“A Paperboy in Winter” published in SHEEPSHEAD REVIEW v41 #1
A Paperboy in Winter
The Milwaukee Journal truck arrives hours before dawn. Upstairs, asleep, Larry hears and feels the sad thud of wire-wrapped bundles landing on the porch. It’s the Sunday paper. It comes in sections. News, sports, comics, ads. He’ll use pliers to get them open. They need to be collated. He gets up, careful not to wake his little brother. They share a bed. Larry is eleven. Billy is five.
Outside, a foot of new snow is wet and heavy. Larry pulls the heaped Radio Flyer All-Terrain Wagon through it. His route is an entire neighborhood away. With this morning’s snow, the usual ten-minute walk will take an hour.
Larry stops for hot chocolate at an all-night laundromat. Inside, it’s bright and empty and warm. He likes the smell. It’s a clean smell. A classical radio station is playing through a speaker in the ceiling. There are metal folding chairs and a table with magazines. He pages through a Saturday Evening Post. Larry likes the new car ads. Someday he’ll own one.
Outside again, Larry’s arms now ache from tugging. The wheels, thick with slush, are no longer turning. Larry walks backwards, dragging the heavy load with both hands. He has fifty-seven customers. It’s 1959. The Milwaukee Journal Sunday paper costs a quarter. Larry lives in Racine, twenty miles from Milwaukee, but many Racine residents subscribe to the Sunday Milwaukee Journal, mostly for the comics and coupons. Larry’s fifty-seven customers live in homes spread out over many blocks. The easy ones leave payment in the mailbox, or between the doors. Sometimes there’s extra for a tip. Often, it’s all in nickels and pennies. By the end of the route, Larry’s pants pockets are full and heavy. He keeps a careful record of who pays and how much in a specially provided notebook. When there’s nothing in the mailbox or between the door, Larry goes back during the week to collect. The Milwaukee Journal charges Larry eighteen cents per paper, which means a seven-cent profit on every paper delivered and paid for. On a perfect week, when everyone pays, Larry makes just short of four dollars. With good tips, five dollars is a possibility. Larry has a bank account. He buys his own clothes. He goes to movies and treats himself to hamburgers. He has a job. He never asks his mother for money.
By the time Larry makes it home, Billy is already awake and watching cartoons. Larry pours two bowls of Cheerios and adds milk, raisins, and a sliced banana.