Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Embarrassed (07/19/07)
TITLE: Heart's Heat
By Ann Grover
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ADD TO MY FAVORITES
Of course, I’d been to Allison’s house several times already, so I was definitely long overdue for inviting her over. I was always enchanted by the bowl of fruit on the kitchen table, the shiny stainless steel sink where not a single dish lived, and the lace runner on the living room coffee table.
Allison’s mom was friendly, asking how our day was, listening intently as we told her about spelling tests and explorers. After a snack of milk and thick slices of chocolate cake, we went to Allison’s room, where the curtains matched the bedspread and pillowcase. Allison set her homework on the desk beside her library books, and when she opened the drawer, I could see a box of stationary and a row of coloured pens.
We talked about books and horses and music. And, of course, whether Linda MacPherson was a phony or not.
When it was time for me to go home, my jacket was retrieved from a closet, and I rode away on my bicycle. As I pedaled, I contemplated the shiny sink, the glistening apples, and the swirling frosting on the cake.
Was it always like that? Or was it just for me?
“Can Allison come over?” Carefully, I broached the subject of inviting Allison over.
“I suppose,” Mom answered, without looking up from her magazine.
“Not Friday. Thursday.”
So Thursday it would be. Maybe there would be brownies or upside-down cake or lemon tarts.
My corner of the bedroom was easy to tidy, smoothing the blankets, dusting the bureau, and lining up my books in the bookcase. I swept the floor and fussed with my plastic ornaments, regrouping them into a pleasing arrangement.
Wednesday night stretched long with anticipation and anxiety. Would Allison remember? Would I remember to take her coat and would we sit on the bed and talk about poetry and music? I finally slept.
Wednesday morning dawned sunny and blessedly ordinary. How would I ever endure Magellan and conjunctions and osmosis? The day was going to be endless.
Before I knew it, we were on our back porch, and I was holding open the screen door, asking Allison to go first.
There was no shiny sink, but three days’ worth of dishes teetered on the counter, and a dishrag lay in the bottom of a pot, coiled around the charred remains of boiled potatoes.
“Get changed and get outside,” came a voice from the living room.
“It’s me, Mom. Allison’s here.” I smiled at Allison. She smiled back weakly.
“Have a seat, Allison.” I moved a stack of newspapers from a chair for her. I looked for the tarts, the hoped-for brownies, but there was nothing, not even crackers. Then, too late, I saw that Allison had dragged her sleeve through something sticky on the table.
“Let’s go to my room,” I suggested, hoping she wouldn’t see the smear on her sweater.
Allison scanned my book titles and picked up an ornament or two, politely admiring each one. I suddenly saw the ornaments for their cheap tawdriness, the books with their bent covers, and the blankets unable to camouflage the sway-backed beds.
“I told you to get outside.” Mom stood in the doorway.
“Hello, Mrs. Hunt.” Allison said quietly.
Mom regarded her dispassionately and reluctantly said, “Hello.”
“Can’t we stay inside and talk?” I asked.
Mom left the room without answering. I felt colour rising in my face, the burn scorching my collar and flowing across my cheeks.
“I think I want to go home,” Allison said. I saw the smear on her sweater as she spoke, and I couldn’t look away, mesmerized by the stain on the fine fabric.
“We can play a game, Allison. Snakes and Ladders. Or checkers.” It was a desperate bid, I knew, that the visit would still end normally.
“No, I better go.”
Allison got on her bicycle and pedaled away down the road. She turned once, to wave at me, a forlorn figure standing by the road.
When I lay in bed that night, warmth flooded my face again and again as prickles needled at my heart, remembering the longed for hospitality that never materialized.
And in spite of my nine years, I saw things as they were, not the sad way of beds and books, but the heart.
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