The Plaid Dress Wishes
By Chara Watson
There were once four little girls who went to the state fair. They went every year to see the quilts, jars of jelly or preserves, to eat cotton candy, and to ride the car up the needle, hundreds of feet above everyone and look all around for just a few minutes.
But then there was the year of the plaid dresses. That was the year their mother made them each a dress of a different color plaid and white collars embroidered with their initials. Christa, the oldest, wore a purple dress and had a purple ribbon in her dark hair. Even though Tara and Chara were twins they did not wear dresses that were just alike. That’s because they didn’t look alike. Chara wore a blue dress to match her eyes and Tara wore a red dress to match her hair. Laura was the youngest and she wore green.
They all held hands as they wandered past strange booths and displays taking in each of the sights and sounds around them like treasures to be tucked away into the special boxes their Grandma had given them to keep their treasures safe. They were young then, in ways they might never remember when they grew even a little bit older than they were.
They were memorizing all the things they saw when their eyes fell on the balloon man. There wasn’t anything all that interesting about the balloon man himself. He was wearing brown pants and a brown riding cap and he had a long white moustache that covered the ends of his wide smile. There wasn’t much to notice if he hadn’t been holding those balloons.
Those balloons! They were the brightest colors the girls had ever seen. Even when they went to the material store to choose materials for the dresses their mother would make for them, running lost among hundreds of bolts of soft fabrics, they had never seen anything quite like the colors of the balloons that the man held in his fist. The girls approached him, saying nothing, only looking wide eyed at the floating rainbow above his head.
“Would you like some balloons?” he asked.
The girls nodded and he handed each one a balloon the color of their dress, only much brighter.
“How much?” asked Christa. For she was the oldest and she had been given the money they would be allowed to spend while they wandered through the fair.
“A nickel each.” he answered.
She carefully picked out two dimes from her little purple coin purse, which had been tucked into the pocket of her purple plaid dress.
The balloon man took the dimes, dropped them in his pocket and looked adown at the little girls.
“Now, before you go I think you should know something.” He beckoned them closer. Wide eyed, the girls came close and leaned in.
“These balloons are magic. If you are brave, for an hour, you can have whatever your heart wishes for. But there’s a catch.” he grew silent and the girls leaned a little closer.
“You have to pop the balloon.”
There was nothing but silence as the girls walked away.
The balloon man had expected the silence. The silence came every time he told the people about the magic. A lot of people didn’t believe him or were too frightened to pop their balloons. If they popped them and there was no magic they would have nothing but a shriveled bit of colored rubber on a string.
But you couldn’t just pop the balloon without thinking either. A wish that forever is an easy thing. Who wouldn’t wish for a magic coking pot, or a hundred bags of gold, or whatever else they thought would make their hearts happy? But a wish for just an hour is a different thing entirely. You wouldn’t want to wish for a thing like that if it were going to disappear in an hour. No one wants to find out that all the things they’ve been content without are things they would have been much happier with, and them have them snatched away. No there isn’t any happiness in a wish like that.
The girls met their parents and rode home in silence. Their mother and father looked to the back of the station wagon and saw each girl looking suspiciously at the strange, brightly colored balloons they had bought.
When they got home they had a sister’s meeting under the oak tree in the backyard. For a while they sat in silence, no one knowing what to say. They said nothing. They each knew that they had all made up their minds to pop their balloons and wish for something. But what?
Because Tara was the bravest, she went first. She pulled down the string attached to her blood red balloon and took it in her hands. Thinking of the one thing her heart desired, she squeezed that balloon- not the way a timid person would squeeze, afraid that it might pop in their face, but hard and fast in her hands.
Tara wished to be a boy. More than anything else she wanted to wear pants and hit a baseball and climb trees. She wanted to ride her bicycle around with her shirt off and feel the sun on her skin. She wanted to get dirty and rip her clothes and have people just shake their heads. You couldn’t do those things in a dress. Girls weren’t supposed to get dirty and climb trees and be loud, but it was her wish and that’s what she wanted.
Before any of the other girls had a chance to ask her what she had wished for, she stood up, not in her red plaid dress, but in a pair of overalls, dirty and patched at the knees. Out came a loud “Whoop!” and she ran off through the yard through the yard toward a mud puddle and she stomped right into it.
She didn’t look like Tara anymore. Her red hair was short, and her freckles were darker. She looked like she could have been their Dad when he was young.
The other girls watched as she got dirty and made lots of noise and climbed trees. Their mouths hung open and questions hung unanswered on their lips.
After a while she ran out of things to do. Her sisters were sitting under the tree singing and braiding each other’s hair, waiting for the hour to go by. Boys didn’t sit around singing and braiding hair.
And suddenly she was ready for her wish to be over. She jumped out of the tree, back onto the ground in her red plaid dress. She was clean as cotton and blushing a bit at her silliness.
Christa hardly waited a moment before she took her balloon in her hands and popped it with her fingernails. She wasn’t all that eager to make her wish, it was just that she felt she should have gone first since she was the oldest. But as she felt the pressure of the balloon give way in her hands her wish, not the silly wish she had been going to make, but her heart’s wish came into her mind and came true. Her sisters disappeared. In their places were only three little dolls in brightly colored dresses, two still holding balloons. She knew immediately that they would be back in the passing of an hour and so she got up and ran toward the house.
For a while when she was just a little child she had all of her parent’s love to herself. Sometimes she still thought about that time before she had to be responsible for her sister’s and before she had to share everything with them.
She opened the door to the kitchen and went in. Her mother smiled when she saw her. It was a smile just for her.
They read books and played cards for a while. Her mother had taught her how to play go fish and sometimes she won. Her father came in and she was Daddy’s girl. No one else played with them or interrupted her Daddy’s stories about Silly Sally and Mean Milford.
When the hour was almost up she went outside and sat under the tree and looked at the little dolls. The sat there, just waiting for the passage of the hour. It wasn’t as fun to play with dolls as it was to play with your sisters.
And suddenly she was ready for the wish to be over. Her sisters grew back to their normal size with the blink of an eye. It was nice to see them.
Chara reached up and pulled her blue balloon down into her lap. She had thought a long hard time about her wish and she finally decided. She took her balloon and put it on the ground beside her she sat down hard on it and it popped.
Chara knew what she had wanted to wish for. She loved to read books and pretend that she was a princess in a magical adventure. She wanted to see magic and do all the things she had pretended to do and had imagined in her head.
As the balloon popped the backyard changed. Their daisy patch changed into a sleepy forest, the shed grew into a castle and the bee hives turned into a huge evil mountain with twisted trees, where a witch lived.
Chara met her fairy godmother who gave her magic berries that she used to save a prince from the evil witch who had cast a spell on him. Then the Prince took her home to his giant castle and they crowned her the princess. Then they went to a huge ball and danced and danced all night long.
But then she came to the part of the story that said, “…and they lived happily ever after.” There wasn’t anything else. She had to just be a princess all the time and wear big dresses and do princess things. She knew she was supposed to be happy, but there wasn’t much to do now that she was living happily. She wanted to go home where she could play with her sisters in the daisy patch and pretend all sorts of other adventures for all of them.
And suddenly she was ready for her wish to be over. Her big fluffy dress melted away into her simple blue plaid dress with her initials on the collar and her sisters were all around her again.
Laura was last. She was always last because she was the youngest. It hadn’t taken her long to decide exactly what she would wish for. The other girls looked at her and she stood up. Stepped on one end of the string and stomped the balloon. It popped loudly and suddenly Laura was five and a half feet tall. She had earrings in her ears and she was wearing perfume and makeup like her mother!
She was grown up! Almost immediately a car pulled up into the driveway and a boy got out of the drivers seat and waved at her. He opened her car door and she ran to get in the car. The girls watched the car pull away and wondered where she was going.
She was on a date with a boy. They went out for ice cream and met other grown up friends and talked about grown up things. For the first time Laura felt like she wasn’t going to be told to be quiet or be the last one to get what she wanted. She could do and have whatever she wanted. She even had two scoops of ice cream!
But soon she got bored. The boy was nice but all her talked about was politics and cars and adult things. She wanted to know if he had noticed the snails on the sidewalk or if he liked to jump rope, or if he could whistle. Her sisters noticed snails and stars and would jump rope with her.
And suddenly she was ready for her wish to be over. So she asked the boy to drive her home, and just as he pulled up the driveway the car and the boy disappeared and she walked toward her sisters. Christa met her halfway and the twins were behind her. Christa picked her up and carried her into the house. They all put her in bed and tucked her in. The sun had gone down and it was time for sleep. They all lay in their beds that night whispering about the things they had seen and done and wished for.
Tara had liked being a boy, but she liked being herself, and being with her sisters. Besides, they never told her to be quiet or to stay out of trees. Maybe she could just be herself, with them anyway.
Christa thought about how lonely it had been without her sister. It was nice to have something more than a doll to carry into the house at night, even if she did have to share everything with her sisters and watch out to make sure they didn’t get into trouble.
Chara thought about how exciting it had been to have such wonderful adventures. She enjoyed knowing that she could do big things, but it was also nice to know that she could have all sorts of different adventures in her imagination, not just one little adventure all by herself.
Laura thought about how nice it would be to be grown up someday. Just not yet. Even if it meant she had to be the baby, she still liked being taken care of. Each of the girls had carefully placed their popped balloons into the pocket of their dress and each one would tuck the balloon away in a corner of their special box. Someday when they grew older and couldn’t quite remember quite so well what it had been like to be so young they would be able to look at the balloons and remember what it had been like to discover just how happy they were to be together and to be just who they were.