An Ordinary Saturday Morning on Bridge Street
A short story for children by
Saturday morning. And all was quiet at number 25 Bridge St., the home of the Askew family. This was not normal.
Wirimu O’Reilly who lived next door at number 27 glanced out of his window expecting at any moment to hear an explosion which would rattle his tea cups. But all was quiet.
On the other side of the Askew house, at number 23 the two elderly sisters, Elsie and Gladys unreeled a hose pipe in their garden, ready in case the shed in the Askew house caught fire again. But no puffs of smoke came drifting over the hedge this morning, and the two sisters looked at one another with some disappointment. The antics in the Askew household were a source of entertainment to the whole street. Mr Askew was an inventor. During the week he worked quietly at the local library. But on week-ends he became a different man, always dreaming up new gadgets some of which ended with a bang, some of which caught fire, and some which actually worked.
On this particular Saturday morning, the Askew family had all gone out very early. Mrs Askew – Flora to her friends – was on night shift at the hospital where she worked as a nurse. Mr Askew – Dan to everyone who knew him – had woken their two children, Tom and Dorothy, early to take them for a surprise. They grumbled into their cornflakes, unconvinced that any surprise was worth getting up for at 6.00am, but their father bundled them into the car cheerfully saying, “This will be an adventure you will never forget.”
“So where are we going?” asked Tom and Dorothy for the umpteenth time.
“It”s a surprise,” answered Dan. “And a lovely calm day for it too.” Then he started to whistle tunelessly to show that he was not going to answer any more questions.
They drove over the bridge at the end of their street, round the roundabout, past the hospital where Flora worked and then up the hill leading out of town. A few kilometers further on, Dan turned left into an open grass field where a tractor was parked.
However, it was not the tractor that caught Tom and Dorothy’s attention, but the giant red and yellow striped hot-air balloon that was being inflated. They could hear the roar of the flame machine and see the spike of fire which heated the air causing the balloon to swell and rise. Beneath it was a basket with strong sides.
“We’re not…. Are we…?” asked both kids, at once.
“We is.” said Dan “We’re going up in a balloon.”
Ten minutes later, they scrambled into the basket under the vast canopy of the balloon. Accompanying them was the farmer whose hobby was ballooning.
The burner went on. The flame roared and the balloon began to lift.
“Cast off,” cried the farmer, and his wife, untied the rope and threw it aboard calling “Bon Voyage” as the basket lifted.
The movement was so smooth and so steady! Within seconds they were well above the field and waving down to the farmer’s wife below.
“Where are we going?” asked Dorothy.
“Wherever the wind takes us,” said Dan.
Soon they were drifting over the farmland. They could see their shadow in the open fields. The farmer stopped the burner and the silence was uncanny, for the only sound was the slight straining of the ropes which held the basket.
Tom stuck his hand out from the side, and his face was full of surprise. “I can’t feel the wind, dad.”
Dan smiled, “That’s because we are travelling at the speed of the wind.” he said.
“How do we get down again?” asked Dorothy, trying to keep her voice steady for she was feeling more than a little afraid, though at the same time she knew how proud she would feel when she told her pals at school what she had done. She felt her dad’s hand take hers, and give it a squeeze.
“Don’t worry about getting down. Just enjoy the flight. Look over there. The wind’s going to carry us over our town. Look you can just see the hospital where mum works.”
“Can she see us?”
“I’m sure she can.”
“And there’s our school,” shouted Tom. “YAAAAAAY”
Some time later they began to lose altitude and, as chance would have it, ended up flying almost over their house.
“There’s Wirimu, cleaning his car….” called Tom
“… and Elsie and Gladys in their garden.” added Dorothy.
They waved and shouted and were rewarded when Wirimu O’Reilly looked up, shading his eyes from the sun, and waved.
“Look, we’re going to land on the golf course,” said Dan. And sure enough, with the burner roaring in short bursts, they descended slowly and touched down on a patch of rough grass near hole number 11. All the golfers gathered round and clapped them like champions.
When they reached home, mum was already waiting, “Well my lovely family,” she said. “I saw you all come floating by. How was your adventure?”
“Great!” said Tom. “Fantastic!” said Dorothy.
They all turned and looked at Dan. “Well,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “It has given me some interesting new ideas.”
“And that,” whispered Tom to Dorothy, nudging her with his elbow, “means trouble.”
During the whole of next week, Dan worked in his shed every evening. There was a lot of banging and clattering. Then he dragged their old canvas tent down from the attic and borrowed Flora’s sewing machine and the sound of him sewing went on until late in the night. And when they asked him what he was doing he tapped his finger on the side of his nose and whispered “Top secret. Hush hush. All will be revealed on Saturday.”
And on Saturday, there it was: a one man, hot air, flying tent. The canvas had been stitched to make a balloon like a sausage and the heat was supplied by a pair of old blow lamps that Dan had welded together. “Ready for a test flight,”said Dan fastening himself into the harness. He turned on the heat. The tent slowly filled and rose above him… And then… gently, Dan was lifted off the ground and floated up the side of the house trailing a cord behind him that was tied to a stake in the ground. Moments later he stopped the blow lamps and began a slow descent.
Despite themselves, Mum and Tom and Dorothy were impressed.
“You know what this means?” said Dan grandly. “Now I can finish painting those upstairs windows.”
And so it was. If you’d passed number 25 Bridge Street on a Saturday during the next two weeks you would have seen Dan floating by the side of the house, paintbrush in hand, while Flora handed him cups of tea through an upstairs window.
Word spread. Soon Dan was in demand.
Wirimu’s nephew had thrown his trainers in the air and the laces had caught over the telephone wires. “Would you mind..?” asked Wirimu
“No problem,” said Dan.
The local rugby club needed the top of its goal post painted. “Could Mr Askew…”
Then one day, the sisters Elsie and Gladys, came knocking at the door, Their Siamese cat, Old Blue Eyes, was trapped up the tree in their garden. “Could Mr Askew please….”
Minutes later, the burners were on, the tent-balloon was filling and rising beside the tree.
“Soon have the cat safe” said Dan as his feet left the ground.
And so it was. At the top of the tree the cat stopped miaowing and jumped onto Dan’s shoulders and settled down to purr. It was then that Dan realized that in his haste he had forgotten to tie his safety rope. Worse, the burners had stuck and Dan could not turn them off.
“Help,” he yelled.
The sisters Elsie and Gladys saw what was happening and grabbed the trailing rope. But the lifting was strong. “Help” they called.
Tom, Dorothy and Flora came running from the garden next door. They grabbed hold of the sisters. “Help’ they all called.
Finally, big Wirimu, came charging through the hedge and seized the rope. That made the difference. Working together they were able to pull Dan down and Wirimu, with one strong twist, turned the burners off.
“Right,” said Flora, picking up her secateurs and cutting the strings attached to the tent. “No more flying for you, my lad.”
But Dan was not listening. His eyes had that gleam. His next invention was already taking shape. A retractable device for lifting cats out of trees. “I’m going to need a very long fishing rod,” he said, “and a spring.”