Pop-Star appreciates short stories that leave him with unanswered questions at the end, longing for a sequel, stories that hint at important issues without necessarily enunciating them, and do not tell everything about the leading characters.
“It’s gone” is such a tale. An unusual one you must agree. How many stories have you read about a five-year old who swallows a whole string of beads?? It is more poignant than humorous, more thought-provoking than entertaining.
Pop-Star’s heart went out to the patient little Gracie removed for so long from her family; she was an inpatient in a Crippled Children’s Home from the age of four until she was six. She had a serious disabling illness which Pop-Star thinks may have been severe juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or Still’s disease. For two whole years she felt lonely and bereft of family love and support.
Adults may not understand her dilemma and her strange response, which she hoped would bring her family kudos. She did not think the Matron would consider her ungrateful. Although grown-ups might find her action totally incomprehensible they should remember that they too face similar tortuous decisions in their lives.
How do they resolve the internal conflict between self-indulgence and pleasure on one hand, and a wish to conform to perhaps ultra-conservative expectations placed by family, and community, religious or otherwise?
Written by Mary Gabb, do read it carefully before seeing if you agree with Pop-Star’s comments.
IT’S GONE….but not forgotten!
Gracie stroked the string of beads in her small hands. They were very beautiful. Yesterday was her birthday and Matron had a special birthday dinner prepared just for her in her private rooms. As Gracie was wheeled into the room she could see the dinner table set beautifully for two with serviettes, a pretty cloth and shining silverware. The savoury aroma of the meal filled the small room. Standing on the cover of one dinner plate stood a bare naked Kewpie doll, with arms outstretched. And a small parcel wrapped in birthday paper tied with pretty ribbon lay beside it. Gracie was nervous even though matron had discarded her billowing white veil, but curious about the contents of the parcel. “Yes, you can open it; it is your birthday present from me because now you are five”. The child untied the pink ribbon and slowly removed the wrapping paper, revealing an exquisite string of ruby red beads. She was overwhelmed with both its beauty and its sinfulness. She had never had any jewellery of any kind before; personal adornment was frowned on in her family. And Gracie had slept that night with the treasured string of beads within reach under her pillow.
Bed rest had been the latest treatment ordered for Gracie until the swollen painful joints had settled, and now after all else had failed, she was here in the Crippled Children’s home and she had no idea how long she would be here. The days seemed endless with the same institutional routine every day: meals on trays, bed baths, teeth cleaning with peroxide water from chipped enamel mugs, bread and jam for lunch, visitors on Saturdays and Sundays. Home was many miles away, so Gracie rarely had visitors. Life away from big brothers and a busy household was very tedious and the days merged one into another until she did not know how long she had been here. She tried not to mind but in case they forgot her, she kept up a steady flow of laboriously written and misspelled letters to her family at home.
Gracie had let go of the beads for scarcely a moment since she had received the gift from Matron. She held them up to the light and when she looked through them everything was glowing red. As she twisted them in the sun she discovered that the smooth cut surfaces would send bright rays of pink light on to her book. Gazing at them, she wondered if they were real rubies. She knew about rubies. Snow White’s lips were ruby red, and Aladdin’s cave was full of rubies. Gracie’s only diversion in this place was stories in fairy tale books that she could now read by herself. The books here were different; at home she had been read to regularly but only from Bible story books, and true stories. ‘What Smoking did for John’, and ‘Matilda Who told lies and was burned to death’ were her Mother’s only concession to fiction. She knew ‘Matilda Who Told Lies’ off by heart. She loved the rhyming rhythmic cautionary tales, and shuddered at the underlying messages.
Gracie looked at the string of beads in her hands, they were still there; they were real and it was not a dream. She poured the string of beads from hand to hand, fascinated by the sound they made as they chinked together, she loved the sensation of running them through her hands. She did not want to put them on, she just wanted to look at them and touch them. But soon there was a glassy clink in her bath-chair day bed. She examined the string of beads and could see that the thread had come adrift at one end. One of the precious stones had fallen off. Holding the string carefully so that the others would not come off she searched for the missing bead, and found it tucked under her leg. It was the smallest one at the end of the graded strings of beads. She popped the stray bead into her mouth so that she wouldn’t lose it. Then she tried to tie off the loose end of the broken thread, but it was too difficult for her small fingers. Concentrating on the job in hand, she accidentally gulped and smallest bead went down.
The string still too short for her to tie so she removed another bead a bit larger than the first. It came off the string easily and went into her mouth. I wonder if I could swallow another one she thought. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. No one was paying any attention to her and it was dead easy. She needed the string to be longer so that she could fasten it, so with increasing speed, bead after bead went into her mouth and was quickly gulped down. But the beads were getting bigger now and she could feel the sharp faceted edges scraping the inside of her throat. The three largest beads in the middle of the necklace looked daunting, and she paused. She wondered if she should stop, but took a deep breath and swallowed the second largest. It hurt, but it did go down. She held the biggest bead in her hand, she couldn’t stop now. It was a challenge impossible to resist. She took a huge breath, gulped…and the largest beautiful bead began its painful descent, almost sticking half-way. It hurt all the way down. Her eyes watered and she was scared. In a little while the pain eased and she looked at the remainder of the beautiful string of beads in her hand. She wondered how she could explain the missing beads.
And so it was that the remainder of the beautiful string of beads quietly and quickly followed their fellows to the same destination. Gracie felt satisfied and pleased with her success. She didn’t know anyone else who could swallow a whole string of beads. Her older brother Ted would be impressed if he knew. But while she couldn’t help feeling sad at the loss of her beautiful beads, she hoped that God would be pleased. The necklace had disappeared, it had gone. But her ruby red beads were never forgotten.
Pop-Star’s parting comment.
You have heard of the divine injunction to children to honour their father and mother. For Pop-Star there is a reverse obligation too.
“Honour your children. They may be surprisingly smart even although they need your guidance and protection in a challenging world. One-day you may be grateful to be on the receiving end”.