Softly echoes nature’s wonders.
Softly echoes nature’s wonders.
There’s little joy around here. It’s not like the guards put up greenery along the hallways and wind garland around the bars. There aren’t any Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling. It’s just the same dull, dim overhead lights, the kind that make a guy look even more like death than he already does in here. It’s a week before Christmas, give or take.
So, when I’m told I have a visitor, my heart leaps with the first joy I’ve felt in a long time. A guard brings me into the meeting room, where I’m seated on one side of a long table with bars separating the prisoners from the visitors. I sit and stare into Ma’s concerned hazel eyes.
“Hi, Ma,” I say, although it sounds more like a croak.
Ma’s mouth moves, but nothing comes out. Instead, she starts sobbing. She keeps wiping at her eyes with a handkerchief, sniffling, and shaking her head, looking for all the world like she wants to speak but can’t. Finally, she sets the handkerchief in her lap and pulls something outta her purse. It’s bright red. She shoves it toward me through the bars.
“I made it for you,” she says.
Picking the item up, it’s soft. I realize it’s a hat. I glance toward the guard, who’s got his eyes on me, and pull the hat down over my ears, hiding my messy hair. Heart-gutting gratitude stabs at me. God, Ma, why’d you have to make me something?
“I don’t have anything for you, but thanks, Ma.”
She shakes her head. “Nonsense, Harry. Why would I expect you to have something for me? The best gift I can ask for this Christmas is to see you. I just w-wish–”
My eyes drop to my hands. The hat feels warm on my head, a piece of home. “I know, Ma. So do I. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry we haven’t come sooner. I just– I just couldn’t bear that thought of seeing you here.”
“I’m sorry.” I don’t know what else to say. It’s pathetic but true. Somehow, two little words do next to nothing to explain how much I wish I could undo the past and make right. I wanna tell Ma that she’ll one day be proud of me, that when I get outta here, I won’t let her down ever again. But it’s a lie. It’s not a promise I can make.
Ma starts sobbing all over again, and before I can say another wretched “I’m sorry,” the guard says our time’s up and ushers her out. I’m about to stand and leave, because if I need to blubber like a little kid, at least let it be in my cell instead of here, but the guard tells me I have another visitor. I plant myself back in the seat, but I’m on the edge, my legs shaking.
Pa comes in and sits. He tries to smile, but the pained grimace doesn’t reach his dull eyes. “Hi, son.”
“Hi, Pa. How’re things at home?”
Pa shrugs. “Quiet. It’s just us, Hannah, and Irma now.”
“I manage. Not as much business as I used to get, but I’m holding it together fine. Hannah’s been helping out with paying the bills when her money.”
“That’s Hannah for you. Always lookin’ out for others.” I try to smile.
“So, uh… Any plans for Christmas?” I wanna kick myself for speaking to my father like I’m making small talk with a stranger in a food line.
“Amy, Jack, and Jean will be there. Don’t know about Erik and Lily yet. We don’t really hear much from your brother anymore.”
My insides churn as my thoughts darken. What’s Erik’s problem? He’s got all the freedom in the world, yet he can’t pick up the phone or be bothered to visit his family? “He’s lucky he’s not in my shoes. You know what I’d give to be there?”
Pa sighs. “Don’t be too hard on Erik, Harry. We all have our own battles to fight.”
I cross my arms over my chest. “Yeah, well…”
“It won’t be forever, son. I hate seeing you in here, but just give it time.”
“Time’s all I’ve got, Pa. I’m losin’ my mind here.”
Again, Pa tries to smile. It’s who he is, what he’s always done: give that smile to fill us with hope, to cheer us on, to make us believe in ourselves when we couldn’t on our own.
“I wish I’d have known you had that problem, Harry.”
His words are soft, but the firm undertone is holding them up. He won’t even acknowledge what “that problem” is in words. Go ahead, Pa. Say it. Tell me I’m an alcoholic. Instead, I nod and am man enough to look my old man in the eyes when I reply, “I know. Truth is, Pa, I never thought it was a problem.”
“Until it was too late.”
“Yeah, until then.” You must be ashamed of me. That’s the real reason why you and Ma haven’t come to this hell-hole till now. I don’t blame you, Pa. If I were you, I’d stay away from me, too, but I’m kinda stuck with myself.
“Time’s up,” the guard says without feeling, and he waits for Pa to join him at the door to see him out.
As Pa stands, he says, “Ma and I will be back soon, son. I promise.”
“Yeah, see you around, Pa.”
And then he’s gone. Just like that. I stand and walk toward the door on my side, looking through the bars one last time, maybe expecting to see the other side without that barrier that tells me exactly where my place is.
Some important things to remember this Thanksgiving (and every day). Many thanks to my friend, Kelly, for writing and posting this. 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving!
This Thanksgiving, stop. Halt the cooking, put your flour-dusted, pumpkin-splattered ear up to the knobby pink mountain of white meat and listen.
As you scoop your third helping of baked marshmallows with a dab of sweet potatoes, and your nether regions fuse to the chair, take note.
When your uncle walks in wearing a Make America Great Again hat and you’re tempted to rip it off his head and challenge him to a proper duel, pause.
When they’re late. Again. And the glory has congealed on the stove, and you’ve taken so many “test” bites you could be the one in the oven, and you wonder how come, if you can cook an entire dinner and be on time, why can’t they shower and show up on time? When you’re tempted to walk out on the whole thing, mark the headless guest of honor.
In the quiet moments of Thanksgiving…
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O mysterious heavens,
How you dare intrigue
Those most hidden secrets
Of my mind.
If only for an instant
I could grasp your truth,
I would pass away
Into a realm
Of perpetual beauty and magic.
I am entering!
Could you write a hundred-word flash fiction by Thanksgiving? How about for a $20,000 first place prize? Runners-up get a thousand bucks. And it’s legit. I checked because you know what they say about things that seem too good to be true.
This year’s theme is the word, bridging the gap between different cultures and religions. Four languages are accepted: Spanish, English, Arabic, and Hebrew, and the contest is judged by an international jury. Reflecting on how words can bring us together is time well-spent, regardless of the prize money.
The way I see it, the Powerball costs $2 to play. This costs nothing, and you get a piece of flash fiction out of the deal. It’s a win-win.
Want to enter? Click here. Happy writing!
The living room is filled to the brim, so it’s with relief that I take Kat upstairs.
I hadn’t realized what I was doing until we find ourselves standing at the top of the stairs. The short hallway with its five doors — the three bedrooms, the bathroom, and the stairway to the attic — invites us, and Kat accepts the invitation.
“Which one’s your room?”
“Second door on the left. ‘Course, I shared it was my brother for most of my life.”
Kat doesn’t seem interested in talking, as she’s already down the hall and entering my room. I follow her, a bit uneasy because of the crowd just down the stairs. “Kat, what’re you doin’?”
She flops down onto my bed and laughs. “Aw, come on, big boy. Don’t tell me you’re choosing now to play coy?”
I close the door carefully. “Of course not.”
She eyes up the room. I wonder if she’s expecting to find some sort of big secret, like I keep a collection of fresh eyeballs in a glass jar or something. There’s nothing remarkable about this room, however. A few of my brother’s old baseball trophies linger on our dresser, and there are my basketball ones as well. Kat sits up and approaches the trophies. Maybe she saw the way I was scrutinizing them.
She picks up the largest — a behemoth from Erik’s senior year, recognizing his years of excellence on the field. “Jeez, you could use this thing for weightlifting,” Kat jokes, placing it back. She studies the trophies for a few moments and then asks, her eyes still on them, “Does it bother you?” Her voice has turned soft, gentle, like she’s talking to a kid.
“What?” I ask, the sunlight coming through the window gleaming off the trophies, uncomfortable on my eyes.
“That all these, I mean the ones that belong to your brother, are still here. It’s like, I dunno, it’s like he’s still hanging around here, not giving you your space. Look, his trophies are all bigger than yours.”
I can feel my eyebrows arching inward. “Do we hafta talk about this? Ain’t it enough that Erik had you under his spell downstairs? Yeah, maybe I oughta just throw the damn things out.”
I pick up the biggest trophy and open the window, making to toss it. Kat stops me by placing her smaller hand on top of mine. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I might be older than Will, but I’ve still felt like he’s the older brother.”
I return the trophy to its place, rightful or not. Its shadow hovers over the smaller trophies, making sure they all know who’s the boss around here. “I’m gonna ask Erik to take them with him before he leaves today. This hasn’t been his room in years.”
Kat doesn’t reply, but instead she’s guiding me toward my bed. I’m like a rag doll as she pins me down and claims my mouth with hers. I don’t think as I return the kiss hungrily. Our hands are all over each other. We can’t seem to stop. Breathing doesn’t seem important anymore. All I want is her, the girl who gets me.
And she can get me all she wants. Kat undoes her blouse, and I see them — her boobs just asking to be touched. I push the bra away, but she’s already unfastening it. I may have just gone to Heaven, because damn, this right here is better than any gift under the tree. She’s unwrapping herself just for me.
As Kat runs her hands under my shirt, I begin to fumble with the buttons. She yanks the shirt off, losing a couple of buttons in the process, and smiles deviously at me. As she runs her hands through my hair and kisses me again, my eyes are closed. Sure, we’ve necked before, but this…this is a whole new level.
I feel like a firecracker ready to go off, and as I tug at my fly, our little party on the bed is rudely interrupted by a knock from the door.
“Oh, crap,” I hiss as I bolt up from the bed, making to fasten my shirt. I feel like someone simultaneously punched me in the gut and hit me over the head with a frying pan. “Just a sec.” I quickly glance at Kat and find her tugging on her blouse, her bra already on and closed. She looks frazzled and equally annoyed.
“Harry, Ma’s about to serve dessert. We wondered where you’d gone off to,” Erik’s muffled voice says behind the door.
I can’t help but smile at Kat. Trying to contain my laughter, I say, “We’ll be down in a minute.”
There’s a pause. If I’d heard footsteps retreating down the hall, I’d’ve thought Erik left. Finally, he says, “What are you doing in there?”
“Can’t a guy show a girl his room? Jeez, brother.”
“I’ll see you downstairs, Harry.”
Finally, the footsteps. I let out a sigh of relief, and Kat begins giggling. “Oh, you should’ve seen the look on your face,” she says.
“My face? What about yours?”
Kat chucks my belt at me. “You might need that. Think they’ll notice your shirt?”
Doesn’t it seem that God is being left out in the giving of thanks?
I hear people say they are thankful for many things, but thankful to whom?
As we approach Thanksgiving reflect on how God, in multiple ways, has blessed you. Even the very air we breathe is a gift from God.
Be thankful to God not just on Thanksgiving but every day!
Psalm 69:30 (ESV) – “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.”
Share in the comment box about the blessings God has given you this year!