2007 Rodney Cox

Marla Jaeger got a call at work from her daughter’s school. She was told that her daughter, Tanya was not feeling well and needed to be taken home. Marla sighed. Tanya was still finding it hard to adjust to the loss of her father. He had died a couple of years ago in an accident at work, leaving his wife and daughter alone.

George and Marla had made sure when they were first married to have good life insurance policies taken out, in case of emergencies. They were frugal with their money and had invested as best as they could. They hoped for the best, but they planned for the worst. So when George was gone, Marla found herself in a good financial position, despite the sudden loss. She had gotten a job and was able to support herself and her daughter. She did what she could to ease Tanya’s grief. It had taken her a long time to recover to the point where she could smile at the world and mean it.

She had gone to many interviews before settling on Santini Imports. Most places had wanted to hire her, but she was looking for a specific kind of employer. Roberto Santini was that person. He ran a small import business that he had started when he had come to America from Italy. He was a large man with a big laugh and nine kids. His business had grown steadily. Marla was the Office Manager and was good at her job. She had chosen Santini because he was a family man, who loved children. Marla knew that Tanya would need extra care over the next several years and that it might require her to take time off from work occasionally. Roberto would understand. He was a good friend and knew about her past and the loss of her husband.

Marla made sure that her work was always caught up and that if she did have to leave, contingency plans were in place to cover for her.

Marla hung up the phone and pulled her long blond hair into a ponytail, sighing to herself. After fastening it, she went to see her boss.

“Roberto, the school called again,” she said.

“Ah, little Tanya’s sick again, eh?” he said with his charming Italian accent. “You go to her, take the afternoon off.”

“Thank you Roberto, it means a lot to me,” Marla said.

Roberto shook his head and raised his hand. “No, it’s nothing. You are the best Office Manager a poor man like me could ever want. Besides I have twenty children, I know what’s it like,” he joked. Any given day, his nine children could range from fifteen to fifty in number depending on his mood. Marla made sure he remembered their birthdays. Roberto was good to her and her daughter, often inviting them over to dinner with his family. He treated her as a daughter rather than an employee. In fact, he treated most of his employees like family.

As she was turning to go, Roberto called her back. “Marla, it’s Tanya’s birthday soon. She should have a present, no? Here, take this to her, I know that she wanted it.”

He held up a small wooden replica of a Viking longboat. It was an import from Norway, and whenever Tanya was in the store, she had begged for it. However, the item was rather expensive, so Marla didn’t think it was possible. Still, it was an exquisite piece, complete with a cloth sail and working oars and rudder. Each shield that lined the side was painted in a different design.

“Roberto, that is too expensive. I can’t accept it. Besides, Tanya’s birthday isn’t until next month,” she protested.

Roberto was insistent. “So it’s a little early, so what? And never you mind the price. To see the smile on a child’s face...that is priceless. What is the price of a toy boat to that? You take this, I won’t take no for an answer.”

Marla took the boat with a smile. “Thank you Roberto, you are so very kind to me.”

Roberto smiled back. “You remind me of my little sister Julia back in Italy. I always looked out for her, and I said to myself when you started here, ‘Roberto, this woman is like Julia, and she needs looking after.’ If I can’t help out family, who can I help? Now go, little Tanya is waiting.”

Marla smiled as she turned to go. She had made the right choice in an employer. He understood the old ways better than most and thought nothing that Marla and her daughter were Heathens, followers of the old Norse religion. In fact, he thought it was nice to have some authentic Old World Charm in the place. While he was a devout Catholic, he understood that there were other paths, other ways. He also realized that a lot of folk practice where he grew up had its roots in pre-Christian faith. Besides, he had always known that Marla was a good woman, and that such a lady would not be doing anything bad, or wrong.

She drove to her daughter’s school and found Tanya in the office looking very forlorn, clutching her stomach. Old tears were dried on her cheeks their trails still visible.

“I’m here, baby,” Marla said to her daughter.

Tanya looked up with a smile. “Mama,” she said, and slowly stood up, went to her mother, threw her arms around her, and began crying again. They were tears of relief. Marla knew that Tanya feared that she might go away like her father did and got “sick” often so that she could see her mother to make sure she was alive. Her heart grieved for her daughter. Tanya would be starting counseling soon and hopefully, she would be able to overcome her sadness.

The principal came over to her. “Mrs. Jaeger, I’m glad you could come so soon. Tanya’s not feeling well today.” Dr. Taggert was an elderly woman who had been a principal for over twenty years. She was a kindly old woman, but she could be stern as drill sergeant when discipline was warranted. Today she was smiling warmly and had a concerned look in her eyes as she looked at the little girl clinging to her mother.

Marla could tell that Dr. Taggert knew that Tanya’s “illness” was most likely not real, that it was an outcome of the death of her father. She was patient with those that needed it.

“You should take her home,” Dr. Taggert said with a wink to let Marla know that the situation was understood.

“Thank you, I will,” said Marla, with a wink of her own. “Come on Tanya, let’s go home.” Tanya mumbled something and took her mother’s hand as the two walked out of school. It was close to lunchtime and it was rainy. The weatherman said that it would most likely keep raining for another week.

“I have a surprise for you. It’s a gift from Mr. Santini so that you’ll feel better,” Marla told Tanya as they walked down the hall to a door leading outside. “Would you like that?”

Tanya perked up a bit and nodded, thinking that the surprise was probably candy. Mr. Santini always seemed to have some tasty treat on hand for Tanya. He reminded Tanya of her grandfather.

“Well,” said Marla, “It’s in the car.”

They reached the car and got in. After making sure safety belts were on, Marla reached into the back seat and brought out the Viking boat and handed it to Tanya. Tanya’s eyes grew very large and round as she held the boat in front of her. She was so astonished that she could not speak.

“Oh, Mama, is it really mine?” she kept repeating. It took Marla several minutes to convince her that it really was hers. Marla knew why the boat was so significant to her daughter. It was because of George, her husband. He had filled Tanya’s ears with tales of Vikings and the Old Norse Gods. He had many pictures and paintings of the Viking ships and had told his daughter all about the boats, and how they worked. When Tanya had seen the boat in the store, it was as if she had found a piece of her father.

Now, a joy filled her daughter’s face. Tanya hugged the ship to herself, smiling. “Can we sail it now, Mama? Please?”

“We’ll have to wait for the rain to stop first, baby,” Marla explained. Tanya looked up at the rain with a sudden hatred.

All week she waited while the rain came down, some days hard, others just a drizzle. Finally, Friday came and the sky was clear and the day bright and hot. Marla got another call from school. Roberto was just as understanding as Marla informed him. She drove to pick up her daughter, stopping briefly at home to retrieve the boat.

As Tanya got in the car and strapped on her seat belt, Marla said to her. “It’s time to sail your boat, Tanya.”

Her daughter’s face lit up. “Really, can we go home and get it?”

“No, it’s already here, in the backseat,” Marla said, reaching over to retrieve it for Tanya, who let out a whoop. “But you have to promise to stay at school and not get sick so much.”

Tanya frowned momentarily, then looked at the boat. “I promise,” she said. Marla drove to the park.

When they arrived, Tanya skipped ahead to the river. Marla noticed a man sitting on a bench looking very sad and absorbed with his thoughts. There was something about him that drew her attention. Tanya skipped by him, and then to Marla’s horror, tripped and fell on the boat. Oh, no! She thought as she clearly heard the crunch of breaking wood. This was the last thing Tanya needed, not her precious boat. Marla’s heart sunk for her daughter.

Marla saw the man on the bench move to her daughter and put an arm around her. Was this some sort of molester? Had he tripped Tanya? Her motherly instincts told her to move fast, before the man could hurt her daughter. But something held her back. There was something about the man that said that he needed healing too. That it was necessary for him to be with Tanya just now. Marla said nothing, watching what would happen.

She heard him offer to help and saw him aid Tanya to her feet. He took out what looked like tape and a bottle of rubber cement and showed it to Tanya. Marla watched in fascination as her daughter held the broken boat up to the man, who gingerly took it from her. He took it to the bench and knelt down beside Tanya and began to repair the boat. He worked quickly and surely, as if he had done this before. It was amazing to watch. Within minutes the shattered boat was whole again. Marla walked closer as the man gave the boat back to her daughter who ran to the river to test it.

Marla had heard him give the boat its name, saying, “Did you know that this is called a longboat and that Vikings used to ride in them when they traveled? They were fierce warriors and when they died in battle, the Valkyries would come and chose the heroes to be taken away to great glory. One Valkyrie was called Shield Bearer. How about we call your boat that? Shield Bearer is strong and is protected from harm. That way you don’t have to worry about your boat being hurt again.”

This was astonishing to Marla. Here was someone who knew the legends, and names of beings in her religion. Someone who had acted with great kindness. She had known that this man would not harm her child. Something spoke to her that he was safe.

She heard her daughter repeat the new name of the boat, “Shield Bearer.” Then she dashed to the water and placed the boat in. Marla was greatly relieved when it floated as if it had never been broken. She moved closer to this amazing man.

“It floats, it floats!” Tanya cried. She looked up. “Mama, it’s fixed.” Then she went back to playing with her boat.

The man looked up at her standing there. He was taller than Marla with gray eyes and sandy colored hair. He seemed surprised and a bit sheepish. “I hope you don’t mind. It was broken, and I used to build boats like that.” He was an attractive man, and Marla could sense that he was a kind man, if rather sad and alone. Something had happened while he had fixed Tanya’s boat. Something he needed.

Marla shook her head slowly. “I don’t mind at all,” she said. “It looks like you needed to be helped as much as she did.”

The man blinked. “I guess I did. My name is Bill Peterson.”

The woman smiled. “Marla Jaeger. Thank you for fixing Tanya’s boat. It’s her favorite toy and she was dying for good weather to come here to play with it.”

“You are welcome,” said Bill. He glanced at his watch. “I better get back to work. It is a good day for sailing.”

Marla nodded and smiled. “I hear tomorrow will be just as good.” She hoped he would get the hint.

Bill smiled back and turned away. He walked with a lightness in his step that Marla was quite sure hadn’t been there before he had helped Tanya. He didn’t see Marla give him a thoughtful look as he went away. She smiled again and turned to go to her daughter, laughing by the river. She hoped he had caught her hint about tomorrow. She planned on bringing Tanya back to the park again. With luck, this Bill Peterson would be here as well. She usually made good choices, and had no doubt that Bill was a choice well made.

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