©2001 Robert M. (Bob) Leahy
2110 E. Crosby Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 – 6098
Approximate Word Count: 3,700
Ambrosia’s Silver Bell
“They’re here. They’re here,” Ambrosia yelled as she darted down the stairs from her lookout point at the window in the second-floor hallway.
“Calm down, Honey,” her mother called to her, but Ambrosia was already on her way outside. “Ambrosia?” her mother called again, approaching the front door.
Just as the young girl’s mother was about to step outside and call Ambrosia Hunter in her special mommy voice, her daughter came back up the steps.
“Ambrosia, Honey,” her mother said, “you have to at least give your cousins a chance to get out of their car.”
“But Maggie’s here, Mommy. I saw her.”
“Yes. And Davey, too.”
“You certainly saw a lot through the window, didn’t you.”
“Come on, Mommy. They have to be out of their car by now,” Ambrosia said, as she grabbed her mother’s hand and pulled her through the door toward the steps and the bronze mini-van parked in the driveway. “Hurry, Mommy,” the young girl urged, still tugging on her mother’s arm and pulling her down the steps.
“I’m coming,” she replied with a smile.
Just as Mrs. Hunter reached the sidewalk, the side door of the van swung open. “Ambrosia,” a dark-haired girl yelled as she jumped out of the vehicle.
Letting go of her mother’s arm, Ambrosia darted around the van and grabbed the dark-haired girl in a bear hug. “Maggie!”
While the two cousins giggled and danced in the driveway between the min-van and the tall lilac bushes, the other occupants of the vehicle climbed out.
“Elaine,” Mrs. Hunter said, seeing her sister. “I’m so glad you’re here. How was the drive?”
Elaine McAlister laughed, pulling off her sunglasses as she came around to the front of the van. “The usual. You know how they are, Cathy. ‘Are we there yet?’ ‘How much longer?’ ‘I have to go to the bathroom.’ ‘Can we stop and get something to eat?’ And that was just George.”
“Don’t believe a word of that. I was driving, so I knew how far it was and that we weren’t here yet. I’ll admit to wanting to stop to get something to eat. But Elaine was the one who had to stop and go to the bathroom, and we couldn’t stop at the first two places because they were too icky.”
“Oh, George,” Cathy said with a dismissive wave, “pregnant women just have to go more than non-pregnant men. It’s a fact of life.”
“Thanks, Sis,” Elaine said, giving her sister a hug. “I’m glad to be around someone who understands. These three are no sympathy at all.”
Cathy Hunter noticed her nephew standing at the edge of the walkway. “Why, Davey! Aren’t you going to come and give your aunt a hug?”
The four-year-old inched over after his mother gave an encouraging nod.
“He’s a little shy these days around people he hasn’t seen in a while,” George said in a half-whisper. “He started that about two months ago. We’re not sure why. Maggie was never like that. There wasn’t a lap you could keep her out of,” he added with a laugh.
As Cathy hugged her nephew, she asked, “Would you like some milk and cookies?”
The boy nodded.
And Cathy took him by the hand and led him toward the steps of the large white house. At the top of the porch, she turned and called to her daughter, “Ambrosia, Honey, you help Maggie and her parents bring in the bags.” As she and Davey went into the house, she said, “Let’s make sure it’s not a whole year between our visits.
A few minutes later, Elaine, George and the two girls came into the bright kitchen with its white cabinets and yellow, papered walls. “We’re all moved in,” George announced. “It’s too late to send us away.”
“Sit down,” Cathy said, waving her sister and brother-in-law into chairs. “I’ve just put on some fresh coffee. Ambrosia, could you pour milk for you and Maggie? You can take your milk and cookies up to your room if you promise to bring the dishes back down.”
“Okay, Mommy,” Ambrosia said. “Do you want some cookies?” Ambrosia asked Maggie. The curly blond brought the cookie jar over to her cousin and lifted off the lid.
“Ooh,” Maggie said, pulling out a cookie. “Chocolate chip. I love these.”
”Do you want some milk?” Ambrosia asked Maggie.
The dark-haired girl nodded and smiled.
Ambrosia took two glasses out of the drainer on the counter and brought them to the table. She took the milk from the refrigerator and filled the glasses just over half full. Ambrosia even remembered napkins. “Take another cookie,” Ambrosia said, pushing the cookie jar closer to her guest. And a moment later the two girls were on their way upstairs with a plate of cookies and two glasses of milk.
“Do you like cats, Davey?” Cathy asked her nephew.
The little boy nodded.
“Great. Why don’t you follow me? You can sit on the couch with Nelliebelle. She likes to sit in people’s laps while they watch television. She likes cartoons with mice in them. What about you?”
* * * * *
Around bites of cookie, Maggie asked if there were other kids around.
“Lots,” Ambrosia replied. “Karen and Becky--they’re twins--live just around the corner in a big, red brick house. Mary Beth lives across the street. And there are a whole bunch who live down toward school.”
“Jack and Toby live across the street. But they aren’t twins.”
“Are they yucky?”
“No. Not too yucky.”
“Where’s Emily?” Maggie asked.
“Emily—my big sister—she’s up at the junior high. She had soccer practice this morning.”
“Davey’s always bugging me.”
“Emily’s not too bad,” Ambrosia said.
Ambrosia gulped down the last of her milk and wiped her mouth on her napkin. Maggie finished her cookie before drinking the last of her milk.
Maggie started for the door with her glass.
“Do you want more milk?”
“No,” the dark-haired girl replied.
“Then where are you going?”
“I was going to bring the glass to the kitchen.”
“We can do that later, Ambrosia told her. As long as we remember to bring the glasses down when we go, we can wait.”
Maggie turned around and came back into the room and set the glass next to her cousin’s on the dresser near the bed.
“Do you want to unpack your stuff?” Ambrosia asked. “I cleaned out a whole drawer for you to use,” she said, pulling open a big drawer in the dresser.
As they pulled the clothes out of her suitcase, Maggie explained,” Mommy bought me all new underwear before we left on this trip. And she bought me this shirt,” she said, holding up a blue top with pink roses embroidered along the neckline. And these pink jeans are new. I wanted some yellow ones, but we couldn’t find any in my size the day we went shopping.”
“I like these,” Ambrosia said, taking the pink jeans and folding them into the drawer. “Ooh,” the curly blond said, holding up a long-sleeve purple turtleneck sweater. “I like this one.”
“That’s new, too. We got that while we were at Uncle Billy’s. It was cold there, and I didn’t have any long-sleeve shirts.”
“Ooh, Maggie, where did you get this?” Ambrosia asked, pulling a small silver bell out of the suitcase.
“That’s my silver bell,” Maggie said. Uncle Bill—that’s my daddy’s brother—gave it to me. He’s real nice. He doesn’t have any kids. So he says I’m his special girl. He said it was supposed to be my birthday present. But he already sent me this watch for my birthday. He said he could give his special girl as many birthday presents as he wanted to. I really do like the bell. I think it’s my favorite. Ring it.”
Ambrosia gave the little bell a tiny shake. A soft, high-pitched tingle echoed through the room. “It even sounds pretty,” the curly blond said.
“I know,” Maggie replied. “I sometimes sit here and hold it and ring it in the morning before anyone else gets up.”
“Don’t you get in trouble?”
“No. Nobody can hear it except me.”
“Not even your mom?”
“Nobody,” Maggie replied as she walked over to Ambrosia and took the bell from her. “Did you see the little horses?”
“Uncle Bill says they are called unicorns. Have you ever heard of them?”
Ambrosia shook her head.”
I hadn’t until I got this bell. Then I got on my uncle’s computer and looked it up. There are all sorts of WebSites about unicorns. Unicorns are magical. And they only like girls. But their girls—maidens was the word they called them—had to be pure.”
“That’s what the WebPages said. Only girls with pure hearts,” Maggie said. “But unicorns are hard to find, nowadays.” Uncle Bill said it was because once, a long time ago, some really bad men tried to catch all of the unicorns. And, since men aren’t supposed to catch them, all the unicorns ran away to hide. And, wherever they went, the must have liked it better because most of them never came back. But Uncle Bill said I deserved to have unicorns, so he gave me this bell. He told me that if I am really good and I rang this bell when one was walking by, that it might come to me.”
“It just sounds like a story,” Ambrosia said.
“But it’s not, because Uncle Bill told me. And he wouldn’t lie to me. He wouldn’t.”
Ambrosia didn’t say anything for a moment. Then she asked, “Can I ring it again?”
“Sure,” Maggie replied, handing Ambrosia the bell. “But there are too many people around for a unicorn to come now. That’s why I ring it in early in the morning before anyone gets up.”
The girls played in Ambrosia’s room for most of the afternoon. Ambrosia showed Maggie her collection of dolls, her books, and all of her favorite games. The dark-haired girl nodded and smiled. And, for the rest of the afternoon, Ambrosia held on to the little, silver bell.
And Maggie told her curly blond cousin all about all of her things at home.
“I wish we could go to your house,” Ambrosia said. “I would love to see your room.”
“But your room is so much nicer than mine,” Maggie told her.
* * * * *
That night, Ambrosia crept up to her bed. Maggie was already asleep on the rollaway bed Emily had helped Ambrosia make up that morning. Her dark-haired cousin had gone to bed shortly after dinner. Aunt Elaine said Maggie had had a long day.
After brushing her teeth and putting on her nightgown, Ambrosia climbed into bed. As she tried to close her eyes, she noticed the light reflecting off the little, silver bell sitting on her dresser. She got out of bed and retrieved the bell, picking it up carefully to make sure it didn’t ring. Just as she got back under the covers, she heard her mother coming up the stairs, and she quickly thrust the bell under her pillow. Her head barely hit the pillow before her mother and Aunt Elaine stuck their heads in the door. “Are you girls okay?” her mother asked her.
“Yes,” Ambrosia answered without opening her eyes. “Maggie’s already asleep.”
“Night, Honey,” Mrs. Hunter said. “Good night, Ambrosia,” said Aunt Elaine. They closed the door as they left the room.
With the door closed, the only light in the room came from a streetlight through the cracks in the blinds on the window. Ambrosia had trouble falling asleep. For a while, she stared at the pattern of light made by the streetlight shining through the large sycamore tree in the front yard. Then she focused on the soft, white glow of the streetlight, Ambrosia turned from side to side, unable to keep her eyes closed. Even the tight grip she kept around the little, silver bell was not enough to comfort her.
Her bedroom door cracked open. “What’s the matter, Ambrosia?” her mother asked, peeking into the room and seeing her daughter stare back at her.
“Too much excitement?” she asked, coming over to the bed and tucking her back under the covers.
“I don’t know.”
“Try and get some sleep,” she said, kissing her on the forehead.
“I’ll try,” the curly blond replied, pulling the bell up onto her chest and rolling onto her side. “I’ll try.” After her mother left the room, closing the door behind her, Ambrosia brought the little bell out from under the covers and looked at it once more. The outlines of the unicorn were just visible in the shadowy light coming through her bedroom window. She felt the outline with her thumb and sighed. She tucked the bell under her pillow and rolled over and tried to sleep.
When Ambrosia did fall asleep, she dreamed of the unicorns that were on the little, silver bell. She dreamt of the men who tried to catch them. Ambrosia saw herself out among the unicorns on a moonlit field. The animal’s white coats glistened in the silvery light, and their single horns sparkled as their heads bobbed up and down.
But the unicorns were not happy. They snorted at the men crossing the field toward them. The unicorns pawed the ground with angry hoof clops as the men came closer and closer, carrying ropes. Then, all the unicorns reared and snorted. They turned and galloped off toward a far-off mountain.
Ambrosia turned to run with the unicorns. But she was only a small person, and she could not move as fast. Soon she was alone on the field. She was all by herself and left to face the men who still moved toward her. She tried to call the unicorns back. She rang and rang and rang the bell. But they did not return.
“Come back. Oh, please come back,” Ambrosia cried.
“What’s the matter, Ambrosia?” her mother asked, gently shaking her daughter from sleep.
“What’s wrong, Sweetheart,” Cathy Hunter asked, kneeling beside her daughter’s bed.
“They all ran away. And the men. They kept coming after me.”
“Who ran away?” her mother asked.
“The unicorns,” Ambrosia replied. “I tried and tried and tried to call them back. I kept ringing the silver bell,” she said. Then stopped suddenly. Her hands were both empty.
“Why would the men come after you?” her mother asked. “There are no men coming after you.” Cathy Hunter sat down on the edge of the bed, pulling her daughter up and into her lap. “Everything’s all right, Ambrosia,” she said. “You’re home in your own room and in your own bed. Nobody can hurt you here.”
Ambrosia stared into her mother’s dark eyes for a moment. She sniffed once before wiping her eyes on the sleeve of her gown. “I’m okay.”
Tucked into bed once more with another kiss, Ambrosia waited until the door was closed and she was alone in her room. Then the curly blond sat up in the bed and lifted the pillow. “Where is it?” she asked herself. “Where is it?” She got out of bed and started to tear through the blankets and sheets looking for Maggie’s little silver bell.
* * * * *
After breakfast, Ambrosia ran back to her room. But as she approached her bedroom door, she could hear the faintest tinkling of a bell.
“Give me that,” Ambrosia yelled, rushing into the room and seeing her cousin Davey sitting on the floor at the edge of her bed.
David cowered as Ambrosia neared. “I was just looking at it. I didn’t hurt it. Honest.”
Ambrosia jerked the bell out of the small boy’s hand. He started to cry.
“Shut up. Someone will hear you.”
“I don’t care,” Davey sniffed. “You hurt me. And I wasn’t hurting it”
“It’s not yours. You shouldn’t touch things that aren’t yours.”
“I just saw it on the floor,” he said.
“Don’t you ever come into my room and touch any of my things,” Ambrosia said. “Do you hear me? Now get out.”
Davey was crying again.
“What’s going on up there?” Ambrosia’s mother called as she started up the stairs.
“Ambrosia hit me.”
“Did not,” Ambrosia said. “Besides, Davey was in my room.”
As her mother reached to top of the stairs, Ambrosia stuffed the little bell under her pillow. Then she sat down on the bed just as her mother came into the room.
“I want to know what’s going on up here.”
“Davey was touching my things.”
“I didn’t do anything. Honest,” David said. “I was just--”
Ambrosia cut him off. “He was in here and touching my things. You have to make him stop, Mom. It’s not right. You’re not supposed to touch other people’s things.”
“Ambrosia,” her mother said. “That’s enough.”
“That’s enough. Now, Davey,” she said, turning toward her nephew, “you really shouldn’t be up here in Ambrosia’s room without permission. Why don’t you go back down stairs? I think your dad’s watching television.”
Davey hung his head. “I didn’t hurt it.”
“I know you wouldn’t hurt anything on purpose, Davey. I know you wouldn’t. And so does Ambrosia. But that’s not the point. This is Ambrosia’s room. And these are Ambrosia’s things. And we just don’t touch other people’s things unless they tell us it is all right. Do you understand?”
Davey looked up at his aunt. She was smiling down at him and that made him feel better. He smiled back.
“Do you understand?” Cathy Hunter asked again.
The little boy nodded.
“Then you run along and find your dad.”
As Davey left the room, Cathy Hunter turned to face her daughter. “As for you, young lady,” she began, “you are not to hit your nephew or anyone else just because he touches something in your room.”
“All you have to do is ask him to leave, Ambrosia,” her mother replied before Ambrosia could finish her complaint. “Now, what was he touching that you were so concerned about?”
“For all this fuss, Ambrosia?”
“Ambrosia, I want the truth.
“He was just in here—“
“He was just in here, Ambrosia.” Cathy Hunter said. “Davey said he didn’t hurt it. I want to know what it was he didn’t hurt.”
Ambrosia lay back on her pillow.
“What’s under the pillow, Ambrosia?”
“I don’t like to be lied to.”
“But—“ Ambrosia began as her mother leaned over to reach under the pillow.
“No, Mom,” Ambrosia pleaded.
Her mother ignored her.
“Okay,” Ambrosia said, sitting back up. She reached under the pillow and retrieved the tiny, silver bell.
Her mother stared at the object. “Where did you get that?”
Ambrosia turned her head away.
The young girl took a quick look at her mother, before she turned away again.
I’m counting to three,” her mother told her. One. Two.”
”It’s Maggie’s,” Ambrosia admitted.
“I took it last night.”
“Why?” her mother asked.
“It was so pretty,” Ambrosia said.
“But it wasn’t yours.”
“Ambrosia,” her mother said. “This is worse than what Davey did. He’s only four. And he was probably just holding it and maybe making it ring. He didn’t know he was doing anything wrong. He wasn’t taking something of yours. But you have. You’ve taken something that belongs to someone else—someone you know and you say you love. How could you do it?”
* * * * *
Later in the morning, Ambrosia found Maggie out by lilac bushes. When she reached her cousin, she stopped. She looked at Maggie for a moment; then she looked away.
“What is it?” Maggie asked.
“What’s the matter?”
Ambrosia opened up her hand and held it out to her cousin.
“I don’t understand.” Maggie said, taking the bell from her cousin. “Did something happen to it?”
Ambrosia sighed. “I took it last night.”
“I had it in bed with me.”
“Oh, I’ve done that,” Maggie said, smiling. “Sometimes I take it to bed with me. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel happy.”
“It didn’t make me feel happy,” Ambrosia said. “I had a bad dream.”
“The unicorns ran away. And the men kept chasing them. Then the unicorns were gone and the men came after me. I rang and rang the bell. But the unicorns wouldn’t come back.” Ambrosia started to cry.
Maggie reached out and hugged her curly blond cousin.
“Unicorns don’t like men,” Maggie said. “Remember? That’s what it said. They only like maidens of pure heart.”
“There were a whole bunch of men,” Ambrosia said.
“Well, see,” Maggie said. “The unicorns ran away from the men.”
“I thought they ran away from me,” Ambrosia said.
Maggie just looked at her cousin.
But what about the pure heart? Ambrosia wondered.
Maggie rang the little bell. She giggled at the bell’s high-pitched tinkle. “What would you do if a unicorn really came when the bell rang?” Maggie asked her cousin.
Ambrosia thought a moment and then replied, “I don’t know. Mommy probably wouldn’t let me keep it.”
“Mine neither,” agreed Maggie.
Just then, Maggie’s dad came to the front door and called out to the girls, “Your mothers think I should take you and Davey to a movie or something. Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“Oh, yes,” the cousins screamed at once.
“Okay. Get your things, and we’ll head on out!”
Ambrosia started to run toward the house.
“I’ll wait here,” Maggie said. She held out her hand toward Ambrosia.
The curly haired girl came back toward her cousin. She reached out her own hand and took the little, silver bell from her.
“Could you put it on my bed?” Maggie asked. “And would you bring me my purse when you come back out?”
“Sure,” Ambrosia said. She smiled. Then spun around and darted into the house.