Photo courtesy of  Pixabay

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Ten-year-old Maggie begins an August Monday at five a.m. She wakes with the sun and lies still for a minute, listening intently. Through open windows, she hears birdsong and the distant groans of logging trucks heading out to begin a fire-season workday. But inside the house, all is quiet. 
 
Relieved, Maggie creeps from under the covers, careful not to wake her sister, sound asleep on the other half of mom and dad’s discarded double bed. She quietly pulls on yesterday’s shorts and t-shirt, slipping grubby feet into worn, blue flip-flops. A quick trip to the bathroom without flushing — too noisy — and she’s out the back door before anyone has cracked an eyelid. 
 
In the lane behind her house, she shares a breakfast of blackberries with a flock of starlings and a couple of crows, wondering how they know the berries aren’t poisonous. ‘The same way I do,’ she figures. ‘Their moms must have told them.’ 
 
Maggie turns toward the sound of a bell in her backyard and catches a glimpse of Tippy, her sister’s tuxedo cat, streaking across the lawn to the shady spot near the clothesline. Surrounded by the garage on one side, the salmonberry bushes along the fence on another, and Mrs. Haig’s plum tree next-door, that corner of the yard is shady almost the entire day. It’s where Maggie’s mom sits in her chaise lounge, Harlequin romance in hand, waiting for five kids to return from their summer adventures and regale her with tall tales full of discovery and, at least sometimes, heartbreak. 
 
Today’s adventure is yet to unfold. Maggie weighs the possibilities as she gorges on ripe berries. Maybe she’ll wander down to Nunn’s creek with her brothers and hunt for tadpoles or build a fort. Perhaps she’ll tag along with her sister to Susan’s house to skip rope or play jacks. Maybe they could sing along to The Supremes on the little record player that Susan sometimes brings outside, jump-rope handles as microphones. Or she could go to Anita’s house and check on the crop of radishes they planted from seed back in May, so delicious plucked fresh from warm dirt, a quick rinse with the hose, a dusting of salt, and straight into the mouth. 
 
Maggie half-heartedly considers each idea in turn, heavy with the knowledge that what she really wants to do probably won’t happen. It costs money and getting money in her big family requires hard work and healthy dose of the right kind of luck. 
 
She wipes the berry juice from her fingers onto dew-laden grass and heads over to the garage. A silent half-prayer runs through her head — please, please, please — as she opens the side door and goes inside. Holding her breath, she pushes the lawnmower out of the way, her chest already tightening in anticipation of disappointment.
 
But she’s not disappointed. What Maggie was hoping for is right there in front of her, practically glowing with promise. Stacked neatly on an old, wooden pallet, she sees not just one, not just two, but six precious cases of Lucky Lager beer bottles.
 
After doing some quick arithmetic, Maggie imagines the day that stretches before her. She’ll load the bottles into her little brother’s wagon and take them down the hill to the secondhand store that doubles as a bottle depot. Riches in hand, she’ll come home and phone her best friend, Wendy, to say she can accept her invitation after all. She’ll change into her bathing suit, grab a towel, and jump on her bike to ride up to Wendy’s house. And from there, it’s off to Centennial Pool. 
 
At the pool, they’ll stash their bikes in the rack and pay their quarters for admission. Already dressed for swimming, they’ll rush straight through the change room and out to the pool deck, wondering aloud how anyone could ever get naked in public. They’ll stash their flip-flops and towels — coins hidden deep in the folds — in a shared, nickel locker, then argue over who gets to pin the key to her bathing suit. 
 
Standing in the dim of the garage, Maggie imagines the pool in Kodachrome clarity. Turquoise water surrounded by cement hot enough to fry an egg — literally, according to the local newspaper. Lush fir trees tower over bleachers full of teenagers too cool to actually get wet. Kids running, diving, splashing, their bathing suits a crazy quilt of colour and pattern, the air thick with the smell of chlorine and Coppertone. She hears the slap of wet feet on concrete, the echoing spring of the diving board, the smack of a belly flop followed by piercing squeals of laughter. She remembers how sound is muffled under the water and how blue sky dazzles when looking up from the bottom of the deep end. 
 
Maggie’s excitement threatens to bubble over as she stacks boxes full of stubby, brown bottles into the wagon. It’s too early for the secondhand store to be open but she needs to get moving if she wants to avoid sharing her windfall with far too many siblings. She carefully pulls the handle and eases the wheels over the threshold of the side door. Once outside, from the backyard to the street is a long, arduous trek across grass that needs mowing. Her load threatens to topple more than once but eventually she reaches the safety of the sidewalk and stops to rest, relieved that the rest of the trip is downhill all the way. 
 
She sits on the curb to catch her breath, her back to the wagon, and wonders if there’ll be any money left over after swimming. Maybe there’ll be enough to cruise down to the Dairy Queen for a chocolate dip. 
 
Maggie is imagining that mountain shaped cone with the perfect curlicue, dribbles already hardening as it emerges from that melted magic, when she hears the squeak of the wagon’s front axle. She turns to see it twist slightly as the wheels roll an inch or two then stop. ‘Weird,’ she thinks, returning to her vision of soft-serve perfection. 
 
By the time she hears the whack of the handle against the concrete, the wagon is already at the place where the sidewalk dips for Mrs. Haig’s driveway. Maggie freezes for a moment, watching it gain speed down the hill, the handle bouncing wildly behind it. Her heart sinks at the futility of it but she jumps to her feet and starts running anyway. The tears don’t begin until the wagon lurches at the corner and she watches it sail over the edge of the sidewalk to disappear into the ravine below. The sound of smashing bottles is unmistakable. Maggie sinks to her knees and quietly sobs. 
 
When she finally stands up, she realizes she’d better at least salvage her brother’s wagon. Trudging down the hill, Maggie wipes tears and snot against her shoulder and reminds herself that Wendy isn’t really her best friend and the pool is always too crowded anyway. She remembers that hunting for tadpoles really is fun and Nunn’s creek has a mighty fine swimming hole. It occurs to her that her sister and Susan can’t jump rope without a third and she truly does love radishes. But mostly she hopes with all her heart that when she gets home, her mom is up, sitting in her chaise lounge, Harlequin romance in hand, waiting for Maggie to come home.

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