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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Cooking or Baking (01/04/07)

TITLE: A Penny Short
By Joanne Sher


Penelope Robinson dragged her well-worn khaki duffel bag behind her as she trudged down the poorly lit downtown street. Seeing a glimmer on the sidewalk, she stopped short; flipping her matted hair out of her eyes, she got down on her hands and knees to investigate. A dime – she cracked a smirk, picked up the coin, and shoved it in the front pocket of her shirt. She felt for what else might be there and pulled her fingers out to look at the contents. She did the figuring in her mind and replaced her coins. Another six cents and she could get one.

Penny continued her trek. Most of the stores along her path were closed, but she could see lights a few hundred feet down. The closer she got, the quicker her pace became, until she was trotting toward the window of The Blissful Baker, where she stopped. Lowering herself to the ground, she sat cross-legged on the sidewalk, inches from the window, and stared at the mostly empty display cases. All she could see was a few donuts and a dozen or so cookies, but Penny knew more were coming. With the sun just beginning to rise, the bakery would be opening soon, and Mr. Zarba would never open without his cases filled with delicious treats.

Penny closed her eyes and breathed in deeply through her nose. The aroma of baking goods and coffee filled her nostrils and brought a feeling of contentment over her that belied her unkempt appearance. As she continued breathing deeply, every muscle relaxed and the corners of her mouth crept upward into a relaxed smile.

A bang on the window interrupted her reverie. Mr. Zarba, attempting to place a tray full of bagels in the front case, had stumbled, causing the tray to slam into the window. Half a dozen of the treats flew off the tray and onto the floor. Looking ahead to investigate the damage, she noticed Mr. Zarba’s face level with hers, where he was on his hands and knees, picking up his dropped wares. She quickly averted her eyes, and spied a nickel beside her on the sidewalk, which she quickly pocketed.

Raising her eyes again, she saw Mr. Zarba, no longer looking her way, putting the remaining bagels in the case. Penny reached into her pocket, recounted her change, and sighed. She scanned the ground, spotting a collection of cigarette butts and an empty potato chip bag, but no coins. Depositing the garbage in a nearby receptacle, she returned to the shop window.

The bakery case was full now. Staring at all those donuts, bagels, and cookies made her mouth water, but the smells were enough to keep her glued to her spot on the sidewalk. They almost silenced the roar of her empty stomach.

Looking above the display case, she saw Mr. Zarba walking toward the front door, likely to open for business. Penny hastily stood up, grabbed her duffel bag and started traipsing further along the sidewalk. It was one thing to look at the tasty morsels – watching someone walk out of the shop with one in hand was more than she could bear.

“Little girl!”

Penny stopped and turned her head to find Mr. Zarba chasing after her. She waited, her eyes transfixed on a hole in her left shoe. Mr. Zarba tapped her on the shoulder.

“Little girl, are you all right? Would you like a little something?”

She shook her head. Regardless, the baker gently took Penny’s hand and led her back to the bakery. Allowing herself to be dragged along, she kept her eyes focused on the sidewalk ahead of her.

“What is your name, little girl?”

“Penny,” she mumbled, her eyes still lowered.

“Well, Penny, I would very much like to give you a donut and a bath, if you’ll let me.”

She looked up cautiously.

Mr. Zarba smiled. “Actually, it would be Mrs. Zarba who gives you the bath, but the donut would definitely be from me.”

Penny smiled despite herself as she walked into the shop with her new friend.

As they got to the counter, she emptied her pocket on the table. “Please let me buy the donut. I have almost enough.”

Mr. Zarba smiled at this proud girl. He counted the change.

“Well, my dear, you are the only extra Penny I’ll need.”

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This article has been read 1633 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Marilyn Schnepp 01/11/07
Delightful Title, Story and Ending from a Writer's viewpoint. From a reader's viewpoint, however - the reader lost interest while waiting for the climax; "ho hum, yawn"..while wishing it would cut through to the obvious ending. Suggesting, of course, story could've been shortened to an exciting and immediate ending w/ impact. (Remember...only one reader's opinion and comment) Nice job of writing and very creative story, however.
Marilyn Schnepp 01/11/07
PS: perhaps "fast-paced" is the word I am looking for.
Jan Ackerson 01/11/07
I loved the first part of this; it had a sense of "you are there-ness" and I could see and smell everything right along with Penny.

I was startled when I discovered, halfway through, that Penny was a little girl--I had her pegged as a homeless woman. Perhaps establishing that earlier would be more effective?

Great story-telling skills--thanks for this strong entry.
Catrina Bradley 01/11/07
I think this is such a delightful story - I love the little things, like when she picked up the garbage and put in in the can when looking for change. I kind of expected the baker to run her off and was glad when he offered her help, AND a bath. Great read.
Leigh MacKelvey01/12/07
One of the most sensory pieces I have read so fat this challenge!
Betty Castleberry01/14/07
This was a very enjoyable read. I particularly liked the paragraph where Mr. Zarba stumbled...well, not that he stumbled, but it placed me right in the middle of things. Made for a great visual, and I could "see" exactly what was happening. Good work!
Pat Guy 01/15/07
Well ... THIS one is precious.

Well written, creative, well put together, atmospheric, great characters ... um ... do you want me to go on? ;)

This is one great story. I LOVRD it.
Pat Guy 01/15/07
LOVED it! ;)
Sue Dent01/15/07
I rather enjoyed it too! I even felt what she felt smelling the coffee and dougnuts! mmmmmmm . . . the only thing I had any problem with was the duffel bag. She had it, then she didn't seem to have it, then she did again. Clearly, this was not an issue just me and my too observant self, unless of course it comes to my own writing. LOL I sort of knew it was a little girl though so no worries there. Very nice story.
william price01/15/07
I need a donut now in the worst way. Thanks alot! I shed a tear for both the baker and Penny. I know how good the baker felt helping, doing the opposite of what the girl expected, and I could feel Penny's heart warm when she was greeted with the baker's kindness which was probably more rewarding than the donut.
Excellent title, I loved the ending and your story made me want to do something unexpected for somebody, and of course, eat a fresh donut, which actualyy means two or three. A great over all entry. God bless.
Crista Darr01/15/07
Awwww, how sweet. You capture the reader by making them care about your characters. Like Sue, I did notice a couple discrepancies - probably only because I look for them. Still, a great read.
T. F. Chezum01/15/07
I liked this a lot. Very well written. Great job.
Chuck Livermore01/15/07
Well-crafted and heart-warming. I pictured a young girl during the 30's, the depression, though the story doesn't make that clear. I wondered if you were picturing the same girl as I was.
Joanney Uthe01/16/07
loved it, especially the ending.
Helen Paynter01/16/07
Vivid, sensory story with a heart-warming ending. I did enjoy this. Do I agree with the first comment about losing pace? Maybe just a tad - something about her looking, then him dropping the donuts, then her walking away. I loved the ending, though.
Sandra Petersen 01/16/07
I really enjoyed this story and thought the twist on the little girl's name was excellent.

You described the bakery smells and Penny's need very well. The only part I was a little unsure about was whether Penny, being fairly streetwise (at least she seemed to be), would allow anything beyond Mr. Zarba's generous gift of the donut.

A very sweet story; makes me want to know Penny's family life and whether the Zarba's become almost like family to her. Well done!
Caitlynn Lowe01/16/07
I liked this story a lot. It was cute, and the play on the girl's name was great. ^_^
Jen Davis01/17/07
Such as sweet story! I loved the old man coming after the little girl and his wanting to help her in the way that he could. His gesture is a reminder that we can all do little things that can make a big difference in another’s life. I also liked the baker’s lighthearted comment that his wife would be the one to give the bath. You have received a lot of good suggestions here, and I hope that you will revisit this lovely story. Both your characters are wonderful, and I liked the little girl’s name as well.
Sara Harricharan 01/17/07
Awww, cute! I thought this was a sweet story and I loved the ending!
Thanks for commenting on "Cookies and Letters"