Watercolor of Dietrich Merc painted in 1983 and given as a gift to my parents.
Then returned to me a year ago at their passing.
Buddy, the big Springer Spaniel, lay in the middle of the street in front of the store. The thin autumn sun warmed his black-and-white coat. His head rested on his paws and his long ears brushed the dusty asphalt. He raised his head when the whine and a slap of the screen door announced the exit of a tall farmer carrying a heavy feed sack on his shoulder. The man tossed the burden in the back of his pickup and climbed into the cab, straightening his sweat-stained hat as he went. The dung splattered truck moved carefully around Buddy and rolled down to the corner, tools banging in the back as the railroad tracks were crossed.
Moments later a school bus, loaded to the windows with raucous, bouncing children, navigated around the dog and rumbled out of sight. Leaves the color of the bus flowed out of the cottonwood tree and tumbled across the street. A magpie in the tree shouted and took flight.
The screen door announced the entrance of a girl dressed in denim and carrying a stack of school books. She asked for the use of the telephone. Mr. Royce set the phone on the counter and went back to stocking shelves.
“Mom? I’m sorry. Can you come get me? I missed the bus…..I know…I thought I could get a ride home with Danny, but he had to stay for football practice. Okay…okay, ‘bye.”
The store smelled of the oil on the dark wood floor, plus a mixture of soap, leather, cardboard boxes and fresh produce. The girl put some coins by the register and pulled a bottle of Hires root beer from the cooler. A pop and a hiss sounded as she removed the cap. She settled on the box seat by the window and opened a book. The shadow of the store found Buddy in the street. He gathered himself up and trotted to the door when a green Chevrolet sedan stopped in front of the gas pump. He slipped inside as a tired-looking woman entered the store.
“Pick up some cereal and bread while I get a new one of these,” said the woman to the girl as she held up a broken fan belt. Mr. Royce smiled, took the belt and walked to the back of the store. By the time he returned, there was a box of corn flakes and a loaf of Wonder Bread, in the white bag with the red yellow and blue spots, on the counter. A bottle of Heinz ketchup and a tin of bag balm were added to the collection. The woman asked for half of a pound of baloney. Mr. Royce turned on the meat slicer and skillfully cut and weighed the meat and wrapped it in white paper. The new fan belt was rung up with the groceries. The woman and the girl left the store. Buddy settled with a groan into his spot behind the counter.