Memories of Fortunes Past

The automatic doors glided open with a faint hiss: mere mechanics, but to the small boy standing before them, magic, pure and simple, as surely as if he’d waved a wizard’s wand and uttered some secret spell. Beyond, the speckled-marble tiles, shiny clean, of Wal-Mart stretched limitless. He cared not for the clothing section, or automotive (he didn’t yet even know the meaning of that word), or home and garden; he had only eyes for that mythical fantasy land called the “toy aisle.” And he knew the path, like Dorothy knew the Yellow Brick Road. He could have found it with his eyes closed, before he could even make his own bed or pick his own wardrobe.

At his side, in fist clenched against the predations of imaginary bandits, he held treasure. A crumpled twenty-dollar bill–his ticket to the wonderful show hinted at in the pages of the latest catalog, the three-ring circus of playtime. He had already begun, in his young mind, to make the connections between holidays and the accumulation of wealth: on this day, the Rockefellers and Carnegies of the world stood meekly in his shadow. A fortune was at his fingertips.

Like a small flash he was off, careering wildly around corners, as close to flying as a child may come–what is the force of gravity to one so mightily endowed? And there it was, waiting, glistening almost. From one end of each corridor to the next he bounded, eager but indecisive, cautious, as one should be who is about to undertake such an important investment. Race cars, action figures, soccer balls and baseball gloves–his head fairly spun at the sheer possibility of it all.

The softer side kicked in: should he take the robot castle, bigger than anything he had ever seen, or should he rescue the sad-eyed puppy staring at him out of a pile of plush? Weighty decisions, these. Could he live with himself, would he be able to sleep at night, knowing those sad eyes had no home? Would the robots make up for the pangs of a guilty conscience? A quandary, indeed…

He glanced over his shoulder at Grandma, smiling quietly from several yards away. She, of course, was the source of all this, the leprechaun to his rainbow, the Midas to his touch. On impulse, he turned and sped past the mountains of toys and threw his arms around her legs, burying his face in her billowy skirts, and mumbling something barely audible but perfectly understood. Then he was off again, dancing from one option to the next, his life a glorious question mark. This, he thought, this is what it means to be rich!

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