I was intrigued with Lise from the moment I saw her.
For one thing, she was new. Now, that wasn’t unusual in itself. Our little prairie school had its share of newcomers, usually children whose fathers had left the city, wanting to try their hand at the simple life, little knowing that the simple life could break their backs and spirits.
But, Lise wasn’t from the city; she was from another country. When she passed by my desk on her way to a vacant seat, I imagined I could smell the sea and something spicy and sweet. I pictured a faraway home amid snow and tall mountains.
For another thing, she was wearing The Hat. Red it was, and knitted, with bright embroidery framing Lise’s cheery face. But, best of all, a little bell bobbed on top, jingling merrily whenever Lise moved.
I wanted to wear The Hat.
I began to covet The Hat.
Then, a plan to get The Hat entered my mind. I would become Lise’s friend, and maybe for one enchanted moment, she would let me wear The Hat.
Lunchtime came, and we grabbed our tin pails from the cloakroom, then headed out to find a place to sit in the fall sunshine. I followed behind Lise, hoping to catch her eye. When she glanced shyly at me, I seized her hand and the opportunity.
“Will you eat with me?”
“Ja,” she said, and we linked arms like old friends.
We found a place to eat under a spruce tree. She pulled a sandwich from her pail, just bread and cheese, but thick, brown bread, not white and pasty like mine. As she chewed, the bell tinkled. I was entranced, and I tried to keep my eyes away from the top of her head.
I offered her a jam tart.
“Takk,” she giggled, and the little bell danced.
I felt fairly weak with longing. Lunchtime was nearly over, and I knew that I would have to move quickly.
“Do you want to play Red Rover, Lise?” What was this? Agnes and Thelma asking Lise to play a game? No!
“Ja,” said Lise, stuffing her napkin into her pail. She leaped up, the silver bell taunting me jauntily.
Then, lunchtime was over.
A new plan entered my mind.
After school, I stood by the door, waiting with Lise’s lunch pail in my hand.
“Would you like to walk home with me, Lise?”
“Ja,” and her rosy face shone with a joyous smile.
We scuffled our feet through the crisp, fallen leaves, and the gleeful ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling rang out.
“It will be winter soon. It’s getting colder,” I observed.
“My ears hurt when it is cold.”
“They are hurting a little bit now, I think,” and for extra persuasion, I placed my cupped palms over my ears.
Perfectly on cue, Lise asked, “Would you like to wear my hat?”
As if it were a jewel-studded golden crown, the red knitted hat was placed on my head. Lise tucked a stray lock of my hair under the embroidered edge, cocking her head to one side.
“You are pretty.”
I nodded, and the bell chimed in agreement. I sighed contentedly, and holding my vain little head high, I joined arms with Lise, and we walked home.
Lise and I became constant companions after that, and she often let me wear The Hat.
It was several weeks later, when my mother was braiding my hair for church, that she gave a sudden gasp.
My father turned from the washstand where he had been scraping away stubble and bellowed, “Where did you get lice?”
But we all knew. Covetousness, conniving, and vanity had entered my heart, and I had been rewarded with a plague.
Before I could say a word, my father had exchanged his straight razor for shears, and my mother was running to the barn for a can of kerosene. Within minutes, my two long braids were serpentined on the floor, and I reeked of fuel. My mother washed my shorn head with lye soap until my scalp was burning and raw.
The next Saturday, my father took me to the village barber shop, where the amused barber reshaped the jagged edges.
And what happened the next time cunning little thoughts entered my mind? Did I ignore them?
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