The Sweethearts
H. C. Andersen

A top and ball were lying in a drawer along with some other toys. The top said to the ball: "Shouldn't we be sweethearts, seeing that we're lying next to each other in the same drawer?" But the ball, who was made of morocco leather and was as pleased with herself as any snooty young lady, didn't even deign to reply.

Next day the little boy who owned the toys came along. He painted the top red and yellow and drove a brass nail into the middle of it. It was a magnificent sight to see the top spinning around.

"Look at me!" he said to the ball. "What do you say now? Shouldn't we be sweethearts? We suit each other so well — you bounce and I dance. Nobody could be happier than us."

"So that's what you think," said the ball. "You don't seem to appreciate the fact that my father and mother were morocco slippers and I have a cork inside me."

"Ah, but I'm made of mahogany," said the top. "The judge turned me himself on his own lathe — and had a marvellous time doing it!"

"You expect me to believe all that?" said the ball.

"May I never be whipped if I'm lying!" replied the top.

"You have a pretty good line," said the ball. "But I've really got to say no. I'm as good as half-engaged to a swallow. Every time I bounce up in the air he sticks his head out of his nest and says: 'Will you?' And I've said to myself, 'Yes' — and that's as good as a half-engagement! But I promise never to forget you."

"A lot of help that is," said the top. And after that they didn't speak to each other.

Next day the ball was taken outside. The top saw how she flew high up into the air, just like a bird, until she actually disappeared from sight. But she came back every time, always making a high leap when she touched the ground (maybe from longing, maybe because she had a cork inside). The ninth time, however, she vanished and didn't come back. The boy searched and searched but the ball was gone.

"I know where she is, though," sighed the top. "She's in the swallow's nest — married to the swallow."

The more the top thought about it, the more he became infatuated with the ball. His love increased simply because he couldn't possess her. That she should have chosen somebody else — that was the incredible thing! And the top danced and spun round, but he was always thinking about the ball, who grew more and more beautiful in his imagination. And in this way many years passed, until gradually it had become an ancient love affair. And the top was no longer young.

But then one day they covered him all over with gilt. Never had he looked so handsome! He was a gold top, now, and he whirled around until he hummed. Goodness! Wasn't this something! And then all at once he whirled too high and was gone.

They searched everywhere, even down in the cellar, but they couldn't find him.

Where was he?

He had whirled himself into the trash can, where all sorts of rubbish was lying: cabbage-stalks, floor sweepings, gunk washed down from the gutters.

"A fine place for me to spend my days! My gilding will rub off in no time — and what a bunch of riff-raff I've got myself among!" He peered sideways at a long, mangy-looking cabbage stalk and a peculiar round object that looked like an old apple. It wasn't an apple, though, it was an old ball that had lain up in the gutter for many years and become completely waterlogged.

"Thank God, here's somebody suitable to talk to at last!" said the ball, staring at the gilded top. "You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I'm made of morocco leather, stitched by the hands of an elegant young lady, and I have a cork inside me. I was just on the verge of marrying a swallow when I fell into the gutter, and for five years I've lain there getting soggy! That's a long time for a fashionable young lady!"

The top said nothing. He was thinking about his old girlfriend, and the longer he listened, the more certain he became that this was she.

Now the maid appeared to empty out the trash can. "Hey — here's the gold top!" she cried.

Back in the playroom, the top was restored to his high honor and dignity. But nobody heard anything more about the ball and the top never mentioned his old love affair. That sort of thing palls a little when your lover has lain for five years in the gutter getting soggy. You can't really be expected to acknowledge her when you meet her in the garbage.

Copyright © 1996-8 Dick Ringler. All rights reserved.

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