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By MADINAH K. WAKIL
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Madinah K. Wakil
All rights reserved.
Charlotte's tiny pale feet dangled out of the side of her neatly made bed for several minutes before she tossed her petite body from one side of the bed to the other side. She wondered how long she would rest under her pastel sheets before Woo, the family dog attempted to coax her out of bed for his early Saturday morning walk. Charlotte was lost in her own intimate thoughts as images of a cool summer breeze raced across her sleepy eyed face. "Should I snuggle for a few more minutes or get out of bed", thought Charlotte. Her singular thought pattern was suddenly broken with a series of low and repetitive taps on her first floor bedroom window. A familiar voice was heard from the inside of her mind and the decision to get out of bed was swiftly and unconsciously made.
"Noah will you stop throwing rocks at my window," commanded Charlotte in a forceful yet sleepy voice. "You know mom said that if you break my window again that she will make you pay for it, now, leave me alone so that I can go back to sleep!" Charlotte slowly closed her lazy eyes one more time and was abruptly awakened by the motivated barking of her oversize sheep dog, Woo. "Charlotte, Charlotte get out of bed, today is Saturday and you know what that means," yelled Noah from the overgrown front yard. "Come on Miss Charlotte Hayes, your mama left for work hours ago and Aunt Penny is watching her favorite Saturday morning shows," replied Noah.
Charlotte could sense the agitation in Noah's childish voice. She opened her drowsy eyes one more time and commanded her sluggish body to get out of bed. Charlotte reached for her favorite red Mickey Mouse clock with the oversize numbers, which stood on the cluttered nightstand next to her bed. She carefully ran her tiny fingers around the face of the clock to see what time it was. "Well, she sighed, it is almost 8:00am. I guess I'm not going to get any sleep around here, maybe I should get up".
Noah's excitement was beyond containment because today was his twelfth birthday. He was happy to finally be Charlotte's age. Noah and Charlotte had been neighbors for as long as they could remember and best of friends. They both attended Trenton East Middle school in the 6th grade and both were in Mr. Drysdale homeroom and literature class.
Noah was an exceptional individual with above average insight and academic skills. He was an avid reader of unusual mysteries and murder plots. Since his accident, Noah's pastime was going to the book department of his favorite store and buying mystery novels. In fact, he was excited about his adventure with Charlotte today, because Aunt Penny had promised to take them to Springdale Store for his birthday. Noah was blown away by the ever present thoughts of his Springdale adventure. He could hardly sit still in his heavily padded wheelchair. Every second he patiently waited for Charlotte was charged with great anticipation.
Noah wasn't quite sure how or where he developed a love for mystery novels, but he believed it was a result of his accident. When he was about seven years old, one cold day in December, his life changed forever by a hit and run accident. Noah was playing near Gamble Brothers Park and was not paying attention to the traffic in the area. His older brother was supposed to be watching him, but he was grossly involved in a conversation with his friend. Noah decided to cross the street to investigate an interesting object on the ground. The traffic on the popular Gamble Street was not that busy that time of day. As he approached the curb, Noah was too occupied to look for any moving cars and without thinking he stepped in front of an unidentified speeding car. He was hit by fifty tons of rusty metal, which tossed his small, frail seven-year-old body several feet into the air and landed him on the bitter cold payment. Even though Noah was very young at the time, he distinctly remembers the cold surface temperature of the ground against the side of his face. After the accident, he found himself both helpless and suddenly paralyzed from the waist down.
During the long hospital stay and months of rehabilitation, Noah began to read mystery novels that his mother would bring home from work. This somewhat kept his inquisitive mind busy as his injuries healed. Sometimes his mother would buy him used books from the thrift store or purchase new books on rare occasions.
The closet large store to Gamble Street was Springdale. Noah's mother would take him on the six block adventure to Springdale and make up mysterious stories alone the way and Noah imaged that he was the main character in all the stories. Somehow Noah always seemed to be able to solve the mystery by the time they arrived at the store. Noah and his mom visited the store so much during his recuperation; she eventually got a job at Springdale store.
Noah would roll his wheelchair to the book department and read mystery novels while his mother shopped, browsed, or just conversed with fellow co-workers. Noah Piedmont could stay in the book department all day, just thumbing through all the interesting books on the shelf with their colorful and interesting covers. The only thing that Noah loved more than his mother was his books and secretly longed for new and fascinating adventures to spice up of life.
"Aunt Penny are you sleep, can I have some breakfast?" stated Charlotte from behind the sofa. "Are you still going to take Noah and me to Springdale?" Aunt Penny was fast asleep on the sofa and heard nothing of Charlotte's demands.
Aunt Penny was not really related to Charlotte biologically or by marriage. Aunt Penny as everyone commonly called her is a mature lady in her mid-sixties, but no one really knew her real age. One early Tuesday morning, she strangely appeared at the front door of the Hayes house. This day, Charlotte was taking her time about preparing for school, when the doorbell rang. Charlotte's bedroom is in the front portion of the long narrow ranch house. This made it easy for her to know when someone approached the house. Charlotte often listened when the doorbell rang and this time was no different.
As she pressed her ear against the inner wall of her bedroom, she wishfully thought that it would be nice if something happened, so she would not have to go to school that day. Charlotte thought it was very strange for someone to ring the doorbell that early in the morning.
Mrs. Hayes, Charlotte's mother, peered out the front window to see who was at the door. She was surprised by the appearance of what she considered to be an elderly, rather pale skin woman with a twisted newspaper in her right hand and a discolored umbrella in the other. Mrs. Hayes looked at Aunt Penny with slight disbelief, but conceived that she was quite harmless; in fact she almost appeared lifeless. Mrs. Hayes slowly opened the heavy, squeaky front door, but was careful not to unlock the metal screen door.
"May I help you?" announced Mrs. Hayes in a curious voice. Aunt Penny did not speak at first; she just stood there with an innocent smile on her pale face. Then she said, "How are you sweetie, my name is Aunt Penny".
After giggling for a few seconds, Aunt Penny continued. "Maggie Lowe at Memorial General Hospital, where I volunteer, said that you need a live-in housekeeper, cook, and caretaker for a nine year old girl. Well sweetie, I love children and I am a very good cook and can do house chores, plus I can start right away".
Aunt Penny spoke with confidence and surety. "Here! Look at the nice reference letter that Maggie wrote for me. She said I was to give it to you and tell you about myself". Mrs. Hayes lowered her head and pulled her fleece robe tightly together and said, "I'm sorry, Ms. Penny, but I don't do interviews this early in the morning, please make an appointment with me for Thursday. Also make sure you bring at least three job references and your employment history with you".
Mrs. Hayes sensed that Charlotte may be listening to the conversation, so she ended by telling Aunt Penny that she also had two other people to interview for the job that day. The rest was history, Penny Mae Webster's references checked out and she moved in the next week and has been in the Hayes household for almost three years. Strangely enough, Aunt Penny was a poor housekeeper, couldn't cook at bit, but Charlotte and Woo liked her.
Noah pushed his wheelchair to the bottom of the front porch ramp and waited for Charlotte. About a year ago Mrs. Hayes decided to have her retired brother-in-law add a wheelchair accessible ramp to the side of the front porch, a few feet from the weathered porch stairs, in order to accommodate Noah's needs. The ramp was poorly constructed, but served its practical purpose.
Noah yelled from the bottom of the ramp, "Charlotte, are you ready to go yet, come to the front door." Charlotte slowly maneuvered her petite body from behind the dusty old sofa toward the front door. Noah had positioned his wheelchair so he could see when Charlotte opened the door.
It was a warm June day and too early in the morning to be bothered with swarming insects. The light breeze had not yet become humid or dry from the sun. Noah was leaning over the left side of his wheelchair studying something on the ground. He was so focused that he didn't notice that Charlotte had arrived at the screen door. The metal screen door was missing some screws and in despair. This would be another job for Mrs. Hayes' brother-in-law. His carpentry skills were somewhat questionable, but his labor was free, except for an occasional home cooked meal. He felt guilty about his only brother abandoning Charlotte and her mother, so he moved close by to assist when needed.
When Charlotte arrived at the front door, her senses were aroused by the sweet smell of partially hanging rose bushes, which flanked both sides of the house. The begonias had a particularly appealing scent and were drawing her attention to the front yard. Noah suddenly peered up from the fascinating subject on the ground, which held him in suspend for several seconds. He saw the flicking shadow of Charlotte's silhouette pressed against the dusty old screen door. Noah looked puzzle, as he studied the figure in the door and in a playful voice said, "Charlotte, are you really blind or can you see a little bit, like Mr. Mansfield in Spanish class?" I watch the way you manage to get around OK; sometimes I think that you're faking it. How come you know when someone comes around you?"
"Noah!" Charlotte screamed, "You have the brains of a sponge, there is nothing wrong with my hearing, I can't see, but I can hear!" "Maybe you are pretending to be dumb." A loud crash from the kitchen interrupted Noah and Charlotte's colorful conservation and drew their attention to the faded green rug in the center of the living room floor. Noah's curiosity peaked again as be begun to wheel his cranky wheelchair up the ramp. This was not easy for Noah's small framed body, but he always managed to do it. When he got to the top of the unleveled ramp, he called out to Charlotte to open the screen door. Charlotte had already disappeared into the core of the 12'x16' living room and begun to make her way to the sofa.
"Charlotte, Charlotte, what was that noise?" Come open the screen door for me." Noah anxiously waited for Charlotte's reply, while struggling to raise himself a few inches from his comfortably padded wheelchair. The rusty handle on the screen door was held in place by one oversized screw. With little effort and energy, Noah was able to grab hold of the door and open it.
Noah positioned his chair at a slight angle, with barely enough room to clear the left wheel through the door, and propelled himself into the cluttered living room. This time he paid no attention to the noisy sound of the rusty door hinges as he entered the house. The sound of silence was deafening to Noah, but even worse, there were no signs of Charlotte. The only visible sign of life was the image of Aunt Penny spread out on the sofa. Noah scanned the room from east to west, then north to south looking for Charlotte. He ignored the overwhelming image of Aunt Penny on the sofa snoring. Aunt Penny's faint statue disappeared into the background as Noah frantically called out for Charlotte.
"Woo what have you done this time?" shouted Charlotte with laughter in her voice. "You silly dog, don't you know that cookies are for humans not sheep dogs?" "Charlotte, what was that noise? Are you alright? Can you believe that Aunt Penny slept through all of that? Are you in the kitchen?" commanded Noah.
The sound of broken glass being swept across the crumbling kitchen tile drew Noah's attention in the direction of the kitchen. Noah was quite familiar with the layout of the Hayes house. He maneuvered his wheelchair in the cramped house many times before. As he moved through the living room toward the kitchen, his chair barely missed a small oak table tucked away in a corner, close to the kitchen.
As Noah entered the spacious sky blue kitchen, he noticed a broken jar on the floor near the butcher-block counter. Charlotte was standing about a yard from scattered broken glass on the floor, with a straw broom in one hand and a long handled dustpan in the other. Noah drew the conclusion that this was the work of Woo.
Woo sat bashfully on the floor next to the big farmhouse table with crumbs hanging from the tip of his wet nose. Noah said in an excited voice, "Woo, did you get in the cookie jar again?" I hope it was good, because you're in big trouble now." It appeared that Woo understood every word Noah was saying and felt a sense of guilt. He barked a couple of times, wagged his hairy tale and headed for the front door without looking back. Noah said in a shy voice, "I'll help you clean up the mess and maybe you could wake Aunt Penny for our trip. It's getting late and she promised to take us today."
Charlotte was annoyed because Aunt Penny had not fed Woo yet and she would have to eat cold cereal for breakfast again. She gently handed the broom and dustpan over to Noah and followed the same path she had trotted hundreds of time into the living room. Charlotte stood behind the sofa and shouted, "Aunt Penny, wake up it's time to take us to the store; please wake up, Noah is looking forward to going to Springdale."
Aunt Penny slowly opened one eye and shortly after the other eye followed. She pressed her small thin lips together and extended her short stubby arms for a long exhausting stretch. Not quite fully awake, she took one look at Charlotte and in her usual delightful voice said, "No Springdale today." My rheumatism is acting up today. I guess I'll be right here on this sofa until it clears up." Without hesitation, Aunt Penny repositioned herself on the sofa and slowly closed one eye followed by the other eye and fell into a deep everlasting sleep. Within a few seconds, it was as if the conversation had never taken place.
Charlotte had been with Aunt Penny long enough to know that the matter had been decided and it was pointless to reopen it. How was she going to break the news to Noah, he would be crushed. She stood at the edge of the sofa pulling a thread from a worn out pillow and thought, "Noah and I are always talking about how we are capable of doing what anyone else does. Why can't we go to Springdale by ourselves? We have gone with our moms hundreds of time; we can do it?" Now, all I have to do is to convince Noah that we can drive the van ourselves.
Noah sat in his wheelchair looking at the floor. He wondered if he had gotten up all the pieces of broken glass. He inspected his own work, as he often did, and was pleased with the results. Charlotte entered the room with a look of amazement on her face. Noah assumed that the reassuring look on Charlotte's face meant that Aunt Penny was ready to take them to the store. Noah perked up with excitement and spoke in a cheerful voice, "Well, is she ready to go? Since our mothers both had to work today, I'm glad Aunt Penny was available. I'm a little bit surprised that she was willing to drive us because she is always weaseling her way out of everything."
Excerpted from GAMBLE STREET by MADINAH K. WAKIL. Copyright © 2014 Madinah K. Wakil. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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