Thursday, July 10, 2008

Waiting for the Bell

I've decided to take a chance and post one of my short stories. It's one I wrote last Christmas. It's sort of fanciful, titled WAITING FOR THE BELL. I'd love comments and/or suggestions. I hope you enjoy .....

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The snow had fallen steadily most of the morning. Shaking her handlebars Maude could feel the cold seeping into her. A classic bicycle she had a couple of spots where her paint had chipped off and the ice had settled in. She strained to hear if the bell had rung yet. It was the last day of school and she could hear the sounds of the Christmas party in her girl Lucy’s class. She had helped her bring two dozen ginger snaps that morning balanced precariously on the book carrier over her rear tire. Lucy was almost vibrating with excitement. Holidays seemed to do that for the girl.

The bicycle next to her was grand. There were no chips in her paint and her chrome was polished and shining, even though snow covered most of her. She had been sleeping most of the day and Maude noticed that she too had now cleared the snow off her handlebars and seat. A long sigh came from her.

“You okay?” Maude asked.

“Oh sure. It’s great standing here all day waiting for something to do.”

“It can be hard,” Maude agreed. “My name’s Maude, by the way. I belong to Lucy Philpott.”

“I’m Henrietta,” her companion replied. “Mary Odem is my owner.”

“Which class is your girl in?”

“She’s in sixth grade, Mrs. Fitzgerald’s class,” Henrietta admitted.

“Lucy is in Mrs. Fitzgerald’s class as well!” Maude cried. “Both our girls know each other. How wonderful!”

“I suppose,” Henrietta said. A small sniff let Maude know she’d noticed her appearance. But the little bike had dealt with the likes of Henrietta before, and ignored her reaction.

“I wonder why we haven’t met before. I know most of the bikes that bring their children to school.”

“Mary doesn’t ride me very often; at least not to school. She was forced to this morning since both her parents had to be at work early. I can tell you, Mary was so upset I was afraid she was going to leave me lying in the snow just for spite!” Henrietta shivered again, snow flying everywhere.

They both heard a burst of laughter from inside the classroom and the sound of the children’s voices raised in a happy rendition of Frosty the Snowman. Maude felt warm at the sound. She had overheard Lucy asking her mother for a new wicker basket to put on Maude and she was looking forward to Christmas with as much anticipation as her girl.

“I wish it was time to go,” Henrietta said, her voice tired.

“How did you and Mary get together?” Maude asked.

“The usual way,” Henrietta answered. “Her parents bought me for her.”

“They bought you for her?” Maude repeated. “Were you a birthday present?”

“No. She wanted a bicycle and they came into the store and looked until she picked me. Her father said it would allow her to get around without them having to drive her everywhere. But Mary soon lost interest in me. She only rides me when her parents cannot or will not drive her. How about you? Did Lucy’s parents give you to her for her birthday?”

“Well, no,” Maude said slowly. “Actually, Lucy has no father and her mother works very hard to keep things together. My girl had to work to get me for herself.”

“How could a young girl buy you herself?”

Henrietta’s voice displayed her disbelief, and Maude tried to be patient as she told her how Lucy had come to get her. The memory of that day was one of Maude’s happiest. A large store, it wasn’t a fancy bike shop like Henrietta had come from, but was full of excitement and mothers pushing shopping carts, and small children stroking her and looking at the other bicycles around her.

Then Lucy had shown up. Mrs. Philpott was with her, her younger brother too. Her eyes had lit up when she’d spotted Maude. She’d run her hands along her handlebars before turning her shining face to her mother.

“Isn’t she beautiful? And I have just the right amount. Can I buy her?”

Her mother’s careworn face smiled at her daughter. “Of course, sweetheart. You stay here and keep watch over your prize and I’ll go find a sales clerk.”

And just like that Maude came to be Lucy’s.

Over the next few months she’d learned how her new owner had come to purchase her. Every day after school she had something to do, just an hour or two, usually earning only a few dollars, but she was a hard worker. Babysitting little ones so Mrs. Cagle could do her errands, helping Mr. Glover weed his garden over the summer, and delivering the baked goods Mrs. Wickham made to earn extra money for her family. But by far Lucy’s favorite after school job was helping old Mrs. Sullivan.

Lucy stopped by two to three days a week to help out. She would clean the bathrooms, straighten up the living room, change and wash the bedding, and other simple tasks that Mrs. Sullivan, an elderly widow, had trouble doing for herself. None of the chores were terribly difficult for a ten-year-old girl, and Lucy was used to helping at home.

Maude had learned that at first Lucy did it because she liked Mrs. Sullivan, but soon the grateful woman had taken to paying her. Now Lucy was a regular, and had saved the money from all her “jobs” to get Maude.

“I help her get to school, to her after school jobs, and to run errands for her mother. I know she needs me,” Maude added, “and being her bicycle is the best job in the world.”

Henrietta was quiet for so long that Maude thought perhaps she’d gone back to sleep.

“I’m kept in the garage next to Mr. Odem’s car,” she said at last. “Sometimes Mary’s parents talk before going into the house and I can hear them. Mr. Odem talks about how it means more to work for things than to have them handed to you. But Mrs. Odem always talks him into letting her give Mary what she wants.”

Now it was Maude’s turn to be quiet. As they both sat there the snow started falling again just as the end of day bell began to ring.

“I think Mr. Odem’s right. Here I was thinking I was a finer bike than you but I see you are much better than I could hope to be. You will always be an important part of Lucy’s life. Even when she is a grown woman with children of her own she will remember the little bike that made her so happy. I will have no such place in Mary’s childhood memories.”

As their girls came out they could hear Mary on her cell phone complaining about the snow, demanding her father pick her up. Maude could feel Henrietta’s disappointment that she wouldn’t be taking Mary home from school.

Lucy came out full of smiles and excitement. She began brushing the snow from Maude and talking about getting home before it got any later.

“Goodbye, Maude,” Henrietta whispered. “Merry Christmas.”

As Lucy climbed onto her and began pedaling Maude knew it would be.

1 comment:

John and Rachael said...

I liked your story. What a cute, clever way to illustrate the difference between a hard day's work and having everything handed to you.