Waiting

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
January/February 2000

By Annie Strother, Illustrated by Camille Hebert

The wind whispered through the long grass, blowing it gently into a lullaby of soft sounds. The grass rustled and the lake stirred as the setting sun dripped down the sky and below the stretch of trees that marked the horizon.

The stains it left were stunning. Pinks and oranges smeared across the sky. They dripped lazily down the great sky, leaving behind a vast carpet of deep blue, intense and enveloping. As a myriad of stars became visible and bewitching with their bright twinkles, a little girl walked down the pathway to the dock.

She pulled her hair back from her face and let the wind lift up the ends of it and toss it playfully. She was a very small girl, about five years old or so, with long red hair and freckles dotting her face. She had green eyes that shone like the tops of lighthouses, beckoning and beaming with a welcoming glow. Only today her eyes had lost their glow and the color in them had been washed away by tears.

She sat on the edge of the dock and dipped her toes through the clear water. She looked up at the sky and watched the last rosy finger of the sunset disappear under the tall pine trees. She sighed heavily. It figured. Things were always disappearing before she got to them.

Like the horse that she had wanted to ride at Holiday Acres, up the highway. Her mother had finally consented to the idea, and, grinning, the little girl had skipped up to the stables. The rustic smell of horses had filled her nose, tickling it with this new aroma of hay and wet hair. She rushed up to the large horse that stood tall above her, grinding hay between his strong jaws. He was handsome, brown dotted with white spots along his rump, as though some careless artist had waved a paintbrush over him, leaving him speckled.

Then a young woman, flushed with heat and excitement, grabbed the horse’s halter and led him out of the ring. The little girl watched and saw another little girl, rosy with excitement and delight at her first horse ride, get lifted up and patted gently on the back; she was settled into the saddle. The horse tossed its head haughtily, though one could tell it was really his pleasure to be trotting off into the wooded trails with the little girl on his back, bobbing up and down and shrieking happily with each bump.

The little girl sat on the dock and dipped her toes into the water. She slowly kicked them back and forth, back and forth, gently easing them into the warm lake as she contemplated it all. The other little girl probably wanted to ride the horse as much as she did, if not more, and was probably aching to for a while, just as she had. And suddenly, it didn’t matter, missing out on the horseback ride, for another little girl’s terrible want and longing had been fulfilled.

The little girl sat back and thought some more. She was usually not very thoughtful; she was often too playful to think too much. But now, as the sun’s light sank out of view and the stars crept into the night sky, she thought about everything. Why was it that things disappeared before she got to them? Why did the sun set at night? Why were the stars scattered about the sky? Why did we have to wait until morning for the sun to smile again?

Waiting farm scene

She rushed up to the large horse that stood tall above her, grinding hay between his strong jaws

And suddenly, all her thoughts were about waiting. Waiting for all the stars to twinkle, waiting for the pearly disk of the moon, waiting for the sun to rise up once more. Waiting for her mother to come home from her business trip in Milwaukee. Waiting for her chance to do something that usually disappeared before she reached it.

Why did they have to wait? She thought hard about it, and unconsciously her mouth twisted into a little pout of concentration. Why did they have to wait? Waiting was not a thing, or an action, it was a state of being, she decided. A dangerous state of being. It was a time when people could become enveloped in self-pity, shrivel into a ball of nothingness. It was a time when doubt and deception could easily take control of the minds of people who were scared and alone because they were waiting, just waiting, for someone to come, or someone to go, or someone to stop and give them a hand because they needed one . . .

And suddenly it wasn’t fair, all this waiting. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t tolerable, it wasn’t fun and it wasn’t safe. Maybe it would be better not to be waiting at all, so you wouldn’t have to feel the pangs that were thrust into you when you wanted something badly. Maybe it would be better not to be alive at all.

This thought struck wonder and fright into her. But if she were just a canoe she could see water, fish and flowers. She could see ospreys and eagles, the three islands in Lake Katherine, the trees, the water lilies. The boathouse, the dock, the hydro-bike and the water-skiers. And she wouldn’t have to wait.

But canoes had to wait too. Canoes had to wait for a chance to skim the surface of the lake. Canoes had to wait for passengers. Canoes had to wait for good weather. Did canoes feel tired and heavy when waiting so long? Did canoes feel sad about people forgetting about them? Did canoes feel as though things disappeared before they got to them?

Almost desperately, she searched her mind for things that didn’t have to wait. Trees? No, a tree waited for rain so its roots could suck up water like giant straws. It waited for children to climb it and holler with delight at the view from up high, and it waited for snow to grace its green boughs. What of a boathouse? No, a boathouse waited to be opened and closed, for life jackets to be taken off its shelves, boats to be taken in and out. For skis to be taken out to smack the waves and carefully placed back again, for inner tubes to bounce and race with speed and be hoisted up and into the corner of the boathouse once more, for the muskie to slide through the green water and hide under the fishing boat and then leave again in search of food. Everything waited. Everything. She heard steps behind her. Turning, she saw her father who sat down beside her.

“Whatcha doing, princess?”

“Thinking,” she replied, staring at the horizon. Her father looked around, at the stars and the sky and the moon rising over the lake.

“It’s a gorgeous night,” he murmured. The lake murmured back in reply, licking softly at the boats in the boathouse and lapping softly at the rocks near the shore. Her father cocked his head. “Hear that, princess?” he asked. “The lake’s talking to us.”

The little girl listened, straining to hear words, but heard none. Patiently, she tried to decode the rhythm of the waves, but she could not. She waited for the meaning to come to her, but it didn’t.

The girl sighed and began to stare at the ripples on the lake. It wasn’t fair. Her whole life was spent waiting. Waiting for things to come and go, waiting for a chance, waiting for this, waiting for that, hoping and praying her life won’t fly by with waiting.

“Something eating you, princess?” her father asked. “Whatcha doing?”

“Waiting,” the little girl answered.

Her father didn’t laugh, or say she was being silly. Instead he nodded and thought himself. He didn’t frown, or smile, but remained very serious.

“When I was little,” he began slowly, carefully choosing his words so his daughter would understand, “I thought that waiting wasn’t fair. That it was bad and slow and made people sad. I thought it tore people apart with anxiety.”

“What’s ang- . . . ang- . . .

“Anxiety. Oh, it’s kind of like longing.” Her father stared at the stars as they danced and sparkled above them. “But then I realized that everything waits, and our life would be so boring without waiting.” He looked at the little girl. “What would life be like if you always got your way and never had to wait for anything?”

The little girl thought. “Kinda . . . boring.”

“That’s right!” her father smiled. “Meaningless. You wouldn’t have anything to look forward to. That’s why we have waiting. Also, wouldn’t things be very rushed if instead of waiting you had to do everything at once?”

The little girl thought some more. This made sense. In fact, it was probably true. So she nodded her head vigorously.

The peaceful serenity was shattered with the roar of a motorboat.

“I wonder what they’re doing?” her father muttered, and leaned forward.

With a mighty burst of energy they heard the motorboat jump forward into action. As the boat sped in front of the boathouse, they saw a blond girl in a blue bikini cut outside of the wake of the boat. She was water-skiing. The little girl let out a little gasp of excitement. Her father smiled as the girl disappeared.

“I guess we should get you in bed, princess,” he sighed. He stood up and waited as the little girl struggled to her feet, heavy with weariness. He took her hand and they walked up the steps to the warm house above.

Below, the water of the lake had been churned into frothy bubbles by the motorboat. Now the bubbles disappeared, and the waves from the boat crashed onto the shore. Then there was nothing left to show that the motorboat had been there. The breeze blew a kiss to the grass who shivered and wriggled with glee, then hung, tired, a neat little curl. The lake returned to a calm looking- glass reflecting the moon, a bright saucer of milk bobbing on the waves. Silently, but surely, the lake sighed into sleep.

Waiting Annie Strother

Annie Strother, 12
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Waiting Camille Hebert

Camille Hebert, 11
Warrensburg, New York

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