[Paul/sushi tied for 5th place]
The Birthday Present
Uncle Hank has a birthday, Gary thought. Over and over again, he told himself
to keep trying.
The kitchen was a terrible mess. Gary knew his Momma would be angry, but
Uncle Hank was the best guy in his whole life. Hank had given him a good
present for every birthday he could remember, and now Hank would have one, too.
What did Momma say? Gary tried to remember. When will she come home? She
went to the store. Told sitter to watch me. Silly sitter went away, come again
some other day. He chuckled at his rhyme.
Then he remembered the phone message. He had never seen the machine
before. But Gary had grown taller, and now he could stand high enough to see the
So many buttons! He frowned, and with thick fingers pushed the largest
The sound was very loud. He fell backward, hands over his ears. Scary.
Momma said . . . use phone for help. Noise okay.
Gary struggled to his feet and touched the big button again. The noise
stopped. He grinned with relief.
There was another button, a narrow one with a word on it. He couldn't read
the word, but somehow it looked right. His mother spoke from the machine.
"Tina," his mother's voice said, "hello? Can you pick up? Well, anyhow,
I'll be at the beauty parlor a little longer than I thought. I'll see you
around five. Remember to give Gary his medications at four."
But Tina wasn't around. That new boy had come to the door and, laughing,
Tina had gone away in his car, leaving Gary all alone.
Uncle Hank has a birthday coming, Gary told himself again. I'm gonna fix
him some yummy stuff.
He'd watched his mother get ingredients from the freezer. Cookie dough,
and other sweet things. But he couldn't find any in there, and he'd taken
everything out. There was a big freezer in the basement. It was dark in the
basement, and he'd never gone down there by himself.
Gary opened the door to the basement stairs. He knew that was a no-no, but
he'd watched his Momma carefully. He even knew where the light switch was.
The stairs were a challenge. His legs wouldn't straighten out like most
people's, and so he sat down, and bumped from step to step, riding on his bottom.
Against the wall stood the freezer locker. It was huge, bigger than the
washing machine and dryer put together. Uncle Hank was always saying that bad
things might happen, like storms and earthquakes, and that Momma and Gary must
always be ready. That's why Momma put so much yummy food in there.
Slowly Gary levered himself upright. He tried to lift the lid, and lost
his balance, falling over. Undaunted, he leaned against the wall this time, and
got the lid open. So cold! It felt like insects biting his hands.
There were many packages, of all shapes and sizes. A few had pictures, but
they were covered with frost, and he had to brush it away to see then.
Soon he could feel nothing in his fingers. It was like wintertime, when he
hated to go outside, because he couldn't move around in the snow. He wanted
to drop the cold things, and get away from the basement. Find cookie dough, he
Worse, he began to get a terrible headache. Where's my medicine today?
He didn't know how long it took, but finally he uncovered a little tube
with a funny-looking cookie man on it. There were also a picture of chocolate
cookies on a tray. Yes! Gary laughed out loud with delight.
With the dough container in his numb fingers, he turned toward the stairs.
Then he noticed that his socks were wet. The floor was covered with little
puddles. He frowned with concentration. Like springtime. Melting.
Usually that was a good thing, a time he welcomed every year. But this
wasn't quite right. Not the same. Gritting his teeth, he picked up everything
else, one by one, and dropped it all into the freezer.
Clutching his precious find, Gary made his way up the stairs. The kitchen
floor had puddles around everything on it, but the little freezer was too high
to lift so many things. He put it all in the refrigerator instead.
He got a pan from underneath the counter, then turned his attention to the
tube of cookie dough. There seemed to be no opening. No buttons, no zipper,
not even a tab like on soda cans.
With a flash of anger Gary squeezed the tube in his fists. To his surprise
it broke open, and dough bulged out.
Fingers hurt. His entire hands throbbed. I know. Thawing out. He tried to
rub them together, fast, but his arms didn't work very well either. Yummy
Gary pulled off a hunk of dough and tasted it. Sweet. But wait, not for me
He put everything on the kitchen table. With painstaking care he separated
the cookies and spread them out on the tray. Gotta cook them.
That was a problem. Mamma says, very dangerous. Most dangerous. Danny must
never touch the stove. He put his face in his hands and cried from sheer
Later, he heard a welcome sound. Momma's car!
Soon Momma came into the house. She called for Tina, but of course Tina
did not answer. He could near her running around the house. It was frightening
when Momma got upset. Then she came to the kitchen and saw Gary.
He got a big hug.
Gary explained, "Momma, it's okay. Tina go 'way. I make cookies for Uncle
Hank. His birthday is coming." He thumped the table to show his Momma where
the cookies were.
"That's wonderful, Gary," Momma said. "That sitter is in a world of
trouble, but let's not worry about that right now. I'll get your medicine, and then
we'll bake those cookies together."