AT the skate park a lone skateboarder, no older than 12, sat on the edge of the bowl.
The old woman nearby furrowed her brow. Children should be at school, not wasting their lives skateboarding. Where was the mother? The child stood up and skated down into the bowl, smoothly rolling up the wall before turning and coming back down.
The woman unclipped the necklace that hung limply around her wrinkled neck. She turned the large blue stone over in her hand and looked at the engraving on the back.
“Follow your dreams,” she read aloud. Then she scoffed.
When she’d received the gift from her mother on her 16th birthday she’d openly talked of her dreams. Marry a man with a steady income. Make a home and fill it with children. Then one day, take a trip to Paris.
That was all she ever asked for.
And Bill had the nerve to say she was ungrateful.
Yes, she understood that sometimes couples just couldn’t have children, no matter how much they tried. But Miss Kirkpatrick? There was no need for that.
She gripped the topaz in her hand and watched her knuckles turn white.
She knew from the day Miss Kirkpatrick moved in that an unmarried woman next door would be trouble. Bill was a friendly man and always happy to help a neighbour.
She threw the necklace into her handbag and marched towards home. Neither children nor Paris were ever going to happen but Bill would be wanting his lunch.
Before she got far she heard the sound of rubber wheels bouncing along the path behind her. Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack.
“Hey!” a child’s voice called. “You dropped your necklace.”
She turned and saw the child from the skate park. The skateboarder was a young girl, with delicate features and square, confident shoulders. She stood on her skateboard and had stopped right next to the woman. Together they were the exact same height, just five feet tall.
The old woman took the necklace from the girl and muttered, “You should be at school, you know.”
The young girl stepped off the skateboard and kicked up one end, so she could hold it in her hand.
“What makes you say that?”
“You’re not going to get anywhere without an education. Don’t you want to meet a nice man and have a nice family and do something worthwhile with your life?”
The young girl laughed. “You mean, ‘follow your dreams’?” Her gaze moved down to the old woman’s hand where the necklace hung loosely between her fingers.
The old woman’s eyes widened for a moment before responding. “That’s right. If you have a dream, stick to it. Don’t waste it here at the skate park when you could be getting an education.”
The young girl dropped her skateboard to the ground, stepped on and kicked off the ground to start moving. “Whatever.”
The old woman watched the girl. Her thoughts drifted back to Bill and Miss Kirkpatrick.
At first Bill said he felt sorry for her. And as their own marriage strained from the pressure of their empty house, his visits next door became almost a daily occurrence.
“Miss Kirkpatrick’s roses need pruning.”
So did theirs, but Bill didn’t notice them.
For years she chose to turn a blind eye. Bill was a good provider and he left her alone to do patchwork and bake her cakes. To outsiders he seemed like the perfect husband.
Miss Kirkpatrick hid the pregnancies well. Some of the women in the street said that they weren’t even her children, and that she’d adopted them from a cousin who couldn’t keep them.
But as they grew older they had Bill written all over their faces. The way they curled their lips when they smiled.
And all she really wanted was to go to Paris.
The old woman watched the young skateboarder for a few moments. She sped up and down the faces of the bowl, slid across rails and jumped down steps. Spectators gathered around and they cheered when the girl jumped high over the lip of the bowl before racing back down the middle.
The young girl glared back at the woman then stopped suddenly. She rode over to the path, coming to a stop right before the woman once more.
The young girl looked directly into her eyes.
“For your information, I am following my dreams,” she said. “I’m going to be the best in the country. I’m going to practise and practise and win comps and do just as well as any guy out there.” She put her hands on her hips. “I’m going to show the world that you don’t need a man or a family or anyone to get what you want.’
The old woman’s thoughts went back to Bill. To the number of times she’d begged him to take her to Paris and the number of times he’d outright refused.
“The neighbours need my help here,” he’d say.
Of course, the neighbours.
She held the blue stone up in the light to have a closer look. It needed a clean, but in the bright sunshine it sparkled from deep within.
She looked up the path towards her house, where Bill would be waiting for his lunch. The skateboarder shifted her weight to one side, waiting for a response from the old woman.
“You’re right.” The woman nodded. “You’re absolutely right.”
The young girl stepped back in surprise.
It was a long walk into town, but the old woman turned and started making her way down the path. First stop would be the jewellers to get the topaz cleaned. Second stop would be the travel agency.
For the first day in 54 years, Bill would need to fix his own lunch.