At the May Meeting of the Mobile Writer’s Guild, we were please to announce the winners of the Third Annual Tracy Hurley Memorial Writing Contest for middle and high school. Writing can be a lonely endeavor and also it can take courage not only to put your thoughts and imagination into words, but also to share it with others. We salute all those who participated for their courage, hard work, and dedication, and are pleased to share with you today the winning stories for high school. We will post the winning entries for middle school on Tuesday, May 27.
OPEN SEASON: A SOUTHERN FAIRY TALE
By India LaPalme
McGill-Toolen High School
Most kids I know have normal grandmothers, sweet old ladies who like to bake and ask endless questions about their day at school. Those kinds of grandmothers get invited to school plays and birthday parties, but the last time I invited my grandmother to anything was my preschool graduation and technically, my mother was the one who asked her.
Why? Well, my entire family has always been a little country: heavy Southern accents, lots of freckles, gun racks in their trucks and their standard dress is t-shirt and jeans.
When I was younger, I got teased for being a redneck because my family is really into hunting. And my grandmother is the worst. She practically lives in camouflage and a pair of hiking boots. I’m not (totally) horrified by the guns she has on the rack inside her truck but I am by the deer antlers she insisted on mounting on the front grill of her Ford F-150.
I don’t even mind her enthusiastic monologing about the right way to make deer jerky (ok, maybe I’m horrified a little about that). The absolute worst thing about my grandmother’s obsession with hunting is that she expects me to share it. Grandma thinks that since I was–and still am–a tomboy, that I’d enjoy shooting innocent woodland creatures.
I’m on my way to Grandma’s house now.
There’s a small shortcut between our houses that I use to get to Grandma’s. I considered pretending to have a stomach-ache but Mom told me Grandma’s truck has a flat tire, which means we can’t get to the hunting camp. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Grandma has a shooting range behind her house. Still aiming at paper targets beats shooting at live ones any day. I’m resigning myself to another incredibly boring afternoon spent firing at cut-outs of noble-looking deer, frightened bunnies and bored-looking turkeys.
When I sense something behind me, my heartbeat speeds up and I feel stupid for taking the shortcut, but I didn’t want to be late. Grandma’s pretty insensitive about most things, but if you’re not on time, she takes it seriously. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that it would have been a better idea to have taken the long way to her house and risked her wrath.
As soon as I lock eyes with the man standing in front of me, I know my hunch was right.
He steps out into the path so quickly I almost collide with him. I’ve never seen him before, and I would have remembered if I had. He has dark skin and even darker eyes and very white teeth which gleam as he grins at me. He pushes his hair to one side with a long, slender hand, and takes a step forward. I instinctively step back and he raises an eyebrow but stops. I feel a surge of relief. My eyes dart to the side and I think about running but, somehow, I know he’d catch me in a heartbeat.
“You must be Ruby’s daughter.”
When the man speaks, it makes my skin crawl. His voice is low and smooth and tries too hard to sound nice. A phrase Granma uses sometimes uses pops into my head. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. I’m so nervous it takes a moment for the words to sink in.
I gape at him, unable to hide my surprise and he chuckles, the sound making me flinch. “I thought so,” he says. “Something about you reminds me of her.”
I find my voice at last.
“How do you know my mother?” I ask. I’m surprised that my voice is so steady.
The man takes another step forward. “I’d like to see her again. Is she at home?”
I shake my head desperately. She’s at home work now but there’s no way I’m telling him that.
He seems to get the message.
“Well, I’ll be seeing you,” he drawls.
It sounds less like a goodbye and more like a threat. His eyes fall on the basket I’m holding.
“What have you got here?”
I stiffen. It’s a dumb thing to do—they’re just cookies Mom made for Grandma —but I can’t help it. The man’s smile, which disappeared when I didn’t answer his question, reappears.
“Bringing Grandma a little something, huh?”
He starts to walk away and I blurt out, “Wait! Who are you? I mean, who should I say asked about her?”
The man laughs. “Never mind. She’ll know who I am.”
The tone of his voice reminds me the popular girls who make fun of me when Grandma drops me off at school. They think it’s funny to ask me how life on the farm’s going. Except this guy scares me more than they ever have.
And then he’s vanishing into the trees, leaving me staring after him heart pounding like I’ve just run a marathon. And all I can think of is “I’m still alive!”
It feels so ridiculous that I almost start laughing. But then I glance at my watch and realize that I’ve only got five minutes before Grandma thinks I got lost and has a panic attack. (She does have her normal, grandmotherly moments). Sort of . . .
I sprint the rest of the way to Grandma’s house, suddenly desperate to see that she’s all right. When I get there, everything seems normal. Her truck with the slightly deflated tire is still parked in the driveway and I can hear music playing from inside the house, something loud and twangy that makes me want to cover my ears.
I race up the porch steps and push open the screen door. The house’s interior is cool and smells like the coffee she drinks by the gallon. I head into the kitchen but see that it’s empty. I gulp. Does this mean she already went looking for me? Grandma could have gotten a cell phone a long time ago—Mom offered to pick her one out but she refused. As a result, instead of texting us when something goes wrong, she goes into a full-out panic.
I do a quick search of the rest of the house, but no luck. I’m about to head back home because that’s the first place Grandma will check when I see a flash of red in the backyard. I’d know that t-shirt anywhere. It’s Grandma’s favorite, the one that proclaims in bold script A Bad Day Hunting Deer is Still a Good Day! She even wore it to my preschool graduation all those many years ago.
I step closer to the window, nearly pressing my nose against the glass in order to see better. Grandma’s pretty far from the house, but now that I’m looking, I can see her standing beyond the targets near the tree line. And someone is standing with her. My heart leaps into my throat. I can’t be sure, but it looks like my grandmother is talking to a man.
I don’t think, I just act. I whip out my phone and text Mom. And then I sneak out the back door. Once outside the house, I slip into the small strip of forest that separates Grandma from the neighbor’s house and sneak forward carefully. I peek between the branches and see that it’s him. He’s leaning forward getting in Grandma’s face, but she’s standing her ground.
I begin to walk faster. I want to find out who this guy is. A knot forms in the pit of my stomach. By now I’m getting close enough that I can hear their voices. The man sounds angry, almost furious, but Grandma is calm. Her gaze keeps darting back to the house though, and I realize she’s worried that I’ll show up. I wish I had some way to let her know I’m here.
“Is she?” The man snarls. “I won’t ask you again, Red.”
Grandma gives him a long hard look that says she doesn’t care how many times he asks here.
“I’m telling you I don’t know, and even if I did I wouldn’t tell you, Andrew.”
He flinches slightly at the name and for a moment he doesn’t seem quite so terrifying, but the moment quickly passes and now he’s advancing on my grandmother, forcing her to back up a little.
“I think you’re lying.”
To her credit, Grandma doesn’t even blink. My hands clench into fists and I wrestle with the urge to jump out and yell at him to get away from her. The only thing that stops me is fear of making this situation even worse than it already is, but then Andrew goes and does just that.
“I met your granddaughter today. She’s such a sweet, innocent little girl.”
The way he croons my name makes me sick.
Grandma stiffens. “Leave Scarlett out of this,” she says in a low voice that makes me glad I’m not the one she’s mad at. Andrew shrugs nonchalantly.
“I’m afraid it’s a little too late for that.”
Grandma’s eyes widen.
“What have you–?”
Andrew holds up a hand and amazingly, she stops talking. He smirks.
“That’s much better. I’d appreciate it if you’d show a little more respect. For Scarlett’s sake, you understand.”
Grandma clamps her mouth shut, pressing her lips together in a firm line, the skin around her mouth turning white. I let out a little gasp and Andrew frowns, turning his head in my direction. Grandma looks so worried about me. I always assumed that I was just the granddaughter she dragged along on her hunting trips. She looks so upset that it takes all the willpower I have not to call out to her. And then I’m really glad I don’t because he takes something out of his pocket.
It’s a pistol, a tiny thing really, compared to the rifles we use here on the shooting range, but I know it can be very effective at close range and I have a sudden vision of him raising the gun, smirking triumphantly and firing. And once again, I act without thinking. I step into his line of sight and cry, “Wait!” Their heads snap towards me. His grip on the gun loosens slightly. Grandma’s acts immediately. She lunges forward, yanks her arm back, and punches his nose.
Hard . . .
I’m suddenly grateful for the ungrandmotherly muscles she’s developed from years of hefting a rifle.
As he crumples to the ground, he drops the gun and cradles his nose, blood gushing between his fingers. But it doesn’t take him long to recover. He gets to his feet and moves toward Grandma too fast for her to get out of the way. He plows into her and they both go down. Grandma hits the ground with a smack that makes me wince in sympathy. Then Andrew is on top of her, those slender hands squeezing her neck. Grandma makes a strangled sound and her face turns red. She catches my eye and her look orders me to run, but I don’t. I bend down and snatch the gun off the ground. I check to make sure the safety is off and point it at the back of Andrew’s head, then I say in the deadliest voice I can manage, “Don’t move!”
Andrew laughs but he relaxes his grip on Grandma’s neck. She takes a wheezing breath, and I sag in relief.
“You won’t shoot me,“ Andrews says confidently. “You’re just a little girl. I bet you can’t even bring yourself to shoot a deer.”
I stiffen because he’s right. How many times had I refused to do that very thing?
He laughs. “I bet she drags you on her little hunting expeditions too, doesn’t she?”
Grandma’s eyes widen a little and I can see that she’s in pain. What he said has hurt her and I reply, “You don’t know anything about her!”
He just laughs. “Oh, I know more than you think little Scarlett.”
“Don’t call me that!” I flush, ashamed at letting him get to me so easily. He starts to say something else, but then I hear a voice shout.
It’s Mom and she races across the grass, still in her business suit and heels, moving faster than I’ve ever seen her move. She comes to a stop in front of us.
She turns to me and says briskly, “Scarlett, give me the gun.”
I gladly pass is to her and she turns to Andrew.
“I’ve already called the police.”
He laughs, but it’s a desperate laugh.
“Ruby, let me go and you’ll never see me again.”
“I wish I could,” my mother answers sadly.
When the police arrive, they handcuff Andrew and shove him into a police car and then they take our statements. After they’ve gone, Mom leads me into the kitchen and heats up some coffee. and Grandma and I stand facing each other. The bruises on her neck cause fresh anger to surge through me.
Mom is sitting at the table, her face worried.
“I’m going to tell her,” she says quietly. Then she tells me who Andrew is—her first love, the boyfriend that broke her heart when she was about my age.
There’s silence for a few minutes and Mom busies herself passing out cookies and cups of coffee.
Finally, Grandma says, “Scarlett, I’m sorry I’ve made you go hunting with me.”
I flush a little, ashamed that she knows.
“Your mother and her sisters never enjoyed it, but I thought you would.” Her voice sounds sad, even defeated.
I feel guilty for all the times I rebelled against going hunting with Grandma. For a minute I’m worried that Andrew has stolen something from her, that thing that makes her my Grandma, the grandmother I groan and complain about but couldn’t imagine life without.
“Scarlett, you don’t have to go hunting with me anymore if you don’t want to.
Her face is completely sincere, and I feel a rush or relief, but then, I remember pointing the gun at Andrew and how strong I felt, despite my terror (both of him and of accidentally shooting him.)
“Hunting’s not really my thing, Grandma,” I say, “but I wouldn’t mind practicing on the shooting range with you once in a while.”
My grandmother’s obsession with hunting no longer seems to be that bad. So she expects me to share it—okay, I can live with that.
Grandma beams at me and I realize that I love her and I know that she loves me, so I open my mouth and say what I’ve been wanting to get the courage to ask for a long time.
“Do you think you can come to our school play? I got the part of the part of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.”
Maybe I can convince her to leave the camouflage at home, but if not, it’s no big deal. She is, after all, Grandma.
THE FELINE WITHIN
by Tanner Pringle
McGill-Toolen Catholic High School
In a small city by the ocean lived a girl and her mother. They lived in a two room apartment, but they had plenty of money. The mother was a surgeon, meaning she always worked late at night, never getting to see her daughter. The daughter was a sophomore at the local high school with very high grades but few friends. The girl was special, for she was hiding a secret from her mother and the world.
“What is your problem Alexandria? Why are you so ugly?” screamed a guy while he pushed her into a locker. She slipped and fell to the floor. He went in for another hit. Alexandria was more agile than he had expected and was able to more before he could get to her.
“Just leave me alone! I never did anything to you,” she murmured more to herself than to him.
“I know you’re hiding something from the world. One day I’ll find out what you’re hiding and I’ll expose the truth about you,” he snarled at her and walked off.
Alexandria sank to her knees and started crying. The secret she has been hiding was now close to being exposed. She got up and decided it was time to leave. She grabbed her bag and walked out when no one was looking. She walked straight home and went to bed because she knew her mom wouldn’t be home for a while.
Hours had passed and the apartment door shut. Alexandria’s mother had just gotten home.
“All you do is work, do you think that you could ever make some time for me?” the girl screamed.
“I try to, okay? You know I am just trying to provide a living for us. It’s not my fault I am always on call. They won’t allow me to change my schedule for a while, I’m sorry…” The mother wasn’t sure what to say. She knew she couldn’t do a thing.
“I’m going to stay at a friends for a few days. I’ll be back,” mumbled Alexandria, but she knew she’d never be back. With these final parting words, she packed her belongings. By midnight, she was ready to leave.
“I’m not allowing you to go,” chided the mother. ”You are staying here. Don’t even think about walking out that door.”
Alexandria put her hand on the doorknob and slowly started turning the latch. The mother gave her a warning but she never stopped. Soon enough, she flung the door wide open.
“Don’t you dare leave, Alexandria!” screamed the mother, but it was too late, she had already fled.
Alexandria ran. She ran as fast as she possibly could. She didn’t know where she was going, but something in her heart told her to run toward the sea. She followed her urges, leading her to a tiny beach just past the woods. On the beach was a boat, just big enough for four people. As she neared the boat, the feeling in her heart grew stronger, so with a sigh she threw her bags into the boat and pushed the boat out to sea. She decided not to paddle but to allow the water to carry her wherever its gentle waves pleased. And so began the first day of the great adventure taken on by the 15-year-old Alexandria.
She had stayed awake all night, listening and watching for anything. At last, when the first rays of light began to appear, she saw it: a small island that she knew would be her new home. After hours of waiting, she hit the island. She darted out of the boat and onto the sand. She stared into the forest that laid ahead of her. Trees she thought she’d never find on an island in the ocean, such as pine trees and oak trees, filled the forest. The forest floor was covered in a thick green grass that was soft as a bed. Such sights overwhelmed Alexandria, and she collapsed into the grass, slowly drifting off into a deep dream.
Hours had passed, by this time it could’ve been close to three in the afternoon, but Alexandria didn’t know the time since she had decided to leave her phone back in the city. She awoke with a start, completely forgetting where she was. As reality hit her, she felt a sense of peace. Maybe it was from the soft crashing noises of waves hitting the shore or the cool breeze that gently blew through her hair. She wasn’t sure what made her feel this way. With this new sense of peace, she stood up and decided it was time to look for a place to build a home.
She only had to walk a few feet into the woods when she found it a tree house big enough for three people to fully live in. It was perfect. She stood there underneath it in great amazement.
“Who could’ve built such a large place? Maybe there are people here…” she whispered to herself. “I just need to get a closer look. Maybe I can live in it if it really is abandon.”
She began climbing the little ladder on the tree. As she reached the top, she listened but couldn’t hear any unfamiliar sounds. With a final sigh, she busted through the door and into the house.
“There’s nothing here. There’s no one even here…” she said aloud and looked around. It was no ordinary tree house. It had a small living room, a very tiny kitchen, and two beds in the corner, but Alexandria wasn’t complaining.
“I’ll wait here until someone comes back maybe,” she whispered as she went and lay down in the king-sized bed that looked oh-so-inviting.
Alexandria passed out by the time her head hit the pillow. She slept for hours and still no one came to the house. When she woke up she decided that the place really was abandoned, the person came here, built this house and left it, not even remembering it still existed.
“I guess this place is mine now, but I’ll just have to wait and see if anyone ever comes back,” she said as a half smile danced on her lips. She walked outside the door at the end of the room to discover a small porch. However, as she stood on her porch taking in the beauty of the stars, forest, and sea, she began to think.
“I wonder what Mom would say about this. I’m going to be just fine out here. I’m going to be just fine… I hope.” She sighed, but in her mind she questioned if she was really going to be okay.
When the final rays of light faded, she walked back inside and lit the candles in the room to save her from the grip of darkness. She made herself some of the food she had packed while thinking about her adventures for the next day.
“I need to collect food in the morning. Eh, that shouldn’t be too hard to do.”
With her thoughts of the next day swimming in her head, she lay down in the bed. As she lay there and stared up at the ceiling, she realized that the roof above the bed was just a glass pane.
“This window is for looking at the stars, how interesting. Well at least the stars will protect me while I sleep.” Her eyes began to grow heavy.
Alexandria lay there just thinking about life. But while she was thinking and so close to sleep, she heard the noise.
A small noise, barely even loud enough to pick up.
Days had passed since she heard it. She wasn’t even sure if she had really heard it or not. She considered the possibility that is was just her imagination playing tricks with her. Real or not, she kept the thought of a “meow” in the back of her mind.
She had been doing fine ever since she left. She had plenty of food and basic necessities. On her seventh day, she went down to the sea and went swimming. She had done it a few times while on the island, but this time was different. She felt as though she were being watched. She ignored the sensation until it was almost unbearable, and with a scream she ran back to the house.
She climbed the tree as fast as she could, for she heard the soft noise of another set of feet hitting the grass somewhere in the woods around her. Tears were streaming down her face, and she was slowly starting to panic.
“This can’t… be happening…” she whispered between shaky breaths once she got into the house and locked the door. She inched her way to the balcony and slowly walked out onto it. She stared out into the forest below her, into the trees that were eye level with her, and through the trees onto the beach. While she scanned the beach area, she saw it.
It was figure, around her size, maybe even smaller than her but not by much. It had white hair with black lowlights. The figure was facing the water, crouched down at the edge of the shore. Alexandria examined the figures hair and started moving her eyes down its body. This is when she saw that it was a white tail with a black tip. It was swaying slowly, as if about to pounce on a fish that was in the water.
Alexandria backed away from the window, about to pass out. All the questions she could ever imagine were flying through her head. She stumbled to her bed and lay down. She stared at her ceiling. Her secret came into her mind, but she put it away.
“This isn’t possible, it really is not possible,” she whispered to herself. She sat up and stared at her hands. She wasn’t scared, but more surprised. She thought about the appearance of the girl. She knew it was a girl from the long hair, even the structure of the body gave it away: small, thin, and very feminine. She didn’t know what to think of the creature.
“Maybe I can talk to her. Maybe she’ll understand me and be able to talk back. I need to find her first though.”
Alexandria silently climbed down the tree and stalked through the forest. As she neared the beach she made sure each of her steps were very cautious but deliberate. She was as quiet as a deer. When she reached the beach, the feline girl wasn’t there anymore. Instead, a track of paw prints led into the woods. Alexandria followed these tracks until they ended abruptly.
She walked right into the feline girl; who was only a few inches shorter than her.
Alexandria couldn’t believe it. She was standing right there within two feet of this girl. Her long white hair with black lowlights and her white tail with a black tip made her look like a raven covered in snow, and a black band around each of her wrists and ankles and a scar on her side looked like she had been clawed in a fight. But Alexandria wasn’t afraid. She felt at peace with this stranger.
As slowly as she could, Alexandria lifted her hand in front of her and kept it there in midair. The cat girl did the same, and their hands met.
“My name is Alexandria,” she said to the creature, “and I am part cat too.” While she was saying this, with her other hand Alexandria reached around behind her and pulled out her tail. It was black as a sky filled with ashes and a little longer that the other girl’s tail. The world came shattering down around her as she finally told someone her biggest secret.
By this time, Alexandria was staring at the top of the girls head. This entire time she had never looked at Alexandria but instead stared at the ground. At last she moved her head.
Alexandria was met with eyes the color of the ocean: a navy blue. The girl had different eyes though. In the navy color were flecks of a bright turquoise blue that stood out and made that dark navy have life. Her eyes looked as if they were a galaxy.
“My name is Midnight. Welcome to my home.”
A week had passed since they met. From that point on they had become best friends. They knew everything about each other. Alexandria had found out that the scar on Midnight’s side were from an accident. She told Alexandria how she had been climbing the rocks on the island and slipped, cutting her side open every time she struck a rock. Alexandria also found out that Midnight had built the tree house as her home. Midnight said she never knew where she came from but she woke up one day on the island. Her past was a blur. That’s all she had to say to Alexandria.
After finding things out about Midnight, Alexandria started to say things about herself. She told her about her time at school and how her mom was never home. She told her things about the city and the places she would go for fun. She told Midnight the luxuries of family and friends. She got choked up when she talked about it but realized she was happy with her new friend, Midnight.
Years had now passed since the fateful night when Alexandria ran away. The two girls cared for each others just as normal sisters would. Nothing would ever separate them. For the rest of theirs lives they lived out on this island, far away from the others. Far away from the hate. Far away from the ones who would hurt them because of their secret. Their adventure had just begun.
By Anna Alford
St. Paul’s Episcopal School
Marcy was a young girl heralding from a wealthy family, homeschooled and pampered with exotic luxuries since birth. There was nothing particularly special regarding her family, excluding the fact that the father had died young. Nonetheless, the mother and child thrived among the top tier in society, for they spent their days in leisurely humdrum and went to church every Sunday like every other family in the neighborhood. Their excess of money was funneled into presenting Marcy with a vast array of books to occupy her with reading. Among her favorites were romantic tales of chivalry and forbidden love between knights and princesses. She loved them so much, in fact, that she was inspired to weave together her own tale of such an occurrence with a character she could relate to.
“Mother,” Marcy asked as her mother helped fix her hair for church. “What kind of person would you forbid me to love?”
Marcy’s mother clearly did not think much of the silly question but gave an honest reply. “Someone impoverished, I suppose.”
Marcy had not anticipated that answer. “But why?”
“They are filthy, slow-witted and lacking in social graces,” her mother answered sharply, displeased with the discussion. “Your father and I hoped to spare you from ever being associated with them, so do not trouble yourself with worrying about such foolish things.”
Marcy, for once, could not understand her mother’s orders. After several failed attempts at writing a story she had no firsthand experience with herself, Marcy was determined to find answers. Therefore, the next day after her mother left the house and the maids occupied themselves with cleaning, Marcy slipped out the side door without attracting anyone’s notice. She fled the streets until she was clear of the towering, extravagant mansions and was greeted instead by stouter buildings, a few of which were held together with aged, chipped paint and shockingly plain decorations.
The first man she spotted in this change of scenery was collapsed against a white, crooked fence, hugging a torn, poorly sown blue blanket checkered with lopsided fish and a large pack filled with what looked like his only belongings to his chest for warmth. His darkened clothes clung to his small frame with years of being unwashed, complimenting his frowzy beard and sullen eyes appropriately. The sight of him filled Marcy with awe and wonder at how someone that looked so different from her could belong to her same species.
This thought fueled her determination. Marcy approached the man with caution until his empty eyes flickered up to her own, widening with what seemed to be disbelief and surprise, though Marcy knew not why.
“You!” The wearied man called, but then seemed to reprimand himself for speaking too loudly, for he immediately lowered his voice. “What is a young girl in such flashy clothes doing in a place like this? No, before you answer, hide yourself with this.” He tossed her the blanket he had been warming himself with, which Marcy caught and unquestioningly pulled tightly around her in hopes of alleviating his alarm. “Very good. Now at least you won’t attract many stares.”
Marcy was aware that he was doing her a favor, though she wasn’t clear on how. She graciously thanked him nevertheless. Moving closer in a gesture that implied she wished to speak with him for a longer while, Marcy asked him about what made the poor so different from herself.
“Well, if you must know,” he replied, “the main difference between you and me is the level of extravagance we surround ourselves with.”
This sounded acutely contrary to what her mother had told her. Marcy pressed on. “Are all of you like that?”
The old man cracked a smile. “Honestly, some of us are just lazy. Others try to run away from life and their responsibilities. More than you realize, however, are crushed by the competition or trampled underfoot by misfortune that we can’t seem to escape, no matter how hard we struggle. That’s just the kind of world we live in, but I don’t expect a little girl to understand. Run on home, now.”
Marcy tilted her head, refusing to budge. “Were you always poor, mister? Mama says poor people aren’t very smart.”
“You mother also surely warned you not to run away to get robbed somewhere, but you didn’t seem to listen to that.” The old man’s eyes crinkled with memories. “Yes, I was an ordinary man before this. I tried to enter the world as an entrepreneur, but I wasn’t very good at investing. I lost money – slowly at first, but it soon snowballed – and before I realized it was happening, everyone around me had abandoned me. Everyone I had thought supported me, my co-workers, my wife and my child, fled the moment things got rough. I chose not to try again. I let life’s relentless flood take me to where I am now, but I get by without letting stress eat me away until I’m just a mundane corpse in a grave.” He seemed to be trying not to sound regretful, but a tear slipped into the crook of his eye. He met the gaze of the innocent little girl who watched him wonderingly, possibly reflecting the image of his own daughter and the lifestyle he had once wanted to give her. “What is your name?”
Marcy thought she saw a shadow of a smile creep onto the old man’s weathered features, but it vanished before she could be sure. “Well, if I can’t force you to leave of your own accord, then allow a lonely old man to impart some wisdom on you. I may regret the choices I made to become the way I am now, but that was because I was a coward. This lifestyle has opened my eyes to valuable things I could never have seen otherwise. Though it may be too much to ask of someone I have only just met, I don’t want you to be consumed by greed. It’s a great mystery among those who are blinded by it, but there is a simple way to cure the unhappiness of the over-fortunate. If you have so much to the point of it obscuring your vision of the world and consuming your happiness, then you must learn to give it away and experience loss.”
Marcy couldn’t wrap her mind around this foreign concept. “Give it away? But why? Shouldn’t those who work hard get rewarded for their efforts?”
“A true reward isn’t achieved through material objects. It’s the blessings of those around you and the joy you can receive from selflessly contributing to others’ happiness. Soon, happiness will find its way to you.” The old man seemed to catch himself. “But who am I to be lecturing a child on such philosophical things? You probably aren’t listening to me anyway. Go on, now; your mother must be worried.”
Marcy smiled. She was wrong to have assumed things. Everyone was different, but they were also the same. “One other thing confuses me, mister,” she said. “You claim that people are greedy and that not everyone is like you, but how do I know that everyone won’t abuse the stuff I give them?”
The old man thought for a moment. “Well, if you were to give others anything, what they would do with it is entirely up to them. You can’t make other people’s decisions for them. If they choose to abuse it, then that choice will weigh on their own hearts. It is enough for them to know that someone out there cares and is willing to toss them a life line, even if they choose not to climb it.”
Marcy knew she would never forget this conversation with the old man, who had been so eager to share what he knew to those willing to listen. He allowed the battered blanket, the only piece of warmth he owned, to cloak the young girl as she fled home in disguise.
The old man watched the young girl leave with hope and regret shining in his wizened grey eyes. He could not comprehend how such a compassionate girl could be the daughter of the shallow women that had left him, but her name, her wide blue eyes and almond-colored hair that framed her petite face were things that he could never erase from his weary memory. She was the mirror image of that pitiful woman, whose remembrance still brought aches to his heart.
He could never tell Marcy the truth. He wanted her to have nothing to do with the shame and sorrow that knowing his identity would bring. Her eager attentiveness was more than he ever could have wished for, and eased his anxiety more than any sympathy could.
The old man leaned his head back against the fence and turned his eyes upward to the vast, starry night sky. The precious blanket he had given away was not missed. Something greater than his blanket warmed him now, something he had not felt since the distant years before his life had been warped by greed and the consuming nature of money: a simple joy that was only received from someone who truly listened without regard for status or wealth.
That night, Marcy was acutely aware of the abundant proportion of food and other excessive privileges bestowed upon her that she realized were not essential for her well-being at all. She was sharply aware that her mother, absorbed in the haunting stress that always clung to a woman of high status, wore an expression of deep unhappiness as she seemed to be trying in vain to distract herself with the lavish luxuries around her. Heeding the old man’s advice, Marcy offered the idea of donating some of their excess money and food to the poor. Her mother reprimanded her harshly before sending her to her room with sharp words of disapproval. The notion was foolish.
Her nonsensical scolding barely affected her enough to hamper her determination. When the sun had long since fallen and the moon shone full through her bedroom window, Marcy sat at her elegant desk illuminated by a quaint light and delivered her thoughts to paper. She wrote a story about a beautiful lady from a wealthy family who leaves home to marry a poor, smart man that goes into business. The man faces many problems along the way, but he never gives up and can soon afford a moderate house for his beloved family. He freely shares his material possessions with the people around him, and though he never uses the money to heighten his fame or establish a name for himself, his generous deeds are forever embedded into the hearts of those around him. HisTheir family is remembered as one of the happiest in the village.
As the black ink dyed her paper with thoughts, Marcy felt that she was no longer writing a story for herself anymore. She was writing for the old man and the myriad of obscure people he represented. She felt obligated to visit the old man again as soon as she could. Instead of just returning what he had so graciously lent her, however, she would bring one of her own warm, clean blankets and her finished story as a present.
Marcy could never decipher the inexplicable joy that appeared to light the old man’s eyes whenever she saw him again, but she treasured him more than anyone she had ever known, and they grew to be the best of friends. He looked younger every time she visited, and she fervently hoped that her presents of smuggled food, everyday objects and her accumulating unpublished stories about him were deeply helping him in some way unseen to the eye. She was introduced to various other men, women, and even children who dwelled in similar circumstances like the old man. Every one of them was no less respectful and no less human than the last.
One evening, after Marcy had completed her third story and left her house two days before Sunday out of her eagerness to share it with her closest friend and critic, the hopeful girl could find no one leaning against the battered wooden fence that had always served as a support for the old man. Reasoning that perhaps it was a spot that he only occupied on Sundays, Marcy returned home and impatiently awaited the arrival of the day of rest, but nothing changed. The weathered fence remained vacant. A week passed, and still the old man did not return. Marcy did not see his wise, expressive eyes ever again, but she never stopped visiting.
Marcy was revered as a writer by the old man and the few oppressed who read and shared her stories. Though her mother forbade her ideas from being published, those who did read her stories never forgot them and continued to pass on their inspiring messages to all who would listen. On her death bed, Marcy’s mother finally had enough idle time to read the story that was alien to the world she had lived in. Warm tears drenched her pillow.
“Marcy, listen to me,” her mother croaked in a hoarse voice, grasping her daughter’s hand with a surprising sense of urgency. “Your father did not die when you were a little girl. I know that’s what I have always told you, and I thought that it was also what your father would have wanted you to believe, but now – now I am not sure anymore. You must understand – I believed that leaving him was the best choice for the both of us. I believed that if I had stayed with him, all of us would have fallen into poverty together, and that was the worst thing that could have ever happened. You must forgive me, I was a fool-” her voice hitched on a sob, and she outstretched a shivering hand towards her bedside drawer. Marcy immediately understood and pulled back the handle. Pressed against the wood beneath a layer of dust was a photograph. Peering out from the worn white edges sat a young man lovingly embraced from behind by a beautiful, brown-haired woman leaning over an identical, brown-haired toddler tightly clutching a poorly sown blue blanket checkered with lopsided fish from above her perch on her father’s knees.
Marcy squeezed her mother’s frail hand with such gentle force that the old woman looked into her daughter’s blurry eyes in silence. Her mother could not comprehend the powerful emotions, which consisted of shocked realization and infinite tenderness, which quietly dripped from her daughter’s steady gaze. “I forgive you, mother,” she assured her softly. “Both of you.”
At that moment, the aged mother and forgiving daughter shared honest, almost joyful tears together for the first time in their lives. The old woman graciously granted her daughter the long-awaited permission that would allow her to become famous for the stories she’d based off her father, contributing to a steady stream of funds donated to the endless amount of poor people that forever occupied a cherished place in her heart. The hour before her death, Marcy’s withered mother finally listened to her daughter and repented.