When I was a child, I was extremely shy. As a young teen, I loved riding my Grandpa’s horse, Bunny. So when I became a writer as an adult, I combined these two elements in a fiction short story entitled, “Sierra Builds a Bridge.” It was published in Bread. I hope you like it.
Sierra Builds a Bridge
“Sierra Rose,” Samantha whispered. Perched on a split-rail fence, she gazed at the beautiful filly—her birthday present—trotting around the corral. She’s the color of rosewood from Sierra Leone, like that elegant furniture in the encyclopedia, reddish brown with black streaks.
“Wish I could stay with you,” she said, as her horse came near. Middle school was so frustrating. Why can’t I make friends? It was easier attending that country school in Lux.
The filly nudged her. Samantha stroked her velvety nose and gave her a carrot. “At least you’ll have a good morning, running around the pasture and eating. I have to recite a poem in front of the entire class!”
Samantha poured grain into the feed bin, brushed the filly’s glossy coat, and practiced her poem. “I love you when …”
Then she boarded the bus, dreading the fourth period.
Later, Samantha listened to the others recite. “Samantha. Didn’t you hear me? It is your turn. Please come up now.” Samantha slowly walked to the front. All eyes faced her, and the entire room seemed to sway. She tried to focus, but couldn’t. Everything seemed blurry. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. Tears trickled down her face and she looked at the teacher.
“OK, sit down.” Mrs. Harrington sighed. “Stay and talk with me after class, please.”
“Samantha, you must conquer your shyness,” the teacher told Samantha later. “Half your grade depends on these presentations. If you can’t recite, you’ll receive an F.” Samantha’s throat tightened. If she got an F, her mother would ground her from her horse.
Rushing into the fifth period, Samantha heard a whispered “Hi, ‘fraidy cat.” Several kids snickered.
Throughout the next week, Samantha practiced the next English assignment, a five-paragraph essay, whenever she rode Sierra Rose or brushed her.
The day before the assignment was due, Sierra pricked up her ears and nudged her shoulder as if to say, “That’s my girl. You can do it.”
The next morning Samantha woke up with a stomachache. “Please, let me stay home, Mom,” she begged. Her mother refused. She spent the fourth period in the health room, then took her health room pass and the written essay to her teacher.
The next day Mrs. Harrington said, “Samantha, this is an excellent essay. Will you read it to the class today?” Samantha shook her head, clutching her stomach. She’d been practicing it and had it memorized, but she knew she couldn’t get up in front of that class again.
That afternoon, the class divided into groups to perform plays. They had two weeks to practice. “Wish we didn’t have ‘fraidy cat in our group,” Samantha heard Anne whisper.
“Yeah,” Alicia said. “She’ll probably mess up our whole play.”
Samantha read her lines so softly in the group they could hardly hear her. But she read them loudly to her horse each evening. Soon she knew the entire play by memory.
The day they were to give the play, Samantha’s stomach hurt again, but she was determined not to fail her group. In their costumes, they gathered at the front of the class. But when it came time for Samantha to say her lines, she froze. All those people are staring at me!
Suddenly, Samantha clapped her hands over her mouth. She spun around and grabbed the wastebasket just in time to throw up into it. Mrs. Harrington handed her a couple of tissues with an exasperated look. Samantha burst into tears and ran out to the bathroom. She washed her face, then stared at herself in the mirror, praying, “Dear God, I don’t know what to do. Please help me.”
She slowly started back to the room. Suddenly, Mr. Lawson, the school counselor, came around the corner. “Hello, Samantha. Is something wrong?”
“I had to leave the room because I threw up.”
“Do you feel sick otherwise?” he asked.
“No. I was just scared because we were performing a play.”
“Oh. Does this happen often?”
“Yes. I mean I don’t often throw up, but I’m scared to get up in front of the class. But if I don’t, I’ll flunk English.”
“Come on,” he said. “I’ll walk with you to class.” Something about him made her feel comfortable.
The teacher had just dismissed the class when they walked in. He told her a little about their discussion. Mrs. Harrington patted Samantha on the back. “We’ve talked before about this problem, but we haven’t come up with a solution yet,” she said.
On the bus that afternoon, Samantha thought about her problem. Mr. Lawson said it takes courage to do something you are afraid to do. But how do you get courage? She sat back and closed her eyes. Mom said once that you can get courage through prayer.
“Dear God,” she whispered, “thank you it didn’t get all over the floor. Thank you that Mr. Lawson helped me feel better.” She paused, and then smiled. “And thank you for this idea. I think it might work. Please give me the courage I need to do it.”
She hurried to the house. I wonder if Mom will think this is a dumb idea.
“Hello, Dear,” Mom called. “I baked your favorite cookies.” Samantha joined her in the kitchen. Mom set cookies and milk on the table, then sat down.
Looking into her mother’s smiling face as she nibbled on a cookie, Samantha began. “You remember my problem about getting up in front of class?”
“Well, today we were supposed to be doing this play, and when it was my turn to say my lines, I couldn’t remember anything. Then I – I threw up.”
Mother’s eyes grew round. “Oh no! Right in class?”
Samantha nodded. “But I reached the waste basket.”
Mother smiled weakly.
“I went to the bathroom to wash my face. On the way back, the counselor came walking by. He talked to me and helped me feel better. He said it takes courage to do something you’re afraid to do. So I prayed for courage. Then on the bus, on the way home, I thought of an idea to raise my grade.”
Mother smiled and leaned closer. “Good, let’s hear it.”
After Samantha explained her idea, Mother came around the table and hugged her. “Why that’s a wonderful idea,” Mom exclaimed. “Let’s do it.”
The next morning, Samantha talked to Mrs. Harrington before school started. “I have an idea how I can do the oral assignments,” she began, shyly.
“Good. Let’s hear it.”
“Well, I think I could do them if I’m near my horse. I practice with her all the time. So I wonder if the class could take a field trip to our farm.”
“Hmm. That would be interesting. I’ll see what the principal says.” Later, she told her the good news, “We can do it next week!”
The day of the field trip dawned bright and sunny. The class knew only that they were
going to someone’s farm. When they arrived, Mrs. Harrington announced, “This farm belongs to Samantha’s family. She has something special to show you.”
Samantha led them to the corral. “Wait here,” she whispered to the teacher. She whistled softly and Sierra Rose came running. Samantha fed her a piece of apple and caressed her nose. Then she climbed on the fence and spoke softly. The horse came close enough for Samantha to climb onto her bareback.
“No wonder she smells like a barn,” Anne said.
“Shut up,” said Sylvia.
She beckoned her classmates to come closer. They gathered on the fence and Samantha began her essay. “Sierra Rose, my two-year-old Morgan filly, is my favorite pet.” She patted the horse’s neck, occasionally looking up at her audience. She quoted without a mistake and concluded saying, “Beautiful Sierra Rose has a pleasant personality, and is strong and capable. She is my favorite pet.”
Most of the students clapped. Samantha and Sierra Rose galloped around the corral. They stopped in front of the class and Samantha slid off. She grabbed a carrot and fed it to Sierra Rose while reciting her poem. She finished, “… and the reason why I love you is just because you’re you.” She hugged Sierra around the neck. The class clapped again.
With a smile, the teacher said, “All right, Samantha, I think you’ve succeeded in passing those two.
“That calls for a celebration,” Samantha’s mom said. “Come over to the yard for some homemade donuts and milk.”
While eating, Samantha and her playgroup finalized plans. Then they walked back to the corral and stood around Sierra Rose while acting out their play. They adjusted it a little to include a horse. Samantha felt so good sharing her best friend with her new friends, she forgot to be nervous.
Sierra Rose, a horse the color of rare and precious wood, “built a bridge” that day for a shy girl to cross over into friendship and success.