The Red Tricycle
By Dawn DeBraal
She looked away when she saw the woman and her child picking through the dumpster. It hurt too much to see that. She wanted to help but, how could she? The little boy in rain boots held up the broken tricycle to his mother. She shook her head “no” and they continued to go through the many bags looking for something. Something to eat? Angela, struck by this thought, started to cry. By the time she got to the next stop light, she had to turn around. She bought two breakfasts at the next fast food store returning to the dumpster. The woman and child had moved on. She called out to them, ashamed that she had not reacted quickly enough. She looked at the broken tricycle that the little boy had picked up. It wasn’t bad, missing a pedal and a back wheel. She took that to her car, leaving the fresh breakfast in front of the dumpster with a note letting the mother know she had seen their plight and was moved by it.
She took the tricycle to her neighbor who painted it bright red, rebuilding it from parts he had. It was his calling, fixing old bikes and trikes giving them to children who had none. He’d done it for years. Angela admired her neighbor for caring enough to get involved. Until the morning she watched the young mother and child, the homeless were drunks and dead beats that didn’t have a job. She didn’t know what forced a person into that circumstance. Everyone was a few mortgage payments away from that reality, after losing their job. She wondered what the mother’s story was.
Angela had a small business she named “Papyrus Creations” She made specialty paper from old recycled newspapers and cardboard. She made cards and stationery for those who still wrote letters. The cards were especially beautiful. She framed some of her art and was able to sell that along with her biggest seller, the origami mobiles she created.
No matter how she tried, she couldn’t shake the vision from the other day the one of the mother and the boy. That rusty red tricycle burned into her mind. The mother shaking her head “no” at the little boy and his crestfallen look of defeat. She went by the dumpster daily to see if she could catch the woman and her son. She kept the rebuilt tricycle in the back of the store hoping she would find them again. She didn’t know how long of a distance those little legs needed to walk every day to find food.
On a cool morning several weeks later she spied them again, the mother with the small boy’s hand in hers pulling him along at a fast pace. He looked tired and hungry. The mother smiled as she urged him to keep moving. They were only a few blocks from her store. Angela parked her car behind the building, moving around to open the business at the sidewalk entrance when the mother and son came by. She smiled at them. The little boy had tears coming down his cheeks and the mother seemed preoccupied. Angela said,
“Good morning.” The woman startled, appeared embarrassed as she said,
“Good morning.” back to Angela, lowering her face looking at the sidewalk. “Come along Timmy, we’ll be late.” The little boy said he was tired. Angela offered the woman some coffee.
“Please come in, to my shop and warm up.” The woman eyed her suspiciously. But the little boy begged for her to go in the “pretty” store, so she relented. Angela offered her several kinds of coffee as she spun the carousel of assorted flavors of coffees and broths. She asked if the little boy would like some chicken broth. The mother nodded her head approvingly. Angela put the small cup in the brewer. When the chicken broth was done, Angela put an ice cube in it to cool down before handing it to the mother. She put the next flavored cup into the machine. When everyone had their coffee, and soup, Angela asked the little boy how old he was. He told her he was three and a half.
“I have a tricycle in the back would you like to ride it?” The little boy looked at his mother, she nodded slightly. Out came the freshly painted bike. Timmy rode around the store ringing the little silver bell in glee as the red trike with silver streamers raced in circles.
At first, Angela made small talk. She told the woman she had started the business by making specialty paper. The mother, Helen, seemed interested in her story. She smiled at the joy on her son’s face. Such a wonderful thing Angela offered her son. When Angela finished her story, she asked Helen what her story was. Helen looked a bit uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry, why would you care to open your door to us?” Angela told her how she was struck that morning several weeks ago seeing Helen and her son at the dumpster. I wanted to help that day. I took the tricycle your son held up to you. I took it to my neighbor and who redid the trike for me. That’s for him if he wants it. Angela gazed at the little boy who went around in circles. “I went back with breakfast and put it in front of the dumpster that morning. I left you a note, but you were gone.”
“I did get that breakfast and the note, thank you. Helen sipped on her coffee and sighed. My story is, I have cancer.” She told Angela. “We lost our house when I couldn’t make the mortgage payments. I lost my job because I took so much sick time. My husband left me. He couldn’t handle my illness. I don’t know where he is. I worry about what will happen to me when I can’t get out to find food for Timmy and myself.” Angela’s heart went out to the woman. They continued to talk when the idea hit Angela.
“There is a small living area above, it’s not much but I can offer it to you in exchange for cleaning the store.” Helen’s eyes lit up. You would do that for us?” Angela led them on the narrow stairway to the second floor of the building. Because of the inside entrance, she was not able to rent it legally. Helen and Timmy would have a place to live rent free, and she would have someone watching the building at night. The small apartment had a kitchen/living room combination, a bathroom, and a bedroom.
“It’s a little dusty, but I am sure you will be able to make it a nice place.” Helen cried and hugged Angela. At first, Angela restrained herself, but then hugged her back.
Angela called a social worker, who was able to get Helen enrolled at the hospital with a program for uninsured people. The reality of the situation was that Helen was never going to get better. Timmy was placed with a preschool program a few blocks from the store. He had breakfast and lunch regularly five days a week. They were able to get vouchers for food. Things looked up for them.
Angela and Helen became friends. As Helen started to go downhill, Angela offered to find her husband. She could hire a private detective. Helen shook her head. Timmy would not be safe with his father. It worked out for the best that he’d left her.
“What kind of a man leaves his sick wife and a two-year-old child?” she said sadly. One morning, Angela walked into the store to find Helen on the floor of the apartment. Helen was near the end of her life. The ambulance took her to the hospital. Angela and Timmy followed. Angela didn’t have a car seat for the little boy. She put him in the back seat buckling him up tightly. In the emergency room, the doctor shook his head. Helen was not going to make it. Angela took Timmy by the hand and walked him into the waiting room. With her arms around Timmy, Angela explained what was happening. Timmy knew this would happen with his mommy she had explained it to him.
A social worker came into the hospital, after a while she came out of the emergency waiting room. Angela sat with Timmy as he lay against her allowing her to soothe and distract him with stroking his face. He was almost asleep.
“Miss Benz?” the social worker asked.
“Yes!” Angela had Timmy remain on the couch as she came forward.
“Helen has asked you to sign this paperwork, she is giving you custody of her son upon her death.” Angela inhaled sharply. She looked at the little man sitting on the couch bobbing his legs up and down. She had never pictured herself a mother, but Timmy needed her. She nodded she would take the child, signing the papers.
“We will be contacting you regarding the adoption procedure. Helen asked for this to happen on the day you introduced us. She was quite taken by your generosity and your kind heart.” Angela cried. Timmy came up and put his hand in her hand.
“Timmy your mommy is very sick. She isn’t going to get any better. She has asked me to take care of you. Would you like that?” Timmy nodded.
“Don’t cry Angel, my mommy promised me when we moved to the apartment that an angel was going to take care of me when she went to live with God, and I shouldn’t be afraid. It will be alright.” Angela pulled Timmy tight to her side grateful she had stuck her neck out for them. She would be here for Timmy when the time came, to fulfill his mother’s promise.