When I was eight years old, I entered a writing contest. I somehow found the time to do this in between writing a certain young movie star love letters and looking for rusty nails around the property. The demands on my time were vast.
My grandmother had given me a subscription to a now defunct magazine that catered to precocious children. I believe she was trying to improve my literature considerations, because all I would read back then was Teen Bop Magazine.
But the magazine issue I received from my grandmother’s gifted subscription was different the month in which this story takes place.
Different, as in, I actually read it.
And different, as in, in this issue, the magazine was holding a contest.
It was for ages up to ten years old.
The prize was a platypus.
Yes. A platypus.
It did not say a stuffed platypus. It did not say a toy platypus.
Believe me, I could not believe my eyes. I checked.
The prize was a platypus.
Now maybe because this magazine was supposed to be for “gifted” children, they assumed that such children would know that they would never actually give away a real platypus. But I was no such child.
I wanted that platypus.
That real, lovely, flippered little darling.
All I had to do was write a short story about how an animal got a certain characteristic.
Like how a dog got its fur. Or how a tiger got its stripes.
And a gifted child… A brilliant child… Well, we all know what they would have chosen to write about.
But, again, I wasn’t really reading the magazine. It did not have posed pictures of teenage boys I could stalk, in its pages.
So, I picked the animal I was obsessed with at the time.
I spent all day writing, “How the toad got its warts.” I would tell you how, but I sent my only copy to that magazine twenty nine years ago. I would like to say it was ground breaking. But it probably went something like this:
One day in a far away land, there lived a little girl. The little girl loved a boy. She wrote him all of the time. He never wrote her back. His name was Sean. One day a witch came to Sean and said, “If you do not write Jenni, I will curse you.”
But Sean did not write Jenni.
So, the witch cursed him with warts all over his… (remember, I wrote this as a child) face.
And Sean cried.
The witch said, “Until you write Jenni, you will always have these warts.”
But Sean did not want to write Jenni. So, he searched the land for a cure.
He asked a monkey if he knew how to cure his warts. But the monkey just scratched his head.
He asked a zebra how to get rid of his warts, but the zebra just stomped his hooves.
He asked a snake how to get rid of his warts but the snake hissed and Sean ran.
He ran until he came to a pond. Then he sat on the edge of the pond and he began to cry.
Sean looked up.
A shiny toad was sitting in front of him. It was sunning its dry skin on a leaf.
“Do you know how to cure my warts?” Sean asked the toad.
The toad turned its head and looked sideways at him. “Croak!” is all it answered.
Being entirely fed up and having no tissue or handkerchief on hand, Sean grabbed the toad and wiped his wet warty face all over the toad’s body.
When he pulled away, something miraculous had happened. All of his warts had been transferred to the toad.
And that is why the toad has its warts. And that is why Jenni never got a letter back from Sean.
I do remember it said, “The End,” because I used every color in my multi-colored pen to flourish the giant cursive letters in which that sentence was proclaimed. I knew that artistic gesture was my winning token. I was sure no one else had thought to use more than one color of ink. Let alone all of them.
The other kids didn’t stand a chance.
I waited with bated breath for my platypus to arrive.
Of course, I did not know what I was going to tell my parents, but I was sure they would be fine with it.
And you will never guess what happened.
A package. From that magazine. Came the next month.
It was very small.
Being not the type of girl who discourages easily, I assumed it was simply food for my platypus that would arrive shortly.
But when I opened the package, I did not find any food.
Or a flattened platypus.
In the package was a letter. And a book.
The letter said something like, “Congratulations! You have won second place in our writing contest.”
I was not amused.
I looked at the book. It was not a book on how to care for a platypus. It was not even a book about platypuses.
It was ,”The Little Prince.”
I put it somewhere on my bookshelf. And I never read it. Not ever.
It was a far cry from the sweet little platypus who would have loved me forever.
The next month, I waited for the magazine to come in the mail to see what the winning story had on mine. The story was good. Now, I’m not sayin’ she had help from her parents. Heck, maybe she really read that magazine every month. And maybe she was one of the truly gifted children.
I don’t know.
I don’t care.
All I cared about was the picture beside the story. It was a picture of a little girl. And she was hugging… A stuffed platypus.
You would think that this would have made me feel better.
But it didn’t.
Because a stuffed platypus had not been something I had considered. A stuffed platypus suddenly seemed very desirable. A stuffed platypus would haunt my dreams.
I never read that magazine again. I never received my letter from Sean. And I have avoided the word, “platypus,” for twenty nine years.
That book. Well, that book still sits on my bookcase. Unopened. A true reminder of a child’s dream never realized.
The funny thing is, as an adult, I recognize that the book was actually the better prize. A stuffed platypus gets worn. A real platypus lives only seventeen years. But that book still looks brand new twenty nine years after that contest has concluded.
I have thought recently that I might read the book.
I heard it was good.
But I’m not ready.
Maybe in another twenty nine years.
In the meantime, I’ve got some more stories to write.
I didn’t catch these gripes for nothin’.