Big Alabama and I never have any money. We’re just two broke kids from the city lucky to have a roof over our heads and food to eat, our father always says; and so when our grandmother gives us ten dollars and says to spend it however we please, we head straight out from our bungalow in Seaside Heights, where we’re vacationing, to the boardwalk to blow it all.
Three times we walk the length of the beach, trying to figure out how to waste our windfall.
I want to hit the arcades and purchase a roll of quarters wrapped so tight it takes an hour to rip loose the first coin, and then travel from Crazy Climber to Time Pilot to Frogger until my hands are cramped and blistered.
Big Alabama is more interested in the food and she figures to spend her cash on ice cream pressed between two steaming hot waffles.
We’re about to split up and pursue our goals when a guy in a carny stand entices us over.
He has a game where you pop balloons with a dart, and Big Alabama knows I own the best pitching arm on Princeton Avenue.
She looks up at a large stuffed unicorn and imagines it sitting in her room at home. She’s never had anything that soft, that nice.
So she plunks down a dollar and says, “Pete, go ahead and pop one of those darts for me.”
Like advertised, I pop a balloon with each dart.
The guy behind the stand hands Big Alabama some trinket, and he says we’ll need to spend another dollar to get something bigger, so my sister hands over another crisp dollar as I pop some more balloons and Big Alabama gets a bigger trinket.
My sister is starting to get hot. I see it, because I know her, but the guy doesn’t. On the surface my sister is just a kid like any other kid. But Big Alabama is like a volcano. On the outside it looks cool, but inside it’s filled with lava.
Then the guy tells us next time we spend a dollar we’ll get something this big, using his hands to show up how big, and it’s as big as one of those plush unicorns, and my sister asks if it’ll be another trinket.
The guy swears it won’t be, cross his heart.
So Big Alabama spends another dollar and gets a plastic back scratch.
Bill after bill is spent and then she’s into my money, with the guy promising her this time she’ll get an animal, only it ends up a plastic dog covered in felt.
When we get down to five dollars, I cut her off.
It is my money, after all, and I figured out long ago that she was never going to get the large stuffed unicorn she covets.
The guy, realizing the gig is up, promises on the next dollar he will give us a unicorn, but even Big Alabama is weary now and she says, “I want that one right there…”
But he says, “That one is tied to the wall, but you can have one that looks just like it.”
“Exactly like it? Same size and everything?”
And the guy promises that it will be.
So we plunk down one more dollar and I pop another balloon, and the minute I do it I know we’ve been had for the guy, smiling, reaches under the stand and pulls out a poster of a unicorn.
“I said it would look just like it, and as you can see it’s the same size as that one.”
He laughs, and that’s when Big Alabama hops over the divider and gets the guy by the neck. She takes his head and with one arm presses it against the board where the fat balloons sway.
“Pete,” Big Alabama says. “Lay another dollar and you can pop this one last balloon for me.”
But already the guy is gagging and gasping, his hand blindly grabbing for the stuffed unicorn.
Later Big Alabama and I head to the bungalow with her giant stuffed unicorn, having just spent the last of my money on ice cream, and she tells me, “Sorry, Little Brother, about spending your cash.”
I shrug. Video games are a stupid hobby anyway. Besides, I’ve always known Big Alabama is the best game going, and the surest bet to win, too.
About the Author: James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books, 2011). His poems or stories have appeared in journals such as Anderbo, Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Baltimore Review, Hanging Loose, LA Review, Nimrod, Rattle, River Styx, Vestal Review, and many others. His poetry has been featured in Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry website. His fiction was chosen for the 2013 Sundress Best of the Net. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle. Find more at http://valvis.net/.
Story Song: “I Can’t Quit You Baby” by Led Zeppelin