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Clear as Mud - Pam Valcante

Clear as Mud - Pam Valcante

Acrylic on Canvas

30” x 35”


Clear as Mud

Susie H. Baxter


In the dime store, customers drooled over dazzling displays of goodies: candy corn, circus peanuts, gumdrops, sugary orange slices, crème-filled chocolate drops, and jellybeans. Nearby, platters of roasted peanuts and cashews revolved under bright incandescent bulbs that kept them warm.  

As a teen, I waited on customers there on Saturdays. But one morning  Mr. Mudd, the manager, gave me a different job. “Instead of helping customers today, I want you to clean under the candy counter.”     

“Yes sir,” I said and headed to the cleaning closet as Mr. Mudd climbed the creaky stairs to his balcony office from which he had a view of the lower level, customers, and us employees. I took out a broom, dustpan, and rags. 

The packages under the candy counter were covered with dust, and the floor was grimy and gummy. I wished I hadn’t worn my nicest dress—pale yellow with a generously gathered skirt. As I dragged out the cardboard boxes to clean under them, I kneeled and then squatted, trying to keep my dress from dragging on the filthy floor. Oops! Nuts and candy began to roll out on the floor. I soon realized why. Mice had chewed holes in them. And it was clear that the critters had been inside the boxes. I found dark droppings about the size of grains of rice. 

I shoved everything back into place, swept up what had rolled out, and headed upstairs to tell Mr. Mudd what I’d seen. 

He didn’t look up from his paperwork but growled, “What?” 

“Sir, the packages of candy and peanuts have holes in them, and I can tell that mice have been inside the boxes. I found drop—”

“Well, sort through the damaged goods and save what you can.”

I stood there dumbfounded. He planned to sell the peanuts and candy that mice had crawled on? Pooped on? Probably peed on. 

“I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t think we should do that. I think—”

You think?” He looked up and glared at me. “Miss, I don’t pay you to think. When I tell employees to do something, I expect them to do it.”

“Yes sir, but—

“You realize that I can fire you for disobeying me?"

“Yes sir.”

He motioned with his hand. “Go back to the floor!” 

I turned and headed back downstairs. 

Go back to the floor? Did he mean “go back and clean”? Or “go back to the floor and help customers”? I wish people would say what they mean.

“May I help you?” I said to the first customer I came to on the floor.

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