Mattie’s eyes grew heavy from the rhythmic sound of the train running the rails. The warm morning sun shone through the window, and her head started to nod, just a bit, from the exhaustion and wonder of it all. She still couldn’t get over it: “Mattie Burch . . . yes, me—Mattie Burch, sitting here on a train—all by myself, going to New York.” Visions of freckled-faced children crowding around her, pulling on the hem of her new cotton-print dress, holding her hands, all of them with tears streaming down their faces, flashed through her mind.
A tall man with radiant green eyes and black hair stood beside her on the platform. Her head bowed to get one last look at the pleading eyes begging her to stay. Before she could answer, a finger under her chin raised her head up; her blue eyes gazed at his handsome face for an instant before he kissed her, picked her up off the ground, and started swinging her ‘round and ‘round in a passionate embrace.
The train hissed, the porter cried, “All aboard!” and her new shoes landed on the steps to the train car as the man she loved lowered her gently down.
“Happy birthday, sweetheart! Remember, you call us, now. Call a lot. I love you!”
The children cried, “I love you, Mama! Bye! I love you!”
The swaying motion of the car as it left Selma, North Carolina, soothed her tired body. Her thoughts, again, played the words from her favorite childhood book: There once lived a poor tailor, who had a son . . . who would do nothing but play all day long in the streets with little idle boys like himself, and her eyes finally closed.
“Next stop, Richmond, Virginia,”came the announcement over the loud speaker.
Mattie jerked awake. People were shuffling to leave. She glanced out the window and saw the James River—the longest in Virginia. Passing through Ashland, on lush tree-lined streets decorated with flowering dogwoods, were stately Dutch Colonial homes. She noticed there were five rivers they went over: the Quantico Creek, Neabsco Creek, Potomac River, Gunpowder River, and Susquehanna River. Further along, Washington D.C. had many skyscrapers of glass reflecting other skyscrapers. Wilmington had a building with a large mural: one side a giant whale breaching and the other, clouds. Much of the rest of the trip was filled with industrial yards and older buildings worn from age.
Finally arriving at Penn Station, her excitement mixed with fear, Mattie stood up to gather her things. Tentatively, she moved toward the exit and down the steps to the massive terminal. Before her foot hit the ground, a man in uniform offered his hand.
“Mrs. Burch? I’m Stan, your limo driver. I will be escorting you to the Chatwal Hotel and then will pick you up tomorrow for the show.”
“Oh! Oh, my! I hadn’t expected anything like this. This is . . . it’s . . . well, it’s just amazing. Thank you.”
As they drove, the looming buildings with their gigantic flashing digital and neon signs turned her head on a continual swivel, trying to take it all in.
“Did you know this was my birthday present?”
“No, Ma’am. I didn’t.”
“My sweet, wonderful husband entered the New York contest for all twelve years we’ve been married. Well, I thought he’d be sick to death already of my talking about coming to New York to see a show. Can you believe it? This year he won. He won! On my thirtieth birthday. And, on top of that, my most favorite story in the whole world is playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre.”
“Yes. Ma’am. That is a wonderful story.”
The limo pulled up to the Chatwal Hotel’s front entrance where another man in a uniform met the car and escorted Mattie up to the lobby’s front desk.
“Hi! I’m Mattie Burch. My husband won that Contestee, New York Contest, on the Internet. I’m so happy to be here.”
“Yes. We know. We’re happy to have you, Mrs. Burch. You’re in the Signature Garden Suite on the seventh floor. Our bellman will take you to your room.”
Mattie followed the bellman down the rich, shiny gold and brown, red accented art deco corridors in a giddy high. He opened the door to her room. She stood there, mouth agape—the suite and terrace were bigger than her whole house in Selma. Rich colors in gold-honey suede and dark brown tones covered the rooms. The white marble terrace, complete with a fountain and pots of herbs made her feel like she was in another country. Soon she fell into a luxurious sleep, dreaming of her big day.
She awoke to a wonderful breakfast. Although she could have taken the morning to go sightseeing, the peace and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of motherhood, teased her to stay and relax in the beautiful suite. Finally, it was time to go.
The limo driver was at the lobby door waiting. The drive to the theater was over in a blink it seemed. Mattie got out and walked into the most beautiful art nouveau theatre in New York City. Disney renovated the New Amsterdam in 1994, taking a full four years. The golden colors sparkled in the lights. Everywhere she looked, there were complex plastered casts of grape clusters, peacocks, apples, all sorts of pieces painted in soft tones that melted with the color gold. In her whole life, she had never seen anything as regal as this.
She found her seat, center orchestra, and settled into her dream-come-true birthday when the production of Aladdin carried her off on her own magic-carpet ride. Colors danced and pranced around the stage in blindingly bright hues from the 300 different costumes the performers wore. The genie performed his magic in bold expression reminiscent of Cab Calloway with a bouncy jazz beat. The dancers, the music, the splendor of it all took Mattie away to all she had ever dreamed of. However, it was the love story between Princess Jasmine and Aladdin that filled her heart with such love for her husband that she had trouble holding back the tears. The two lovers floated by, across the sky on their magic carpet, so in love that Mattie could not wait a minute longer. She ran to the lobby and called.
“Honey, are you okay? Mattie? What’s wrong?”
“I love you more than ice cream, Jason Burch. No! I love you more than this wonderful trip. I even love you more than Aladdin. This is the best show in the whole world. I can’t wait to get home to tell you about all of it. You will always be the genie of my dreams.”