THE RESCUE by Gabi Coatsworth
I saw Elaine Cook’s wedding photo in the local paper the other day and hoped this would mean a happy ending for her. Not surprisingly, I’d recognized her immediately. Of course, it’s hard to forget a person once you’ve set fire to her.
She lived with her parents and older brother on the same side of our quiet suburban road in West London. The large semi detached houses had been built in the 1930s and had survived the war intact. By 1959 they were considered highly desirable residences, partly because each had a large garden in the back. The Cooks’ garden sported garish flowerbeds whose inmates had been bludgeoned into submission using weed killer and slug repellent. Ours had a vegetable garden at the end, where my father grew carrots and cabbages to help feed my four sisters and me, and a few flowering shrubs that had been looking somewhat discouraged ever since we had used them as goalposts in our soccer games.
I had never been particularly interested in Elaine, since she was only six years old and still liked playing with dolls. I was nearly nine, so she and I didn’t have much in common, but occasionally she would come over to play with my sisters and me, especially when we were short of people to make up opposing teams for our games. I was more interested in her brother Martin. He was a gangly ten-year-old with a handsome, if somewhat bland, face. I used to describe him to my friends, who had never seen him, as good-looking because he had white, even teeth and regular features. On the negative side, he had fair frizzy hair that wouldn’t stay put, but apart from that, there was nothing exactly repellent about him. Still, I always felt that he lacked something. This was disappointing since I had long held the belief that boys were more interesting than girls. Maybe it was because I was one of five girls myself and had become bored with my sisters’ undemanding diversions. So, whenever I ran across Martin, I would try to engage him in conversations about railway trains, outer space, or detective stories – all subjects which I felt were much more fascinating than dolls and playing house.
I was thinking about games that might interest Martin as I hopscotched along the road to the Cooks’ house. It was a sunny morning early in the summer holiday, and the day stretched ahead of me, full of possibilities. I was wearing my new green shorts and last summer’s aertex shirt. To stay cool, I had tried to scrape my curly red hair into a ponytail, but it wasn’t quite long enough, and bits of it kept coming out of the rubber band. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to doing just as I pleased, with no homework and no chores, at least none that I needed to do right now. My mother had agreed that I could have Martin Cook over to play, so long as we stayed in the back garden and not underfoot inside the house. That was fine with me. I planned to organize an Indian rebellion and needed an extra cowboy. My sisters did their best, I suppose, but they had an irritating tendency to wander off halfway through games like this.
I reached up to ring the Cooks’ doorbell and listened for the footsteps that would let me know that they were at home. I stood on tiptoe to look through the rippled glass panel in the middle of the door, trying to see in. The glass distorted my view, so I barely had time to back away from it when I saw a pink blob moving toward the door from the other side. Mrs. Cook opened the door. She looked a bit irritated as she stood there in her pink pinafore, wielding a feather duster.
“Oh,” she said, “it’s you, Gabi.” I chose to ignore her rather condescending tone.
“I was wondering if Martin would like to come over…” I began.
“He’s not in.”
This was a setback. I suppose I could manage without a sidekick, but it wouldn’t be the same.
A moment’s silence ensued as Mrs. Cook flicked the feather duster along the little shelf by the door. We had a shelf just like it, only ours was so covered with odds and ends that a feather duster would have made no impression whatsoever.
“Elaine can play with you. That’ll give me time to finish what I’m doing.”
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ABOUT GABI COATSWORTH
Gabi Coatsworth is a British-born writer who has spent half her life living in the United States. She says, “I have been writing fiction for the past ten years. This story, though, is true, except for seeing Elaine’s wedding photo. I actually saw her picture on my high school web site, and this story came flooding back. When I was a child, our parents were always telling us to go and play outside. I’m sure that on the whole, this was good for our health, but occasional accidents were bound to happen, and did. Luckily, Elaine’s wrists healed perfectly (the blisters were very minor) and even her mother, the formidable Mrs. Cook, finally forgave me.”
Gabi’s work has been published in Perspectives, a Connecticut literary journal, and the Rio Grande Review (University of Texas at El Paso). Her story, Farewell, Finally, won First Place in the 2008 Connecticut Muse Essay Contest. She won the Fairfield Arts Council 2009 Poetry Contest, with her poem: To My Sister, which has also been published online (TheSisterProject.com). Mused, an online and print magazine, published her story, Kitten con Brio, last year.
She currently writes a monthly article for The Good Men Project, and is delighted to be in the vanguard of writers published as part of eChook’s innovative short story app.
She lives in Connecticut and New Hampshire, with her husband, various sons, and a dog. She thinks the dog is sane.
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