The children who had made ‘good entries’ in the poetry competition were invited to the presentation. Karen went with her mum. Clearly the organisers had not expected her to be in a wheelchair, no ramps, too many steps and too little room between the tables. Karen, at twelve, was getting just too heavy for her mum but they struggled. Pleased to be there.
It some ways it was gratifying. Clearly she had gained her invitation on the strength of her poem alone. Sometimes she wondered when nice things happened, at school perhaps, if it was just people trying to be extra nice, because of the wheelchair, and her illness.
Karen’s mum pushed a chair to one side and slid her up to a table at the rear of the hall. There were pretty girls and plush boys with their mums and dads at all the small round tables on the dance-hall floor. Waves of excitement rippled with accompanying smiles and shrieks. Waitresses dressed like ‘Alice’ and waiters like the white rabbit offered smoothies in long lidded glasses with straws. Karen chose banana and strawberry. The ‘glass’ was plastic but no matter.
“Don’t drink too much” cautioned her mum, “I don’t know if I can get you to the loo!”
A hush ran round replacing the kerfuffle. A sparkly suited entertainer stepped on to the stage. He thanked them all for coming and said complimentary things. He introduced the judges who added, “how hard it had been to choose between the entries.”
Then they announced the third prize first and a perky, boy with a gappy grin and a captivating smile bounded up the stage steps. The second prize bought up a more serious girl with glasses. Karen loved her dress. And then they called Karen’s name, First prize.
Karen’s mum began to fuss and move furniture. The host and the judges scanned the floor for their prize winner. Karen’s mum inched the wheelchair forward and everyone seemed confused.
Then a great ‘bear of a man’ stepped forward. “Will you let me carry you?” he whispered to Karen. She nodded, she liked him straight away. Unbuckling her straps, he lifted her high over the watching crowd, through the labyrinth of tables. The lacy hem of party dress and her useless slippered feet dangled over his arms. When they reached the stage someone offered a chair but the man shook his head and held Karen, as if she was standing, to receive her prize in her hands which worked as well anyone else’s.
“Standing’ between the other winners, Karen took her bow.