“It all started on my birthday, five years ago,” Evelyn began. “Ben, here, promised to build me a garden shed, but being the slight-built man he is, he couldn’t lift the beam to make the roof all by himself.” This brought a somewhat stunned silence as people tried to imagine the size of a garden shed whose beam exceeded the strength of a man who could lift an entire pickup.
“Now, I know what you’re thinkin’” she drawled, “but he wasn’t like he is now, not back then.” This became more and more curious all the time. Probably the most puzzled person in the group, however, was Ben, himself. His mouth was somewhat open and his eyes locked on Evelyn’s face. “I’m not sayin’ Ben’s not a good man,” she continued, “but men, bein’ men, he never tried harder than he had to in order to get by.” Ben’s face was red with embarrassment.
“So, there I was, my birthday, and I wanted that garden shed really bad and all I had was a pile of wood and a man who had given up. Not only wasn’t I goin’ to get my shed, I was goin’ to have to clean up the mess,” she shot out, and the women in the group murmured in complete sympathy.
“Well, it came time to eat birthday cake, and Ben and the kids were all gathered around the table, singin’ and smilin’. My eldest, Emma Jean, you all know Emma Jean,” she said, gesturing toward her 12-year-old daughter standing nearby, kicking at the grass with the toe of her Sunday shoes, “Don’t tear up them shoes, Emma Jean,” Evelyn chided and the girl instantly stopped. “Anyway…this is where it all went funny,” she said, drawing a deep breath.
“Emma Jean and little Bud,” she gestured now toward a freckle-faced boy sitting Indian-style on the grass nearby, “well, they said what kids always say when there are birthday candles to be blown out before the cake gets served…they said, ‘make a wish, Mama, make a wish.’”
People were smiling now, each remembering their own birthday sometime in the past.
“So that’s what I did,” she said with finality. “I made that wish.” The crowd felt a bit let down; there was nothing very interesting about a birthday wish. But Evelyn wasn’t done talking.
“Yes, sir, that’s what I did; made a wish.” She cleared her throat. “I said out loud, ‘Lord, thank you for giving me yet another birthday and having my family here close around me and the little one in my belly,’” she said, patting the large mound on her front. “’Lord,’ I said, I only have one wish, but it’s a big one. I wish my husband would grow strong enough to build that garden shed and that my kids would always stay just as sweet and young as they are now,’” she pronounced with satisfaction. There, the words had been said. Evelyn looked around for a reaction, but there were nothing but smiling faces looking back.
“Did you hear what I said?” her voice lilted in confusion. People nodded a little, encouraging her to go on.
“Well, that’s what I said and that’s what happened,” she proclaimed in a defensive, explanatory voice. “I got my wish!” Her eyes blinked as she waited for a reaction. Folks just continued to smile. “Don’t you get it?” she said, her voice rising in alarm. “I got my wish!” she repeated. No one budged and not one expression changed. Clearly, they did not.
“Okay, let me spell it out for you. Ben, over there? He was a skinny man then, just as he is now, but he was a weakling. He couldn’t lift a towel to hang on a rack. Now, look at him. I’ve heard the talk. You all know about Harry’s truck tire. Ben can lift anything he’s a mind to, now. Trucks, cars, buildings – anything!” A hum of conversation burst open as people looked at one another and repeated the story from the Get Drunk Bar to anyone nearby who would listen. “See? See? I told you!” she cried out.
The buzz died down as people began to absorb what she was saying. With a sense of dread, slowly each pair of eyes turned toward the children near Evelyn. “Now you’re startin’ to catch on,” Evelyn proclaimed loudly. “That’s right, that’s right. Them, too!”
There was a collectively indrawn breath and Evelyn went on, “That’s right. My wish came true. My precious, precious children. I asked that they stay young and sweet as they were then, and they have!” Evelyn’s voice was growing hysterical. “Uh, huh,” she nodded, “now you’re startin’ to get it. Little Bud and Emma Jean, here…” she motioned toward the kids, “haven’t grown not a quarter inch, haven’t lost a tooth, haven’t gained an ounce and aren’t any smarter than they were then!” Her voice was triumphant in getting her point across, but pitiful in its misery. “And this one…” she drawled dramatically, pointing to her tummy, “this one won’t be born!” Eyebrows went up. “Uh, huh, uh, huh – that’s right. My labor won’t start and the docs say it’s like time stands still, he’s not ready yet. And THAT-WAS-FIVE-YEARS-AGO,” she emphasized in a pointed, miserable voice. “I’ve been carrying this baby for FIVE YEARS!”
Pandemonium broke out among the crowd and several people stood and grabbed for their children, attempting to run for their cars. “I wouldn’t do that,” Evelyn cried out in a loud warning. People hesitated, looking over their shoulders as they attempted to flee. “Come back here and sit down, I said,” she ordered. She was being ignored, but her next statement froze them in place.
“Today is my birthday and I’m about to make a wish!” Her words began to sink in and like victims frozen in place by molten lava, all movement ceased as the horror of possibility dawned upon the crowd. There was a hush and Evelyn looked over at Ben whose face was white with fear. “That’s right, Ben, you didn’t know it, did you?” she taunted. “You didn’t really think you became superman over night on your own, did you?” Ben’s face was tight and veins stood out upon his cheek. “It was all my doin’, you fool. It was my wish. MY wish and it came true!” As the crowd stared at him for reaction the front of his pants began to sag with a spreading stain of liquid humiliation.
People looked to the children and Evelyn called out in explanation, “Oh, don’t worry about them. They can’t get any older so they don’t remember anything new. Look at ‘em, they’ve already forgotten what I said a minute ago,” she pointed at the kids who were both smiling.
“Today is my birthday,” Evelyn repeated and knees weakened, “and here’s what I want for my birthday THIS year,” she began. “I’m going to save this year’s wish and next year, I will make TWO wishes,” she proclaimed. There was a smattering of relief sighs as many thought they had dodged the bullet.
However, there are a few really smart people in Ivy Nook Village and they understood what that really meant. “She’s cursing us, you fools!” came Mrs. Patterson’s cry. “She’s going to spend the next year watching us, making up her mind who she’ll punish and who she’ll reward. We will live like this, each and every year until she uses up her wishes!” People cried out in terror. “And there’s nothing we can do,” Mrs. Patterson added.
The crowd looked up to Evelyn. She stood there before them, triumphant in her confession but bewildered in what she should do next. “Go home,” she said finally in a dejected voice. “Go home and leave me with my superman husband and my children who will grow no older. I don’t mean any of you harm. At least not now…” she let the measured words hang in the spring air. “But, for now, it’s okay, go home.”
With these words she turned and taking her childrens’ hands, she walked toward her back door. “You be careful goin' home, now, you hear?” she smiled over her shoulder.
Evelyn and her family moved to Ivy Nook Village shortly before their last child was to be born. By all appearances they were the ideal American family and people wondered what brought them to town. At first, anyone watching, and don’t think there wasn’t a lot of that going on, could find nothing odd or even gossipable about the Walkers.
Mr. Walker, Ben, seemed easy going and owned a garage full of tools; a quality that was highly admired among the men in town. What was more, he seemed very willing to loan them out and to help whomever needed a hand; which was his second best quality. He was extraordinarily strong.
This was discovered fairly innocently one night when Harry Simpson’s truck went flat outside the Get Drunk Bar. Harry parted the neon-framed doors just after midnight, on his way home with an excuse for the missus, when he spotted the flat on the driver’s front wheel. Muttering at his bad luck, he kicked it a few times as though willing it to come back to life. Ben Walker happened to leave at the same time and noticed Harry’s furious kicking.
With one leg into his opened car door, Ben called across the parking lot, “Problem, Harry?” He wasn’t able to make out Harry’s response, so he calmly shut his door and sauntered over to Harry’s truck. “Flat, eh?” Ben commented and Harry’s response was garbled, but definitely loud enough to hear. “No problem, get your spare,” Ben urged.
What followed thereafter involved Harry crawling under his truck trying to get at his spare and then throwing himself into the bed of the truck, beer cans and empty milk jugs flying over the side. He finally emerged triumphant with a four-way and a raggedy tire mounted on a rusting wheel.
Ben frowned a bit, scratching his head and said, “Well, I suppose that’ll get you home at least, Harry, but what about a jack?” Harry’s face sagged and he dove back into the refuse but came up empty.
“Hey, no problem,” Ben said. You get started with those lugs and I’ll get my jack,” to which Harry nodded and set about his task. A few minutes later Ben returned with a very short jack in his hand. “Don’t think this is gonna work, Harry. It’s one of those foreign jobbies that’s only tall enough to lift that little bug of mine.”
Harry cursed loudly and began kicking the tire again. “Hey, no problem,” Ben said as he walked over to stand next to Harry. Ben calmly climbed under the front end of the truck and to Harry’s drunken amazement, the truck raised enough to let the wheel spin freely. “Go ahead, Harry,” Ben called out from beneath the chassis. “I got her for probably ten minutes or so.”
Harry didn’t need any more urging but swapped the wheels and then bent low to peer under the truck at Ben. “All done?” Ben asked affably and when Harry nodded, Ben slid forward, letting the truck down onto the tires as he scooted out. “There you go, Harry,” Ben chuckled, “My regards to the missus,” he said as he headed toward his car and went home. Harry scratched his head, wrote the whole thing off to whiskey and shakily drove home.
Harry’s wife, Jean, scoffed at the whole account. “Don’t give me stories, Harry, you just couldn’t find your way off o’ that stool and come home like yer promised.”
Two nights later when Ben stopped by the Get Drunk Bar, it was obvious that Harry had been talking. A sudden quiet dropped into the room and Ben shifted his shoulders in embarrassment as the guys watched him take the half-booth in the corner by the door. But, men being men, saw the opportunity in the situation and soon crowded around him, patting him on the back and asking his opinion about troublesome roofs and leaking propane tanks. Folks just did what they always do; when someone mentioned Ben, they just attached “that strong new guy” to his name and went on with their conversation.
The ladies liked Ben’s wife, Evelyn, just fine, and the kids seemed to fit in pretty well. Evelyn joined the ladies’ church guild as soon as they arrived in town and this appeased most of the gossips. It was generally thought that Evelyn was a bit controlling, but Ben seemed to adore her and that’s how life was supposed to be, after all.
One Sunday after church, Evelyn stood up in the church hall and announced in a loud voice that everyone was invited over to their house for dessert and something more, but she wouldn’t say what. They would have to come over to find out. Well, if there was anything that tempted the ladies in town, it was drama, so soon every car left the church and headed toward the Walker’s house on the hill.
It was a spring afternoon and the sun warmed the odd assortment of chairs waiting on the Walker’s back lawn. Folks sat down and balanced little paper plates of ginger cake and paper cups of Koolaid on their knees. Once everyone had been served, Evelyn walked to the front and turned to face their guests.
“I’d like to welcome everyone to our home,” she began and this was met with a nodding murmur of gratitude and compliments on the ginger cake. “Well, I promised you something more and that’s what I’m here to say.”
The sipping stopped and heads were inclined, waiting with expectant anticipation.
“My family and I have enjoyed our new home here in Ivy Nook Village,” she began, her eyes combing her audience for encouragement. “I think we’ve fit in pretty good,” she went on, “but there’s more to us than what any of you might be seeing,” she continued and there was a murmur again as people figured she was referring to her husband’s unseemly ability.
Evelyn went on. “Ben and I have talked about it and decided that we’d like to live here permanent.” This brought a smattering of applause from the few whose hands weren’t full. “That said,” she continued, “there’s something that everyone here in town needs to know and for the sake of getting it out of the way, I--that is, we--invited you all here today to talk about it. It’s better that it be in the open, public-like, and nobody gets spooked.”
Across the crowd, backs could be seen straightening. They were about to get the scoop on Ben and this was worth listening to.
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