Sunday, March 18, 2012

10. The Baby Raffle

“Hey, Charlie!  Did you hear?  They’re gonna raffle off a baby!”  Josh came runnin’ up to me, out of breath, and red of face.
            “Are you crazy?  You can’t raffle off a baby.”  I was disgusted.  Josh was always spoutin’ off stories that he got only half right.
“Well, my mom and Mrs. Schneider are talkin’ all about it.”  He pulled up his denim shorts that were threatenin’ to slide off his skinny hips and down over his scuffed up knees
 I looked at him with scorn.  “Even your mother knows you can’t do that.”  I tried not to emphasize the words, your mother, cause criticizin’ someone’s mom’s a good way to get in a real fight. And as loopy as Charlie could be, he had a strong, fast punch that I didn’t want to meet.
“Yeah, well you don’t know nothin’, Charlie.”  He sneered back at me.
“OK, OK, just whose baby are they gonna raffle?”
“This baby doesn’t belong to anyone.  It’s the one they found outside St. Casmir’s.”
“Wait a minute.  I thought they was gonna try and find its parents.  The newspaper has a story about it every day, with pictures and everything.”  I hated to admit it, but the little sucker had a cute face.  And I did feel sorry for it.  My parents drive me crazy but they try their best.  Everybody needs at least a mom.
“Mrs. Schneider says no one says it’s their baby, but lots of people want it.”  Josh screwed up his face, thinkin’.  “So I guess they decided the fairest thing was to offer the baby to the highest bidder.”
“Something is seriously wrong here.”  I shook my head.  I may only be in the 4th grade, but I know wrong from wrong.  “I gotta check this out.  Catch you later.”  I pushed and glided my scooter home, tryin’ to hit all the bumps in the road.
I shot the scooter into the back yard before I clambered up the steps into the mud room and kitchen.  Mom was takin’ something good smellin’, cinnamon, I hope, out’a the oven.
“Hey Mom, are they really goin’ to raffle off that found baby.”
“Good gravy, Charles.  Where are on earth did you hear that story?”
“Oh, that dumb Josh, he’s always makin’ up the craziest things.  I didn’t believe him.  I just wanted to know for sure.”  I started sliding my hand across the counter to where she had some oatmeal cookies cooling off.
“Stop sneaking cookies.”  She gave my hand a little slap.  They’re for my coffee group tomorrow.  “He must’ve just heard it wrong.  They aren’t raffling off the baby.  They’re raffling off chances to name the baby.”
I thought about this.  “Why?  Doesn’t the baby have a name?”
“I’m sure the baby has a perfectly nice name, but no one knows what it is.  And the baby’s folks haven’t stepped forward to claim it yet.  Too bad they didn’t pin a note to the pink blanket it was wrapped in.”
“Yuck.  A pink blanket?  Does that mean what I think it means?”  I’d been thinkin’ it might be fun to have a little brother if we’d won the raffle, but no way did I want a baby girl in the family.  Of course, it looked like there wasn’t going to be a baby raffle anyway.
“Yes, the baby’s a darling little girl, with dark brown hair and bright blue eyes.  Of course lots of babies have blue eyes and then they change as they get older.  Anyway a girl means you have to come up with a girl’s name to win.”
“Hey, I don’t want to win thinking up a girl’s name,” I muttered.
“Well, the prize is $100.”  She knew money always moved me.
“Hmm, I guess I could always use $100.” I thought of the computer games I still didn’t have. “What are the rules?”
“The name, of course, is just a temporary one until we find her real parents, or until she is placed permanently in a new home.  Auntie Rosie is taking care of the baby until then.  And she hates to call it Baby No Name.  The emergency baby care committee needs some new equipment and baby clothes and thought this could be a fund raiser.”
“What could be a fund raiser?”  I didn’t get the connection.
“Everyone who wants to suggest a temporary name for baby girl unknown has to pay $5 to have an entry considered.  All the names’ll be put in a big bowl, Auntie Rose will pull out a name and that person will win $100 and the rest of the money will go to the fund and…”
“And the poor sucker of a baby may be stuck with the worst name on earth!”  I was horrified.  Good gravy!  At least I was blessed with a fairly decent name, Charlie, but what about my friend Mortimer.  Nobody called a little baby or even a grown man that anymore.
“The baby’s name won’t be written in stone.  It’s something to call her until a more permanent arrangement can be made.”
The wheels were churning in my brain.  I didn’t even know the little sucker, but I had to at least give it a try.  And winning $100 was a pretty good incentive, too.
All day and all night and all the next day whenever I had a moments’ peace I worked on the perfect little girl name.  I thought of something frilly like a flower name, Daisy, Rose, Violet.  Nah, too fussy.  Then a more common name like Mary, Anne, Jane, or Nancy.  I didn’t like any a'them either.
Finally, the absolutely perfect name came to me as I was walkin’ home from school.  When I did my usual burstin’ into the kitchen lookin’ for somethun’ good to eat, I asked Mom for more contest details.
She said I just had to go over to the Public Library, pay my $5, fill out a name suggestion card, add my own name and phone number, and put it in the box.  She had already put in a name--wouldn’t tell me what it was ‘cause she didn’t want to influence my choice.
Up in my room, I pried out the rubber plug from the bottom of my stupid, silver metal, piggy bank.  I keep it hidden under my dirty clothes in the bottom of my closet.  I didn’t want any of my friends to ever see it.   I counted out two dollar bills and the rest in change.  I told Mom where I was goin’ and scooted over to the library.
I paid my $5 and filled out the suggestion card. I was afraid someone might stop me as being too young to gamble.  But no one paid attention to what I was doing.  The librarians and volunteers were busy babysittin’ all the little kids who had workin’ parents and had to walk over to the library after school.  I grinned to myself as I filled out the card, gave it a little crumble—I heard someplace that a little crumbling helped a card get picked—and dropped it in the bowl.
The raffle drawing was bein’ held Sunday afternoon at the library.  They had such a crowd, they had to move it out to the front steps.  I stood there with my mom waiting to see what name had won.
Auntie Rose made a little speech about how they’d collected $645 and after they gave the $100 prize, it still left a nice sum to buy equipment for the emergency care program.
Someone else was holdin’ the baby.  Poor little sucker.  I hope she likes her new name.  Auntie Rose slowly moved her hand around in the large glass fishbowl, clutched a card, drew it out and squinted as she tried to read the name.  I was too far back to see if it was crumbled, but I kept my fingers crossed.  I sure wanted a new computer game.
“The winning name is Heather!”  The crowd applauded again.  I held my breath.
 “And the person who submitted that name is Charlie Johnson.”
  I grinned showin’ all my teeth, which I really hated to do, but I was so happy I couldn’t help myself.
My mom looked at me in surprise, “Why on earth did you pick that name?”
“I thought a long time about what was the best girl’s name, ‘cause I really wanted that money.  And, a’course I wanted her to have a decent name.  I finally realized I already knew the perfect girls’ name.  Your name, Mom.”…
And whatever happened to baby girl Heather?  Well, that’s another story.
                                                               The End

Monday, March 12, 2012

9. The Proposal (Another surprise ending)

“Will you marry me?”  Aren’t those the words every young woman longs to hear?  Especially when the man asking is tall, dark, handsome, and rich.  But the man in this case was not tall, dark, etc., etc.  He was just Kevin, the man I first met over the copy machine at work.  He didn’t know how to work it.  And he was short, with sandy colored hair and even a sandy colored complexion.
It was not the question I was longing to hear from Kevin.  It was the question I was longing to hear from Steve, manager of our department and a real go-getter.  All the girls in the company, unmarried and married alike, perked up whenever he was around.  He really was a charmer.  Steve was just the kind of guy mothers warned their daughters about.  Probably had a girl on every floor of the building.  Still it had been fun for me to fantasize about going out with him, but that never happened.
Anyway, I was out on a date with Kevin.  We sat next to each other on a red leather banquette in a dark back booth in the crowded Russian Latke Restaurant.   He had ordered Merlot which made my head a little woozy.  I preferred Chardonnay but hadn’t wanted to sound critical or bossy.  One glass wouldn’t hurt me, I decided.  As we waited for our dinners to arrive, Kevin grabbed my hand almost knocking over my wine glass.
“I was going to wait until dessert but I can’t bear waiting another minute.” 
My hand was beginning to perspire in his warm grasp.  But I didn’t see how I could pull it away.
“Heather, you are the most wonderful girl I’ve ever met.  I want you in my life forever.  Will you marry me?” His brown eyes stared intently at me reminding me of my child hood dog begging for a walk.
This was not what I wanted.  I did not want a marriage proposal from Kevin.  Plain, ordinary Kevin.  I wanted a man who would sweep me off my feet as I presumed someone like Steve would do.
             Kevin began fumbling in the pocket of his windbreaker, lying next to him on the banquette.
             Oh, please, I prayed silently.  Don’t let him pull out a ring.  I will just die.
“Stop!  Please stop right now.”  I finally got my brain and my mouth working together.
I pulled my hand out of his grasp as if pulling out a wad of taffy when candy making. Kevin crumbled before my eyes.  Oh what have I done to this poor man, I worried.
“Heather, what’s the matter?  I thought you liked me.  You were the only one at the office who would talk to me and laugh at my jokes.”
What is that old saying, ‘No good deed will ever go unpunished’? 
“Kevin you are a very nice man and I do enjoy talking with you and kidding around, but we hardly know each other.”  And I only went out on an actual date with him because I was just trying to be nice to him.  I couldn’t tell him that.  Oh, what could I do to get out of this difficult situation?
He pouted.  “I can’t really afford to take you to such an expensive restaurant, but I thought it would be worth it.  I thought you would say yes and we would always remember this night.”
Oh, yes, I will always remember this night but not for the reasons he had been planning.
I slid across the banquette and stood up next to the booth.  “Kevin, I am honored that you like me enough to propose marriage to me, but it’s just too soon.”  I took out my wallet and placed three twenty dollar bills on the table.  I thought that should cover the cost of my meal.  I just couldn’t sit there for the rest of the evening and share Kevin’s embarrassment and misery.
Kevin’s face turned red, he snarled at me, “You think that’s OK.  Just break my heart in half, toss me some money and leave.”  Other diners were starting to stare at us.  I didn’t know what to do.
Suddenly, I heard a sweet voice say behind me.  “Oh dear, I’m so glad we ran in to you tonight.  Why don’t you join us for dinner?”
Was I hearing things? I turned and saw a darling little woman with curly white hair and twinkling blue eyes smiling at me.  Who was this stranger and why was she talking to me?  Kevin looked abashed and said, “I have to go.”  He added some money to mine, grabbed his windbreaker and slid out the other side of the booth, not looking at me or anyone else.  I didn’t try to stop him. 
My life saver said, “I hope I didn’t interrupt anything but you looked like you could use some help.” 
I blushed.  “It was sort of difficult.  Thank you for coming to my rescue.  Do you always do this sort of thing?”  Chicago is friendly but this was a little friendlier than I was used to.
“Well I always try to be a Good Samaritan but this time you’ll have to thank my grandson for realizing you needed help.”  Right on cue who should walk up but Steve. 
“I…I…don’t understand.”
“Heather I hope we didn’t mess anything up for you.”  He apologized.  “I’m taking my grandmother out for a birthday dinner.  She was concerned when she saw Kevin—she didn’t know his name, of course—getting angry and starting to yell.  He has a reputation around the office for being a little unstable so I was worried too."
I couldn’t believe what was happening.  “But…but…why did she come over.”
Steve laughed.  “My grandmother never leaves a good deed undone and wanted to help.  I explained that I actually knew the two of you and didn’t feel I could do anything, so we came up with this plan.  She would come over by herself to calm down the situation.  I’d be the muscle in the background, just in case.”
“Thank you so much.  I was embarrassed and starting to worry.”  I sure wasn’t going to tell them that Kevin had just proposed.  “Now that all the drama is over, I’ll just be on my way and leave you to your birthday dinner.”
His grandma interrupted, “No, no. I insist you join us.   Steve’s so boring you know.  I’d like to have someone else to add spice to our dinner.  He takes me out once a month and I’d really like to have someone else to talk to.”
I looked quickly at Steve.  His handsome face looked suitably chagrined.  Joining in her requests to join them, he added, “I think I’m going to remember this night for the rest of my life.” 
A chill went down my spine.  Where had I heard those words before?
I calmed myself.  Any man who takes his grandmother out to dinner once a month can’t be all bad.
            I thought of another old saying, ‘You can’t judge a book by its jacket’.  We had a great dinner and the following year we had a great wedding.

                                                                                The End