shoe polish?”
The counter girl took out a highlighted paper, “New policy,” she said, “Minors are not permitted to purchase the following items without adult supervision: Kiwi shoe polish, Cutex acetone nail lacquer remover and all brands of rubbing alcohol as well as other intoxicants, medical, cosmetic or otherwise.”
Minnie paid in change.
Outside was hot afternoon. The temperature, which would have been met eagerly in town prepared in bathing suit and towel, was—as city people’s equipment for heat are stored in summer houses two hour’s drives away—unwelcome.
On 55th street was a pet store named Canine Somethingorsuch where Katherine had taken Minnie there to look at parrots. She went in. The man at the counter wore that proud, cheek stretching grin singular to pet store owners who, more likely than not, count individual kibble pieces and wooden chips for cage furnishings.
“That’s a nice coat,” he said.
“How much for a dog?” Minnie said, shortly. She competed with the coat. First it had been an extension of her limbs, she’d tugged at the collar how one might an earlobe, but the compliments had grown dull to her and seemed meagre conversation, as was the weather or the score of another school’s lacrosse game.
“One of those?” said the man, “Those’re flat-coated terriers. Just got them from a breeder up in Ithaca. Best temperament. Purebred. Antibiotics and all.”
“A hundred-fifty’d be fair. Purebred terriers from Ithaca. Y’know Ithaca? With the pine trees, and that nice—”
“A hundred fifty?”
“Mm-hmm.” The counter man ran his hand over the dog’s head and the dog bit at his hand. His jaw looked like a cartoon dog’s jaw.
“And he’d be alright in an apartment?”
“Yeah,” the man said, “Y’need any dog toys or anyth—”
“My uncle manufactures tennis balls.” Minnie offered a slant of mouth.
The man arranged a box for the dog. Looked up at Minnie in between efforts at padding down the sheepskin box padding. “Do you know who you look like—hey. You wouldn’t know him would you? A John Caldwell? Heard he’s at the Bradbury now.”
“My father,” she said.
“He was in my class at Andover, John Caldwell. Know what we said about him then?”
“Said, ‘John Caldwell the Rocket, John Caldwell for President’. Thought it, too. I’d a given a leg to talk how he does. He’s not President yet, is he?” the man said. He said it like he’d missed it somehow on the evening news.
“Something like that,” Minnie said. “Chief Somethingorsuch at Wilson Sporting Goods.”
“You’ve got all the tennis rackets and tennis balls in the world, don’tcha?”
“Something like that.” She counted out the bills. “A hundred?”
She handed them. Pulled the box toward herself.
“Isn’t that a beautiful coat?”
“Father picked it, actually. I’d wanted the baby blue.” Minnie, with much difficulty, picked up the box, precarious with both dog and water tin, and the brown bag soggy from the lemon ice box. She decided to go back to Duane Reade.
The counter girl who’d been there that morning sat at the counter, flipping through a particularly no-good magazine.
“Could you watch him?” Minnie set the box on the counter.
“Him. Tiger. My dog.”
“Yeah, Tiger. That’s his name.”
“Kid, just hurry up, and I’ll watch it for you.”
Minnie went to the freezer and replaced her then-thoroughly-melted ices back for a frozen box. The new box was cold and the cardboard was stiff. She remembered something she read one time about wearing your heart where God intended it and not on your sleeve. That’s how, she decided, she’d fight the Canadians. If she could be hard about lemon ices she could be hard about fighting the Canadians.
“Hey, you coming to pick up the tiger?”
“Hold on!” Minnie called.
“He’s biting at the magazine rack!”
“The tiger’s ripping up the Post!”
“Alright, alright!” At the counter Minnie spoke apologetically. Fingered the wrappers of the brightly-colored candy bars. Mars. Hershey’s. Pay Day.
The counter girl put the things in a bag. In went three-fourths of The Saturday Evening Post, the chocolate, a half-decent magazine for Katherine—her heart had ventured part of that snowed and hard-bitted journey toward her sleeve.
“You’re not a Canadian are you?” she questioned the girl’s name tag.
“Well here,” she put down five dollars, “for the war effort.”
The girl, a plain-looking brunette, tucked her hair behind her ears. Smoothed it some.
“What war?” she said.
“You gotta buy up all the syrup if they come into New England, alright? They’ll be quick on skis but you’ve gotta hurry it all to the Hudson and pour it—”
“The Canadians. The war with the Canadians.”
“There’s no war with the Cana—”
“Good luck, now.”
At Pulitzer Fountain Minnie assessed her gatherings: one box, one dog, a competitive coat and the single child, an M.B. Caldwell, fifth grade president. It was four in the afternoon. A blueberry scone waited at the Bradbury. There was dinner to arrange and a sitting room to guard against John’s complaints of faulty tennis rackets and Buddhism and dulled leather loafers.
Minnie went. Up Lexington the sun was less obnoxious. The sky was the color of pale cherry yogurt. Light strained itself on street corners and trees and blinked on the chrome doorknobs of the well-to-do buildings.
Back at the Bradbury, the desk man scribbled in the margin of an agenda book.
“You have the Caldwell mail?” Minnie said.
“Caldwell, Caldwell,” the man flipped through the mail bin, “Ah, Caldwell, right here. It was ‘sposed to go up with Whit this morning, but—”
“That’s alright. I can take it now.” Her heart was visible as a ketchup stain. “You wouldn’t mind keeping quiet about the dog, wouldja? Just got him, this tiger. He’s more of a cat, but cats aren’t allowed either, so wouldja? I could bring you some biscuits or something, biscuits or tennis balls, I have tennis balls to fill a small swimming pool.”
Minnie slapped seven cherry-chews on the counter. “You be careful, alright? Save ‘em for the war.”
“War?” said the desk man, “we’re not having a wa—”
“With the Canadians. You gotta get some hair dryers, that’s what you’ve gotta do, melt the snow so they can’t fight. They can’t fight without snow.”
“War with the Canadians?”
“Don’t worry,” Minnie shifted the box at her chest, “they can’t use elevators. But you’ve gotta get some hair dryers fast. We’re to have a war.”
The lobby was nearly empty; save two small children who sat about the oddly tufted chairs. Whit was in the elevator and she was glad. As she took the elevator she tried to devise a role for him in the war. She decided he could fill the elevators with tennis balls and throw rackets from the apartment windows.
The Caldwell apartment smelled like cold chicken and tennis balls fresh from the canister. Minnie went to the kitchen, and returned with the blueberry scone and a milk with two ice cubes.
John was in the sitting room. “Where’s the shoe polish?” he said, unpacking the bag.
“They wouldn’t let me buy it,” Minnie said.
“At 55th and Lex?”
“Some kid ate one up in Maine, so they can’t sell them to kids anymore.” She took a bite of the scone. A singular crumb fell to the carpet.
John removed his polo coat. “Where’s Katherine?”
“At Duane Reade, getting your shoe polish.”
John wore a hunter green sweater. He was a good-looking thirty something. He was picking at a plate of cold chicken he’d brought in from the kitchen.
“Met a friend of yours,” said Minnie, “said he knew you at Andover.”
John continued to pick at the cold chicken.
“Said he’d give a leg to talk how you—”
“Paul Atkinson,” John dropped the chicken, “He here in the city?”
“I tell you that time I took off his car door?” John was back at the chicken, “And that he drove alla way to his parent’s country house in a raincoat?” John had his legs crossed at the ankles then. Evening fell on his hunter green sweater.
“Want some chocolate I bought?” she said.
She broke it apart into pieces over the mound of John’s polo coat on the couch. They ate the chocolate square by square; they thought it uncivilized to eat it otherwise.
“Yeah.” He was cracking a bit of chocolate in his hand.
“You think it’s indecent to wear your heart anywhere beside your chest?”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“Read it somewhere.” She ate a piece of chocolate.
“The heart’s not something to be conservative about.”
“Yeah. But we’re to have a war. Maybe at war it is.”
“War with the Canadians?”
“Yeah,” said Minnie, “we’ve gotta get everything together. Gotta have biscuits and cold chicken and maple syrup—for pouring, not eating—Whit and I’ve drawn up the plans.”
At seven Minnie fell asleep and John put the chicken away. Katherine returned with the shoe polish and three boxes of maple syrup. Minnie woke in the sitting room at three in the morning. She changed into the best of her three baby blue sweaters and tucked her heart in her chest. She went to the pantry and began to gather up the tennis ball canisters.
“You behave now,” she said to her tucked-away heart, “we’re to have a war, now. We’re to have a war with the Canadians.”
A. A. Reinecke is a writer and playwright. Her likes include caffeine and the correct use of Oxford commas.