“I can’t!” she wailed, retreating several steps from her brother, who was holding the reins of his horse.
“Of course you can, you idiot Jean!” He eyed her with disfavor. “You’re just a plain scaredy-cat, that’s all. Forever saying you want to do things, but you never follow through. Now, hold out your hand. Flat!”
Watching him nervously, with her elbow tucked well into her waist, she extended her hand, almost flat. He plunked a carrot into her palm, and growled as her fingers curled around it: “I said flat!”
“Now hold it under Bomber’s nose. And keep your hand flat so he can take the carrot without getting your fingers too.”
The horse’s nose reached toward her hand, nostrils twitching.
“I can’t!” She dropped the carrot, retreating once again.
Her brother gave her a disgusted look, flicked the reins over the horse’s ears and vaulted into the saddle. The horse retrieved the carrot before responding to the twitch of the reins, the nudge of the rider’s heels.
They left her behind. Afraid. Angry. Disappointed.
Running up to the horse in the school gym, she baulked and turned aside.
“Come on, Jean,” the teacher was impatient. “We can’t put it any lower. Of course you can do it. You just put your hands here, like this, and vault over.”
“I can’t!” Jean wailed, dropping to the floor in floods of tears. For a minute or two the teacher stood, hands on hips, watching the girl before turning away.
“Go and wash your face.” She threw the command over her shoulder.
When the bell rang to end the Phys. Ed. class Jean was standing in a corner of the gym.
Ignored. Alone. Disconsolate.
The fair was in full swing, lights glaring, music blaring. Jean tagged behind a gaggle of girls from the office. Pulling wads of fluff from sticks of sugar candy, they chattered busily as they weaved between the crowded stalls, heading for the rides.
“Who is for the High Flyer?” “I want the Bumper Cars.” “Oh, no. I want to ride the Ghost Train!”
Laughing, they divided into groups. Jean stood to one side. Until someone noticed and asked, “Who’re you with, Jean? Cars, Train or Flyer?”
“I can’t!” Jean replied, her voice little more than a whisper.
“Don’t be silly,” a voice called, “they’re all perfectly safe. It’s just fun. Hurry up and decide.”
“I can’t,” was all she said. The laughter died. The girls turned to their chosen rides and she was left once more alone.
Dejected and despised.
Jean lived alone on the third floor of a tall residential block. Her tiny home was neat, clean and comfortable. She held an interesting but undemanding position in a nearby library. This was situated in a shopping mall not ten minutes walk from her home. Her life was sheltered, her home was her cocoon, and she was satisfied.
Until the morning when she stopped at the bank with the library deposit. Carrying the briefcase in her left hand, she leaned heavily on her walking stick as she approached the tills. She was vaguely aware of a group of people at one end of the hall, but only really noticed the brown coated man ahead of her, and wondered why there was only one teller on duty.
Seeing her approach, the teller’s eyes widened. The man in brown swung round. He wore a mask and carried some sort of weapon.
As she approached he swore and growled, “Lady, get over there,” waving his weapon to indicate the group in the corner.
The man swore again and strode forward to push her across the room. “There’s no such word as can’t!” he shouted as he reached toward her. In a terrified effort to defend herself she thrust her stick between his legs and swung the briefcase at his face, catching him across the nose.
Jean and her attacker fell to the floor. The teller dived under the till, kicking at the alarm on the way. The group in the corner surged to Jean’s assistance.
No longer dropping out. This time a heroine.
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