Melvin steered down the aisle between the barbecue grills, folding lawn chairs and stacks of white Styrofoam coolers, leaning precariously to counterbalance the raccoon clinging to his side.
It was one of those big drug stores with ready-made furniture, groceries and a seasonal section in the center overflowing with lawn and patio items.
Melvin was undersized for ten years old. He was also barefoot, with his tattered jeans rolled up around his ankles. His T-shirt was ripped and faded, shades of Huck Finn.
“Look at that kid,” said a man to his wife. They were inspecting a stainless steel, four-burner liquid propane grill. “Goddamn, he’s got a raccoon.”
The raccoon, nearly a third Melvin’s size, stretched out, nose extended, eager for a handout.
Melvin stopped to inspect a display of outdoor fire pits. A crowd gathered.
“Is he tame?”
“Does he bite?”
“Just don’t get between him and a morsel.”
“What’s his name?”
The front cashier, a plump middle-aged woman who had stepped away from the front register to see what all the commotion was about, said, “It’s got a mask just like a bandit.”
The front door opened, ding-a-ling, and Lizzie walked in, fourteen going on twenty, only it didn’t show because of her loose dungarees and oversized Baltimore Colts football jersey emblazoned with “19,” her hair tied back with a red bandana.
Ka-ching and she emptied the front register of all its bills and three rolls of quarters. She slipped into the storeroom behind the front counter where the lady employees put their purses.
“What’s he eat?”
“Anything. Everything. But he’s partial to grapes and frogs.”
That got a laugh.
“Where’d you get him?”
“In the woods.”
A man with a tie and a pocket protector filled with pens squatted next to Melvin. “Son, can I help you find something?”
“A quart of Pennzoil 5W-30.”
“We carry Quaker State.”
Melvin said, “Daddy told me to accept no substitute.”
“Try Cook’s Hardware on Main,” the man said.
Back at the trailer, Lizzie spread the take on the fold-down dining table—$371 in cash, a prescription container half-filled with Quaaludes, a baggie of weed, and seven cartons of Marlboros.
“We ought to do a supermarket next,” Melvin said.
Lizzie said, “Naw, they’d throw you straight out. They only allow seeing-eye dogs. And sure as shit someone would call social services.”
The next day was a mixed bag. Melvin was tossed out of ValuCity by a gray-haired lady manager screaming about vermin and health regulations. They had better luck at the auto supply store, but the take was less than a hundred dollars.
Lizzie decided to give Rocky a rest the following day and boost over-the-counter drugs and cosmetics.
Melvin took the lunch his sister had made for him—a baloney-on-white-bread sandwich with lots of yellow mustard, a twin-pack of Twinkies, and a can of warm Coke—and tried his luck fishing in the stream behind the trailer.
He got back around four with three perch and a good-sized catfish. The trailer was a mess—all tore up, upholstery ripped to shreds, gnawed paper on the floor, shit everywhere.
Lizzie stood at the stove, frying up dinner.
“That raccoon went ape shit while we was gone,” she said, her back to Melvin. “Here’s your food.”
She slammed the plates on the table. “He tore up my clothes and shit on my underwear,” Lizzie said. “And he got into the ‘Ludes.”
Melvin poked at his plate with a fork. “Chicken again?”
“We need a new raccoon.”