He watched the activity around him: fruit salesman, old woman selling goat cheese, some loud man pulling people aside to show them silk scarves. Teddy was a little afraid of the scarves man.
Walking around seemed better than standing here waiting for Sophie to come back. The last he had noticed her, she’d been counting out change to give the woman from the dairy, two rows over.
“…Twenty-three, twenty-four, and twenty-five cents,” she’d said, standing up straight and running her hands down her skirt. She didn’t like touching money, she’d told Teddy. It was very dirty, probably the dirtiest thing a person would touch all day, except for live chickens.
For the money Sophie paid the woman, she got back one pound of butter, wrapped in wet brown paper, a quart of milk with cream, and a half pint of chocolate milk.
“Drink that up straight away so we can get our deposit back,” Sophie had said. She’d smiled at him and patted him on the head. Pat, pat, that was how she always did it. At that point in his life, Teddy hadn’t realized how awkward and unlike other people she was.
He was happy for the thick chocolate milk on a hot day like this. “Muggy” was what his Dad called it this morning. Teddy figured he must be referring to some gangster or other. The one time they’d gone to a picture show he’d seen a news reel that talked about gangsters, showing them running away from the police in their cars. Of course he shouldn’t like the gangsters, he should like Elliot Ness instead, but secretly he thought the gangsters were cooler.
Teddy finished his milk and his daydreaming and looked around for Sophie. She wasn’t at the dairy anymore, but he gave the bottle back and the nice lady pressed a nickel into his palm. He put it in his pocket and was careful about it, the way Sophie would have been.
Where had she gone? He didn’t find her at the flower lady, or looking in the window of the Gimbel’s Department Store. Sometimes she did that, because she liked to look at the shoes.
“Oh, Teddy, if I had shoes like those right there, that would be something. I would look like something.”
“You are something,” Teddy would say, always replying in the same way.
“No, I mean I’d really be somebody.”
“You are somebody, silly,” he’d say, “you’re my sister.” And with this repeated conversation at an end, he’d take her hand, she’d laugh, and they’d move on.
He walked for a while, playing with the nickel in his pocket. He knew he could get five pieces of candy for it, or even one good piece of candy, since the penny candy was only so-so, but Teddy knew better than to return without the glass deposit money. Sophie had to account for her spending.
After a time he stopped daydreaming again and realized he didn’t know where he was at all. He’d walked clear out of the city. Sweat stood in little dots across his forehead, which he wiped away with the back of his hand. Turning around was no better—all he saw were fields of corn and sugar peas along the road.
Without realizing it, he started crying. He looked for Sophie’s tall, lean frame, as if she could be hiding behind a stalk. Teddy didn’t know what would become of him, so he sat down, in the dirt at the top of the ditch that ran along the highway.
By and by a farm truck rattled down the road, pulling a cloud of dust behind it.
“You look lost, son,” said the man driving it. He was brown with dirt, but he gave Teddy a big smile. He had most of his teeth.
“Yes sir,” said Teddy.
“Do you know your address?” The engine sputtered and fought to stay alive.
“No.” Teddy hung his head and kicked at the dirt with his foot.
“Well, do you live in the city? In New Brunswick?”
New Brunswick, yes, yes he lived in the city. He nodded.
“Come on then, get in and we’ll find your home.”
He knew he wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but desperation had sunk in. He reckoned he could handle himself, jump out of the truck if need be. He gave the man another good look. Dirty ball cap, short-sleeved shirt, old leather watch on his left wrist, wedding ring.
“I guess you’ve got all day,” the man said, revving the engine to keep it from stalling.
“No, sir,” said Teddy, and he ran around to get in the truck.
Nobody talked as they rode into town, but as soon as they passed the sign marked “City Limits,” the man asked Teddy if he recognized anything. No. Nothing. Not the train station. Not the café, nice as it looked for dining. Not the post office.
“You’re probably in a more residential section of town,” said the man.
Teddy nodded, not knowing what that meant.
They drove up and down each cluttered street. Some had kids playing stick ball, but Teddy didn’t know any of them. Some had porches where older men sat talking and smoking. He couldn’t remember anybody on his street having a porch.
The sun had gotten low in the sky, turning red. The driver turned on his headlights.
“Stop, stop,” said Teddy. He pointed at the house with the blue and white striped awning, a tidy plot of grass in front with two azalea bushes up at the foundation. “That’s my house!”
“Well there you go then,” said the man. “Try not to get lost again, okay?”
“Okay, thanks!” He leaped out of the truck, running up the cracked walk and into the house.
“I’m home, I’m home,” he said.
“What’s the big deal,” said his mother, who was washing dishes. “I’ve been home all day.”
“Didn’t you miss me? I was lost since we went to the market.” He tried to catch his breath, his heart still hammering in his chest.
“What’s to miss? Another mouth to feed? Next time, stay lost.”