THE LENDING LADY
by Jody FeldmanJerrod might never have met the Lending Lady during the year he lived on Magnolia Street if he hadn’t been looking at the double-rainbow in the October sky; staring transfixed at the exact moment a kid on a bicycle, her feet dragging on the sidewalk, came careening toward him.
"Use your feet!" called the girl.
Jerrod dove over the short retaining wall onto a patch of grass, averting a head-on collision. The girl had somehow steered the bike into a patch of grass and tumbled free of it without incident, it seemed, until she inspected the bike’s front wheel. It wouldn’t roll without rubbing against the rim. "The Lending Lady will be mortified that the brakes failed."
He’d be mortified if he’d ruined the bike.
“Help me?” she asked.
She took the front of the bicycle, he hoisted the rear, and they maneuvered it into one of the anonymous apartment buildings, up two flights of stairs, and toward a blue door that opened before they reached it.
Without pausing for or even seeming to require an explanation, a woman in a rainbow-print apron took the bike from their hands. “I’m so sorry, Karinna. This shouldn’t have happened, but sometimes life throws us monkey wrenches and we need to be monkey enough to handle it, like you did.” Then she turned to Jerrod. “And you’re Jerrod Waters, gracing our neighborhood as a result, I understand, of your own terrible monkey wrench.”
She made that statement in such a common-knowledge way, that Jerrod didn’t question how she knew about him.
“I’m the Lending Lady.” Her eyes were like a long drink of velvety hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. “I told your mom you should stop by, and—”
One of the gray cats that had been posted as a sentinel near the door was now using his leg as a scratching post. The other stood aside as if to let him in.
“Not yet, Slinky,” The Lending Lady blocked the threshold then asked Jerrod to raise his right hand and solemnly promise that he’d treat with respect anything he borrowed from the Lending shelves, report any issues directly to the Lending Lady (“like Karinna just did”), and otherwise abide by the rules of common courtesy.
“I will,” said Jerrod, uncertain as to what he’d agreed to until, over the course of the next few minutes, he witnessed other kids exchange an item they’d brought in for another from the shelves. Was this like a library, but with different stuff than books?
Jerrod inventoried the items across one small section of shelves—kaleidoscopes, yo-yos, dominoes, trains, boats, cars—then he moved over to a set of cubbyholes holding random items. Some were shiny new, some were raggedy, but all of them were tagged with a different name.
“These are for safe-keeping only,” said the Lending Lady. “If you want to borrow anything, you need to leave collateral, something of value which, upon my item’s return, will become yours again.”
“I see.” Jerrod started turning away.
“Maybe you don’t,” said the Lending Lady. “You may have lost everything in the fire, but that only serves to make the smallest object more valuable to you.” With one hand, she pointed at his belt holding up the charity pants that were two sizes too large, and with her other, she handed him a measure of rope. “Consider this a small welcome gift.”
He promptly swapped out the rope for his belt.
“And now that we’ve solved this collateral business, look around. Just for today, however, I will choose what I will lend you.”
Jerrod suspected the Lending Lady would watch his every twitch as he pulled out playing cards and binoculars and measuring spoons. Instead, while she was distracted by a complicated lending transaction Karinna was proposing, Jerrod blinked back tears and dared to linger over the paints and colored pencils. The only evidence he’d ever owned ones like those were the charred remains of wooden paintbrush handles he’d salvaged and now kept in an empty peanut butter jar.
The Lending Lady came to his side, holding out a single piece of drawing paper. “Bring me back a masterpiece.”
Jerrod touched the shelf to his right. “But I have no—“
”This is your monkey wrench today. Bring me back a solution.”
The two cat clocks meow in unison. He wipes his hands on the apron that, years ago, forgot its original color, so smudged it’s become with acrylics and oil paints and water colors that would defy a rainbow to match their brilliance. It’s time for him to put his livelihood aside for the day and concentrate on his second occupation, the one he’d inherited a couple decades ago, the one he and his wife have cultivated.
Just as he hears the first set of shoes scramble up the stairs to, undoubtedly, approach his blue door, he does what’s become as natural as breathing. He glances at the little charcoal house tacked to the wall of drawings and photos and awards. It’s the only likeness of his old house, one scratched into shape with burnt paintbrush ends, sketched only as his thirteen-year-old self could have. He opens the door before any knock. “It’s Milo and Raffi! You’re first on the computers today.”
“Thanks, Mr. Lender.” Milo holds out a packet of carrot seeds. “These are for you to keep with one provision. We need a double Lend today to finish our project. Our teacher threw us a monkey wrench.”
“And you,” says Jerrod Waters, “are just the monkeys to solve that.”