Jessie stared out of the classroom window at the falling snow and sighed. His teacher’s voice droned on in the background of his misery.
Nothing was going right. Nothing had been right since the very day he had had to move away from his friends and all that had been familiar to him. Plunked down in this little town in the middle of winter, where the cold shot through his shoes and up into his legs. And that was before the snow had started.
He had ridden his bike to school today, having checked the weather forecast beforehand. But they’d been wrong. If he’d had any friends yet, they could have told him, probably with a laugh and a clap on the shoulder, that the weather here was pretty much unpredictable. And they would have all collected each other at the beginning of the day and walked as a jolly group up the street to school.
Jesse’s sister had had no trouble finding friends, and now was happily involved with an after-school group. So, after this last boring class, he would only have himself as comapny on the mile-long trek home. And he did not appreciate his own company.
Having spent his life up to now in much drier conditions, Jesse had no idea how to behave in snow. Outside almost before the last echo of the dismissal bell, he unlocked his bike and hopped on the seat, determined to get on his way before anyone spotted him. The last thing he wanted was for someone to see the new kid trying to ride his bike in the snow. But there was no way he was going to push the thing home.
After the first slip-and-fall, however, he gave up and walked beside his old trusty (in dry weather) companion, apologizing to it under his breath. It was not easy going, and he could just hear the comments inside the warm cars that drove past him. His ears burned with cold and embarrassment.
A stone wall was built along about a half-mile of his route, and he toyed with the idea of riding his bike along the top of the low-lying structure. What a cool thing that would be! He’d have lots of admirers if he was able to do that! No one would ignore him if he were to have such a talent.
But he shook his head and walked on, pushing the bike, sweating under his bulky jacket. He caught himself in his “wishing world” again.
I wish I wasn’t here. I wish my parents would pay more attention to me, and that I could do something that would make me different from other people. I wish I had some way to get away from this sadness. I wish…I wish…
Jesse wished himself all the way home. He put his bike away in the garage and slumped around to the back entrance of the house. His mother would have a fit if he brought his slushed-up self through the front door! No doubt she’d spent the day polishing the floor or something else in there. She always did.
As he passed through the yard, he paused mid-step. Looking over the vast expanse, he was suddenly entranced by what lay before him.
The land behind the house sloped down a couple of hundred feet to a plain, before the snow-covered property ended abruptly in a small creek. The water still ran in the two-foot wide rivulet, but it was starting to freeze up. T
The breath caught in Jesse’s throat. He’d heard that sledding was fun, but he’d never tried it. And his dad had brought home some corrugated metal to make some repairs on the garage…
Moments later, Jesse had found the metal sheet, and was poised at the top of the hill. He wasn’t sure how to do this, but he was figured it couldn’t be all that difficult. And he was right.
He whizzed down the hill, the cold wind freezing his face and causing his eyes to tear up. Such exhilaration! Such joy! Such freedom! Sure, it was difficult getting back up the hill, but no worse than pushing that stupid bike home in two feet of snow.
As the light faded from the sky, Jesse pulled his sled up the hill, promising himself only one more ride before he went in. The kitchen light had gone on earlier, which was the sign from his mom that it was time to come in.
She stood at the top of the hill, frowning. As he approached, she said simply, “Get in,” pointing toward the back door. He wanted to tell her how much fun he’d been having,and how much better he felt now, but her attitude clamped his mouth shut. No matter, he’d tell his sister. She would care.
But she was not at the dinner table. She was out with her new crowd, having fun, forgetting her brother and her past. He ate his meal in silence, his parents on either side of the table. His dad read the paper without a word in his direction, and his mom seemed lost in her own world.
He finished quickly, cleared his dishes, and started for the back door.
“Where are you going?” The first words he’d heard from his dad since he’d sat down to dinner.
“Out to sled. It’s still light out…”
“You have homework. It’s getting toward your bedtime, and you’ve wasted enough time out there.”
Jesse sighed and clumped up the stairs. He turned the light on in his room and changed into his pajamas. Then he opened his math book and turned to the assigned page, ready to wage war on the multiplication table once again.
But his attention soon wandered, and he found himself sledding down the hill, again and again, rejoicing in the thrill of the speed and the wind in his face. How I wish I could be out there again…
They found him the next day, at the bottom of the hill. No one could explain why he would have gone out sledding in his pajamas and bathrobe, his slippers a small comfort against the cold of the snowstorm. The only thing that brought their attention to where he was buried was a corner of the corrugated metal that he had used for a sled.
Jesse’s ghost hovered over the scene as the paramedics removed his body. The neighbors had all gathered, so many that the police had to hold them back with a barrier. His parents held each other and cried on each other’s shoulders, and his sister stood numbly to one side, holding the winter hat he’d worn to school.
Jesse sighed, and sadly realized that all the wishes he’d made the previous day had come true. But definitely not the way he had wanted them to. And now he had eternity to unwish them all.
Be careful what you wish for…