The Sled, by Diane Arrelle
The inside was dark.
April squinted, blinded by the snow and the sun glare behind her. She felt along the wall for the light switch, found it and with a click, switched it on. The interior of the old shed lit up.
Standing in the middle of the small wooden building, she waited with growing impatience for her eyes adjust. She blinked rapidly to speed things up and searched the rafters until she spied bright orange.
“There it is,” she mumbled and stood on a box to reach up. April struggled, stretching her arms and wiggling her fingers, standing on her toes until she finally grabbed at the hanging rope and pulled.
Everything crashed down on her. April fell off the box, landing in a sitting position on the floor. She rubbed her butt and decided that tomorrow she’d have a hell of a bruise. She looked around for a moment at the mess she had created then remembered the rope in her hand. The sled, actually an orange snow-skimming toboggan that was attached to the other end of rope, had a huge crack down the middle.
Little Ginny, who was standing in the doorway, started crying. “It’s broke!”
“Mom, you broke it,” Rich yelled as he pushed Ginny aside and rushed up to April.
April stood and muttered, “Sure kids, I’m fine, I didn’t get hurt. Don’t worry yourselves.”
The two children stared at her with blank expressions.
April sighed. No need to take it out on them, she had broken the sled in her rush to keep them busy. It had been a very long day, with school canceled due to the weather and now this. “All right, into the house, the two of you.”
“Now!” April commanded and bent down to pick up the broken sled. She fought the irrational anger she felt. For the last 12 years it had been her special toy, she’d used it first with her girlfriends, then with Don and now with the kids.
She carried the beat up skimmer into the garage and put it on Don’s workbench. She noticed all the scratches in the molded orange surface and the bottom, where the feet rested, was literally worn through. “Perhaps your time really is up,” she said to the sled.
“Perhaps it is time for the trash.”
April studied the sled for a minute and felt tears sting her eyes. “Nah,” she said and went into the house to break up any fights that she was pretty sure were developing.
Later that night, after both kids were in bed because hopefully tomorrow would find school back in session, April went out to the garage. Don was working late and she wanted to see if she could repair her past before he got home.
She took out the duct tape and worked on the cracked brittle plastic. She tried to tape up the inside where the years had worn it through. She thought about Don’s reaction and smiled. “Trash it!” he’d yell and try to carry it out with Thursday’s garbage.
“I need to give a good reason to keep it,” she mumbled. “I can’t let him throw you away.”
She thought back to when she’d first ridden the sled. Back then it had been her cousin Betsy’s sled. Betsy, her cousin, her best friend. They’d lived a block from each other for forever. April smiled as she repaired the snow skimmer. They were always taking turns getting into trouble.
She remembered the time Betsy had suggested gathering all the leaves in the neighborhood and piling them under the maple tree in April’s yard. She smiled broader as she recalled how they spent hours with their wagons filling them with the fallen foliage from everyone else’s yard. Why, old Mrs. Rodger’s had actually given them a quarter each for cleaning off her lawn. After they got the pile about 6 feet deep they charged all the kids in the area a nickel for the privilege to jump out of the tree into the pile. April’s dad had such a fit when he saw the huge mess in their yard. He grounded her for a week, but she had lot’s of nickels to ease the pain; that and Betsy sneaking over every afternoon after school to watch TV with her.
Then there was the time they’d found an appliance box, took it to the large hill at the edge of town and after they both climbed into it, rolled down to the bottom crashing into each other and laughing, that was until Betsy broke her arm in two places.
In high school Betsy bought that sled for about $5.00 and whenever it snowed, they’d run out and ride it before the school bus came and then ride it again afterwards when they were supposed to be doing their homework.
After they graduated they pretended to be too mature to ride the thing down the hills behind the high school, but somehow they always ended up outside with it anyway.
The more April thought about Betsy the more she wondered how she was doing. It was almost time for the annual Christmas card and form letter. It had been about a dozen years since she’d seen her cousin and she never stopped regretting the day Betsy had moved, run off actually, to marry a handsome Brazilian.
That was how she’d gotten to own the sled. The memories suddenly turned bittersweet as they washed over her. April recalled how she’d had been the one to clean out all of Betsy’s things. Aunt Ruth, Betsy’s mother, had disowned her daughter in a fit of temperamental rigidity and April had been called in to make all traces of Betsy vanish.
She shook her head amazed at how stupid people could be, how really stupid family could be to each other. For a dozen years poor Aunt Ruth mourned a dead daughter who was very much alive and happy, happy except that she was mourning the loss of her equally very much alive mother.
“Life is so ridiculous,” April snapped at the somewhat repaired sled and went inside the house to wait for Don. She stared at the phone for about half an hour trying to make up her mind. Finally, she deemed it enough of an emergency and dialed the number in South America.
“April! What’s wrong? Is it my mother… Don…the kids?”
April laughed, “No Betsy, it’s nothing. I just wanted to talk to you.”
“Oh, well, that’s great. How is everyone? Are you sure nothing’s wrong?”
“Well… actually its–”
“It is my mother!” Betsy wailed.
“NO… no…it’s your orange sled.”
“Your sled, the toboggan we used to ride.”
“April, you called me long-international to talk about an old toy we haven’t used for more than a decade. Is your marriage in trouble?”
April couldn’t help it, she giggled. “Well Betsy, Don and I are as happy as modern parents can be. But the sled…. well, I kept it and I’ve shared it with the kids and… and today it cracked.”
“You’re telling me that old $4.99 bargain I bought seventeen years ago is still in existence! Oh wow! Well, I’m sure glad you got my money’s worth.”
“I got more than your money’s worth out of it all these years. It’s kept me close to you. When your mother told me to take anything I wanted from your room, I took your vinyl albums, your perfume and the sled.”
“You took my vintage albums!”
“Yeah, we had so much fun going to yard sales finding them. But I never played them, I thought I would, but I never could. They made me sad.”
“And my perfume?”
“I had it sitting on my vanity until Don threw it out. Don can’t tolerate memories if they collect dust. He throws everything away once it is finished. He doesn’t save mementos of anything. I swear I love that man, but I’ll never understand him.”
“He didn’t throw out my albums?”
April smiled, picturing her cousin as she’d been at twenty. She could never imagine her at thirty-two, after having four children and being married for so long.
“No I didn’t let Don throw them out. He’s into editing my past, not yours.”
“Well, take care of them for me,”
“Sure, I’ll make sure they’re fine.”
“Don’t let them warp.”
“Don’t worry, they’re packed well.”
“You can play them, I’d like that,” Betsy said with a catch to her voice.
“I’d love to, but I don’t even have a working turntable anymore, Don got rid of my old one right after we got married. It didn’t even have a needle. Now, I just listen to my ‘best of’ CD’s and the kids’ hand-me-down mp3 players.”
“Gosh, I have a working stereo turntable.”
“That’s nice,” April said and wrote on the note pad next to the phone; send Betsy her albums for Christmas. “Well, I’m sure you have plenty of records to play on it.”
“Yeah,” Betsy said with a sigh loud enough to travel the thousands of miles separating them. “Well, thanks for calling.”
“Keep in touch, Betsy, now with the sled gone, I’m going to miss you even more.”
“We’ll call each other more often, I promise,” Betsy vowed.
“Sure,” April agreed although she knew that they’d keep in touch sporadically by phone, email and text just like they always had.
The next morning Don put out the trash. As he carried out the last bag, he called, “Hey, the sled’s busted. It certainly has seen better days.”
April shrieked as he picked it up. “What are you doing!”
“Throwing it away.”
Don stared at her. “Dare I ask why not?”
“Now, there’s a fine answer,” he laughed. “I knew you’d have a good reason, just like the time you tried to save all the wrapping paper from the baby presents, or the time you saved all those tickets stubs from every show, concert, and movie you’ve ever seen and let’s not forget the boxes of–”
“All right,” April snapped, covering her ears. “I get your point, but this isn’t for old-time’s sake. With all the snow we’ve been having and this near the holidays, most of the stores are sold out of cheap snow skimmers. We’ll be left with only the snow disk. That’s one little, round, sled for two kids! I don’t know about you, but I don’t intend to spend my entire winter breaking up fights over whose turn it is.”
April stopped to catch her breath and Don held up his hands in resignation.
“Okay you win, you win,” he laughed. “All I asked for was a simple reason, not a dissertation. It looks like you did a good job with the tape. We’ll keep it till the spring.”
“Sure,” April said. “Till the spring.” But she was already thinking about where she could hide it, perhaps up in the attic behind the box filled with all the letters she’d ever received, or the crate of negatives from every roll of film she’d had developed before she gave in to digital. Some things where meant to be saved and a seventeen year old toboggan that had shared so much of her life was one of them. She’d hide it away for her kids to deal with in about 50 years. By then, they’d have their own memories to save. Wouldn’t it be nice, April decided, if Betsy’s old toboggan could be one of them.
Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has been writing for more than 20 years and has sold almost 200 short stories and has two published books, Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories and Elements Of The Short Story, How to Write a Selling Story. She is proud to be one of the founding members as well as the second president of the Garden State Horror Writers and is also a past president of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. When not writing, she is a director of a municipal senior citizen center. She lives with her husband, sometimes her sons and of course her cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens in Southern New Jersey (home of the Jersey Devil).
You can visit her at dinaleacock.com
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