Ten-Cent Treasures

“No catch. The machine is quite reasonable, I can assure you. And, what’s even better, I replenish the supply of rubber thingies every month, or more frequently, as needed. You don’t have to do anything except enjoy the crowds and the profits.”

Following the deal, Mr. Gentile saw a steady increase in new customers and his bottom line took a turn for the better. The bugs had brought him good luck at his luncheonette. He began a tradition of once a week, bringing home one of the plastic barrels containing a rubber bug from the machine and giving it to his son. Despite protestations from Mrs. Gentile, this practice continued for nearly a year. Mrs. Gentile periodically went into Steven’s room and tossed out all of the toy bugs. “They give me the creeps,” she’d scream. “It’s one thing to keep those monstrosities at the luncheonette, but I’ll be damned if I’ll allow them in my house!”

Life has a way of not always playing fairly. Just as the luncheonette was beginning to once again turn a nice profit, Mr. Gentile died. The general assumption was heart attack, that he had simply worked himself to death. The autopsy was inconclusive. Steven Gentile never got a chance to run the family business. Immediately after his father’s death, Janice Gentile sold the luncheonette to a group of businessmen who wasted no time in gutting the place and turning it into a high-end clothing boutique. Steven Gentile tried to make it on his own, but was never very successful at any of the odd jobs in which he toiled.

A week after his 55th birthday, Steven Gentile moved back into his old house to live with his mother. It was more than humiliating, but the unhappy and lonely Steven was broke and had little choice. The alleyway behind Maple and Grove Streets was within walking distance of the Gentile house. Over the years, Steven watched the changes at the address that was once his life and future. The boutique that replaced the luncheonette changed names three times; eventually closing and giving way to a barbershop that also faltered and which gave way to a nail salon. When the salon closed, Steven noticed a small sign above an old screened-in wooden front door that read, TAYLOR’S MAGICAL CURIOS. He rubbed fog from the front window with his hand and moved his face inches away, trying to peek into the shop. He couldn’t see a thing, so Steven Gentile, who long ago vowed never to walk into any business that occupied this location, opened the antique door and walked across the threshold.

“May I help you, young man?” came a high-pitched voice from the darkness.

Steven looked up but saw no one. “No thanks. Just looking around. Just curious, that’s all. You see, many years ago, this place, rather, this location, was…”

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