“Alexandra! Alexandra!" came the excited voice of my younger cousin Clara from the hallway. "You get to take Max and me shopping for Halloween costumes!" I smiled at her seven-year-old excitement as I stepped out into the crisp autumn air, filled with leaves in a hurry to get to the ground. Halloween was coming, and that meant lots of shopping to be done, and that meant I would get to go to my second favorite place in the world: Ellie's Market.
A delicious aroma of pumpkin spice wafted out as I pulled open the door and the cheery jingling of bells met my ears. I had arrived at my second home, and at the counter was my best friend, Cecil, who owned Ellie's Market with his brother Harry You couldn't exactly romp and play with Cecil the way two kids would, and that is what many people remember doing with their best friends, but in a way Cecil was even better. He was almost like a grandfather. Oh yes, I had other kid friends, but hanging out with Cecil was fun.
Today I greeted him and hurried off to help Clara and Max with their costumes. As I went through eccentric old hats and frilly dresses, looking for just the things to perfect princess and scarecrow costumes, I thought of all that Ellie's Market meant to me. True, it was only a little larger than my school classroom, and the building was slightly rickety and old, but for such a small place, the number of wonderful memories it held for me and so many others was amazing. Even not so wonderful memories seemed special, like six years ago, when I was six and had come in bawling because of a cut on my knee. Cecil had found a bandage, and the rest of the afternoon had consisted of cocoa, books, and hugs.
Ellie's Market is a hodgepodge of everything...
For one thing, Ellie's Market is like a community club. Nearly everyone in the neighborhood above the age of six months has been there, and most people visited at least three times a week. The clothes section wasn't big, but it wouldn't have been there at all if Cecil and Harry weren't so friendly. People had wanted to help Ellie's Market, so they would donate their old-but-gently-used clothes for Cecil to sell, and pretty soon these donations got so large they turned into a whole clothes section! It's especially helpful for Halloween; you never know when you'll find the perfect thing, and knowing Cecil, if he finds it first, he'll save it for you. Our neighborhood was great already, but Ellie's Market really brought us together.
In Christmas season, my family bought our Christmas trees there, when the trees were kept in the empty gravel lot behind the store. In January we could usually do with a new umbrella, and at least five kids drop in every day to buy a little candy. In Ellie's Market, there's not only candy, but food, clothes, games, and sometimes a little silverware. Once in a while, Cecil brings in joke-shop items, like a can of "nuts" that a fake snake popped out of when you opened it.
The walls are covered with kids' artworks and in a place of honor by the door is a picture of Ellie, Cecil and Harry's grandmother. I stare at her a lot in her silver frame on the wood-paneled wall. She died a long time ago so I never knew her, but she looks kind and wise and full of stories to tell—like Cecil. I think Ellie would be proud of him if she could see him now. The floors make a pleasant creaking sound, like trees shaking in the wind. The wooden shelves, tables, and metal racks aren't in perfect order, but there's a sense of neatness to them. I can't quite put a finger on it, but something about all this makes the atmosphere friendly and welcoming.
* * *
When I got home from school the next day, I scurried over to Ellie's Market to quickly buy some hard candy to suck on while I did my homework. As I reached the corner, I looked up and saw a big neon-yellow sign posted across the door. I only got a glimpse of the word SALE! before a big truck screeched to a stop in front of me and blocked my view.
Good! I thought. A sale! But when I reached the door and read the sign, my heart stopped. Ellie's Market was having a closing sale? Was it a Halloween joke? Ellie's Market couldn't be closing! No way. It had to be a prank.
Cecil was inside sweeping the floor— the bare floor. It seemed that Cecil and Harry's friends had come in and cleaned them out of items. Only a few of the familiar racks remained that I was so used to seeing heaped with clothes, and most of the artwork was gone.
I gulped and barely managed to choke out, "Cecil?"
He looked up. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you," he said sadly. "I didn't want you to be sad for too long."
"Yes. Harry and I will still be here—you know where we live. But the store won't.
"Hey! Cecil! A little hand back here?" called Harry from the back of the store.
"Watch the sunset," Cecil said quietly. "It's beautiful." Then he turned and left.
It couldn't be happening. Ellie's Market had made up a big part of my life—it couldn't just close! I sat on my bed and sobbed. Gone? My favorite hangout and my second favorite place in the whole wide world was gone? I didn't answer when my mom called for dinner, and my homework lay neglected. Even Max and Clara couldn't cheer me up. I wanted to be alone.
It was a week before I remembered what Cecil had said. Watch the sunset? Well yeah, it was beautiful, but why had he mentioned it? I went and sat outside. Finally it came, those brilliant shades of red and pink and yellow and orange, filling the sky with astonishing rays. I had never taken the time to watch the whole sunset before, but now I was entranced.
Then, suddenly, it was gone. The sun had disappeared. I sat on the dark porch steps and thought. In several hours, the sun would rise, and then it would set again. It was always changing, like life, like people. We live and die. And stores can't always stay open. Cecil had been right, and I still had my memories. Sometimes those are best. I went inside to wait for the sun to rise.