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Clifford Henderson

Mary Hinkle and the Big, Big World

     It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child, but it could be argued that it also takes a village to lose one. Such was the case on June 17, 1962 at Boston Public Garden when four-year-old Mary Hinkle, following the pack of shoes that she thought of as her family, disappeared. She was a girl who didn’t look up much, preferring to keep her eyes on the world beneath her: the misplaced stone, the sudden clump of dandelion, the colorful caterpillar.
     Mary’s mother, Mrs. Hinkle, was leading the pack that day in her black and white short-heeled pumps and crisp white hemline. She felt family outings were sorely lacking in the Hinkle experience, and so she made Mr. Hinkle (polished, cinnamon, cap-toe oxfords) drive her and her culturally-deprived children (Mary: Patent leather Missy Mates; her twin brothers: Hush Puppy tassel loafers) to the Art Fair at the park, promising if they behaved, they could all go for a nice ride on the swan boats.
     Mr. Hinkle was lamenting his missed Sunday grilled cheese sandwich and bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup when he first noticed the disappearance of his youngest child, Mary Hinkle, who’d just minutes before forsaken the family shoes for a pair of magical golden slippers peeking out beneath a silk, ankle-length, turquoise and gold hemline.
     She’d never seen such a pair of shoes! Surely they would lead her to a place more wonderful than the metal supports displaying the artwork, more wonderful than the discarded gum wrappers and paper coffee cups, more wonderful even than the swan boats. And so she followed those shoes through the crowd of wingtips and work boots, saddle shoes and sandals to where the soft green grass met the murky black water, a place so quiet Mary could hear the purr of a blue dragon fly as it whirred past, the zzzzing of a big black and yellow bee, the far-away dreaming of a turtle deep down at the bottom of the pond.
     “Well, hello,” she heard someone say from the top of the golden slippers, the voice as beautiful as the crystal dinner bell Mary’s Nana kept on her no-touching-allowed shelf. And then that someone squatted, dainty derriere planted on heels, lovely bangle-covered arms wrapped around knees, and Mary saw a face the color of tea with lots and lots of milk, and a red dot between the two prettiest almond-shaped eyes. Only the eyes looked sad. That’s when Little Mary knew the woman in the turquoise and gold dress wrapped all the way up and over her head was a princess because princesses in the stories were always sad.
     “Are you waiting for your prince?” Mary Hinkle asked.
     Radha Prajapati, who’d just dumped her boyfriend after being called exotic by him and his white-bread family one too many times, laughed and said, “Actually, I’m kind of glad to be rid of him. Are you lost?”
     Mary Hinkle looked around. Her mother’s black and white pumps, her father’s cinnamon, cap-toe oxfords were nowhere in sight amid the far-off tangle of other people’s legs milling around the outdoor display. Desperately, she turned back toward the water. A giant swan boat filled with people was in the middle of the pond. Her family had left her behind! Eyes filling with tears, all she could do was nod because her words had turned into scaredy-cat, crybaby hiccups.
     “Hmm,” Radha Prajapati said. She felt sorry for the little lost girl, but she also wanted to be rid of her. She was only three hours single and had lots to mull over. “I think we should walk over to the information booth. What do you say?”
     Mary Hinkle couldn’t imagine how information could help her to get unlost. Information was what lived on the back of cereal boxes. She’d learned that the morning Mrs. Hinkle spat at Mr. Hinkle, “What is so important on the back of that box that you can’t engage in a simple conversation with your wife?” and he’d yelled back for the first and only time in young Mary’s life, “Information!” But Mary let herself be led away nonetheless, her small hand gripping the turquoise and gold silk just below Radha’s knee.
     Upon reaching the information booth, Mary Hinkle was immediately put at ease by the sturdy, round-toed black, lace-ups of Police Officer Creely, who’d chosen to take his lunch break at the desk so he could flirt with the perky Edwina Pinks. But when Officer Creely shoved his meaty hands under Mary’s armpits and hefted her onto the desk so he could look at her eye to eye she recognized him at once: the troll from Billy Goats Gruff! His face, flat and pockmarked, had three large warts and his eyes bulged like a toad’s.
     “So,” he said, bits of children stuck in the cracks of his big square teeth, “You’ve lost your mommy and daddy.”
     Panicked, Mary reached for the princess, only to find her being swallowed up by the crowd. Poof! And so she started to wail. But then Mary noticed something extraordinary. A golden thread in the palm of her hand!
     “Don’t you worry,” the troll said, “if we can’t find your mommy and daddy you can come home and live with me.” He winked at Edwina Pinks, who giggled. Couldn’t she see he was a troll? “Now come on, sweetheart, tell us your name.”
     Edwina picked up something that looked to Mary like a fat black wand. “Tell your name and I’ll make an announcement.”
     “Or you’re going to have to come home and live with me.”
     In a burst of courage, Mary Hinkle took matters into her own four-year old hands and gripped that golden thread to make her wish: I want my family! Then, for good measure added a shriek that was so loud, so shrill, so eardrum-piercing that the more alert of the Hinkle twins spun around on the heel of his tassel loafer and shouted, “There she is!” at which point all of the Hinkles came rushing up to the booth, their faces flooded with relief.
     The Hinkles were largely unchanged by that day in 1962, as was most of Boston Public Garden, but Little Mary Hinkle learned a lesson that was to serve her for the rest of her life, ultimately leading her into a fulfilling life in the arts: Fairy tales were more than make-believe stories in books, they were happening all the time.

Clifford Henderson
Baffled by reality, Clifford Henderson has fashioned a life where she can spend most of her time in make believe. Author of three award-winning novels, The Middle of Somewhere, Spanking New, and Maye’s Request, she is currently working on a fourth. When not writing, Clifford and her partner of twenty years run the Fun Institute, a school of improv and solo performance where they teach the art of collective pretending.

Contact Clifford at


Spring 2012

Vinnie Hansen
Clifford Henderson

Vergere Street
Dena and Becky Taylor

Bri Bruce
SA Smythe
Debra Spencer
J. Zimmerman

Morton Marcus Poetry Runners-Up
Curt Anderson
Catherine Segurson
David Sullivan

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