Sunday, June 1, 2008

Freedom Five by Judith McLeod

“Stop your whining,” Mom said. “I don’t want to hear another peep. Go play outside.” Mom was at the kitchen sink, with her hands in the sudsy water, washing dishes. Mom spent a lot of time washing dishes and cleaning the house.

Outside, I tried the sandbox. Fill the cup with the spoon dump it out. It wasn’t much fun playing all alone.

It was a little more fun riding my red and black tricycle on the rutted stone driveway. When the front tire would catch on the rocks, the handlebars would twist, making it hard to steer. Riding on the sidewalk in front of the house was better. I could ride all the way to Ronnie’s house if I wanted. No one could stop me.

I always went to Ronnie Anderson's house to play when Bobbie was invited over. Mrs. Anderson didn’t mind that I was a sissy girl - she liked me. She wouldn’t make me go outside and play alone. I wished she were my mom.

It was just too mean of Mom not to let me go to the Anderson’s.

Mom always said she was busy. She always wanted to wash the dishes and mop the floor or get supper ready. She never wanted to read me a book or play a game.

I rode my tricycle down the hill to the corner of the street.

I looked back up the street. No one called me to come back. I turned the corner and rode away. I felt grand. I rode to the corner store and looked in the window at Mr. Neal standing behind the counter in his white apron. He waved at me. I had never been as far as the store alone before. I felt very proud to have ridden all that way by myself. I didn’t have any pennies to buy blackballs, so I didn’t go in. For a little while I rode in circles. Riding my tricycle up the driveway that went behind the store and out the other side then along the sidewalk in front of the store and back up the driveway again.

I decided that there was more to see.

It was an adventure now. I was excited as I turned the corner and headed up the other side of our block. Once, I’d been here with Bobbie when he delivered his Liberty magazines. I remembered what it looked like. Lots of little houses, more than my fingers. This was a wonderful ride. Some girls who went to school with Bobbie and Ronnie lived in the house on the next corner. Bobbie had told me they were stuck up. I thought that meant that their mouths were full of glue because when he said “Hi!” they didn’t say anything, just turned and walked into the house. He had left their magazine in the black mailbox. I was glad they weren’t on the porch today - they frightened me. Maybe they would put glue in my mouth if they caught me.

I could ride to Ronnie’s house. I knew where it was - across this street and one more street and up one block. I sat a long time looking down the road. But instead, I turned the corner and started to ride across the top of our block.

It was a lovely day. The sun felt warm on my face as I looked up into the clear blue sky. There were lots of flowers in front of the houses I passed: big tulips red and yellow, clusters of soft pale blue flowers like little bouquets, and pretty purple pansies. I waved at Mr. Close working in his flower garden. His hooked hand, wrapped around the wooden handle of the hoe, sparkled in the sun. He smiled and waved back, the hand without the hook. There was no one telling me to stop. I could go on riding forever.

Turning the next corner, I smiled happily as I took my feet off the pedals, stuck them out to the sides and coasted down the hill past my house. I was going really fast. The tricycle almost tipped over at the bottom of the hill. For a moment I thought I might go off the sidewalk. It made me feel a little bit frightened and a bit happy all at the same time. Somehow I turned the corner, then pedaling as fast as I could I rode like the wind, like Annie Oakley rode her horse, all the way to the Neal's corner store. Going back up the block and around the corner, I was beginning to feel a little tired. I slowed my pedaling and waved to Mr. Close in his flowerbed.

“You again! You were by here not too long ago. Where are you going?” Mr. Close always seemed to be laughing when he spoke to me.

“I’m running away from home!” I was proud to tell him.

“If you're running away from home, why do you keep coming by my house?”

“I’m not allowed to cross the street!”

“Carry on then,” said Mr. Close. “Carry on.”

Judith McLeod lives in Oakville. She wrote "Freedom Five" for my Intensive Creative Writing course last fall.

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