Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 745
Tommy Castelli’s prison is the candy store in which he has worked for a decade. Renamed by his wife, Rosa, who disliked his original name of Tony, Tommy was born and raised near this store. He dreamed of escaping from the tenement in which he was brought up, but by the time he was sixteen he had dropped out of a vocational school, where he trained to be a shoemaker, and was running out of options. Adrift and seeing little promise for his future, Tommy began running with a gang that had the money to buy silver café espresso urns and television sets and host the pizza parties that impressed the girls they admired. Their wherewithal was derived from shady dealings, among which was a liquor store holdup.
Meanwhile, Tommy’s father arranged for him to marry Rosa Agnelli, whose father agreed to bankroll a small candy store in Greenwich Village for the newlyweds. Not attracted to Rosa and reluctant to spend his life running a candy store, Tommy fled to Texas, where he bummed around for a while. Finally, however, he returned to New York. His friends and relatives were convinced that he had returned home to marry Rosa and set up the store Mr. Agnelli had proffered. His father’s marriage plans materialized, however, largely because Tommy failed to object. Now, ten years later, Tommy is twenty-nine and he finds his life a crushing bore. He regards the candy store, above which he and Rosa live, as his personal prison. Day after day, he works from eight in the morning until almost midnight, taking only one break, an hour in the afternoon when he goes upstairs to nap.
Tommy has tried to enhance his profits by putting a punchboard and a slot machine in his store. When the slot machine appeared, however, Rosa’s father stormed into the shop screaming that Tommy was a criminal. He broke the offending machine to pieces with a hammer. Ironically, the police raided candy stores in the area the very next day, arresting the proprietors who had slot machines, and Tommy narrowly escaped arrest.
Every Monday morning, a ten-year-old girl who lives nearby comes in to buy two rolls of colored tissue paper for her mother, who gives it to the children whom she tends for them to make cutouts. Tommy keeps the paper in the back of the store and thinks it peculiar that the girl never accompanies him there, because that is where he also keeps the comic books to which most of his juvenile customers gravitate. He speculates that the girl may be afraid of the dark.
One day, however, after Rosa has installed a mirror in the store’s shadowy area, Tommy notices that when he goes for the girl’s colored tissue paper, she reaches into the candy case and takes out several candy bars. When he returns, the girl—a picture of innocence—pays for the paper with two dimes and leaves.
This petty theft arouses in Tommy memories of his favorite uncle, Dom, who skirted the law and ended up in prison. Tommy knows that he must do something to turn the girl away from her shoplifting, which is apparently becoming habitual. After much thought, he decides to write her a note telling her not to steal any more, reminding her that continuing to steal will make her suffer for her whole life. He puts the note inside the wrapper of a candy bar that he knows she will take.
On the following Monday, Tommy awaits the light-fingered girl all morning. As luck has it, she is later than usual. Rosa comes downstairs to relieve Tommy, who has no choice but to go upstairs for his daily nap. Rosa lets him nap unusually long; when he comes back downstairs, he hears screeching. Rosa has caught the thieving girl stealing and is shaking her. Tommy intervenes, striking his hysterically enraged wife hard on her mouth. At this moment, the girl’s mother arrives, inquiring about the fracas. Rosa shrieks that the girl has stolen candy, but Tommy intervenes saying that he has let her take it. The terrified child tries to mollify her mother by telling her she has stolen one of the candy bars for her. The mother rails, calling her daughter a little thief and promising punishment. As the mother drags her daughter from the store, the girl turns to Tommy and sticks her tongue out at him.
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