Stripes

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
July/August 2003

By Madeline Johnson, Illustrated by Lauren Walker

Maddy leaps from stone to stone, clutching a limp tiger in her left hand, and laughs. She is so happy with her first Beanie Baby. She doesn’t think of Stripes as a stuffed animal, but as a wild tiger, her best friend. She swings Stripes around and around, and he is a blur of gold and black to everyone but her. She sees his beady gold eyes staring right into her hazel ones. She giggles again, and the sea roars its laughter back at her. The trees are swishing, and everything around her seems jovial.

She climbs a particularly large boulder and stands up to feel the salty air whip her hair back and wrap a blanket of cold around her. It feels good and refreshing. Stripes purrs his approval, too. They skip and play for a while longer until Mum calls for them to follow her up the path leading to home.

*          *          *

Wind whistles in my ears as I’m swung around and around. I’m enjoying it but am scared. The memory of a swinging accident left a black-and-blue mark on my right eye. Trees tower up above my fuzzy figure. My golden eyes fill with awe at the single leaf that truly dwarfs me to an even smaller size. I am often ashamed at being a tiger, at the size I am. My mouth is sewn together and for that I am often regretful. I can’t speak or roar. I have to show my affections.

All of a sudden Maddy whirls around, sending wind whistling in my ears, and begins to wail to her parents about something she forgot at the ocean. We are not far up the trail so her parents agree. Maddy runs back down the trail so fast that my eyes would have watered if they were not beads. We finally get back to the sea’s sloshing waves, and Maddy retrieves a doll that is almost as dear to her as me. She puts me down and hugs her doll close to her chest. I smile and prepare to be picked up. I wait for long moments looking at the ground. I eventually look up to see nothing but the sea and its rolling waves and rocks that were mountains to me. No Maddy. No Maddy’s parents. No doll. I sit there thinking this over and over again.

Stripes a seagull and a stuffed tiger

As far as I could tell Maddy was gone and I was lost

A seagull flaps its wings on a nearby rock, bringing me back to my senses. I try to look around but realize I’m a stuffed animal. I need a child and its love to move. As far as I could tell Maddy was gone and I was lost. So it’s just you and me, I think bitterly, angry at the seagull for no particular reason. He pecks at me and flips me into a patch of sunlight. My eyes reflect in the sun and flash brightly. This frightens the seagull away, but he keeps a watchful lookout on me, eyes flashing as much as mine do, though he is not in the sun. I keep my eye on him until he cries his mournful screech and takes flight. I am lost and I have made a disgusting scavenger for an enemy. So I do the only thing I can do. I sit and think.

*          *          *

Maddy sobs and sobs. The couch is not comforting to her anymore. Where is her little tiger? “It’s OK, Maddy” her mother says soothingly, “we will go back to the ocean tomorrow.” Maddy sniffs and tries to think about seeing Stripes the next bright summer day. She gets up and paces. What if the tide washes him away? Even if it brings him back, he surely will not be in the same place.

“Oh, Stripes,” she whispers, “please come back!”

*          *          *

The tide is now even closer. What am I to do? Maddy! Why did you have to leave me? Come back! Come back! I think furiously. Slish! Slosh! The water tickles around my belly and ankles. Why can’t I move? Maddy, come back!

The water now is sloshing around my ears, the rest of my body completely consumed. I don’t need to breathe but I am not used to being in water. I struggle, or try to, but I’m still a stuffed animal and cannot move of my own free will. Slish! Slosh! Now no part of my body is above the waves. Come back, Maddy!

The night swallows dusk and I am alone in the ocean. I see the glow of the full moon cast a light over the rocky beach when the waves bring me up. The tide has brought me out to the sea. I then slowly fade into unconsciousness, if a stuffed animal can.

When I awaken, the waves are still lapping the shore in an even rhythm. That is when I realize that one of those lapping waves had washed me ashore! I recognize the big boulder that Maddy had stood upon, holding me gently and firmly. Come back, Maddy, because now I am back!

*          *          *

“Today is the day, Mom! We are going to get my tiger and bring him home!” Maddy says confidently, though she knows they will not find him from just knowledge and from the weak smile on her mother’s face. Yet they hike down the road to the trail and walk (Maddy runs) down to the ocean. Halfway down she stops for a breath and looks up at her mom and dad. They are talking quickly to each other. She turns back around and runs so fast that the trees going by on either side of her are a blur of green and brown. The ground beneath her feet all of a sudden goes from padded soil to rocks and boulders. Trees break away to reveal the vast sea, shining in the sun, that stretches out forever in one part, and in another, laps on the faraway shore of another place. Maddy stares at it for about a second, scans the area around her hurriedly, jumps from rock to rock, and turns in circles, looking everywhere. Then she spots the large boulder that she and Stripes had climbed and sees something catch the sun. She runs over to it and topples over backwards. She cannot believe it!

“Stripes!” she chokes. “It’s you!” She picks him up and squeezes him so hard that she doubts he is glad to see her anymore. His wet body smells like low tide and salt, and his fur is standing on end, not soft and smooth. He is a wet ball of fur and he stinks! Maddy runs back up the path, and when she turns a corner, she collides with her dad and hugs him. “He’s back!” she says into his shirt.

*          *          *

I’m back, I think happily. We are now home and sitting on the couch, and Maddy and her parents seem to have forgotten the whole incident. But I have not. The waves have splashed me around as they had splashed the shore. I made such interesting enemies like the seagull and the sea itself. So it is about impossible for me to forget after what I’ve been through. But now I am home again with a loving family. I will always remember the time Maddy forgot me on a rocky beach . . .

Stripes Madeline Johnson

Madeline Johnson, 10
Bar Harbor, Maine

Stripes Lauren Walker

Lauren Walker, 13
Morgantown, West Virginia

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