A Prize Well Earned


Mindy unfolded her collapsible cane, ready to go when her mother had the car warmed up.

“Come on, Mindy,” she heard her mother call. “Time to go.”

Mindy clutched a manila envelope under one arm and went down the steps of the porch. One, two, three, she counted silently, moving her cane down the steps as she went. Then she moved it back and forth on the sidewalk, exactly twenty-three steps to the car.

“Let me carry that, honey,” her mother suggested, taking the envelope from Mindy’s outstretched hand. Mindy folded up her cane and slid into the front seat.

She held her face out the window as the car moved off down the street. The air felt cool and brisk and made her hair dance. Mindy was so excited she could hardly stand it. Today she was going to enter her poem in the children’s poetry contest the school district was sponsoring. She had carefully written several poems on her braillewriter, then picked out the best one. Her mother had typed it up for her to give to the contest judges.

“This is very good,” her mother had said. “I hope the judges will think so too.”

Mindy was hopeful, but it was exciting just to have written a good poem. She leaned back, humming a little tune to herself. “Tell me what it’s like outside,” she asked her mother after a while. “I can hear some birds singing and the air feels cool. Is the sun out?”

“No,” said her mother. “It’s hiding behind a cloud. It may even rain today.”

Mindy hoped it would rain. She liked to feel the drops against her face or hear the rain beating on the roof. She liked the smell of damp earth and the booming thunderclaps.

“We’re almost there,” Mindy said. “I can hear the trains that run near the school and smell the flowers that grow by the fence.”

Mindy put her fingers on her watch that had no glass to cover the hands. “It’s four-fifteen,” she said. “We still have a few minutes.”

After the car had been parked at the school, Mindy opened the door and stepped out. Extending her cane, she asked, “Mother, may I have my poem now?”

“Just a moment,” her Mother replied, “until I explain where we’re going. Turn right, up one step, then about five steps to me,” directed her mother, who had become very good at judging distances for Mindy.

Mindy followed her mother’s directions, then reached for the envelope. Tucking it under her arm, she walked beside her mother, stepping up when the steps went up and down when they went down. Using her cane, she could go anywhere as long as she knew the right direction.

Someone was walking behind them. Judging by the click of high heels and the shuffle of another pair of shoes, Mindy was pretty sure it was a woman and a boy. Probably another contestant with his mother, she thought. The woman was murmuring, and Mindy could barely hear what she was saying.

“Look at that girl,” Mindy heard the woman say. “Poor little thing. How dreadful it must be to be blind. I hope the judges take that into consideration and give her a prize. She really deserves one.”

Mindy clutched her envelope tighter. She had worked hard on her poem, and she certainly didn’t want to win because she was sightless. Just before they entered the auditorium, she took her mother’s arm. “About how many steps to the judges’ table?” she asked.

Her mother looked in the door and replied, “About ten steps straight ahead.”

“Do I have to write anything?” Mindy whispered.

“No,” answered her mother. “It looks like the judges are doing all the writing. You just have to answer their questions.”

Mindy folded up her cane. “Hold this for me, please,” she said.

Mindy slowly walked the ten steps. When she felt the edge of the table she stopped, held out the manila envelope, and someone took it from her.

“Name?” a man’s voice asked.

Mindy instantly turned slightly to face him. “Mindy Martin,” she replied.

“Age?”

“Ten.”

“School?”

“Franklin,” responded Mindy, hoping that she was looking straight into the face of the man asking the questions.

“Thank you,” said the man.

Mindy turned around and walked the ten steps back to her mother. “How did I do?” she asked, squeezing her mother’s hand.

“Just fine,” whispered her mother. She helped Mindy to a chair next to the middle aisle.

Everyone listened while the judges read the children’s poetry aloud. Then they waited while the judges had a conference to decide who the winners were.

After conferring with each other, a man walked to a microphone at the front of the room. Everyone was quiet when he cleared his throat. “We have reached a decision,” he said. “The first-place winner is … Charles Monroe, for his poem ‘Sunflowers.’”

The audience clapped appreciatively, and Charles went up to the microphone to read his poem. Everyone listened carefully and nodded in agreement that his poem deserved a prize.

The man stepped forward again after Charles had finished.

“The second-place winner is … ,” he paused a moment. Mindy held her breath, and turned her face in the direction of the man’s voice. “Mindy Martin for her poem ‘Rain.’”

“Mother?” she questioned anxiously.

“Out to the aisle and then twenty steps straight ahead,” her mother whispered back. Mindy stood up, afraid she might trip or walk into someone’s chair, but somehow she made it up to the microphone.

“Mindy, would you please read your poem,” the man said and put a paper into her outstretched hand.

Mindy didn’t even pretend to look at the paper. She knew the poem by heart. She turned her happy face toward the audience, toward where she thought her mother was and began to recite her poem:

I love to hear the gentle rain
Dancing on my windowpane.
I know how fast the thirsty ground
Laps up the drops that sprinkle down.
And when the rain is pouring hard,
Making puddles in the yard,
I love to snuggle warm in bed
And hear the rain pound overhead.

The crowd applauded in approval. Mindy made her way back to her mother, who gave her a little hug. “I knew you could do it!” she said.

“And I won on my own,” said Mindy, “because my poem was good, not because I’m blind.”

Mindy’s mother gave her another hug. “You deserved to win, Mindy. Your poem was good. No one could argue with that.”

When the contest was over, Mindy put out her hand.

“I’ll take my cane now,” she said, smiling.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown