This story was written as an entry into a "Get Your Peep On!" fanfic contest. The rules: Write a story featuring Peeps.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the first and only story, as far as I know, that can be classified as "Peep Angst."
Candy and Catechism
Jo Z. Pierce
No one got candy for Easter at St. Helen of the Blessed Shroud orphanage. Jelly beans, chocolate rabbits and Marshmallow Peeps were for the kids with real families. When you are raised by a bunch of nuns, Easter meant just one thing:
The Easter of 1963 started off no differently than any of the others, as far as Elwood could remember. The nuns conducted an inspection of their clothes, shoes and fingernails, and then the boys were paraded off to church. Due to the Easter crowd, they all got to sit in the balcony. Elwood and his big brother Jake liked that. Lots of things could accidentally fall out of the balcony and onto the heads of the unsuspecting seated below.
Whenever they sat in the balcony, Jake spent his time scoping out the church in search of potential victims. Even with the watchful eyes of the nuns upon them, it was the perfect opportunity.
Jake would elbow Elwood in the side, then point with his chin at the woman who needed a spit ball in her bonnet. Or he'd point out the man who needed his shoelaces tied together. Elwood would make his own survey of the parishioners from above, but he was never quite as good at finding victims. It was always Jake who made the calls.
"So Jake? What're we gonna do?" Elwood finally whispered, surprised that his brother had not yet found a suitable target in the Easter crowd. But Jake wasn't paying attention. He was too busy staring at a pew down below.
Elwood shifted forward in his seat slightly, just to get a look.
Elwood couldn't really tell what she looked like underneath the oversized Easter bonnet. But Jake had apparently caught her eye, as she had caught his. The two exchanged forbidden looks throughout the mass, although Elwood never got the chance to see more than her hat, her tiny white gloves and her little lacy dress.
Elwood sat back in his seat, realizing his partner in crime was no longer interested in spitballs or shoelaces. Jake was completely distracted. By some sort of divine miracle, there would be no mischief at church this Sunday morning.
After mass, the boys were lined up and led out of the church. As they left the building, Jake froze in his tracks, and Elwood collided into him from behind. Standing on the front steps, Jake was surprised to find a smiling little angel waiting for him. She looked around, to make sure her parents were nowhere near. Certain she was alone, she waved to Jake, urging him to break formation and come closer. She then pointed to the colorful basket she held in her hands, offering him whatever was inside.
Quick to make a decision, Jake broke through the formation of the line and approached the girl. She held out the basket. He never looked down at it. Instead, his eyes were fixed on hers. Without looking down, he reached into the basket and grabbed the first piece of candy that he touched.
It was a bright yellow piece of marshmallow, formed in the shape of a chick.
Elwood wasn't sure whether Jake actually wanted the candy, or if his ultimate goal was to lift up the girl's pretty white frock while her parents were off talking to a priest. In fact, he would never really know exactly what Jake was thinking that Easter Sunday.
If Jake had really fallen for this little girl, it was probably the only time that Jake would experience pure and innocent love. Over the years, Jake's romances happened so frequently, and with such casual flippancy, they could only be described as desire and animal lust. That didn't mean he was incapable of love. Far from it. But as far as Elwood knew, Jake's feelings of love were reserved only for music, for the band, and for his little brother.
As soon as Jake stuffed the marshmallow chick into his mouth, he felt a nun's strong grip on his shoulder. Elwood turned his eyes away in guilt, just as he noticed the girl's mother also arriving on the scene. The woman held her daughter firmly by the wrist and dragged her away.
Later that day, in Sunday school, Elwood surprised the nun when he raised his hand to ask a question. He asked her why Easter candy was shaped like rabbits and chicks and eggs. The sister explained that, as symbols of new life, they represented the rebirth of Christ on Easter. She sternly made it clear, though, that the only true symbol of Easter was the crucifix. Jesus died on the cross for the sins of others. Jesus died out of pure love for all of humanity. That was the true meaning of this most holy of days. Not candy.
Late that night, as the two young brothers tried to fall asleep on their hard beds, Elwood whispered over to Jake, breaking through the dark silence.
"What was it like?" he asked.
Although Elwood was referring to the candy, he never bothered to ask what Jake was referring to. He could just as well have been referring to love. Elwood would never be sure.
Elwood sat up on his bed in his tiny hotel room. He looked out the window at the trains rolling by on the elevated tracks. Although he hardly noticed them anymore, they did seem to run less frequently on Easter Sunday.
A box of Marshmallow "Peeps" sat on the rickety old end table. He stared at the box, and wondered why he took them in the first place. Maybe it was just a habit. Maybe it was out of some sort of instinct. Maybe he figured it would cheer Jake up to have them at Easter time, if only he could figure out a way to smuggle them to him in jail.
Ever since that Easter, over fifteen years ago, Peeps were always one of Jake's favorite things. Whenever the Easter season rolled around, Jake would make sure he got himself a box or two. He'd rip the box open, with gluttonous delight. Then he'd quickly ravish them, almost as if he were making love to some girl after he was released from a long jail sentence.
Elwood smiled at the memory, and also as if he was laughing at himself. Just how stupid was he, anyway? If he was going to get nailed, it should be for something of some value. Not for shoplifting a stupid box of Peeps.
He imagined himself sitting in a cell with a freakishly huge convict. He'd have some mean nickname, like "The Hammer" or "Killer."
"What are you in for?" he'd ask Elwood, in a voice even deeper than his own.
"Stealing Marshmallow Peeps."
He shuddered to think about it. He'd immediately be labeled "The Marshmallow Man." Or worse, they'd call him "The Chick." Then he'd have to spend his entire incarceration making sure his back was always up against a wall.
Still, he couldn't imagine an Easter season spent without those Peeps. It was painfully clear, as he looked at the box, that he stole them simply as a way to remind him of his incarcerated brother. And if those chicks represented the promise of hope and a new life, like the sister once told him, there was no better way to remember his brother than with a box of Peeps this Easter season.
Some day, Jake would leave the dark, cave like cells of Joliet Correctional Facility. He'd be reborn into society, after paying for his sins, and the wild excesses of the band. Five years in the slam, for holding up a gas station just to pay for the band's hotel bill? But Elwood understood why. That was just the sort of thing that Jake would do. It was a sacrifice he made, out of his love for their band.
Elwood picked up the box and slowly opened it. One by one he pulled the marshmallow chicks out, lining each one up on the table. Near the end of the box, he started another row, and placed one chick in front of all the others. Finally, he picked the last one out of the box, and held it between his fingers. He stretched it, cracking the yellow coating between, trying to elongate the chick's neck. White marshmallow peeked through the crackling sugar.
"Pffft!" he said, letting out a small, frustrated breath of air. Peeps didn't really stretch well, did they?
Crushed and broken, he placed the last chick down, in the front row.
He smirked, as he looked at the little side table. He had recreated a marshmallow version of The Blues Brothers Show Band.
His fingers were sticky now, but he didn't want to get up and wash them. It was a long walk down the hall to the communal bathroom. Instead, he put his fingers up to his lips and licked the sticky sugar off. His face wrinkled up slightly. The sugar was far too sweet for his taste.
Elwood stared at the table. He adjusted the marshmallow musicians several times, fiddling with the candy, as it slowly turned hard and stale. He even placed a jar of Vaseline in front of Murph, as if representing his keyboards. Still, something was missing.
He looked around his small room, but he wasn't sure what he was looking for. Finally, he noticed a dried palm, twisted in the shape of a cross, pinned to the wall. He had no idea how long that palm had been there. When was the last time he went to mass on a Palm Sunday? If he didn't know better, he would have guessed it was back when he was still at the orphanage. But of course, it wasn't. Still, he never figured out what to do with them. You don't just throw out holy palms, do you? But for how long do you have to keep them hanging on your wall?
Perhaps it was long enough.
Elwood took down the small palm, and began to shred the fronds. Partly out of boredom, and partly out of dedication, he slowly reshaped them. He twisted and tied a few strands together for a guitar. He slung them over the Peep that was meant to be Matt "Guitar" Murphy. Then he fashioned another one for Steve. He found it hard to attach the little palm instruments to the horn section. Still, he worked at it for as long as it took.
He pushed two pieces of the palm, braided into spikes, into Willie's sides. They were meant to represent drumsticks. Instead, they just made the Marshmallow Willie look utterly ridiculous.
And Elwood chuckled in sadistic and perverse pleasure every time he looked at it.
He must have spent an hour or so, just fiddling with the candy chick band. Finally, he realized that he had miscalculated. There was hardly any more palm left. Elwood braided, twisted and tied the last tiny piece until he formed a microphone. Then he carefully leaned it up on of one of the front peeps, so it looked as if the chick was actually holding it and singing. That was his brother, Jake.
Positioned right next to Jake was the final figure. It was the crushed and broken one. That was Elwood. With a twisted and cracking sugar shell, the final Peep stood out among the band. Noticeable in it's lack of equipment, it seemed out of place, and utterly alone.
Elwood sat back in his bed, folding his arms across his chest. He looked at the band, satisfied. It was almost perfect.
He reached over to the table again and carefully nudged the two peeps in the front row closer together. Elwood could share Jake's microphone made out of the blessed palm.
Yes. Much more than Elwood did, Jake needed that microphone.
And all that Elwood needed was to be next to his brother.