Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: NEIGHBOR (06/01/17)
TITLE: Cheesy Fries and Bumper Cars
By Yvonne Blake
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As I neared the front, a lanky boy about ten years old, sidled next to me. “Those cheesy fries look so good. Will you buy me some?”
Startled by his audacity to ask me, a stranger, to buy something for him, I looked around for an adult with him. But he was staring at me with hopeful eyes, like my spoiled beagle. “Are you talking to me?”
He turned back to the menu boards. “You don’t have to get fries. Anything is good.”
Manners . . . manners. “I’m sorry, but you should find your parents and ask them.”
His shoulders slumped, and he disappeared – I assumed to find his family.
With my tray of cheesy fries, triple burger, and tall iced tea, I found a table on the edge. It was surprisingly cool under the trees. Even the music and shrieks were buffered by the fluttering leaves.
As is my custom, I sat so I could observe people. A father doled out food, while the mother tended an infant in a stroller. An older couple rested – their eyes glancing up the path, as if expecting someone.
I overheard a girl’s voice behind me. “Parker, you shouldn’t ask other people for food. Grams gave you money. What happened to it?”
“I spent it.”
“All of it?”
“I wanted a purple alien at the basketball hoop. I almost won, but the ball wouldn't go in the top hoop.”
“You spent your whole ten dollars on a stupid game?”
“Not all of it. I bought soda pop and cotton candy when we first got here, but I’m still hungry.”
I turned my head for a peek at the voices. Yes, it was the same beagle-eyed boy. The girl didn’t look much older. I opened my mouth for another fry, but stopped. I couldn’t eat it. Something was wrong. Where was their Grams? Were they here alone?
“Excuse me. I heard you talking. Where is your Grams?”
The girl was obviously in charge. “Grams had to work. She wanted us to have fun before school started, so she gave us some money to go on rides and buy some food. She’ll get us when it closes.”
I turned to Parker. “And you spent it all on a silly basketball game.” He gave me a sad smile. “Come, both of you. I’ll buy you some lunch.”
Between bites, they told me their whole story. My heart vacillated between the grandmother’s foolishness of leaving two kids alone in a busy public place and her love for them, when clearly, she was trying her best in a difficult situation. I wondered if they invented the whole incredible tale, but as they chattered about their broken home and family, I could see the pain of a stolen childhood in their faces. Today was a sliver of happiness, and I didn’t want to spoil it for them.
“So what rides have you done – the roller coaster, bumper cars, parachute?”
Parker ducked his head. “I’m scared of the roller coaster.”
I leaned close. “Me, too. How about the raft ride?”
Finding that they hadn’t experienced any, we set off to enjoy them together. We splashed, we bumped, we spun – sometimes returning multiple times. Parker, who loved going high, said he wanted to fly a super jet when he grew up. Finally, the sun set, the lights came on, and we chose our favorites before the park closed.
I decided I ought to meet this Grams. I assumed the kids would mention me, and I didn’t want her to be concerned about my intentions, while adopting her grandchildren for the day. As we waited by the gate, and the crowds dwindled, again I wondered if their story was manufactured to cover their act of running away for the day. But eventually, a battered car pulled up. I held back while the kids greeted a disheveled, grey-haired woman. She looked at me, and I approached.
“Hello, Ma’am. I hope you don’t mind, but I enjoyed sharing my day with your grandchildren. I’m sure they’ll tell you all about it.”
Sometimes I think of Parker. I wonder if he ever got to be a pilot of a super jet.
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