Monthly Archives: May 2016

Four Rooms on East Main: Part Eight: The Alley

DSC01501

 

Bridgeport, CT

The East Side

1967

 

  1. The Alley

 

The Alley was two different worlds.  In the daytime kids chased each other back and forth. Tori loved cutting through the alleys in the neighborhood, getting away from bigger kids who chased her and her friends home from Triangle’s Candy Store, wanting to take their candy. In the daytime, grimy kids slid through the Alley on pieces of cardboard, traded baseball cards, shot marbles and played Take a Giant Step and Hide and Seek.   Sometimes a kid would beat up another kid, give him a bloody nose, take his comic books. But that was the most violence the Daytime Alley ever saw.  In daylight, the Alley was a miniature street, almost, a throughway used by kids that adults never seemed to notice.

In the nighttime the Alley changed. Tori first discovered this when she couldn’t sleep one night. Her bed was right next to the window, she pulled aside the curtain, pressed her face against the glass. A man was pissing against the side of the building next door. A three-decker, just like theirs. But right on the other side of that building was Paolo’s Apizza, a bar and pizza parlor.  She was shocked at first to see a grown man pissing, he must have been drunk, had too much beer. But night after night Tori saw many strange things in the Alley.

It was almost like TV.  The Alley was dark, but between the street lights and the big neon sign for Paolo’s she could see. Sometimes there was moonlight which lent an eerie black and white movie feel.  She’d watch the people and make up stories about them. Men and women having drunken arguments, then making up and making out, groaning and pulling at each other’s clothes. She saw teenagers smoke dope and drink beer, boys grab their girlfriends and kiss them, pressing their bodies against the brick wall. She saw a tall man wearing a hat pull a gun on a shorter man, stick the gun to the shorter man’s head.  The shorter man meekly handed over his wallet.  She wondered, Who would be dumb enough to go in the Alley at night with a stranger? She saw a man stab another man, leave him bleeding, blood pouring out like in the movies and Tori thought He’s going to die. I’m going to see someone die. But then the second man got up, and limped away.

Once she saw her own father, Poppy, walk in the Alley and talk to another man. Poppy smoked a cigarette and the other man smoked a cigar. Poppy passed the man a piece of paper, or maybe an envelope. Once she saw a bleached blonde lady, who reminded her of Sally from the Dick Van Dyke Show, come into the Alley with a skinny man wearing glasses. The lady was pretty but kind of drunk, the man gave her money. She stuffed wads of bills into her bra and got down on her knees in front of the man. The skinny man moaned and groaned. It was over pretty quick. Oh. Tori thought. That’s what sex is.  Sometimes the Sally lady would come back, with different men. Tori wanted to tell her she should be with Buddy on the Dick Van Dyke show. Nicky would always say, “Buddy needs to leave Pickles and move in with Sally. They’re great together.” Tori considered the Alley People to be Her People, like the plastic people she made out of Legos, come to life.

These were silent movies, since she kept the window closed. She wanted to open the window, feel the air and hear their voices, but was afraid they’d hear her breathing. She was afraid especially of Poppy. Grown men were afraid of him too. Poppy was like the Alley, Tori thought. In the Daytime he was Poppy, sometimes he could be funny and joked around. At Night Time he was Carlo, serious and mysterious and dangerous. Poppy laughed sometimes, not often, but Carlo never did.

Tori never told anyone about the Night Time Alley. The Alley People didn’t seem like they could see her. Maybe she was invisible. Once she saw the Sally lady in the daytime in the Laundromat across the street. The Sally lady folded her clothes.  Tori, who was with her mom, looked away, embarrassed.  She knew too much about this lady. Clare snapped at Tori. “Quit daydreaming and grab a basket. We’re going home to hang these up on the clothesline. I’m not spending money on dryers.” They waited to cross busy East Main.  At a break in traffic, they ran across the street, carrying heavy baskets piled high with wet laundry.  The Alley People were her people, but they were people of the night. It didn’t seem right to see one in the daytime.

Nicky didn’t seem to notice her window watching.  His bed was closer to the bedroom door. There was nothing in their room but two beds and two dressers. He only lived on the front porch for a week, then moved back into their room when it rained. He was either at Harding High or working at Food Fair or at one of his friend’s houses. He was always saying stuff like, “I just eat and sleep here, I no longer live here,” or “Two more years and I’m out of here.” Tori hated the thought of Nicky leaving, leaving her alone listening to her parent’s fighting.  She never kept a secret from her big brother before. But she knew Nicky wouldn’t approve of her watching people in the Alley.  Still she wondered. How could people be so different at night? How could a place be a whole different world at night?

 

Fiction

© Copyright 2016 by Sara Jacobelli

****************************

 Photo Credit: “East Main Street Package Store,” by Sara Jacobelli

 

 

 

 

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Four Rooms on East Main: Part Seven: The Front Porch

walkie-talkies

 

Bridgeport, CT

East Side

1967

East Main Street

 

  1. The Front Porch

“What are you two DOING?” Tori asked, leaning against the door frame. Nicky and his friend-from-next-door Johnny Walters were dragging Nicky’s cheap mattress onto the front porch. They set it on the ancient bed frame. The two boys were opposites: Johnny tall and slim and athletic, Nicky short and chubby and awkward. Yet Johnny was Nick’s friend since they were little kids.

“You could help, Victoria Maria, instead of just standing there holding up the walls.”

“But why in the WORLD are you moving all your stuff onto the God Damned front porch?”

“Your Aunty Ruth will wash your mouth out with soap, she hears that.”

Tori ignored him. “Johnny, can I play with your walker talkers sometime? Please?” Johnny’s parents were divorced, and his latest birthday present from his absentee dad had every kid in the neighborhood duly impressed. “They are so cool, so neat, and you never let me even touch em.”

“They’re called WALKIE TALKIES, not WALKER TALKERS, and they are not for ten year olds.” Johnny grabbed one end of the dresser while Nicky took the other end. “They are for international spies, something you are too stupid to know anything about.”

“Does Poppy know you’re doing this? And why, why, oh why would you want to live on the front porch?”

“We gotta empty these drawers first, Nick. This thing’s old. And heavy. Where’ja parents get it? Good Will?”

“Who knows where they got it? Somebody probably gave it to them.” Nicky emptied the drawers and handed the first drawer to Tori. “Here kid. Take these one at a time and throw them on the bed.”

“Don’t you think it’s gonna be COLD out here? In the snow? And it’s not even screened in, what about BUGS? And the RAIN? Your stuff’ll get all soaked.”

Nicky surveyed the mess. “I am entirely too OLD to spend my entire adolescence sharing a bedroom with my annoying little sister. We’re too OLD to share a room.And Poppy has other things on his mind, he’s never home anyway.”

Tori learned over the porch railing. “Kitchen, livingroom, bedroom, bedroom, bathroom. That’s one room for each person, and the cats can have the bathroom. That’s not so small. I have TONS of friends in this neighborhood that have eight, nine, ten kids. One family, the Russos, have ELEVEN. So what’s wrong with four rooms for four people?” Tori leaned over the porch. “Hi Mrs. Riccio! Hi!”  She turned to Nicky. “Don’t you think it’s funny her name is Mrs. Riccio and she’s not even RELATED to us and we’re Riccio’s too? And she’s got NINE kids, by the way.”

“Well, we can thank the Catholic church for that. Good thing Mom sneaks over to another parish to see Father Reilly. Father Reilly,” Nicky raised his eyebrows. “The good Father Reilly doesn’t ASK if they use birth control. Which makes him very popular with the Ladies. Rather ironic, in its way.”

“What’s birth patrol?” Tori asked.

“It’s called ‘birth control’ and I’m going to have to get you a book or something to explain it. How old’re you?”

“Ten! You know I’m TEN!”

“When you’re twelve then. Your parents would never bother, but when you’re twelve I’ll explain it all to you so you don’t end up like Mrs. Russo or Mrs. Rovinelli with a million kids.”

“I think it’d be cool to have about nine kids. They they’d all have someone to play with. And I’d make em all get jobs too, so they could help pay the bills. “

“Hey, this could be kindof a cool place to hang out.” Johnny said. “I mean, you can see everything happening on East Main. We can watch all the cruisers on weekends. We could smoke and drink beer up here.” Johnny lit a cigarette.

“I’m telling,” Tori said, leaning against him.

“No. You’re not. Not if you want to play with my walkie talkies.”

The back door opened and Clare walked down the hallway, huffing and puffing from carrying a heavy brown paper grocery bag up the stairs. “What’s going on back here?” She looked at Nicky’s clothes, books, record albums, and furniture scattered around the front porch.  She nodded at Johnny’s cigarette.“Does your mom know you smoke?” She looked at Nicky. “What’s all your junk doing out here?”

“He’s moving OUT ONTO THE FRONT PORCH,” Tori announced. “And it’s not even screened in.”

Clare raised her eyebrows. Tori recognized the same expression on her face that Nicky often had. “Oh well, good luck when it snows.” She chuckled to herself as she headed back to the kitchen to put away the milk, bread and hamburger.

“Let’s split, “Johnny said.  “Let’s go over to Briarwoods, get something to eat. I got two bucks.”

“OK. I got one.” Nicky followed Johnny down the stairs.

“Can I borrow your walkie talkies?” Tori stood in the doorway yelling down the back stairs. They ignored her.

Clare sat at the cluttered kitchen table opening mail. “I forgot smokes, here’s a dollar.  Run across the street and get one pack a non filters Lucky Strikes for me, one pack a L & M’s for your father.”

“Don’t you even CARE that Nicky’s movin out to the porch?”

She laughed. “No. He’ll come in when it gets cold.”

Tori flew down the stairs with the dollar in her hand.

“Remember I want the non filters! And bring back the EXACT change, Victoria Maria! No funny stuff!”

Tori rolled her eyes. She decided she’d make a brief stop at Paolo’s Apizza, just to peek in. See if any drunk pool players dropped money on the floor. No one spotted dropped money faster than her.

 

Fiction

©  Copyright 2016 by Sara Jacobelli

**********************************

 

Photo Credit: 

“Vintage GE Walkie Talkies.” Pinterest. http://tinyurl.com/jmzxvoh

 

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Four Rooms on East Main:Part Six: The Five and Dime Lunch Counter

lunch-counter

 

Bridgeport, CT

Downtown

1967

 

  1. The Five and Dime Lunch Counter

 

The three ladies sat together at the crowded counter. Clare sipped her tea and nibbled at her tuna sandwich.

“Samuels is such a creep. A pig.” Red-headed Dottie gulped her black coffee. “Eat, eat, mangia, Clare. You Irish girls are all too skinny.” Dottie lit a Pall Mall.

“Whatt’re ya gonna do, Clare? Don’t quit honey, you need the job. Besides, we love you here.” Irene munched on her BLT, looking nervous behind her thick black Coke-bottle glasses.

“I don’t know. I can’t tell Carlo, you know his temper. Carlo’d bust Samuels’ big head wide open.”

“So,” Dottie pulled a compact out of her huge black pocketbook. She popped open the mirror and squinted into her reflection while touching up her red lipstick. “So, he deserves it, the crummy bastid. Let Carlo rough em up, why dontcha?”

Irene nodded in agreement. Clare looked at her watch. “We better get back, lunch is almost over.”

They left some change on the counter for a tip. Walking back to Leavitts, Dottie and Irene chattered about their mother-in-laws, church, Bingo, weekend tag sales, the fights their kids got into in the neighborhood. Clare wasn’t listening. She wasn’t worried about Carlo beating up Mr. Samuels, even if Carlo went to prison for it. Carlo in state prison would give them all some peace and quiet. She was more worried about him flying into a jealous rage and accusing her of having an affair with Samuels, then beating her up.  She was afraid of Carlo. Who wouldn’t be? She was only sixteen when she married him, he was ten years older, a World War II vet. She admired his dark good looks, his easy charm. He used to box, which impressed her.  How dumb could you be to marry a jealous ex-boxer with a bad temper?

She wished she could just leave— take her kids somewhere—anywhere—just go. Run to someplace like California or Florida. Now that Nicky was working, they could move somewhere and both get jobs. Tori could pretend she was a boy and get a paper route. They’d just need to find a small apartment. But first they would need money for Greyhound bus tickets. And food.  But she had no money, and nowhere to go.  And Carlo always said he’d find her and kill her if she left, kill her and the kids too. She never knew if he meant it or was just trying to scare her.

Maybe she should just quit. Get another job. Tomorrow she’ll skip lunch and walk around the downtown stores grabbing applications. She’ll bring them home and have Tori fill them out. Tori was good at stuff like that.

 

Fiction

©  Copyright 2016 by Sara Jacobelli

 

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Photo Credit: “Lunch Counter at SS Kresge Detroit.” Pinterest.

http://tinyurl.com/zj6ngwh

 

 

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Four Rooms on East Main: Part Five: The Candy Store

images

 

Bridgeport CT

East Side

1967

East Main Street

 

  1. The Candy Store

Poppy grabbed Tori and a neighbor kid and threw them in the backseat of his old Caddy. “Take a ride with me.” Tori hoped he wouldn’t do anything to scare the kid.  Little Joey Rovinelli was kind of “skittish” as her Mom put it. Poor kid. Always jumpy like you might smack em.

Tori knew they were going to the Candy Store. Not Triangle’s on the corner where she went with her friends after school, but some strange unnamed store way down East Main.  There were never any kids there, or women either. Just dark unfriendly men standing out front, mumbling to each other in Italian. Smoking and glaring, looking like they were in a hurry to go somewhere. They all reminded her of Poppy. Men who seemed bored around their families, restless. The teachers in school complained Tori was “restless”— always jiggling her legs, tapping her pencil. Staring out the window daydreaming. Maybe she got it from her old man.

Poppy parked in front of the store. The sign said “Candy. Sweets. Treats.” “Youse kids, the both a yas, stay inna car.” The door jingled as he opened it, it had little bells on it.

“What’s he doing?” Joey asked, his brown eyes wide.

“Nothin. And quit pickin at your nose.”

“Am NOT.”

“Mi fa schifo. Disgusting. I SEE the God Damned green boogers. Gross.”

“You’re gonna have to go to Confession for swearing.”

“So. Don’t care. At least it gives me somethin to say. I never know what to say, sittin in that Damn dark little booth. It’s creepy.”

“Now ya got TWO swears.”

Tori ignored him and leaned out the window, tried to see what was going on. Some guys were talking to Poppy just inside the door.  Then they came outside and spoke in rapid Italian. Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat.

“What’re they sayin?”

“You’re Italian too. You should know.”

“I don’t understand it. Too fast. ”

Tori frowned. “Mrs. Stillwater at school said we ain’t supposed to speak that stuff. Italian. Spanish. Polish. Just AMERICAN.”

A new man in a trenchcoat came up and gave Poppy what looked like an awkward hug. Poppy grabbed his arm, then handed him a folded Bridgeport Post.

“Bet you know some of it. Wish he’d get us some candy.” Joey climbed into the front seat, started digging cigarette butts out of the ashtray. “We can smoke these,” he said. “These are some good ones.”

“Don’t make a mess. He don’t like kids messin up his car. An he ain’t gettin us candy.” She looked at the men again. “Soldi. That means money. They’re talkin bout money.  And probably,”

“Probly what?” Joey stuck a cigarette butt in his mouth and pretended to smoke.

“You look stupid. My Mom calls em Clinchers. When you’re broke and smokin a cigarette butt.”

“Clinchers. That’s funny. Wish we had matches.” Joey looked at the men who were getting closer to the car. “So they’re probly talkin bout what?”

Tori pulled Joey into the back seat and got close to his ear.  His ear was dirty and filled with wax. Yuck. She attempted a rough whisper. “Gambling. DON”T say anythin. Somethin bout money and gambling.”

Poppy got back in the car and started her up.

Tori leaned on the front seat. “Can you make her GO FAST? Real fast?”

He laughed, put his cigarette in the ashtray. Gunned the car and they zoomed down East Main Street.   Tori and Joey giggled, their skinny bodies bouncing around in the back seat.

“Shoulda seen when he had the old white Caddy convertible, she was so pretty an so fast an so cool, but my Mom was jealous.”

“Jealous of a CAR?” Joey was red faced, hanging on the seat while Poppy zoomed along.

“She was jealous of the women, the women liked the car,” Poppy said, stepping on the gas pedal, one brown arm leaning out the window, the other smoothly steering.

Barreling down East Main, Tori thought about what she overheard. She turned the words over and over in her mind. The men said more in Italian than money and gambling. Get the money out of your mother.  We’ll blow up the house. Your wife and your kids. She looked out the window. They passed Paolo’s Apizza. Poppy stopped the car and let the kids out. He sped off.

Maybe she didn’t understand all the words. They talked so fast and they mumbled.

“Tori? You wanna play pea shooters? Shoot peas inna cars parked in front a Fiorito’s Hardwares?”

“Yeah, sure. I got my pea shooter stuff onna front porch in my special hiding spot.”

 

Fiction

© Copyright 2016 by Sara Jacobelli

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Photo Credit: “Penny Candy.” Buttercups and treats. http://tinyurl.com/jnuk7p7

 

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Four Rooms on East Main: Part Four: The Tomboy

kickball

Bridgeport, CT

East Side

Beardsley School

1967

 

  1. The Tomboy

The girls moved in an anxious fifth grade cluster. “Tori. We’ve been concerned about you.” Donna Pulaski blurted out this important news, sounding very grown up. “You’re getting too old to still be a tomboy.”

Mary Ellen Ruggerrio nodded like an eager seal pup. “Yes. We’re very concerned!” She spit a little bit when she blurted “Con-cerned!”  She looked Tori up and down. Beardsley School didn’t let girls wear pants, but even in her blue jumper Tori looked boyish. “For one thing, you should start thinking about, well, a, well, a training bra.”

Tori stuffed the rest of her Ring Ding into her mouth, licked the chocolate off her fingers. She looked down at her flat chest and back up at the girls, who were all taller than her. “A what? For what?” She eyed the boys’ kickball game. Recess was almost over, and she didn’t want to miss the rest of the game.

The girl group nodded as one.

“You comin or WHAT?”  Jimmy Sha-Sha yelled, pushing a shock of dark hair from his face. The cutest coolest boy in fifth grade. He stayed back three times, and was so bad and so cute that even the eighth grade girls liked him.  Rumor was he even smoked dope. Tori wasn’t sure what dope was, but she cherished her friendship with Sha-Sha.

“Gotta go!” She ran and joined the game and didn’t look back. She had no idea what the girls were talking about. She would tell her brother, he would explain it to her. Nicky was sixteen and knew everything.

Tori got one good kick at the semi-deflated pink ball before the bell rang, managed to run all the bases and made a home run. The playground was nothing but a bumpy trash-strewn parking lot, the run-down school surrounded by busy streets and smelly belching factories. Running back to class, she knew she’d get in trouble for being late.  But it was worth it.  Slipping into her wooden seat attached to an ancient wooden desk she forgot about the committee of nosy girls. She wondered who would be out after school to play kickball in the street. She’d stay out until the street lights came on.

© Copyright 2016 by Sara Jacobelli

Fiction

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Photo Credit: “Kickball.”     http://tinyurl.com/zk3n3ez

 

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Four Rooms on East Main: Part Three: The Fat Kid

 

shopping cart

Bridgeport, CT

East Side

1967

Food Fair

 

  1. The Fat Kid

Nicky clipped on his nametag and shrugged into his red and green Food Fair vest. “They called me Fat Kid again today. Fat Kid and Faggot, seems to be the extent of their repertoire.”

Marge frowned. “Don’t swear. An count your change bank.  You gotta open your register, lookit the line.”

“I know. But Marge. I wish I could get rid of some of this fat. I eat myself into oblivion whenever my parents fight. Which is pretty much every night.  I wish I was skinny like Tori.”

“That little sister a yours is so skinny cuz she runs the streets like a dizzy bumble bee, playin kickball an all. You’re not so bad. Lemme see.” She adjusted his gaudy vest. “You have nice green eyes, beautiful eyes. Nice even white teeth, lovely wavy brown hair. Hair’s a little too long, but. . . “Marge squinted.  “You could lose some-a that there baby fat. I ken give you some-a my diet pills. Lose weight, you’d look like a movie star.”

“Oh God, no, my mother takes those things. She’s skinny and pops diet pills for energy. Calls em her vitamins.”

A pregnant lady with wild black hair, a cart filled with food and kids, banged on the counter. “Youse open here or WHAT?”

“Alright already, Sofia Loren, I’m open. I’m open.”

She piled cartons of food and bottles of soda on the rubber matted counter, which slowly began to move. A little girl sitting in the shopping cart kid’s seat grabbed a box of Devil Dogs and tore it open with her sticky hands. “Stop that Maria!” The wild haired woman slapped her. The girl ignored her and started eating a Devil Dog, smearing chocolate over her face. Two small boys climbed out of the cart and ran over to a gigantic basket piled with brightly colored balls. They pulled several balls out and bounced them up and down the aisles. A skinny grouchy-looking older lady in a faded flowered dress stood unsteadily behind the wild haired woman. She shook her head, waved a box of cornflakes in one hand and a bag of prunes in the other, and grumbled. “Was here first. Was here first.”

The wild haired woman turned around. “What’s your hurry? House on fire? I got kids ta feed.”

“No, my house ain’t on fire, but I got Bingo tonight at St. Charles.  Gonna miss the first card.” She looked disapprovingly at the pregnant woman’s stomach. “Looks like you got plenny enough kids to feed.”

“Plenty kids? Go tell the Pope, why-dontcha? Ya know Birth Control’s illegal in the State of Connecticut. We could go to jail for just talkin about it.” She raised a black eyebrow. “Jail’d be OK with me, it’d be like a God Damned Vacation. ANT-NY, ANGELO!  Get back here now, fore I whip your BE-hinds.”

“Another day at the Salt Mines.” Nicky rolled his eyes.

“Those kids at school, they’re just jealous. You with the Honest Society, singin in the choir, an all that. And a job, lookit you, you made good with a job already. A cashier’s job at sixteen! You’re making as much as me, a Divorced Woman with kids. You’re makin as much as your own mother down there at Leavitt’s, and here you are just a junior at Harding High. “

“MARGE NEEDED AT AISLE THREE. MARGE NEEDED AT AISLE THREE.” Mr. Bloomer’s high-pitched voice blared over the creaky intercom.

“It’s Honor Society, Marge.”

“What hon?” she yelled as she ran in the direction of Aisle Three as fast as her white lady’s sneakers could take her.

“Nothing. Thanks Marge. Thanks for listening.” His nimble fingers rang up the order and cleaned up the chocolate mess made by little Maria. The bag boy was out back sneaking a smoke, so Nicky bagged the groceries too.  He hoped to make Cashier of the Month again. It came with a five dollar bonus and a free gallon of milk.

 

Fiction

©   Copyright 2016 by Sara Jacobelli 

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Photo Credit: “1960s Shopping Cart”   http://tinyurl.com/jeb3dmb

 

 

 

 

 

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Four Rooms on East Main: Part Two: The Elevator

 

The Bridgeport Post from Bridgeport, Connecticut · Page 7

Bridgeport , CT

Downtown

Leavitt’s Department Store

1967

2.

The Elevator

Clare was pretty in a fortyish movie star kind of way, half hidden by department store sales lady clothes. In the elevator, she squirmed to get away from her smarmy sweaty boss. He leaned in close. “You smell good, honey. You sampling our perfume?”

She was too tough, too Irish to cry. She pushed him away. “Leave me alone Mr. Samuels. You don’t know how hot-headed my husband is.  He’ll kill you, you keep bothering me.”

“Your husband? You want him to kill me, go to prison? Is that what you want? You wanna be alone with your kids, no husband, livin on this measly paycheck? You wanna raise up your kids on Welfare an Church Charity?”

The elevator stopped at the first floor. The ancient faded signs on the wall declared, “Welcome to the NEW Leavitt’s.” Her kids always laughed at those signs.  Clare vowed to take the stairs from now on. With someone. She’d grab Franny from Men’s Wear or Cynthia from Cosmetics. They’d take the stairs two by two.  Maybe she would look for another job. She’d start looking at the Help Wanted ads in the Bridgeport Post.

Fiction

©    Copyright 2016 by Sara Jacobelli

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“Bridgeport Public Library,http://www.bridgeportmemoir.com/2008/08/looking-for-shoes-downtown-at-leavitts.html

“Department Store Museum,”http://www.thedepartmentstoremuseum.org/2010/09/d-m-read-co-bridgeport-connecticut.html

“The Bridgeport Posthttps://www.newspapers.com/newspage/60221302/

Photo Credit: “Leavitt’s ad”, The Bridgeport Post 

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