The Gift


Bill Clearlake


It was Suzy's ninth birthday. She stood in the grass, feeling her new riding boots just slightly too large for her tiny feet. Her father had blindfolded her and led her out to the field behind their big white farmhouse. She could feel the warm afternoon breeze against her face. Her blonde hair danced across her shoulders and she stroked away the stray strands that had draped across her cherubic face.

She was waiting for her father to bring a gift. All the fuss and bother with secrecy and the new boots were all the clues she needed. Her breath came faster and her insides tightened with anticipation. She knew what it would be, but she couldn't help bouncing on her toes. It was the smell that told the tale. It was distinct, pungent and warm. It had to be the most wonderful smell in the world. It was all she could do to stand in place and not rip off the blindfold and go running towards it. She stood grinning, giggling to herself. Her father strolled towards her, whistling his favorite tune. His footsteps were mingled with four others.

When she heard the snort and whinny of her new pony, she could no longer keep her composure. She tore off the blindfold and ran, screaming and laughing towards the tall, thin man who held a small, curved pipe in one hand and a leather strap in the other. She hugged him around his thighs and mashed her face into her father's tightly muscled stomach. He puffed on his pipe and let the cavenedish aroma swirl around his ruggedly chiseled face. He lifted Suzy up and grinned behind his pipe. Then he set her down on the pony's bare back and handed her the reins. She had ridden with her father before, and he had often given her the reins and let he guide the horse while he held her steady against his strong chest. She loved the feel of his strong arms around her. She felt safe and warm and loved in his firm embrace. Now she was to ride alone. She was bit nervous, but her father smiled down at her with total confidence.

"Just like I showed you, Suzy", he said calmly. She firmed up her grip on the reins and nudged the pony forward. She rode all afternoon, galloping and trotting her pony from one end of the field to the other, stopping occasionally to let her pony rest and once to eat the olive loaf sandwich and left-over potato salad her mother brought her. Suzy rode till sunset and too exhausted for supper had turned in, anxious to be up early for another day of riding.

Loren watched her daughter sleeping. The last fifteen years had been hard. She was very grateful for help she had received from the engineers at MIT and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's biophysics department. This time every year she missed Roy, his powerful hands and gentle smile -- his laughter, the smell of his pipe and that tune he always whistled. He'd been killed in a car accident just a few weeks after Suzy's ninth birthday. A group of teenagers were coming back from a party in town. They were drunk and driving too fast. They swerved the four-door sedan into the wrong lane and hit the pickup head-on. Suzy was in the pickup truck with her father and her young body was crushed in the debris. They couldn't save her arms and legs and they repaired her shattered spine as best they could, but she would be paralyzed for life. Suzy had suffered extensive brain damage, but they were able to digitize many of her remaining memories. They were stored in a compact case with wires leading from the front. One of the wires connected to a socket installed at back of Suzy's cerebellum.

Loren sat at the edge of the bed in their tiny one-room apartment. Suzy sat in her wheelchair, still jacked into the custom playback console. She snored softly. Loren kissed her forehead gently and smiled. Normally, she would lift Suzy from her chair and place her in their bed, but today was her birthday and it was the happiest day of her life.

© 1998 by Bill Clearlake