The man could see this old fool woman wanted the this doll pretty bad, so he decided to go for it.
“This here doll is a val’able ann-teek,” he said slyly, “but because it’s in bad shape, I’ll let you have it for twenty dollars.”
“Twenty dollars!” Meg felt sick. It might as well have been a million. She had two dollars, and that would be possibly all she had for food for who knew how long. But she couldn’t just walk away from Mary…..
“I got my money hidden”, she said, “And I have to go get it. I stay a few blocks away, so I might not get back today, but if you will hold it her for me I will give you two dollars now and the rest when I get back.”
The man looked at her through slitted eyes. He suspected she was lying, but two dollars was two dollars. It would buy a couple of beers.
“Tell ya what,” he said. “Give me the two dollars and I’ll hold it till 6 o’clock tonight—closing time. If ya ain’t back then it goes back in the window and I keep your two dollars.”
Meg trembled inside. She was sure she could never beg eighteen dollars before six P.M.—she had never gotten that much in a day. But it was her Mary! And she had to try. She dug in her sweater pocket and got two crinkled one dollar bills and held them out. He reached to take the money, but she pulled it back. “Give me a receipt, with the balance owed written on”, she said firmly.
The man snorted but stalked to the counter and scribbled out the receipt she wanted, being sure to state that she forfeited the two dollars if she didn’t pick up the doll by 6 PM that day.
Meg took the receipt with trembling hands, he grabbed the money and stuffed it in his pocket, and she left the store.
Miraculously,the cart with her belongings were still outside the door, untouched. Slowly she pushed the cart down the street, her mind racing. How could she possible get the money and get back that day to get the doll—her Mary?
The snow had begun to fall again and the wind became stronger, and people hurried past her as she began to beg for money.
“Please—I haven’t eaten,” she would say. Most people pushed her aside without looking into her face. One or two gave her a quarter or a handful of small change.
She was very hungry and cold by one in the afternoon, and she had managed to beg only $6.20. She felt the money in her sweater pocket and thought about buying something to eat, but Mary’s poor lined face loomed before her. She spent some precious time rummaging in trash cans and found half a sandwich someone had thrown away, and part of a candy bar, and wolfed them down quickly.
Feeling a little stronger, she went back to begging. Never had she swallowed her pride and begged so blatantly! But by four she still had only $11.65. It was colder and snowing harder, and people were hurrying with last minute Christmas shopping and didn’t want to be bothered. Between four and five she didn’t take in another cent. She could stand it no longer. All the hard times of all the years had not hurt so much as not being able to get her Mary on this cold winter day.
Her father had died of a heart attack when the great stock market crash had ruined him, and she had gone to an orphanage. From there, at age 16, she had gone to work as a maid, then married. Her husband was a good man but just a poor handyman, working doing yard work and other chores for whatever cash he could to support them, always for cash, so he had never accumulated any social security or retirement. Meg occasionally had done housework or ironing, but she had no education or training. After her husband died she never had the courage to ask for a real job, instead doing the same things she had always done to eke out an existence. She had done okay, managing to hold onto her two rooms in the slums, until a few years ago when she had had a terrible illness. They had taken her to the hospital, and when she was released weeks later, she had lost her room and had no place to go. She could not get welfare unless she had an address, and she couldn’t get an address without money, so there she was. Rents on even the shabbiest room were beyond what she could beg in the streets.