Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of “All that Glitters is Not Gold” (without using the actual phrase or literal example). (01/24/08)
TITLE: The Grand Prize
By Daneda Heppner
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“Ah, that is a dilemma,” I regarded him gravely, knowing that reporting it to the school nurse would be a breach of trust. I briefly weighed my responsibility to his teacher and the rest of the second graders, who already didn’t like him, and then decided to say nothing and hope for the best.
Secrets are a heavy burden to bear, and this child had far too many. His young, unmarried mother had little education herself, but was determined that Elijah would do better with his life than she had done with hers, and had enrolled him in our expensive private school. With his learning disability and hyperactivity, he probably would not have fit in well anywhere, but at our school, the contrast was pronounced.
He came to school unwashed and uncombed, his mousy brown hair sticking up in odd spikes without the benefit of gel. His dingy tee-shirts were often soiled or stained. He was perfect casting for the role of one of the street urchins when the drama department put on “Annie”; but his life was not a play, and he had no Daddy Warbucks to rescue him.
We met in school each week, in the clean, uncluttered spaces of my library. He would comb his fingers through the long fringe of the wool rug on which he sat, and listen to stories of a world he knew only through books. I had little knowledge of what his world was like, and his occasional glimpses into mine were met with wonder and awe. “I wish my life was normal,” he said wistfully one day.
Christmas was near, and Elijah knew that Santa would not be coming to his house. He had given up any such expectations long ago. It was a visit to Champs Fun Center for a classmate’s birthday that renewed his hope of receiving a gift. At first he ran recklessly from game to game, reacting randomly to the flashing lights and the mechanical click and whir of the games. As he began to comprehend the token system, he slowed down. You used the tokens you were given to play the games. If you won, you received tickets. The tickets could be used to purchase prizes. He was riveted to the array of toys that could be purchased with winning tickets. Behind the glass in the display case were bins of sparkly trinkets: green glowing rings, yellow-stripped grasshoppers, and floppy black tarantulas. He caught his breath when he saw the grand prize: a real, kid-sized rosewood guitar in Rockin’ Red. A deep yearning for that guitar welled up in him. It could be his Christmas present, and it wouldn’t cost any money; only a thousand tickets.
He quickly darted to the easier games and started racking up tickets. When he had used all of his tokens, he asked the party host if he could have more. He was good-naturedly given another go-around, and some of the children even gave him their tickets when they saw how much he wanted the guitar. When his mother came to pick him up, he begged and wheedled her into staying and purchasing more tokens.
After that, they went to Champs every weekend so he could play the games and win tickets for the guitar. They lost track of how much they had spent by the time they finally reached their goal a few days before Christmas. The manager opened the display case, and handed Elijah the coveted guitar. As they got in the car, his mother said there was no need to wrap it, since he had already seen it. He shrugged his shoulders and sat back in his seat to examine it more carefully. He was distressed to discover a couple of large chips in the back, but his mother said they would stop by the music shop to see what it would cost to have it repaired.
The clerk glanced at the chips briefly before handing it back. “It would cost more to fix it than it’s worth,” he told them. “It’s only a twenty dollar guitar.”
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