Over dinner, Beth’s questions about time zones and Australia’s winter in July were answered. Ronnie took an interest in the conversation, but most of her attention was devoted to the enjoyment of her meal. She declared it to be the best baked salmon she had ever tasted and was glad she had chosen it for her birthday feast. Beth stated that on her next birthday they would have pizza and hotdogs and potato chips and pickles and lots of cake and ice cream. Their mother paled at the thought of the strange combination, but cheered herself in the knowledge that Beth would change her plans weekly between now and then.
While the adults tackled the dishes, Beth and Ronnie took Tilly out for his nightly neighbourhood inspection. He sniffed every tree, bush, and rock along the way, leaving his mark on each and every one. The girls, who were eager to get home to birthday cake and presents, tugged and pulled and prodded, but Tilly would not be rushed. He didn’t understand why today should be different from any other and enjoyed his outing at his own leisurely pace. Beth rambled on about birthdays and gifts and almost let it slip that she had bought Ronnie not one, but two presents. She did, however manage, for once, to hold her tongue.
As they rounded the corner on their familiar route, Tilly spotted Taffy – his favourite of the neighbourhood cats. There was little Tilly loved more than an opportunity to give chase and Taffy always obliged him by bolting when the dog appeared. Today was no different. It was not until Taffy was safely treed and had made it clear that he had no intention of budging that Tilly relented and plodded home.
By the time Ronnie and Beth had fed and watered Tilly, the adults were relaxing in the living room over a cup of tea. As the girls entered, the lights were extinguished, the candles on the cake were lit, and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to You was sung. Ronnie hated to blow out the candles on the cake that her mother had decorated with her customary artistic flair. Sprigs of sweet herbs outlined a woodland scene and wildflower petals formed a rainbow in the background. The flames of the candles caused the rainbow to shimmer. Ronnie’s wish, when she finally blew out all the candles in one big breath, probably involved rainbows and their magic but, she would never reveal a birthday-candle wish so it remains a secret. Ronnie made the first cut into the cake, for luck, and then turned the serving duties over to her mother and turned herself toward her gifts.
“Mine first! Open mine first, Ronnie!” Beth’s excitement was at a fevered pitch. She loved present-opening time, even when the gifts were not for her. She delighted in watching the anticipation and then the joy in another’s eyes as their gift was revealed to them. Ronnie didn’t disappoint her when she unwrapped two CDs by her two favourite artists.
“Beth, these are great! How did you know which ones to get?”
“It really wasn’t that hard. One day when you were lying out in your hammock, I checked out all your CDs and all the posters on your wall. Mommy took me to the store and we just asked for CDs by those groups. Want to know what I want for my birthday?” She glanced toward the adults and whispered in her sister’s ear, “I’ll tell you later ’cause it’s a surprise. Here this big one is from Mommy. Open it next.”
Ronnie suspected that the large box contained a smaller box in which she would find an even smaller box. She had been fooled by that trick before. Today, to her delight, that was not the case. The box held a mini stereo, complete with speakers and remote headphones. She would now be able to lie on her bed and listen to tunes without getting tangled in the headphone wires, as she frequently did with her portable CD player. The best feature of the stereo was the alarm clock. It could be set to allow her to be awakened by the music of her choosing. No longer would a BZZ-BZZ-BZZ jolt her from rainbow dreams.
“Thanks, Mom! I can hardly wait for school to start so I can try out the alarm on it. Well, maybe I can wait till September for that, but it will be cool to be woken up a little more gently in the future. Meanwhile, I can listen to my music really loud now. You always say that I shouldn’t have my MP3 on loud with my earphones on ’cause I’ll hurt my ears, but now I can crank my music ’cause I won’t have to use the headphones. This takes care of my music problems as well as my alarm problems. You’re the best!”
Her mother sighed, already able to hear the bass thumping through the floor boards of Ronnie’s room throughout the house and into her office. That was a worry for another day; today she was happy to see Ronnie so excited by her gift.
There were two gifts left and both were from Gramma. Ronnie chose one and ripped into its wrappings. Given the weight and size she would have guessed that it was a CD, and was surprised to find, instead, a framed copy of the Wollomombi Falls photo. The frame transformed the light of the room into an untold number of colours which reflected into the triple rainbow. It was the perfect frame for the picture, and Ronnie said as much. She would, she declared, give it a place of honour on her bedside table.
The last gift had to be the special one that she had been anticipating. Now that the moment had arrived, she didn’t want to rush it. She slowly pulled off the wrapping, savouring the suspense. Inside was a jewelry box. When she opened that, she gasped. Ronnie clutched the chain of the pendant inside as the box fell to the floor. The gold chain glistened in the lamplight, but went unnoticed. Every eye in the room was fixed upon the luminous stone and its engraved setting. The stone shone with every colour imaginable. There were even tones that Ronnie’s fanciful mind had never pictured.
“This is gorgeous! Where did you find it? What kind of stone is it? I’ve never seen anything so beautiful!” Ronnie leaped up and hugged Gramma.
As she placed the pendant around Ronnie’s neck and fastened the clasp –quite a feat given Ronnie’s excited squirming – Gramma told them how she had found the unusual piece.
“After visiting Wollomombi Falls, I stopped for the night in the nearby town of Armidale. I was wandering around seeing the sights when I came upon an antique store. Since I had not found just the right gift for you, I went in hoping something would strike my fancy. One of the first things I saw was this pendant. The shop owner had recently acquired it at an estate sale and she knew little of its history other than the fact that the previous owner had the stone set into the engraved pendant. Where the stone come from and the meaning behind the symbols were a mystery, as no one she asked had been able to decipher the symbols. She confided to me that the pendant made her a little nervous because she believed all things magic must contain a touch of evil and surely it must be wrapped in magic. She whispered to me as she closed the box, that perhaps it was best to leave the puzzle unsolved as it might be an ancient curse. I think she was probably just trying to get a better price for the pendant by surrounding it in mystery. I was willing to pay what she asked, however, because I knew it was the special birthday gift for which I’d searched the world over.”
The chain was long enough to allow Ronnie to hold the pendant away from her body and look at it. When she reached down and touched the stone to do so, she felt it growing warm in her hand. She also thought that it shone a little brighter on her neck, as if it somehow felt at home with her.
They finished their cake and tea amidst idle chatter of this and that and the other. Ronnie turned to ask Beth a question and found her curled in a ball fast asleep. Their mother roused the sleeping child and led her upstairs to be tucked in.
Gramma and Ronnie began the task of cleaning up the birthday party mess. As they worked, Ronnie touched the stone repeatedly to reassure herself that she could still feel its warmth. “Gramma, do you think this stone really is magic?”
Smiling knowingly, Gramma told her that magic can only be if someone believed enough. If Ronnie believed in the magic of the stone, perhaps it would bring her good fortune. Ronnie had stopped in front of the hallway mirror where she stood admiring the pendant.
“I do believe and when I find its magic, I’ll use it only for good. I’m going to call it the Iris Stone, partly for the Rainbow Goddess, but mostly for you, Gramma. This is the best present you could have found for me. I just know it will turn out to have Rainbow Magic.”