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Your Story 53 Winner: Sausage, Peppers, and Ice Cream

Prompt: A girl puts a quarter in a gumball machine and a human tooth comes out.

Prompt: Write a short story of 750 words or fewer based on this prompt: A girl puts a quarter in a gumball machine and a human tooth comes out.

Once again, you’ve made the Your Story competition a success! Thanks to everyone who participated in competition #53 (either by entering, reading or voting).

Out of more than 500 entries, readers helped us pick “Sausage, Peppers, and Ice Cream” by Jane Bash as the winner. For winning, Bash’s story will appear in an upcoming issue of Writer’s Digest.

Winning Entry

"Sausage, Peppers, and Ice Cream"

Rocco’s Meat Market looked like something straight out of an old gangster movie, and so did Rocco himself. My 5-year-old daughter Kayla and I had been coming here every Monday for the past three years. Anthony insisted on sausage and peppers for dinner every Monday night. It had to be hot sausage, not sweet, even though hot sausage made me gag. I told him that once; he grabbed my throat and told me I made him gag. After that, it was hot sausage and peppers. No questions asked.

But Rocco asked a lot of questions: What happened to your wrist? How’d you get that bruise on your arm? Why are you wearing sunglasses inside the store? I’d been doing this for so long, I always had an answer ready: I fell down ice-skating with my daughter. The car door bumped me. I have sensitive eyes. Rocco never bought any of my answers, but he was always polite. He’d give Kayla a quarter for the gumball machine, hand me my carefully wrapped hot sausage, and say, “We got lots of other good stuff, you know… when you’re ready for a change.” I’d nod wistfully and head home quickly. Those sausages had to be ready at five o’clock sharp.

I knew Rocco rode past my house sometimes; I’d seen his Mustang glide by around dusk, after the store was closed. I never asked him about it, but I always wanted to. Rocco knew Anthony “from the neighborhood,” as they say. They’d even had a schoolyard fight in the fourth grade, which both men still claimed to have won. Anthony wasn’t the type to accept defeat. He’d never let me leave with Kayla. He’d see us both dead first (his words, not mine). Kayla was the only reason I maintained the status quo, buying my weekly sausage and wondering if we’d ever get away.

This week at Rocco’s was different.

For one thing, the place reeked of bleach. For another thing, we hadn’t been there the previous Monday. Kayla had been at her grandmother’s house baking butterscotch blondies, and I’d been at the emergency room getting 24 stitches in my forehead. For yet another thing, Rocco didn’t ask a single question about those thick black stitches resembling a caterpillar protruding above my right eye. He just gave Kayla a quarter and smiled as she bounced off to the gumball machine. “She deserves the best,” Rocco said. “So do you.” He ducked toward the back counter and started wrapping meat.

I wasn’t even sure why I was there. I hadn’t seen Anthony since he sent me to the emergency room; he’d also sent me a text saying he’d left us and was never coming back. It all just seemed too good to be true, and I guess that was why I was buying hot sausage for the umpteenth time.

Kayla clattered up behind me, her eyes as big as Frisbees. “Look, Mommy!” she barely whispered, raising her tiny fist.

“Did you get a polka dot gumball?” I smiled, prying her hand open.

I gasped: it was a tooth. Not just any tooth—Anthony’s front tooth, chipped from that fourth-grade schoolyard fight. I picked it up and laid it on the counter next to Rocco’s hand. That’s when I noticed he was wearing Anthony’s watch.

Rocco handed me a paper bag. “Here’s some beautiful center cut pork chops for you and the little princess.” He nodded at Kayla, then lowered his voice. “No more sausages, OK?” He looked at his new watch and raised an eyebrow. “He’ll never bother you again.”

Anthony’s text said he was gone. What did gone mean? Gone from my life? Gone from Earth? I knew better than to ask. I should have been horrified—and I was. But I was grateful, too. “Thank you,” I whispered, grabbing Kayla and heading for the car.

I locked the doors and sat blankly in the driver’s seat. He’ll never bother me again. I closed my eyes. He’ll never bother me again.

I felt a small tapping on my arm. “Mommy?" I opened my eyes and held my breath, wondering how I would answer whatever Kayla asked next.

“I never got my gumball,” she said softly. “Can we get ice cream instead?”

I breathed deeply for the first time in three years and chuckled as I started the car. “Yes, baby. We can do whatever we want.”

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