As published in the Waldorf University’s Crusader, Spring 2014, Volume 7
Salveson Prize Honorable Mention in Prose

The little girl waited patiently at the bus stop on 63rd and Pulaski, as she did every weekday evening. But this night seemed particularly long. She had grown impatient, already made animals from all the cloud-shapes, watched the neon OPEN sign on the haircut place blink on and off, and counted fifteen busses putter by with their big clouds of black exhaust. Pollution causes acid rain. Acid rain is killing the pandas.

It was a breezy April night, a glimpse of summer too warm for spring but still too cold for May. The sun was thinking about setting in a few hours. The clouds danced across the sky. She sat on the rusty blue bench and kicked her feet; her faded black converse went back and forth, back and forth.

She wore a pair of blue jean overalls with two button-straps and a patch on the front chest pocket. It was red and it matched her red pigtail ribbons perfectly. The ribbons fluttered in the wind, lightly brushing against her cheeks. She didn’t seem to mind.

In her sweaty palm she held a little grey speckled rock. It wasn’t big by any means, only slightly larger than a pebble. She had named it Rocky and he had a face drawn-on with permanent marker. Mrs. Rhodes had given it to her and told her it was lucky. That was during free time, the shortest—but best—part of her day.

It had been a long afternoon: counting, numbers, letters, math facts. Her backpack had grown heavy on her shoulders but she didn’t put it down on the bench. What if I lost it? What if someone took it? Mommy would be so mad.

            It seemed like the bus was taking forever; it felt like all the busses in the entire world had already passed by. A shiny black sports car zoomed down the street and blew right through a yellow light. It made her wonder why some people could get away with illegal things, like stealing or that whole ‘smoking out of pots’ thing her boy-neighbor Chase did and her mommy hated. She didn’t really get what was the big deal about that whole pot thing—If he wanted to burn his food so bad it smoked in a stove pot, then what was the big deal? It didn’t seem right that burning food in a pot was illegal. Maybe he just likes burned food.  She liked burned marshmallows after all.

The little girl watched the taxicabs weave through traffic, cutting off stopped cars and waiting busses. She loved listening to the sounds—the horns honking, tires screeching, voices yelling. In the distance she heard loud music playing. Thump. Thump. Thump. It was the heavy beat of the bass from a rusty little car, like the one her daddy used to have, back when he’d visit and pick her up from daycare. She craned her neck to see if it was her daddy—maybe had come back! She squeezed her lucky rock tightly in her right hand, but the car kept driving.

An old lady stumbled up to the bench, mumbling under her breath “These stupid punks with their loud music!” The little girl looked at her, a stern look on her face.

“Stupid is a bad word, you know.”

The old lady pushed her scarf back on her forehead and righted her shawl. She looked down at the little girl in her overalls and matching ribbons. “You are right, Young Lady. I am very sorry.”

The little girl smiled, seemed to accept this apology. She was accepting in the way most young children were—knowing nothing but the simple innocence of childhood and believing everyone always meant exactly what they said.

She turned her lucky rock over in her hand. Please help mommy come here soon! She prayed that Rocky would make her wishes come true.

“What have you got there?” the old lady asked.

“This is my lucky rock!” the little girl answered, smiling up at the old woman. “Do you want to hold him? His name’s Rocky.”

The old lady gently took Rocky from the little girl’s open hands. She placed him in the center of her palm and felt his smooth surface glide against her worn, wrinkled skin. As she held him, it seemed almost as if she could feel his power—she could feel what it was like to be a child again, to believe in the goodness of the world. She had lost that belief long ago.

The old woman thought back to her own childhood, to days of playing in the grass and getting dirt between her toes. The nights of coming home and her mother yelling When will you be like the rest of the girls, Sally Ann? You need to have tea parties and play with dolls! That sort of thing! Not roughhousing outside with the neighborhood rats!

            She could hear her mother’s voice, could see her mother’s pinched face hovering over the beef stew in the kitchen. Those days had gone all too fast.

She watched the little girl stare uneasily at the passing traffic. She wondered what she was waiting for. The bus? Her mother? A friend? It made her worried to see such a young girl sitting all alone. She, herself, was waiting for the bus to take her to the L, which would bring her to the south-side where she lived in a little house with her own daughter. Her daughter was old now, married and divorced. She remembered what she used to be like—dresses and patent-leather shoes. Her daughter was always beautiful, and quick with boys. Maybe that’s why she was thirty-five and single now, divorced, with three ferrets and a minimum-wage job at the local movie store. Oh well, she sighed, at least she is only thirty-five. Plenty of time left to live.

            A bus pulled up to the street corner and the little girl ran and jumped on, instantly blending with businessmen in black suits, middle-aged women in scrubs, an assortment of blue-collar employees mixed with crying babies and a few homeless men riding with no direction. The old woman looked down at her hand with anguish. Oh no! The lucky rock! She stumbled to her feet, fumbled with her cane, trying to right her balance, but the bus pulled away all too fast. The fumes filled the street and left her standing, clutching Rocky in her right palm.