A Treasure

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
March/April 2001

By Allison Stadd, Illustrated by Valerie Thompson

Stifling a yawn, Jenna jerked the front door open, goosebumps forming on her bare arms in the icy morning air. Jenna scuttled hastily to the edge of the driveway, snatching up the morning newspaper. Just about to turn back to the house, she noticed a strange lump on the other side of the yard, just beneath the azalea bush.

Frowning in puzzlement, Jenna approached cautiously. She had never been much for dead animals . . . then again, it could just be an oddly colored pile of leaves. But when she finally stooped down to the object, she found it was an old hat! It was the lightest cream color, and despite the small hole on the bottom rim, the hat was perfect. Jenna curiously pulled the hat on her head. It hugged her ears cozily, as if it were made specially for her. Grinning, she sauntered back into the house to grab her book bag, shuffling back out and down the street to the bus stop.

*          *          *

When the lunch bell at school finally rang, Jenna snatched the hat from her locker and scampered into the cafeteria in record speed. She collapsed, panting, onto one of the flimsy plastic chairs directly across from her two best friends, Lauren and Jessica. “Hey, guys!” she nearly shouted. “Look what I found on my front lawn this morning.” Holding up the old winter hat, she let Lauren and Jessica examine it closely.

A Treasure girls on the cafeteria

“Hey, guys! Look what I found on my front lawn this morning”

Lauren wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Ew! Do you know where that thing could’ve been before ending up on your lawn? It’s dirty, and whoever wore it before you could’ve had lice or something, Jenna!”

Rolling her eyes, Jenna turned to Jessica for support.

Looking down at her macaroni and cheese, Jessica mumbled, “Lauren’s right, Jen. It is sorta gross, you know.”

Jenna sighed and placed the hat gingerly down on the seat beside her.

Just then, Lindsay called to the threesome from across the cafeteria, motioning that she had saved them seats. Heartily ambling over to Lindsay’s table with Lauren and Jessica at her side, Jenna completely forgot about her new hat. It was still waiting patiently on the table when the bell ending lunch rang. The kind old janitor scooped it up into his arms, along with the growing pile of assorted lost items, and dumped everything into the lost-and-found bin right outside the cafeteria. Just then, a tall, lanky boy sauntered up to the bin and began rummaging through the strange collection of lost items. “Now, I just know my watch is in here!” he mumbled determinedly. Suddenly, his hand touched upon some soft, worn fabric. Pulling out the object, he saw it was a warm old winter hat. His fingers touching the same material as Jenna’s had earlier, the boy positioned the hat on his head, his lost watch forgotten. Stuffing the hat into his book bag, he strolled nonchalantly off to class.

*          *          *

When the dismissal bell rang at the end of the school day, the boy strode out of the school building, breathing in the fresh frosty air, and unhooked his bike from the rack on the side brick wall. Before straddling the faded leather seat, he jammed his new hat on his head. He then rode off, pumping his legs hard to get home as fast as he could. He was eager to finish his biology homework so he could meet his friends at the skating rink. At last he reached the sloping front lawn of 46 Chestnut Street and threw his bike down on the driveway. Jamming his rusty key into the door’s lock, he shoved it open and called a greeting to his grandfather, “I’m home, Grandfather!”

The old man appeared in the kitchen doorway. “What’s that on your head, boy?” he called back. The boy tossed the hat to his grandfather in response, and he quickly examined it. “Well, sonny,” the old man began, “it’s not every day you get a nice, hand-knit old winter hat like this one. But, it seems to me that this could be the same hat my patient was wearing at the hospital today, and lost. His description pretty much matched this here hat. Now isn’t this is an interesting coincidence.”

The boy shrugged. “No big deal. It’s just an old hat. Take it to your patient and see. It could easily be his hat, since the parking garage is across the street from my school. Someone probably found it and turned it in to the lost-and-found.” With that, the boy clambered up the stairs, lugging his heavy backpack behind him.

“Well, I have work to do at the hospital, and that patient might be coming in again tonight, but I’ll be back for dinner!” Grandfather called up the stairs.

He hobbled outside to the old beat-up station wagon and rumbled off into the distance. When he at last arrived at Schwartz Hospital’s faculty parking lot, Grandfather grabbed his briefcase and stuffed the hat inside. He then scuttled inside the brilliantly illuminated building to escape the chilly winter air and climbed inside the sturdy silver elevator. He jabbed his finger at the third-floor button and then stepped off at his stop. When the doctor arrived at his destination, he set his briefcase down on the floor, the hat still snuggled inside, and began to sort out a large pile of papers. Suddenly, the phone rang in an irritated tone. Grumbling, Grandfather picked up the receiver. The impatient voice on the other end told him he was needed in the emergency room downstairs immediately. Hastily placing his stethoscope around his neck and buttoning up his long white lab coat, Doctor Fitzgerald rushed to the elevator and descended to the emergency room to save a fortunate someone’s life.

Meanwhile, another doctor on the same floor was busy shouting madly into a small cell phone while sauntering down the same hallway Grandfather just had. “I said I wanted four copies of that form! Four, I tell you! Listen to me, you lunatic. Who is the doctor here? That’s correct. And who is always right, therefore? That’s correct again! Now shut your trap and get me those copies or I’ll see to it that you are fired immediately!” Slamming down the cell phone in disgust, Doctor Mitchell began mumbling to himself in irritation. Not paying attention, he strode into Grandfather’s office, shouldering the old man’s briefcase, thinking it was his own. Muttering the entire way home, Doctor Mitchell announced to his wife and daughter that he was suffering from an unbearable migraine and was going to sleep in his room. They were ordered not to bother him.

After he slammed the door behind him like a period of the sentence, his daughter Jenna sighed in disgust. “Why is Dad always in such a bad mood, Mom?” she asked in frustration. Jenna’s day had already been ruined. She had lost the neat treasure that had appeared on her lawn that morning-a warm winter hat. Jenna’s own had been· eaten by the neighbor’s dog the previous year and her mother refused to “waste money on such a pointless purchase.”

Getting up from the kitchen table, Jenna grabbed the cordless phone from the counter and went to her room. Dialing Lauren’s, and then Jessica’s, number, she listened to the answering machine explain to her in its patient monotone that no one was home at either house. Throwing the phone down, Jenna descended the staircase and strolled into the kitchen again. She was about to flip on the TV, when she noticed something sticking out of her father’s briefcase. No, it couldn’t be . . . or could it? Cautiously peering into the leather bag, Jenna reached inside and” Yippee!” she yelled, “I found the hat! I can’t believe my luck!” Racing upstairs again, not even searching for this strange miracle’s explanation, Jenna modeled herself in front of the mirror, brushing back her dark brown hair. Once again, the hat fit perfectly on her head, like a king’s crown.

Even when Jenna’s mother demanded that she take a short trip to the general store to stock up on some more junk food, Jenna’s good mood couldn’t be spoiled. After all, it would give her a chance to wear her new hat again. Stuffing the crumpled list of items carelessly in her jeans pocket, Jenna began the short trek to Mr. Sanders’ store, humming to herself.

Meanwhile, at his small general store, Mr. Sanders was whistling contentedly through his cracked buck teeth. Adjusting his large plastic glasses and hiking up his pink sweatpants, eccentric Mr. Sanders grabbed the tape dispenser and a small stack of papers on his desk and strutted over to the front of the store. Taping up one of the sloppy signs, Mr. Sanders viewed his handiwork proudly, reading over the uneven lines.

MISSING HAT
Cream-colored winter hat with small
hole on bottom rim is missing!
Reward for finding hat: 2 cartons of eggs
and a 6-pack of gum

—].Sanders

Mr. Sanders shuffled off to put up some more signs. Just then, Jenna stepped into the bright store. Plucking off her warm hat, she began to pick her way around the many piles of boxes, crates, and stands parked around the store. Finally, she caught a glimpse of the cookie shelves and began to make her way toward her destination, no longer being so cautious to watch where she stepped. Still clutching her hat in a loose fist, Jenna stumbled over a large vegetable crate, scraping her knee on the side and losing her balance completely. Thrown suddenly into the air, she landed with a sickening thud on the hard concrete floor. The air whooshed out of her lungs and she choked on her own breath. Coughing hysterically, she managed to stumble to her feet. But she couldn’t find the hat anywhere. During her fall, she had lost her grip on it. Mr. Sanders had arrived back at the checkout counter just in time to view Jenna’s embarrassing spill. The two spotted the hat at the same sparkling moment and both lunged toward the object with relief. Both hands, one large and callused, and one young and smooth, reached for the warm material at the same time, and two heads bumped together with a muffled crack. But the two hands still grasped the hat, and at either end was a sharp tug.

“Um, excuse me, Mr. Sanders, would you mind if I could have my hat back now? I lost it when I was falling over that crate. And, by the way, you should clear a path for your customers so they don’t risk their lives over trying to buy a box of cookies!” Jenna exclaimed.

A Treasure girl on the floor

Thrown suddenly into the air, she landed with a sickening thud on the hard concrete floor

Mr. Sanders chuckled. “Lil’ girl, dincha see my signs? I lost this hat this mornin’. Been lookin’ fer it ever since! You have no business claimin’ things you know ain’t rightly yers.”

Just then, another customer (who had observed the whole scene) leaned over the glowering pair, a slight hint of a smile on her lips. The woman was flipping through a catalog and opened to a glossy page, letting Jenna and Mr. Sanders see. Satisfied with their now blank expressions, she shuffled noisily away, stifling a chuckle.

The catalog for Stevenson Fashion had shown a picture of a display of hats-all exact replicas of the one now lying on the general store floor between Jenna and Mr. Sanders. Suddenly, Jenna realized that this hat was no special treasure. This hat was merely a store-bought, machine-made hat that probably would wear out within a month.

Her cheeks blushing furiously, Jenna bent numbly to pick up the hat and placed it on the windowsill nearby. Fluttering softly in the cool evening breeze blowing like a whisper through the open window, the hat now took on a new meaning for both the old man and Jenna. Without speaking, Jenna followed behind Mr. Sanders to assist him in taking down the signs.

Sorting through a stack of forms, Mr. Sanders let out a great yelp of joy. “Looky here! I found my hat! My real hat! Well, waddya know. It’s most likely been mighty lonely under these here papers. Well, this shorely makes my day, little missy!” Meanwhile, Grandfather’s patient was leaving a message at the office explaining that he had just found his lost hat at the bottom of his briefcase.

A small black crow fluttered onto the windowsill in the store, cocking its beady yellow eyes at the strange woolen object lying innocently next to it. Rubbing its beak thoughtfully on the worn, peeling paint, the crow leaned forward, straining its neck to see a little closer. Finally approving of the soft old hat, the small crow grabbed it in its sharp beak and flew off, flapping its graceful wings, plunging into the golden sunset.

A Treasure Allison Stadd

Allison Stadd, 12
Bethesda, Maryland

A Treasure Valerie Thompson

Valerie Thompson, 13
Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Canada

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