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April L. Smith

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   Recent stories by April L. Smith
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Seasons of Change
By April L. Smith
Monday, June 26, 2006

Rated "G" by the Author.

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...Will this be the year that Rachel outgrows her beloved, faithful friend, Jackie?

As the morning sun crests the horizon, an invigorating, familiar scent tickle’s the cool air. It’s a comforting smell, and one I look forward to every single year. It always manages to put a—sometimes big, often times spiky— grin on my smooth, golden skin. The scent of burning leaves is stronger now, and from two houses down, I can see the trail of curling smoke climb hazily to greet the sky.

I yawn and blink the sleep from my blurry eyes. My eyes are large and round, like shiny half-dollars, and the pupils are a swirly sapphire. I can feel the warming rays start to bathe me with radiance and I’m so elated, yet again, to be alive.

Suddenly, from behind, I hear the creak and subsequent groan of the old screen door and quick, impatient footsteps clomp hurriedly down the steps.

“Jackie—” A voice squeals excitedly. “—good morning to you!”

“Slow down, you silly girl!” I jovially reproach her. “Before you come tumbling down the steps and hurt yourself!”

Rachel appears before me, giggling. Her smooth blond tresses are upended into perfect pigtails tied with ruby colored ribbons. She’s dressed warmly in denim overalls and a red long sleeved tee shirt. In her hands, she’s clutching a knapsack covered with the smiling, plastic grin of Barbie.

“You’re such a worrywart, Jackie.”

“I only worry about you, kid. After all, where would I be without you? Rotting away somewhere, unloved and uncared for?”

“That will never happen!” She declares vehemently, her face darkening slightly with the swiftness of a cloud passing the sun. “I promise to always take care of you.”

I sigh sadly, despite a wide, toothy grin.

“I know you say that now, kid, but you’ll grow up someday and forget all about me.”

As she shakes her head, twin pigtails bob and swish like horsetails around her flushed face.

“Cross my heart and hope to die. Even when I grow up, Jackie, I’ll always take care of you.” She bends over slightly, reaches out one soft, smooth-skinned hand and runs it down my rounded cheek. I feel an unfamiliar wetness building beneath my lids and I quickly blink it away lest she see.

“Come on, let’s get on with it! I’m ready for our field trip!” I cry, forcing enthusiasm back into my voice. Rachel envelops me in a small-child bear hug, wrapping her plump arms around me, and straightens up. Despite my weight, she seems not to struggle.

“Wow, either I’m losing weight every year, or you’re developing some muscles, Kid!”

“Hey, I’m ten years old now, Jackie! I get stronger every year.” She smiles proudly and even though my eyesight is only level with her neck, I can feel the up-curve of her lips against the top of my head.

“Ten years old. My, my, where has the time gone?”

There is the gentle tug of gravity whooshing through my middle as she ceremoniously plops me into the basket hanging from the front of her purple bicycle. Rachel has generously faced me outwards, so that I can sightsee along the way. I am grateful to her for that.

Long purple and white plastic streamers trail from the handlebars, and as she begins to pump her short legs, the wind whispers through them with a soft thwicking sound.

“Ah, I do love an early morning bike ride.” I think happily to myself. The birds are singing to us as we pass and it’s sweet, melodic. It’s a sound I’d only heard wistfully in my dreams for the past ten months or so.

“We’ll be at the fair in no time, Jackie. I can’t wait! I think we’re gonna win this year, for sure.” Rachel shouts over the sound of the wind rushing in her ears. She’s moving so fast down the blacktop that I almost expect us to lift off and start flying. I feel like ET on the soaring bicycle. It’s a thrilling thought.

“How’s our competition this year, kid?”

“Horrible! Wait till you see! You have the most handsome smile around, Jackie. If we don’t win this year, I’ll know that the Bailey twin’s parents have this competition rigged!”

I laugh softly, and Rachel doesn’t hear the sound. She’s too busy hearing the nonexistent echoing in her ear of a voice in a microphone, ‘Number 34, Rachel Palomino, first place!”

Over the rim of the basket I can see men stooping outside front walks to pick up their morning newspapers, dogs trotting happily through the grass damp with morning dew, children on bicycles or tossing baseballs and enjoying the cool Autumn Saturday morning.

“Here we are, Jackie! Look, look!”

The fairgrounds are a mass of color and sound and delicious smells. It’s overwhelming and nerve-wracking and intoxicating, all at the same time. There is a large, yellow canvas tent set up and around the tent is a smattering of food concessions, game booths, and picnic tables. Further back is a Ferris wheel, a Scrambler, and a couple other new rides that I don’t recall from last year. Fair-employees are swarming around like worker ants, setting up, straightening, and readying their wares for the rush of the crowds.

Already, people are lined up at the ticket booths, eager to get in.

Rachel rides her bicycle around the throng of people and sidles up to the fence that keeps people from entering without proper payment. There is an opening in one section of fence and a security guard stands there, large beefy arms crossed over his chest. He surveys the mass of people, as if waiting expectantly for something or someone.

“Sir?” Rachel pipes up. I strain my eyes, not moving my body, to see her over my right shoulder. “We need to get in. Jackie and I are in the competition going on in the big tent in thirty minutes.” She flashes a piece of paper that she has pulled out her pocket. The man looks at it quickly, then down at me in the basket, and smiles.

“Go on in, little lady. And good luck!” He winks at her and she grins in return, pedaling through the opening in the fence. The distinct odor of cow manure assaults her nostrils and she wrinkles her nose in distaste.

“A smell that only someone who is ONE with nature could love.” I tell her, glancing back at her, and laugh. She rolls her eyes but continues to pedal on until we’re inside of the main tent. There are tables and booths set up all over but Rachel squints in consternation as she quickly reads down a listing of what is going on at each booth or table.

“Jackie, Table 12! That’s where we go!” The tires of her bicycle crunch loudly over the wood chip flooring and people dodge out of the way, waving angry fists.

“Hey, Kid, I don’t think you’re supposed to ride your bike in here.” I mention to her as I take in the hustle and bustle going on around us. I hear her giggle mischievously behind me.

“Too late, Jackie, my boy!” She replies and brakes so suddenly I feel the weight of gravity pulling my body forward until my face is smooshed into the inside of the basket.

“Look, Jackie, would you look at our competition?” Rachel squeals softly near my ear. She is bending down, so close I can feel her breath, warm and smelling of peaches.

“Kid, I’d love to look..maybe a little assistance?”

She gingerly lifts me from the basket and it’s like an explosion of sound and an orange glow emanating all around me.

“Wow.” I whisper. “There are a lot more entries this year.”

Almost as if she did not hear, Rachel places me gently onto the black foil tablecloth-covered table amid a smattering of silver confetti shaped like bats and witches and ghosts made of lollipops covered with tissue and tied with strings. There is a small folded piece of cardboard with the number 34 printed gaily in green magic marker, followed by Rachel’s full name and age.

“I made you a hat.” She opens up her Barbie knapsack and pulls out what looks like crushed black construction paper. She fingers the creases and folds and displays the white “buckle” she’d glued on to the front.

“This is fabulous! I’m a Pilgrim—” I smile as she plops the construction paper hat upon my head with a triumphant exhale of breath.

“—with your Thanksgiving feast!” She exclaims and pulls a paper plate from her bag. She has certainly colored, with her stubby fingers and bright crayons, a feast for champions on that paper plate. There is the turkey, which closely resembles a large brown pencil eraser, a round orange-tinted ball of what appears to be mashed yams, and tiny, yellow circles that I assume are corn niblets. She proudly places the plate beside me.

“You are definitely the most creative, Kid.”

“You think so, Jackie?”

“I do. I’m proud of you.”

The hands on the clock travel slowly around the face as multiple judges with clipboards pass by our table. I feel like an intensely scrutinized bug under a monstrous telescope lens. Rachel starts to fidget behind me. She is humming the Star Spangled Banner off-key. Around us, children giggle and play hopscotch, adults murmur about grocery shopping and leaf raking left to do for the day. Carried in on a spicy current of autumn air is the scent of fresh made apple fritters and the sticky sweetness of cotton candy.

It feels like hours have gone by before there is finally heard a metallic-y tapping into a microphone followed by a patient throat clearing.

“It’s time!” Rachel breathes excitedly above my head.

“Good afternoon, everyone! And welcome to the Sunnybrooks Annual Pumpkin-Decorating Contest!”

Rachel leans over the table and looks hard at me, squinting her eyes just a bit. She scrutinizes me, and it’s almost as if she’s forgotten I’m a pumpkin.

“We’re gonna win this, Jackie. You and me. I can feel it.”

I suddenly feel weary.

Seeing her child-like grin and innocent blue eyes before me seems to take its toll.

We go through the same process every year—and every year—the same ache afterwards. Whether we win or lose the competition (and the closest we’d ever come to winning was 3rd Runner Up two years ago), it’s as if the light bulb brightens in Rachel’s head after the announcement, and she abruptly remembers how the Fall will end for us.

I wish I could prolong this moment, hold steadfastly to this innocence and bottle it up, not just for Rachel but for myself. Seeing the sadness that skitters across her vision, when the first mottled blemish appears on my bright orange skin at the end of every fall season, is enough to make me wish I could cry real tears with her. It will be a long year ahead of us.

“And the First Place winner of the 2006 Annual Pumpkin-Decorating Contest is…Rachel Palomino with #34, Jackie!”

Applause rains down like the tinkling of bells and for a moment, I am confused.

First place winner?

“Oh my gosh, Jackie! We did it! I knew they couldn’t pass by your smile this year! I just knew it!” Rachel cries ecstatically, planting a kiss on my cool, firm cheek. I feel as if the breath has been stolen from me and a moment passes before a warm, golden glow seems to fill me up from within.

“You did it, Kid! This was all your handy work! Congratulations!”

Children and adults alike are congratulating Rachel and for a moment she is lost in the glow of her victory. I watch her, a loving smile across my broad face, as I envision the beautiful woman she will become. My smile is also bittersweet, for where will Rachel’s growing up leave me? My “home” in her backyard, the pumpkin patch along the back of the property, along a white picket fence—it beckons forlornly to me.

“Jackie, let’s go home! I wanna show you off to everyone!” Small, warm hands lift me up and place me carefully, lovingly, into a wire basket on a bicycle. A first place ribbon is attached to my forefront and I puff up with pride.

That pumpkin patch beckons to me.

But I’m not ready. Not yet.

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Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 6/27/2006

Great story; very well done! BRAVA!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :)
Reviewed by Peter Paton 6/26/2006

My Mum's pet name for me was Peter Pumpkins, so I have got a stake and interest in this exciting and well crafted story...;)
Loved it !!

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