Emily Hipchen

Creative Nonfiction

Emily Hipchen is a Fulbright scholar, the editor of Adoption & Culture, one of the editors of a/b: Autobiography Studies, and the author of a memoir, Coming Apart Together: Fragments from an Adoption (2005). Her essays, short stories, and poems have appeared in Fourth Genre, Northwest Review, Arts & Letters, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor at The University of West Georgia.

I Want Candy

The car sat there some days for hours without shade. The driver’s head was a black lollipop resting on the seat back, sometimes straight up, turning to watch us. I liked to hang upside-down on the monkey bars. I liked the way my shirt fell down to my armpits, the way the air felt on my stomach, how the little heat gathered where the cloth bunched. I liked to feel my ponytail rocking against my head. I liked to sway like a swing, my thighs pushing against the bar. My hands stretched out over my head didn’t touch the ground. I liked to watch the car sitting there by the curb, the shadow of the person inside watching back all upside down, the car on the ground in the sky, the head a drop of pendulous dirty oil.

We had known since kindergarten about these cars. Our teachers told us they were filled with candy of all kinds, chocolate softened to butter in the heat, chocolate we could lick off each finger, one at a time, the sand and the taste of the metal bars and the childish sweat all mingled. There was chocolate in that car, we knew it, stacks and stacks of it there in the back seat. And Sweet Tarts and Now-and-Laters and Tootsie Pops. Peppermint sticks like at Christmas, only the soft kind that fell into pure sugar in our mouths. We knew what was in that car, parked there where we played every day. We hung from our bars and gossiped with our Barbies, our eyes flicking over and over to the candy store set up right there waiting for us to come to the window, get in, and take what we wanted.

As it sometimes was, the car was sitting there parked by the curb before we came out to play that morning. It had been painted green like the pin oak leaves behind it, only it had faded in the sun to the color of salt-water taffy. We never saw it leave. It just sat there, the dark rectangle of shadow underneath it shifting slightly is all. By afternoon, the whole car simmered, poured out heat from its hood, from the long, finned side panels that ended in two red lights. The house on the other side of the street wavered like a mirage when we looked through the heat at it.

I flipped down, my legs swinging around the pendulum of my head. The gray sand underneath, ringed with prickers Bobbie’s brothers hadn’t bothered to mow, caught me up, squelched up between my fingers. I stood up, looked up at the bars, the sun making star-patterned dazzles on the hot metal.

“I’m getting candy,” I said.

Bobbie and Janie looked at me. Bobbie sat on top, on the rounded dome, her Barbie in one hand, a plastic doll-sized comb in the other. Janie had arranged herself so she was lying flat out across the bars, her hips in their red private-school kiltie hanging down. She’d been to church-school in the morning and snuck out without changing to play-clothes. She polished a bar with the back of her white knee socks. She’d painted her fingernails apple-red, but that was a week ago and now each one had only a bar of color across it, chipped on the edges like a continent. She’d pronged her Barbie upright on a bar so she didn’t have to hold her. She was naked and her head sat backwards and askew on her neck. Earlier that day, inside with the TV going, I’d told Janie and Bobbie to draw elephants for a while. Bobbie’s Barbie, stuck in the crook of her arm while she colored, wore an evening dress with spangles. We’d taken Ken’s head off her this morning, put it in a box with Skipper and some plastic dog. We had no idea what happened to Ken’s body, and didn’t care.

“I’m getting some candy,” I said again. I dusted my hands on my shorts but the sand stuck and rasped between my fingers. I headed for the hose, turned it on. The water poured out, hot and stinking of sulfur like all our hose-water did.

Janie dropped her head way back between her shoulders, her eyes rolling up so that she could see the hedge behind the monkey bars upside down.

“What kind?” Bobbie asked. The water sluiced over my fingers and into the grass like a heavy rain. I took a mouthful, spit it on the side of the house.

“Pop Rocks,” I said.

“They have spider eggs in them,” Janie said.

“That’s Bubblicious. Not Pop Rocks.”

Bobbie went back to arranging Barbie’s hair. I stood with my hands on my hips. I pointed.

“I’m asking that guy for some candy.”

Bobbie and Janie didn’t even look. Janie’s left leg kicked up, Bobbie concentrated on a hard knot at the back of Barbie’s head, which had come off in her hand. She flipped it over, the neck hole to the sky, the better to get at the knot.

“Can’t do that,” Janie said to the sky.

“Well, I am.” I put my hands on my hips, made fists like my older brother did, the sand grinding between my fingers. No one said anything else. Bobbie looked at the Barbie head in her hand, then at the car. A strand of her hair was sweated dark and stuck to her forehead.

I turned my back on them. Behind me, I heard Bobbie drop to the ground, so I turned around again to wait for her. She tucked Barbie’s head in her shorts, the hair sticking out of her pocket like corn silk. Bobbie was tall, her legs were awkward and long and had freckles spattered all over them. Her knees looked like fat beads. She seemed older than seven, her face losing its baby roundness already. She had two green barrettes shaped like frogs clipped in her white-blond hair, one above her temple on either side of her bright pink part. A purple wristwatch hung like a bracelet on her left arm. Bobbie dusted her hands on her shorts, hitching one hip forward then the other as she walked, the better to get at the cloth on the seat of her pants. She looked at her palms, spread her fingers like stars. The dirt made gray streaks between them.

“Hey,” said Janie behind us. “Hey.”

We ignored her. She stayed where she was.

Unlike some of our neighbors, we didn’t then have St. Augustine grass, that intensely green, thick sod that buries you to your ankles, makes the ground feel like it’s padded and deep and wants to pull you down or trip you up or keep you from moving. Bobbie’s yard was sand, crabgrass, whatever grew in the salty loose soil. We skimmed over it like bats.

The man in the car watched us coming, his head turned towards us as always. Nothing shifted except the bigness of things, the car growing like a loaf, the man’s head filling more space, the car and the man pushing out the lush margin of the neighborhood around them. I could see him clearly now, his brown eyes, the way his dark-blond hair stood up straight on his head the same way my brother’s did in the summer, the fan of it at the crown where it grew in a swirl. I could see his teeth just between his lips. He smiled at us, his eyes now half closing, his smile now weird and straight, not a curve. The black spots of his nostrils looked like holes in his face. His shoulder shook and shook.

“Mister,” I said.

Bobbie halted a good six feet from the car, but I didn’t know. So I came on.

“Mister, hey mister.” He said nothing, just watched me, his eyes flicking between me and Bobbie, his teeth like dots between his lips, his smile straighter and straighter.

“Hey, have you got Pop Rocks?” I said. I came right up to the open window, laid my forearm across the hot metal, framed my face in the window like my mother did when she talked to friends in parking lots, her head just outside their cars, her arms holding the bag of things she’d bought or the baby.

This close I could smell the car, the heat and the oil and the dashboard cracked and cooking in the sun. The man in the car smelled salty and warm like the cat’s fur when it’d been lying all day in the heat. His beard was coming in and I knew that if I touched it, it would sound like my father’s did when he rubbed his hand across it in the morning before coffee. The man’s t-shirt had been sweated through at the neck like jewelry, a collar of dark blue above the lighter blue. The shirt said something, “Property of” something, but my eyes slid down over the words. I could see inside the car, see the bench seat in front with its vertical stripes sewn in, dark green vinyl, see the rip on the passenger side. There was a newspaper open beside his naked leg, one edge lapped over his thigh. It had an advertisement from a local store, the gray paper deckled at the edge, the hair on his thigh caught in the deckle. He had one hand resting in his lap. He had one hand on his penis. He was breathing the smell of old cigarettes into the car so that watching I sensed how it was inflating like a balloon, stretching thin and huge and if I just waited it would float away into the blue-metal sky.

“Touch it,” he said.


“Hey,” said Bobbie, her voice loud and high and shaky, “hey, you perv.”

He didn’t look at her. I watched his shoulder shake, his right hand pumping up and down, the way the head of his penis appeared and disappeared into his palm. His left hand, a charmed snake, came up and out the window. It smelled of metal and dirt. It smelled of vinyl and Johnson’s lotion and Coca Cola. It was inches from my face, it was clean and pale and one blue vein threaded through the hairs across the back.

“Touch it,” he said.

His fingertips settled behind my ear, there on my hair. I could feel the edges of his fingers on my earlobe, the way my earlobe fitted between them, the way the fingers lay there without pressure at all or asking anything. “Ah,” he breathed.

Behind me, Bobbie stumbled a few steps forward, grabbed me by the elbow, her fingers digging in. My left arm swung away from my body, hinged at the shoulder the way my head was hinged at my ear. I knew what I was looking at. I had brothers. He didn’t scare me. He had candy and I wanted it, I deserved it. Bobbie pulled lightly like a reminder of what my arm was.

“Come on,” she said, “come on.”

His head rolled away from me, rolled against the seat, rolled and rolled. His neck looked loose and stringy. His shoulder shook faster and faster. I stopped watching to check the back seat. I could see some books there, an empty coke can, a pair of women’s sandals, a rolled up umbrella. Nothing like what I expected, no boxes, no bars, no bags full of Dum-dums. Where was it?

Nothing in the front seat, nothing on the floorboards. Nothing anywhere. Not even a stray wrapper.

He didn’t have candy, he never had candy, he never would have candy.

I was an idiot.

“Come on,” Bobbie said. “Leave him alone.”

She pulled my arm again. I stumbled back a step, my sneaker catching on the curb. His hand jostled loose. It gripped the window frame like it needed to hold something, anything. His fingernails looked like little shells, white and pink.

“But I want candy,” I said. “Where is the candy?”

Far off, the afternoon thunderheads grumbled. I could smell the bay, the mudflats at low-tide just a block or so away. Sweat dripped from under my braid, rolled down straight to the waistband of my shorts. The man should have had candy. Everyone said he did.

I leaned into the window again, like I needed to tell him something important. “It isn’t fair,” I growled at him, intent on making him listen. “Where is the candy? You’re supposed to have candy. Are you stupid? Where’s my candy?” He didn’t hear me. He didn’t care. He was looking across the street now, not at me at all. The hot air in the car rose and lifted out the open window. It was unbearable.

“Hey, hey guys,” Janie called from the bars, “hey, what are you doing?”

She was sitting on top of the bars like on top of a cake with three tiers, her dark blond hair rumpled up in the back in a knot from rubbing it on the metal. Her one tartan hair-bow sat askew over her ear. Her naked Barbie stood straight up beside her looking over her own right shoulder like her neck was broken, and upwards at the empty blue sky. I rubbed my hands on my shorts, but it made no difference. I looked at the car again, but Bobbie had me by the hand now, and we were walking back to Janie so I couldn’t say anything else even if I wanted to. Janie hadn’t moved, so we climbed up with her.

I hung upside down a good long time, chewing my Barbie’s feet to bits, picturing Mrs. Turner, her high-spun hair and her beautiful, true face. The way she looked, kneeling to button our coats after class, her powdery skin, her eyes earnest, flicking back and forth as she told us about strangers and candy. “Don’t take the candy, don’t get into the cars,” she breathed into my face, her palms flat on my flat chest, “walk straight home.” Then she lifted my braid and smoothed it, smiling. “Walk straight home, Emily. Nowhere else, please,” knowing that I never did. I thought for a while how I’d get my revenge, how I’d tell my brother, how I’d tell Mrs. Turner. But somehow I just knew not to talk about it, since I’d walked to the car myself, since I was always walking somewhere I shouldn’t. I deserved it, the empty back seat, the stinging burn of his car bubbling up a long blister on my forearm. Above my knees, the sky darkened suddenly as it always did in the afternoons in August, and from two streets away I could hear my mother in her pearls and cocktail dress step out on the stoop to tell me that dinner was ready and I needed to come wash up.