Hot Tamales

By Anthony Gallo

"Moving on is simple, it's what you leave behind that makes it so difficult"

It is about 8 p.m. and I'm rummaging through the convenience store in the candy section. I think I have been there for about ten, maybe fifteen minutes, just pacing back and forth looking at all the neatly organized racks of candy boxes. It's hard because as I walk up and down the aisle I simply can't make a decision, even with the cashier, an old man with ash gray hair and stubble on his face that makes him look like he hasn't shaved in days, staring at me curiously as if I'm up to trouble. My mind is going back and forth on figuring out what to do.

The candy isn't for me. I've never had a sweet tooth, really. I like a chocolate every now and then, but I'm not much of a candy guy. Never was, not even when I was a kid when most people are candy people.

The candy is for her. It always is for her. It usually was the reason why I would be in this kind of place at night. For the most part, I didn't like coming into this convenience store. A lot of drunks walked in, the cashier was always a real prick and there was a weird odor to the place that really just stung your nostrils. But it was the only place that carried her candy. There was a convenience store that was closer, a few blocks near my apartment, but it didn't have her candy, the one that always made her smile.

The only problem though now, as I walk up and down the aisle, looking up and down each rack, is that I can't find her brand. Those damn Hot Tamales.

I never liked Hot Tamales. I hated cinnamon, hated cinnamon candy even more. Why couldn't she just like chocolate like a regular person? It had to be the Hot Tamales. I looked in the section where it usually was, below the Mike and Ikes and the Whoppers. It always was right there, but as I strolled by the rack I couldn't see it. There was simply nothing on the rack underneath the Mike and Ikes where the Hot Tamales were normally located. Damn it. I hated coming to this place. I only came for one reason, and of all the days they run out of Hot Tamales, this is it. Rotten luck. That was always the case with me. When it rained, it poured. Always.

Taking a deep breath trying to ease my frustration, I walk over to the counter. The middle aged cashier wearing his blue collared work shirt is staring at me, looking at me as if I have some scheme I'm ready to pull on him. His stare adds to my already mounting frustration, but I just try to keep it civil, not try to explode or be too rude. After all, this was the closest place that carried Hot Tamales. I didn't want to know where the next closest convenient store that had this candy was and I sure as hell didn't want to make that walk either.

"Hey, you guys got any Hot Tamales left?" I ask, my hands in my coat pocket, looking out the window into the cold night outside. There were snowflakes falling to the ground. Not a lot, not the kind of snowflakes that would stay on the ground for more than a few seconds until they melted to water, but enough to let you know it was pretty damn frigid outside.

"They should be where they usually are," he replied without even looking at me.

"I looked and there didn't seem to be any. Right underneath the Mike and Ikes, right?"

The guy didn't say anything. He just sighed walked away from his cashier and I followed him, even though he made no word or notion to do so. I wanted to tell him I wasn't trying to be a jerk or anything, wasn't making him leave the register just to find me a box of some candy I don't even like in the first place, but just trying to find out if they had any left in stock.

He walked over to the candy aisle and from a distance, my back just a couple of inches away from the coolers where they kept the soda and beer, I watched him as he bent down, adjusted his glasses, rubbed the stubble on his chin and peered into the rack into the section where the Hot Tamales usually were. I held my breath, waited, didn't say a word.

His right arm extended and reached inside the rack. After a couple of seconds, I heard the rattling that a candy box usually makes, and he pulled out the red box with orange fire stripes across the front.

"This what you looking for?" he said with a bit of condescension in his tone. I didn't care, nor did I feel the need to snap back. It was my fault. I should have looked deeper underneath the rack instead of going to him so quickly. The guy had one on me. I'd give him that. I was just glad that they had a box left and I didn't have to go further up the street to another convenience store. The weather was simply too cold to do much more walking, all for a box of candy.

We walked over to the register and didn't say much more. I paid him two bucks, told him to keep the change and I walked out into the cold night air, throwing my hood over my head. Her apartment was just a block away, but as I walked over toward the crossing light, that nervous sensation came over me. It was only ten minutes past eight and to be perfectly honest, I just wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to head over to her apartment. I wasn't ready to knock on her door. I wasn't ready to see her face and hand her this box of candy.

The coffee shop, "Corner Stone" was still open, open for a couple of more hours as a matter of fact. Judging from what I could see across the street, it looked like it usually did on a Friday night around 8 p.m.: empty.

A cup of coffee or two would do me well. A nice way to get my nerves down before I walked over to her place. Just one cup, maybe two and then I'd head over. I could use one anyway. In this cold, anything warm would be nice.


"Hot Tamales? That is my favorite candy! How did you know?"

"Oh…I just had a hunch. I figured you could need something for that long study break."

"You are so sweet."

I found out Hot Tamales was my ex-girlfriend's favorite candy from her friend. Her friend and I bumped into each other and were just talking about how my girlfriend at the time had a big final the next day and I figured she could've used something sweet to cheer her up. At the time though, I had never really given her candy or even seen her eat any candy, so I had no idea what to get her. When I brought up my idea to her friend, she immediately blurted out "Hot Tamales," and said that she "loved them like crazy."

She did love "them like crazy" like her friend said when I walked over to her place and delivered them to her that night. As a matter of fact, she always loved them whenever I got them for her after that. It was always sort of my bailout whenever I sensed the relationship was in trouble. If we had a fight one day, the next day I'd bring her Hot Tamales and everything would be back to normal. If she was sad, I'd do the same thing. I never deviated from the brand or the kind of candy. Always Hot Tamales.

I was the only in the coffee shop at the time, finishing up my second cup of coffee. About half an hour had passed. The only waitress working there, an older blonde lady with aging skin, wearing a cream-colored uniform along with a black, dirty apron, looked exhausted. She sat at the edge of the counter, drinking coffee herself, while looking up at the television mounted in the corner of the diner. The cook was also watching the screen too. There was nothing special on, nothing of vast importance. They were watching some dancing show where there were celebrities competing against one another. The two workers seemed hooked. They didn't even say anything to one another as they watched. Just stared at the television as if it were God talking to them from the heavens.

I never paid much attention to television shows. Nothing on ever interested me. Thankfully, she felt the same way. She never made me watch some show with her. We watched movies together, but never television shows. I think she felt the same way about television like I did: there just was never anything interesting on that was worth sitting down for.

I tapped my fingernails against the table and took a deep breath. My mind was still fluttering in terms of what I ought to do. I looked at the candy box across from my cup of coffee. Everything rode on that box of candy that cost less than two bucks. It had been about a month now. Exactly a month since we had last talked, since we had our break-up talk. I didn't want it to end. Everything was going so well. I just didn't see it coming. No hints, no warning. It just happened, like that, out of the blue a few weeks ago. I still couldn't understand it.

The box of candy though could change everything. There was that possibility. It had worked before whenever our relationship seemed rocky. After all, it was her favorite candy, the candy she always snacked on, the candy that always seemed to make her happy and for a while…made me happy as well, even though I never ate it and just simply couldn't stand the taste. But I wasn't as confident now about those stupid red, gelatin cinnamon snacks as I was many times before. In the past, there would be no doubt in my mind that once I handed her the box everything would be back to normal; everything would be great like it used to be.

Now though, it was no longer for sure. It was a "could." No longer a "will" but a "maybe". Not a "conclusion" but a "possibility". There were no guarantees, nothing that I could predict. I was in the dark now, walking a tight wire that could land me anywhere. And I had no way of determining where I would fall. Just thinking about that made me nervous. And to make matters worse, everything around me started to make me tighten in the stomach even more. Drinking coffee, the waitress and cook staring at that screen, hell…even the damn box made my stomach sour more and more.

I took one more deep breath and polished off my coffee. The waitress was too preoccupied at the moment so I just slipped a five dollar bill underneath my empty cup and walked out the door back into the cold air.

It didn't feel too cold anymore as I ran across the street to her apartment.


223

The numbers gave me such a chill that it was almost as if they had eyes of their own, looking at me, undressing me and exposing all of my inadequacies right there and then. I felt unsure of myself as I stood on the concrete in front of her apartment which was located on the second floor, my left hand holding the box of candy and my right hand up, ready to knock the door at any given second.

Do you want to do this? Can you do this?

The questions kept coming in and out of my brain, like a bad rainstorm and I tried to settle them and get them out of my head by breathing easier. Breathing slowly usually kept myself under control, and made me more at ease. This time though, it wasn't working like it usually did. Granted, this was a whole different animal, a situation I had never been in before. Here I was, standing in front of my ex-girlfriend's apartment at night, a girl who I had dated for two years, and had thought, more than once, that might be the only girl I would ever need in my life.

And now I wanted her back in my life and I wanted to be back in her life. She meant so much to me. She still does, really. I couldn't imagine myself with anyone else. The candy. That was the first step and I bought it and now brought it to her apartment. Now all I had to do was hand it to her and then wait for her reaction. Her reaction would mean everything, would be the difference, the difference between a salvaged relationship and something that would be lost forever.

There wasn't much to it now. I had done the hard work. I had bought the candy and walked over to her place. All I had to do now was knock…and wait.

My right hand couldn't move however. Every ounce in my body wouldn't let me. I cursed underneath my breath in frustration.

Damn it, why can't you do this? You're this far.

And then…I pulled my hand back away from the white door, away from the numbers.

And instead, I put my ear to the door.

"I really had a nice time tonight Jason."

Her voice. My girlfriend's voice. I mean… my ex-girlfriend's. I knew it. I could tell it was her voice even with this plank of wood between her and me. Jason? Who was Jason? What was she talking about? She couldn't have…could she? It had only been a month.

"I'm glad. I really am happy we could see each other. You are special, you know that?"

"I think you're special too Jason. I'm glad we could spend time with each other finally."

I pulled my head away from the door. There were probably more words of exchange, but I didn't need to hear them. The damage was already done and I got the point. I took one last deep breath and turned around and started walking down the stairwell of her apartment toward the sidewalk.


It's past midnight. I'm on the bed in the bedroom of my apartment drinking from a bottle of Seagram's 7 and smoking cigarettes, watching some late night infomercial about some microwave oven that can cook frozen steaks. Frozen steaks. That's how we've got nowadays. We can't even defrost a goddamn steak any more. We're too damn lazy to the point that we can't take two minutes to take out a steak from the freezer and put it in the sink in the morning to allow it to defrost. I bet that the steak tastes terrible. Probably dry, overcooked, you get the picture. There's no way the steak they're eating is the same steak they cooked in that stupid microwave oven. Impossible.

I take one last drag on my cigarette and pull from the bottle and let the whiskey burn down my throat and inside of my stomach as I put out the cigarette in the ash tray on the desk next to my bed. I feel tired. I feel depressed. Not depressed to the point of crying, but depressed to the point where I could see myself drinking Seagram's while smoking cigarettes while laying on my bed watching infomercials for the next few days. It's not much. It's a lousy living, but that's what I want for the next few days. I want lousy. I want to be somewhere where no one can find me. My cell phone is off. My computer is off. My apartment phone is disconnected. I'm on my own personal, lousy fucking island. Just TV, a bottle and a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes I bought from the gas station convenience store on my way back, the one that doesn't carry Hot Tamales.

She hated when I smoked. I stopped smoking for six months because of her. Got on that damn Nicorette chewing gum shit. It was terrible. I wanted to suck the smoke out of the lungs from people who were smoking every time I passed by them. It didn't matter who they were. Man or woman. Socialite or bum. Straight or queer. They smoked; I liked them, wanted them to the point where it almost got sexual, strangely enough.

But that was when I was with her. I had motivation not to smoke, as much as it annoyed and frustrated me, because the feeling I got from being with her overtook any feeling I had ever gotten from smoking a cigarette. Now that she is no longer in my life though, and probably won't be for good, I have incentive to go back to my habit.

Smoking again doesn't replace the feeling she gave me. I still miss that something I had with her, and I am unsure if that will ever be replaced. But it is not that bad of a consolation either. It's some feeling at least.

After one more pull I start to feel a bit hungry. Not hungry to the point where I would go out and find something to eat, but hungry to the point where a small snack would do me just fine. The problem was my cupboard was empty. There was nothing in pantry or my fridge or freezer. No bread, no meat, no cheese, no chips. Nothing. Not even a tiny chocolate bar, the kind that you give kids for Halloween was lingering. I needed to go out if I wanted to get something to satisfy my hunger and that was even more of a problem considering it was past midnight and was colder outside than it was before. It was comfortable in my apartment. I was comfortable in my bed with my bottle and the infomercials.

My eyes then peered over to the left of the television, where on the top left corner the box of Hot Tamales sat. I pondered about it. After all, I hated Hot Tamales. I hated the cinnamon taste, the way they danced on your tongue like firecrackers. That disgusting, hot-sweet flavor they gave off once your saliva meshed with their hard gelatin exterior. There was candy and then there was Hot Tamales and really, I just couldn't like them no matter what I told my brain.

Nonetheless, I got up and grabbed the Hot Tamales box and tore off the top tab. With my right hand holding the box, I poured the candy into the palm of my left hand, my eyes still focusing on the rather mundane infomercials.

I knew these were Hot Tamales I was about to eat. However, I was hungry and was a tad drunk, which didn't make suppressing my appetite any easier. At this point, it just didn't matter what my taste buds preferred. I threw the candy into my mouth and started to chew.

My eyes winced for a moment and I spit the Hot Tamales out onto the carpet after just one chewing motion. I just couldn't eat anymore. They simply just weren't edible in general. I would have thrown up all over the carpet if I had let those damn candies in for another second.

"What the hell?" I said as I looked around for a glass of water, but instead settled for a pull from my bottle of whiskey.

There was something wrong with the candy. Even for Hot Tamales, it was especially foul tasting. I turned the box over to look at the bottom where all the nutritional and ingredient information was typed. Some candies fell out onto the ground but it didn't matter or garner my attention too much. I was going to throw the candies away anyway, so it didn't matter what kind of dirt or residue got on them now.

"Damn it…"

Fresh until September 23, 2008.

No wonder. The candy had been expired for over a month. Today was October 24th.