3 Things come right
School was dreadful. Veronica’s mother had let her ride her brand new bike there. It had been bad enough when she’d just been boasting about it but now all the kids gathered round to inspect it, some whispering behind their hands to each other, but most rather impressed or frankly awestruck. Except Elisha, who felt a bit put out that she’d nearly had one just as good, only the well hadn’t worked.
‘It cost ever such a lot of money,’ boasted Veronica. At least £20, my dad said.’
Elisha rolled her eyes but curiosity got the better of her so she walked over to the edge of the admiring circle of children. The bike was splendid – a metallic blue with metallic cherry-red wheel arches, gleaming and brilliant in the morning sun. It was way better than the Choppers and Tomahawks the boys had all got. Her mouth fell open in wonder and a tiny reflection of her gormless face in the bike frame stared back at her.
Veronica locked it carefully inside the bike shed, putting the key into the pocket of her dark-green pinafore. She was wearing this over a short-sleeved check blouse. It wasn’t regulation summer uniform but Veronica always seemed to get away with wearing some kind of variation that looked better. ‘I’ll let you have a ride on the way home, if you want, Josie,’ she said to her special friend but with a sideways glance at Elisha to indicate that she’d never be allowed on it.
Linking arms, the two friends went into school. Elisha stopped to drink in the bike’s glories for a minute. But then she had to run as the bell was ringing.
The children crowded against each other as they sat cross-legged on the parquet floor of the assembly hall, most of the girls in dark-green cardigans while the boys wore sweaters. Elisha noticed Jasmine’s cardigan was buttoned up wrong and pointed this out with nudges. It wasn’t long before they got told off for giggling.
In the classroom, she slipped into the seat behind her desk, next to Alison Yates. She liked her place in class because it was next to the window so she could see outside, although the view was only of the playground and school fence. The only time it was a pain was when the boys opened the window and it got draughty.
Her best friends Jasmine and Stephanie waved to her from across the aisle so she waved back, raising a hand and scrunching the fingers up and down a couple of times in the way they always waved.
The three girls had been going around together since their first year at real school. Elisha hadn’t known them at nursery as she’d gone to a different one, at the end of her road. Jas and Steph had gone to a place called St Dunstan’s together. Elisha had seen the building, a big, redbrick affair near the Chinese roundabout, and thought it looked rather forbidding and grand, like a posh boarding school or a country house, except it was in the town. Jas and Steph said they only used a couple of rooms inside. The rest was for school and church groups.
The teacher started calling the register and the soothing rhythm of name and response made her feel relaxed and sleepy.
If she’d been one of them, Elisha thinks she would have wandered around to explore the rest of the house. She was always curious about other people’s houses. But she’d been smaller then and maybe the place would have been too scary and intimidating. She remembers envying the big garden, that you could see from the top deck of the bus as it went past – stumps of trees to sit on, whole trees to hide behind, lots of sloping lawn. Her nursery had been tiny, with just a small, square yard to play in, although it had had lots of apparatus to climb on.
‘Elisha Goodman. Elisha?’ the teacher’s voice broke into her reverie and she called out, ‘Yes, miss’ a bit too late and too loudly.
When she got home that afternoon she was still a bit grumpy. She took one of the smoky brown glasses, that they’d got free from a filling station, a little too full of milk, to her bedroom with some broken bits of Caramac bar on a white saucer with a gold rim and a little chip in its edge. As they only had the one, she liked to imagine it was a very valuable saucer from someone else’s exquisite set of crockery and that she was a princess who’d lost her memory.
She turned her little white transistor radio on and fiddled with the tuning knob to try to get Radio Caroline, her dad’s favourite station, though she actually liked Radio One better, except that the DJs were morons. Once a song crackled through the interference, ‘Caroline Goodbye’, quite a good one, she was confronted by the well and thought, ‘Why not? It can’t hurt to try again.’
Digging in her pocket, she unearthed a tuppenny bit with a bit of green fluff stuck to it. She closed her eyes and repeated her wish for a bike. ‘Please.’ She dropped the coin into the well but didn’t hear it land. Surprised, she peered after it – it was still falling. The well was huge inside and so deep you couldn’t see the bottom like it had been in her dream. The coin made a whooshing sound that reverberated around her head, making her feel dizzy. Elisha’s eyes widened and her mouth fell open. It must be magic. Then she heard the distinct sound of the coin hitting water.
‘How ever am I going to reach it?’, she thought. Rolling her sleeve up, she started to stick her hand right down the deep well – but immediately reached the bottom and bruised her knuckles. ‘Ow!’ She looked inside again and saw that the well had changed back to normal so that she could touch the bottom easily. Rubbing her right hand with her left for a minute, she could see that now there was no water and the coin was just resting against the side, in the shadow. For a second she thought she’d imagined it all but when she pulled out the tuppence, it had turned into gold!
She sat back on her bed in amazement. So Auntie Jessie had been telling the truth! But where was her bike? It wasn’t in the room anywhere. She looked out the window in case it had appeared on the pavement outside. No sign. It must be here somewhere. She began a frantic search of the house, even looking in the cupboard under the stairs, braving the spiders knocking down a light-blue, rope-handled BOAC flight bag full of old white tennis balls, in case it was a fold-up one. No bike to be found anywhere. Though she did have a bit of luck in finding a green and white striped Pacer sweet that she’d hidden there some time before, now a bit squashed but still in its wrapper and eminently edible.
Her mother told her off for dashing about and crashing into the furniture. This time she felt even more let down. With the tuppenny bit turning into gold she’d felt sure she’d get her wish. It wasn’t fair. She only hoped Veronica Atkins wouldn’t be allowed to ride her bike in the next day.
Tuesday morning was dull and miserable. Elisha really didn’t feel like getting out of bed. But in came her mother, excited for some reason, cheerfully urging her to ‘Rise and shine!’
‘Oh, Mummy, do I have to go to school?’ Elisha whined. ‘I don’t feel very well.’ She put on a sad and she hoped sickly face.
‘Yes you do, madam,’ said Mrs Goodman, opening the curtains to reveal the garden’s oak tree outlined against clear blue sky. ‘And I’ve got a surprise for you too.’ She turned back to her daughter, putting her hands on her hips.
‘What?’ Elisha tried not to get too worked up. It was probably only something special in her snack box. A Mr Kipling’s French Fancy or a Dairy Lea cheese triangle.
‘Well, you know the raffle at the social club.’ Elisha didn’t really understand raffles. It seemed that you bought tickets but never got to use them for anything. So she just nodded while she dragged herself out of bed. ‘I’ve won a prize. It’s a new bike for you! Isn’t that wonderful? We can pick it up this afternoon.’
‘A new bike?’ echoed Elisha, pinching herself to check she wasn’t dreaming, gawping at her mother like an imbecile, until Mrs Goodman waved her hand in front of her face to snap her out of it.
‘Yes, darling, we won it.’
Her wish had come true after all. She yippeed and jumped in the air, then hugged her mother tightly round the legs, feeling the softness of the long woollen cardigan against her face.
When she was alone in the room, she picked up the well carefully and hugged it. Now she could have anything she wanted. The well could grant her wishes and she was already planning her next one.
The bike was everything she’d hoped for. It was a bright orange Dawes Kingpin with a special badge on the front fork, like the family Austin car had on its front grille. A bit big for her, it also boasted white tyres and smooth white handles with finger indents for comfort on its silver handlebars. It had its own white bicycle pump in a special slot and a checked bag on the back to put stuff in. She couldn’t stop looking at it and touching it. That afternoon she rode down the avenue on it, feeling proud and grand. Just wait till Veronica saw her.
Luke Collins watched her from his garden. They used to play together all the time before Luke got sick. Since he’d got out of hospital he hardly ever came out. Elisha didn’t mind as she was nervous of ill people. She was afraid she’d catch something.
‘Nice bike,’ said Luke. `Is it new?’
Elisha nodded but didn’t stop. She was concentrating too much to talk and there was no way she’d let a germy person near her prized possession. She forgot that he was the one who’d first taught her to ride a bike, letting her borrow his. The little boy, pale and weak, watched her progress to the end of the road. He kicked his garden gate feebly and went back inside to watch TV, even though it was only that stupid How programme where boring experts explained how things worked.
When she was putting the bike away, her mother came out. ‘You never play with Luke any more,’ she said. Elisha didn’t reply, parking the bike carefully in the shed and draping an old, faded, russet curtain over it to keep off the cobwebs.
‘Elisha, why don’t you play with him? He’s getting better now. They cut all the cancer out. And he needs his friends.’ Her mother’s face was troubled; two little lines appeared on her forehead between her eyebrows.
‘What’s for tea, Mum?’ she asked, not wanting to listen. Luke still looked ill. She didn’t believe he was better, even though he’d come back to school. His hair had got thin, like an old man’s or a baby’s; and his eyes looked too big for his narrow face. He reminded her of an alien from a TV show.