Friday, March 6, 2009

Stingray


Ralph Conley stood at the window with his hands and faced pressed against the glass. His hands were much larger and less grubby now, but the barrier remained thick and cold just as he remembered. No longer did children play games by counting his protruding ribs. Sleek suit pants replaced ratty hand-me-down jeans and fine Italian shoes knew nothing of filthy sneakers too poor to own laces. Fine clothes alone could not conceal the aching memories of past. While his friends wheeled up and down the street Ralph mumbled and kicked at the pavement, often until weary shoes revealed bloody toes, but how could they have known their gleeful cries were like a dagger in his heart?

Behind the glass, workers scurried like field mice at harvest time, but none of their faces were familiar. Likely they had moved on to bigger things; not Mr. Wilson. He stood in precisely the same spot, adjusting the sprocket and chain until it sang a chorus of sweet mechanical music. Time had etched a few extra furrows in his brow and his skin hung more loosely, congregating at the corner of his eyes and mouth, but nothing in this world could deter Mr. Wilson’s spirit.

Over the last several years financial hardships had struck at the private sector with a vengeance like no one could recall, but with a grease-streaked forehead Mr. Wilson stood staunch; cursing any and all who suggested the closing of his bike shop as an appropriate end of an era gone by. Mr. Wilson did one thing well; he provided a vehicle for young boys’ and girls’ dreams, and that was something you simply walked away from.

A tiny bell above the door announced Ralph’s entrance. A skewed glance from Mr. Wilson’s steel gray eyes stopped him in his tracks. Ralph felt like an intruder, unworthy to stand on this side of the door. He had crossed the moat, but wasn’t convinced muddy boots belonged on the shiny concrete floor of a palace.

“Can I help you, sir?”

Ralph didn’t expect to be recognized and giggled quietly at the notion of being addressed with such respect. Mr. Wilson adjusted his glasses as he closed the distance.

“Well I’ll be damned—if ain’t old Ralphie boy. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

Ralph smiled, “So you remember me?”

“Ralphie, you was hard to forget. Saddest thing I ever seen—standing outside my window, day in day out. I quit wearing a watch—didn’t have to anymore. I knew from 3:20 right up ‘til dark you’d be there, and then again bright and early on Saturday morning; kicking at the sidewalk as if somehow that might fix things.”

Ralph shook his head, embarrassed that Mr. Wilson recalled such detail, “How come you never ran me off?”

Mr. Wilson put his hand on Ralph’s shoulder as he squeezed it several times in succession.

“Don’t suppose it matters if I tell you now—seein’ your momma’s already passed. Ralphie, I wanted you to have that bike more than anything. One day I went to your house to speak with your momma. Told her I understood she had six young mouths to feed, but offered to give her the bike on credit and she’d pay when she could. I winked to let her know ‘when she could’ might never come, but she wouldn’t have none of it. Said the bike was just another sad chapter in a story called life; that you’d have to learn to live with disappointment just like she had. I supposed she was talking about when your daddy up and walked out—but it still didn’t seem right to me; one didn’t have to do with the other. I realized then I couldn’t make her take my gift—sure wish I could have.”

Like morning dew, a misty haze settled in Ralph’s eyes as he carefully considered just what motivated a stranger to go to such extremes in order to remove even a sliver of disappointment from a young boy’s heart.

“I had no idea, Mr. Wilson. I only knew I admired you and the passion with which you greeted each day, but I didn’t come here today for me. Down the street from my home there’s a family in need. The father has been laid off of work and even before that they didn’t have much. Each day I see subtle changes in the young boy; his eyes grow colder, more sinister, he kicks at the ground, and before long even hope will seem too much to ask for. As a young boy I didn’t know how such things looked but I sure knew how it felt.”

Ralph fished his checkbook out of the inside pocket of his suit coat, “Mr. Wilson, I don’t what appeals to young boys these days, but pick out a nice bike and let’s make this Christmas one he’ll remember.”

Mr. Wilson shuffled off towards the back. Soon the old man returned, steering as best he could an old but immaculate Stingray. The fluorescent lights danced against the deep metallic blue finish and sat glistening upon a sparkling white banana seat.

“Ralphie, when your momma took sick and you quit coming to stand at the window I took the display bike down. I couldn’t bear to sell it to anyone else and just looking at it made my stomach turn.”

Ralph smiled until his jaws ached. Even as he signed the check his eyes glimmered, much like those of a young boy receiving his first ride.

Mr. Wilson drew the check closer, giving away his failing eyes. “Ralphie, I can’t take this—$5,000 is ten times what this old thing’s worth.”

“Not to me and certainly not to my neighbor friend down the street. Times are tough, Mr. Wilson. Consider it a loan.”

Before turning away Ralph winked in an obvious manner, “You pay me back when you can.”

8 comments:

star said...

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punatik said...

Great story Dan , so uplifting. I had a shwinn stingray...1972...good year

Bob said...

I wasn't so fortunate as to own a Stingray, but there was a Schwinn 'paperboy' model that I coveted badly-- didn't get that one, either. Oh, well, such is life, I guess... brought back lots of memories of life in the late 50's. Thanks...

Lisa Allender said...

Oh, this makes me looong for the freedom I always felt, pedaling away on my ol' Schwinn bike--a bright blue one, with tassels on the handlebars!
Thanks for the sweet story, and for stopping in at Lisa Allender Writes blog.

Jo A. T.B. said...

A fine story Dan, goodness that comes around goes around in full circle, even in those less fortunate to receive the simple things in life!

Just one line I wasn't sure about

"Wilson did one thing well; he provided a vehicle for young boys’ and girls’ dreams, and that was something you simply walked away from."

Did you mean didn't walk away from,
I was just confused there! Maybe it's me and my simple mind! Enjoyed the walk down memory lane! :)

Selma said...

An exquisite example of karma in action. What I really like about your work is your attention to detail, particularly with regard to the way you describe your characters - the children playing games counting Ralph's protruding ribs, the skin congregating at the corners of Mr.Wilson's mouth. Very nice. Heartwarming story!

cordieb said...

Aww. . . what a wonderful story. So sentimental. . . Terrific read. Thanks for sharing!

terrymcdermott said...

When I was a kid I had a Schwinn. I would like to have another.