A Modern day Fairytale
Gretchen burst in the back door after school and dropped her books on the kitchen table. "Hey Mom! My birthday is coming up next week. I was wondering if I could have some friends over to spend the night?" As she spoke, she kept her back turned. It had taken her days to work up the courage to ask this favor.
"You?" the tone was condescending. "You have friends?" Not waiting for Gretchen's reply, her mother continued, "You are such a dreamer! Even if you did have friends, we don't have time for a party! Missy and Bo both have out of town basketball games next weekend. You know we are all going to cheer them on."
"I'm not," Gretchen replied flatly, fighting back tears. "I'll be 17 and I'm not going anywhere.
"Have it your way. It will be one less meal to buy." Her mother turned back to decorating cupcakes, "Missy is having several girls over tonight. Maybe you can find someplace to go."
Gretchen scooped up her books and sprinted to her room. Her mother hadn't even asked. She had told. 'Retch, as her mother called her, wasn't even welcome to eat with the family -- not when Missy or Bo had friends over. Throwing herself on her bed, she cried silently.
She certainly was a dreamer! What had made her hope that her birthday would be excuse enough to be treated like a member of the family? Even for one night?
Groping beneath her pillow she found the long expired helium balloon she was looking for and read the message attached to it:
May this balloon bring you the fortune you wish for and destruction upon those who long to harm you. ~ShellyShelly had been her best friend, and their freshman year of school they had been into blessings and curses. They made them up for every occasion and every gift, but Shelly's family had been in a boating accident and Shelly hadn't survived.
This was the only gift she had received for her 15th birthday and the last gift she had been allowed to have. Her parents gave her nothing, and gifts from her grandparents had been "redistributed" -- to her sister.
While her siblings were given new cloths for every occasion, she bought her own with babysitting funds -- the only job she was allowed to have. The last time her mother had taken her shopping, it was at a second hand store that wreaked of cigarette smoke -- $1/grocery bag full! And she had been called an ungrateful brat when she had refused to take anything home.
Rebellious. Ungratefully. 'Retch. That was how her mother described her. But away from home, no one thought that of her.
Her teachers said she was bright. Her friends said she was creative, and no one laughed at her dreams.
Realizing she would never be a sports star and go to college on a track scholarship, as her patents dreamed for her, she turned her attention to art and dreamed her own dreams. Laying on her back, staring at the ceiling, she realized life was going to require more of her than just dreaming for herself. She was going to have to believe in those dreams for herself.
Clutching the dead balloon to her chest, she fell asleep and as she slept, she dreamed of Shelly.
"May this balloon bring you the fortune you wish for..." Giggling, she handed it over.It had been the last time a friend had been allowed to sleep over. Two weeks later, Shelly was gone.
Grinning at the balloon floating above her head, Gretchen began to chant, "I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight."
Gretchen awoke. The house was quiet. Everyone else was asleep. Her stomach rumbled. She hadn't eaten since breakfast, but she didn't dare venture into the kitchen. Still holding the little balloon in her hands, she whispered, "I wish I had something to eat."
Sighing, she stuffed the balloon back under her pillow, kicked off her shoes and grabbed her books. The only way she was going to make it out of this hell-hole was with her brains. Flipping on the light, she started.
There was a plate of food on her dresser -- meatloaf, mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables. She looked around quickly, then threw her hoody in front of the door and ate greedily, fearing it would disappear at any moment. She ate until she was full, not noticing that the amounts never diminished until she was satisfied. Setting the empty plate down, she reached for her books. When she was done studying, she slept again. In the morning, the plate and silverware were gone, but her stomach was full.
She dressed quickly, stuffed the balloon with the card in her pocket, and left the house before anyone could stop her. What ever had happened last night -- she needed time to think.
Walking thought the city par, she saw a little boy whom she often passed on her way to school playing outside. His toes peaked out of the holes in his sneakers, and his jeans were too short, but he was clean and obviously loved. Playing with the balloon in her pocket, she muttered "I wish I could give him something new. It would make life so much easier for him." Thinking of the way other students picked on him for the way he was dressed.
Finding a quiet place to sit, she reviewed her homework, then headed to school. Opening her locker, she jerked back in surprise -- a pair of shoes and jeans that would just fit the little boy sat on top of her books.
Throwing her homework into her locker, she grabbed the clothing and sprinted back to where she had seen the child playing. She rounded the corner just in time to see him disappeared inside on of the row houses. She hesitated a moment, then laid the clothing in front of the door, knocked loudly and ran back to school.
That day, in Art class, the assignment was to paint a picture using objects rather than with brushes. Looking at the offered tools, Gretchen returned to her seat, pulled out the balloon and began to paint with it. As she painted, she dreamed of a flower garden int he country and found the picture in her mind transferred to the canvas, in an impressionistic sort of way.
When the time was up, she was satisfied with the work she had done. Washing up the balloon, she thought about her deep seated dream of going to college on an art scholarship. That was a dream she was wiling to share with no one.
Walking home that evening, she was rewarded to see the little boy in his new clothing, walking with pride.
Over the next few weeks, she discovered the depth of the blessing Shelly had given her. Everything she wished for someone else appeared in her locker. Everything she wished for herself materialized on her dresser. Marveling at the gift, she used it sparingly, but her mother noticed a change in her.
The cutting remarks no longer seemed to have any affect. Gretchen's babysitting jobs increased, as did her favor with her teachers and neighbors. Everybody seemed to love the wretch, but no one praised Bo and Missy. This is what really got to her mother, and ensited her to watch Gretchen's every move.
"Gretchen, I want you to clean the bathrooms and them make supper."
She had just entered the house. "Yes Mom." She set her books down on the table, shoved the balloon deeper into her pocket and hung her jacket before asking, "What am I to make?"
"Oh, what ever you like," her mother answered sweetly. "With all of your babysitting jobs, you can afford almost anything. How about pork tenderloin? You know how your father loves that! Bo's having a friend over. Make sure you fix plenty." The air was icy as her mother finished speaking.
Fighting back tears of rage, she began vigorously cleaning the entire house. She knew her mother's goal was to keep her too broke to attend an art camp that summer. She had been acting this way since Gretchen had sought permission to attend, two weeks before.
Fine. She would show them. Pork tenderloin! She could do better than that. Spreading the table with the finest cloth and setting it with the good china, she wished for a feast for her family -- salmon, t-bone steaks and lobster tails, with all the trimming.
It was all ready and waiting when the family and their friends returned from the game. Seating themselves, Missy laughed, "I brought a friend -- 'Retch, maybe you ought to eat in your room!"
Her friend snickered, but looked ashamed. "I don't have time to eat. I've got a job," she lied as she fled from the house.
When she returned home after midnight, her mother was waiting up for her. "Where did you buy those things?" she demanded. "No one around here carries such quality and you didn't have time to go anywhere -- besides, I know you didn't cook a thing. not a pan was used and the oven was cold."
"I wished for it," she replied flatly, as she kicked off her shoes.
"Don't lie to me, girl!" Her mother was furious now. "Where did you get it?"
"I stole it from that high falutin' restaurant on 7th Street -- grabbed it right out of the oven and ran all the way ho--" a hand across her face made her stop short. Blinded by pain and humiliation, she pushed past her mother and threw herself on her bed, not realizing she had dropped the balloon.
Missy came in from the other room, where she had been hiding, "Why did you let her get away with that?" she challenged.
"I don't know." Her mother reached for the balloon to throw it away, "And what is this scrap of trash that the ungrateful wretch hauls around?"
"Just a dead balloon," Missy commented. "She carries it everywhere."
"What do you mean?" her mother asked suspiciously.
"She does. Everyone at school has seen her playing with it, reading the message over and over again. She has earned the nickname, 'The balloon girl'."
Considering Missy, she read the card, "May this balloon bring you the fortune you wish for and destruction on those who long to harm you. ~Shelly ...She said she wished for it. Maybe I ought to keep this little gift from a dead friend..." She laughed to herself. Suddenly, many things were beginning to make sense.
Gretchen woke early the next morning, dressed quickly and left the house before anyone else was awake.
Just as school was starting, she realized the balloon wasn't in her pocket. Frantically she checked her other pockets and dug through her locker. It wasn't there.
She'd had it when she returned home... there there had been the fight with her mother... after that, she couldn't remember. Maybe she'd dropped it. The thought turned her stomach. How could she cope without it?
The day passed dreadfully slow. Every noise grated on her. By noon she was sick with fear and worry -- the trash was scheduled to be picked up shortly before she would get home. Her English teacher noticed she didn't look alright, sent her to the school nurse, who sent her home. Relieved, she ran as fast as she could -- there had been a reason her parents had dreamed of a track scholarship for her. She knew her mother was usually gone until 1:30 int eh afternoon. If she hurried, she would have 15-20 minutes alone. That would be enough time to check the trash cans and the dumpster.
Bursting through the back door, she tossed her books down and grabbed the kitchen trash -- it hadn't been emptied! Just as she began to dig, she heard her mother's voice, "Looking for something?"
The color drained from her face. She knew by the tone of voice, her nightmares had become reality. She turned to see her mother swinging the dead balloon by its string. "You got sloppy. I think I'll keep this little treasure for myself, you wretch!" She turned on her heals and left. Gretchen sat in the kitchen, too stunned to move. Would the balloon work for someone else?
Looking around, she realized it would. The living room was full of new furnishings. New pots hung on the rack above the stove. Her mother had been very busy!
"Like what I've done? You were so selfish! you kept it all to yourself -- well you'll suffer for it. Missy called. A representative is scouting today. I'm going to see if I can't increase her luck. She thinks it is grand you lost this -- if it hadn't been for her, I would have just tossed it." her mother walked out the front door, dressed in the latest fashion. As she was going down the steps, she twisted her ankle and fell. Grimacing, she struggled to her feet and hobbled to the new mini-van waiting by the curb.
"...And destruction upon those who long to harm you." Shelly's words rang though Gretchen's head. Was it possible, or was it a coincidence?
During the game, Missy repeatedly passed the ball to the wrong team, double dribbled and made so many other mistakes she was benched. On the way home, they were in a fender bender, resulting in a ticket.
As Bo and Missy helped their mother hobble into the house, Bo begged her to give the balloon back to Gretchen before anything else happened, but she scowled at him and told him to hold his tongue. Sitting down on the new couch, the leg under her snapped off, jolting her, then the arm she leaned against snapped, allowing her to roll onto the floor.
"Gretchen!" Missy wailed, "Why do you always bring tragedy to out home?"
Bo stood in the unfamiliar living roon, looking helpless. Missy had bragged to him about the balloon on the way to school that morning. She'd told him of the card's blessing and curse. He'd warned her not to mess with it. He didn't think Gretchen deserved the treatment she got. At one time he had, but he had watched his sister blossom at school and heard what others said about her. besides, he couldn't remember a time when she had been deliberately mean to him. now Missy -- that was another story! He lived in fear of her.
"Missy -- it is not her fault!" Bo shouted. "You and Mom brought this on yourselves. You read the curse."
Bo's outbreak startled both women. Missy quit her hysterics and Mother sat upright. She glared at Bo, then and evil gleam lit her eyes, "'Retch! Bring me some scissors!" she yelled.
Gretchen had heard the commotion from her room and scampered to obey. She grabbed the kitchen shears and took them to her mother, hardly noticing the disarray of the room, then she turned to go.
"Stay!" The command stopped her in her tracks. "I want you to see this, you little hell raiser!"
Gretchen turned slowly around. "Mother, I am done with your games. Think twice before you try to hurt me again!"
Bo wondered at his sister's bravery.
"Oh, I've thought more than twice. I'm going to put an end to this game of yours!" So saying, she snipped the balloon into pieces. "Now clean up this mess, you brat! Missy, help me to bed please."
Gretchen gathered the pieces while Bo watched. "I'm sorry," he ventured. "I was trying to help."
"Don't worry," she said, forcing a smile. "One can't go through life relying on wishes." She carried the pieces to her room and lay them on her dresser, next to the acceptance letter she had received in the mail that day. Her painting, done with the balloon, had granted her a full ride scholarship to the college of her choice. Fingering the pieces, she whispered, "Shelly, i wish I could share this joy with you."
In the morning, a large balloon floated above her dresser. Attached was a card that read, "You can never become poor by giving."