Every few days, I went to Butera grocery store with a laundry cart filled dangerously high with glass bottles and aluminum cans I had collected. The rattling of bottles was soothing as I pushed the cart down the sidewalk and rolled over rhythmic pauses of cracks between concrete blocks.
Collecting the money was almost the best part. The anticipation of wondering how much I’d get for my lot was the second to best part. The very best part though, was when the people were tallying up the number of bottles I had. I always imagined they’d give me something equivalent to a pot of gold, or at the least, a brand new BMX bike just like the one I used to have.
It was never that, but when they placed the grand total in the palms of my 10-year-old hand, it felt close. Bills and some change, usually equaling about five bucks or so. Once I collected and recounted my treasure, I tucked it so tightly in my hand, my palm got sticky with sweat, even in winter.
As I walked home with my reward, I fantasized about all the wonderful things I would buy — two hot tacos, a scientist kit (a real one, not the make-shift jars for test tubes and plastic containers I snuck out of the kitchen), and a BMX like the one I’d ride around on with Jesse, the neighbor boy. Well, I guess we were friends. Good friends when I think about it. We hung out almost every day. He was the one who’d come with me on my bottle runs. If he wasn’t there to share my fantasies with, I’d dream it all up by myself as I slowly walked the few blocks home from Butera.
One time, I came home with my bounty and had my BMX heavy on my mind. I missed it so much. I asked Mom about it. She just huffed and walked away, flipping her hand down as though she were squatting a fly onto the floor, thoroughly annoyed by my inquisition. All I remember about my last memory with my bike was that it was the first time we had a white man in our home. She gave him the bike. He handed over the bills and change.
As my ruminating mind settled and I started to take off my coat, I was reminded of the tightness in my arm. Dismayed, I slowly unwrapped my fingers, revealing money drenched by my dreamy sweat. I peered at the now crumpled bills and moist change, and for an even deeper essence of the fantasies held closely in the palm of my hand, I brought it all to my nose and sniffed in the metallic staleness.
I then cleared my throat and walked after Mom into the kitchen, stiffly announcing, “Mom, here’s the bottle return money.”