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Mary Matsumoto

 

THE TOY IN THE CEREAL BOX

By Mary Matsumoto

 

An elderly gentleman stands poised, one hand on the door handle, ready to get into his limousine.  In the other hand, he holds a box of cereal.  He can’t resist that one last look at the excited face of a little boy in the kitchen window.  Just one last look and he will disappear, letting a miracle work its magic.

#

“Mommy, Mommy,” says three-year-old Johnny, “look at what I found in the box of cereal.”

            “Sit down, honey.”  Cynthia is beyond tired.  Working an eight-hour shift, picking her son up from day care, and then spending a “delightful” hour in the grocery store before coming home to prepare dinner isn’t exactly what she would have chosen as the world’s most relaxing way to spend the day that was supposed to be her day off.  She should be getting together a real meal, but her body aches to go to bed.  “Eat your cereal.  You can look for the toy in the box later.”

            “No, Mommy.”  Johnny pulls on her sleeve as she puts away the Jiffy peanut butter.  She’ll have to remember to clean out that cupboard when she gets a chance.  Cynthia sighs.  Yeah, right.  That’ll be the day.  When does she have time to clean out a cupboard?

            “Mommy!”

            “What, Johnny.”  She closes her eyes briefly.  His scream has made every nerve end hurt.

            “I don’t wanna look for the toy.”

            “Well, then don’t.”  Three-year olds don’t make a bit of sense, she thinks.  “Just sit down and eat.”

            “I said I already found the toy.”

            “Fine, dear.  Now sit down there by the table,” she says as calmly as she can, “and EAT.”  Great.  Just what she’s been trying to avoid—raising her voice.  After all, Johnny can’t help it if his father isn’t there to take care of them.  It’s just one of those things.  The cancer had been a shock to both of them, but she doesn’t want to make things worse now by taking her frustrations out on him.

            “But Mommy.” 

Cynthia looks down to see his little lip poke out and start to quiver.  She puts her arm around him and pulls him up close.  “What is it, Babe?”

“Don’t you want to know what it is?”

“Later, little honey bun.  Mommy’s tired.  She’s been working all day.”  She holds his little head against her chest and strokes his hair.  “Now why don’t you just sit down and eat.”  She sees his innocent eyes peeking up at her.  “Okay?”

“If I eat my cereal, Mommy, will you look at it then?”

“All right, lover, I’ll look at your toy soon as you finish eating.  Meanwhile I’m going to get ready for bed, okay?”

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“Mommy’s more tired than hungry.  She’s been working all day.”  She smiles, takes little Johnny’s hand, and walks him to the chair.  “Let me help you get settled.”  She assists him into the chair, pushes it up to the table, and ties a kitchen towel, as a bib, around his neck.  “You just wait here, and I’ll get you a bowl and spoon.”

“Can I have sugar on my cereal?”

“Yes, you can have sugar.”  Cynthia tussles his hair.  “But just this once.  Sugar’s not good for your teeth.”

“Why?”

“I’ll tell you tomorrow.”  Sleep, that’s all she needs.  Then she’ll go into the explanations.  Wouldn’t it be lovely to be rich, she thinks.  Then she could stay home and answer questions all day.  Maybe make a real meal for a change.  And clean out those cupboards.

Cynthia pours the milk and sprinkles half a spoonful of sugar on his cereal.

“I want the whole spoonful!”  Johnny crosses his arms.

Cynthia looks at him.  She’s too tired to argue.  She tilts the spoon and lets the last grain fall into his bowl.  She puts the spoon back to the sugar bowl, but something catches her eye.  The toy.  From the cereal.  How strange.  Play money?  My, she thinks, they make play money look so real these days.  Why, when I was young they made it smaller, and in wild colors, or with funny pictures.  She pushes the sugar bowl out of the way and takes the play money into her hands.

“Is this what you were trying to show me, honey?” she says.  “Is this the toy you found in the cereal?”

“Yes, Mommy, yes.  It was in that plastic bag in the box.”  Johnny gestures enthusiastically with his milky spoon.  “I told you over and over and over.  But you wouldn’t look.”

Cynthia smiles.  “Sorry, Babe.  Mommy was just tired.”  She looks down now at the bundle of bills.  Dull green and wrinkled.  Wrinkled?  Her hands start to tremble.  One, two, three, four—there must be ten bills in the packet.  She picks up the cereal box and looks inside.  Another pack, and another.  She pulls one of the bills out of a pack and holds it up close.  A picture of Grant.  An authentic $100 bill. 

“Honey, this is money,” she says.  “Real money.”

“I tried to tell you, Mommy.  I wanted you to see what I found in the cereal box.”

Cynthia grabs the cereal box with renewed energy.  “Toy in every box.”  She turns the box over.  “One winner receives an instant $5,000--in cash—and an additional $5000 every month.”  Cynthia’s eyes well up with tears.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she says, her voice coming out in a squeak.

“But you’re crying.  Don’t you like money?”

Cynthia holds Johnny close, wet, milky spoon and all, listening to him crunch his cereal against her chest.  “Mommy’s crying because she’s happy, Babe.  And because we’re going to be together always.”

#

Outside the apartment the gentleman watches the mother and child, tight in an embrace, money clutched in the mother’s hand.  He smiles.  He still holds the original cereal box, the one he switched while mother and son had gone to unlock the front door.  The gentleman reluctantly turns toward his limousine.  His eyes, too, are moist.  It makes him feel good to spread his money around.  He pulls the door open and climbs into the back seat of the vehicle.

“Home, James,” he says, but he turns and watches the light in the window until it disappears from sight.

 

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