Sylvia Spruck Wrigley is not an elderblogger, but she is a gifted writer and my sabbatical is a good time to repeat a two-part story of hers first published here two-and-a-half years ago.
Sylvia is a true citizen of the world who currently lives on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain with her now 14-year-old son, Connor. She was born in Germany, spent part of her childhood in Los Angeles, moved to Europe full time as an adult and lived in England too before settling in Spain seven years ago because she missed the sunny warmth of southern California.
She blogs in her own old-fashioned style at Can’t Backspace where she talks about writing and about stories.
This is Part 2 of the delightful Steven’s Dragon . Part 1 is here.
"There's a lot to see still," John whispered, lying on that hospital bed. "Don't you stop exploring just because I'm not around to share it with you."
When my husband died, I swore I wouldn't let it change me. It did of course, I became more isolated: self-sufficient I called it. But really I just didn't want to let someone get that close to me just to lose them again. I'd already lost my son in that dreadful car accident and then when John went too it just felt like my very last support had been taken from me.
That's when I stopped travelling and used my degree to get a job in teaching. I wanted something to keep me busy and it fit the bill. That was 20 years ago and it's still keeping me busy.
It wasn't until the boy started coming round to visit that I realised I was lonely. Imagine, being grateful for the companionship of a ten-year old boy. Almost eleven, he keeps telling me.
Not that I'm reliant on him for company, definitely not. An hour or two of his questions is about all that I can stand. But he seemed so withdrawn, so isolated, and it seemed such a shame for a nice bright boy like Steven to be looking so lost.
Lord knows he'll have plenty of time to feel like that after puberty.
At some point it sunk in that if it I thought that was sad, well, it was a sad state for me to be in, too. 62 years old and not even a stray cat to throw my affection at. I'd become the stereotype of a spinster. And once I realised that, I decided I didn't like it one bit.
So I started broadening these recent horizons of mine, doing a bit more than just working and coming home and watching television. Making sure this old brain of mine stays sharp as a whistle and a step ahead of those kids. Oh, they still fear me and I know what they call me behind my back. But they're a lot more interested in a dry old subject like history now that I'm more interested in them.
I got a computer, bought it myself and now I'm online. Keep up with the world with a couple of key-strokes. It's amazing how easy it is once you start. I thought of it as a young person's thing but I was wrong. There's lots of us out there, elders is the word I like that they use. It's like going back in time, we're still talking about the best ways to change the world, just like we all were at University campuses everywhere 40-odd years ago. Except this time, we know a lot more about it.
Oh John, I'm sorry. I let you down, I know that now. I gave up the ghost when you left me. But there is still a lot to explore right here and now and I'm telling you, John, I'm not going to waste another day.
* * *
My sister Irene has been following me around the house all day. She is such a pain; she won't find something to do. They are learning about geography in school and she was trying to quiz me on where all the different continents were and thought I wouldn't know. Luckily, Mrs Hartman gets out that old atlas every time she picks up one of her treasures from her travels and makes sure I know where it came from, so it was no problem at all.
I told Mom I didn't mind babysitting Irene and I don't, really. I know she needs looking after. But it's hard to find her things to do so she'll leave me alone to finish my homework. I want to go to the park when Mom comes home and I can't unless I finish this first.
"Steeeeeeven." I hate how Irene whines my name. I've told her a million times to call me Steve, but she ignores me. That's what they call me in school, 'Steve,' it sounds much cooler than "Steven". And they don't call me Stupid Steve, just Steve.
It sort of started with the dragon thing. I didn't tell anyone about my plans to hatch a dragon, they really would call me stupid if they knew. But all those stories and stuff that Mrs Hartman told me about them, well, they were pretty interesting. And at lunch, I heard some boys and they were arguing about a type of dragon and I just sort of turned around and started talking to them.
Turned out they play this game during break, dungeons and dragons, where you get to be a hero and fight through battles and explore lands and stuff. And though it's not the real myths, not the stuff Mrs Hartman tells me about, it's still really good stories and even better you get to be a part of the story. So I want to get this done so I can go to the park and we can do the next bit of the adventure. I'm a rogue, that's like a thief, and I get to sneak around and unlock doors and stuff. It's pretty cool.
On the days that we don't play, I still go to Mrs Hartman's house. She buys fresh cookies now, not like the stale ones she originally gave me. I had to teach her about the cookie stall at the mall where you can get the really nice ones, she didn't know about that. And I told her about the special disabled program they are doing in town for kids like Spastic Sam, because we heard about it in our social studies class and she didn't know about that either. It still feels weird to me when I know something she doesn't, she knows so much. But she goes there now once a week and helps so I guess she's glad I told her.
It's sort of funny seeing her around school, although at least she's not my teacher this year which helps. I kinda nod at her if I think no one is watching. All the kids are scared of her; I want to tell them that she's okay, really, but I'm afraid they'd laugh at me. She keeps telling me I care too much about what people think about me but I can't help it.
A minor miracle, Irene's managed to say my name like a normal human being.
"What are you thinking about?" Her blue eyes are like big mirrors, I can see my reflection in them.
"Nothing important, Irene." I wouldn't know how to explain to her about being friends with a teacher. It just sounded too weird. So I shrugged and told her nothing, and looked, I mean really looked at her for what felt like the first time.
I mean, yeah, I see her every day, she's my sister. But I don't normally really look at her. I spend most of my time doing my best to ignore her, to be honest. And I thought about Mrs Hartman and how nice it is when someone listens to you for a change and I looked at my sister again.
"Irene, do you want to do something together?"
"Yes!" She jumped up in the air, full of excitement, her blonde hair flying around her head. I tried to think of the kind of things I liked when I was seven, but I was different then. I didn't do things with other people, just went wandering off on my own all the time.
"What kind of things do you do with your friends at school?" I hoped she'd give me some ideas.
"We play with our Barbies. Will you play with my Barbies with me?"
I started to use a bad word, then I choked and swallowed it back and I bit my lip and I nodded. She ran to her room and pulled out three tangled together plastic dolls and a whole stack of pink clothes.
"You can pick which one you want," said Irene with a serious look. I realised she was trying to be nice.
I picked up a doll with a sigh and stood her on the ground. "What's her name then?"
"Barbie. They are all called Barbie."
"Okay," I said, trying to work out how to survive this.
"Okay," I said again, "listen up. We'll play with these but we're going to do it my way. The girls are all kung-fu experts and they aren't called Barbie. This one is Killer-Angel, this one is Roundhouse Girl and the one you've got is Egg Fu Yung. And we aren't playing dress-up. We're sending them to the Planet of Goo to try to survive the attack of the..." I looked around and saw Mom's little statue on the bookshelf. "The attack of the Buddhas! Deal?"
Irene beamed a smile at me and agreed. And then we played with the dolls and we turned the coffee mug into a space ship and the Buddha statue was the bad guy. I was pretty surprised but it was kind of fun.
I just hope my friends never find out.
* * *
When that old egg of mine first went missing, I had no idea what it was going to lead to. I just saw a young boy skirting trouble and wanted to stop him from going bad. I didn't really expect to look forward to his company.
That was over a year ago. He still comes over after school about once a week or so though, and picks something out from all the junk I collected over the years and I tell him stories about the things and the places they came from and he asks intelligent questions.
Truth is, I've been teaching so long I'd forgotten that kids could be interested in what they are taught. I have to admit I watch for the things that catch his eye and I use them in class, making the dry curriculum that little bit more interesting.
And it's not just me. Steven is doing better at school too. Steve, he keeps telling me to call him, but I can't get used to it.
I gather his math is still very bad but over all his grades are up and he's increasing in confidence. He even tried out for a role in the Nativity play and got the part of Joseph. I think he was more surprised than anyone else.
Sometimes I think kids just need to feel like someone is paying attention.
I ignore him at school and I'm pretty sure he prefers that. I know I do: I've got a reputation as a strict teacher, Mrs Hard-as-Nails they call me, and worse, when they think I'm not listening. But you have to keep control of these kids, else they run all over you. One-on-one is easy but not when you've got a class full.
I usually don't tell Steven to come over, I just leave it up to him. Now that he's got more friends at school, he keeps busy, which I have to admit suits me fine. I'm busy too, these days. Of course I still enjoy his company but in little doses.
I made an exception, this time. I told him to come around to my house after the school play and we'd have some of his favourite cookies to celebrate. It's the last day of school until January and I don't know if I'll see him during the holidays.
It was hard, wrapping up his present so that it wasn't obvious what was in the package; I used half the Sunday newspaper and a whole roll of tape to disguise the shape.
I just hope he likes it.
* * *
The whole thing with old lady Hartman took me by surprise. I mean, it never even occurred to me that she would get me a Christmas present or that maybe I should have made her a card like I made for my mom or something. I was a little bit embarrassed when I got to her house and saw this big present on her coffee table.
She said it was okay that I didn't get her anything so I guess she's not sore. She said she thought I might like it and that that's what friends are for.
I wouldn't call her a best friend or anything like that, but I guess she's right that we are friends now. I like talking to her about school and other kids and stuff and she seems to understand. Lots of times if I'm bored I go to her house after school, just to see what she's got new to show me. She doesn't mind if I don't go to her house though, it's not like she expects me or anything. She says it's important to just play sometimes.
But then I was surprised when she talked to me at school and told me to go to her house after the play. I didn't know what to expect but not this! It was really putting me on the spot, giving me a present. She's never done it before.
Then I picked it up, all big and heavy, and was wondering if it was okay to just rip off the paper like at home, and it got worse.
"Do you know what the kids call me? The other kids, I mean, at school." She stared at me and I wasn't sure if I should tell the truth or not. Sometimes it seems like it's better not to tell the truth, even though it's a lie just by not saying.
I shrugged and bit my lip and started pulling the paper off my present, in case she changed her mind about giving it to me.
She just kept staring at me, I had to say something.
"A witch," I finally said, ready to run out the door if she got mad at me.
She winced and I sorta started to move but she didn't shout or anything. Just sorta held her breath a bit.
"Well, yes, a witch," she said. "And 'that old dragon', I heard someone whisper in the hallway as I walked past."
I nodded carefully, watching her, wondering if she was gonna start crying or something. I'd heard people call her that too. And then I realised, she was laughing. I wondered if she'd finally lost her mind. We had talks about how what people call you isn't important as who you are and stuff, but this was just crazy.
"Open the present," she said. So at least she hadn't changed her mind about that. I pulled off a ton of newspaper and finally ripped a big hole through the middle and out fell that old egg I stole from her last year.
"You are giving me your egg?" I looked at her.
"Don't you see it?" She grinned at me. "You got your dragon in the end. From the egg. It just doesn't look like you thought it would."
I looked at old Mrs Hartman and finally I understood and I started laughing too. I laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt and then I picked up the egg and hugged it.
"Thank you," I said in my best polite grown-up voice.
"You hatched me," she said.
She really was a bit loony. But I gave her a hug too and wrapped the egg up carefully to take home.
"My first treasure," I told her as I left. "One day I'll share it with another little boy."
"You do that," she said, and closed the door. I'm sure I heard her still laughing as I walked through her garden to my house.
- Finis -