Grace knew exactly what had brought her to the brink, to that instant flash of a moment when everything that had been before no longer existed. And she didn’t care, though flashes of the past two years skidded through her mind unrelenting, demanding that she reconsider leaving. Every thought that sprung up, she struck through with one word, “forgiven”. As she walked down her street for the last time in her flimsy, revealing dress, she saw those hungry, empty eyes of the men she passed. She knew what they thought. She had always known from the first frozen, numbing encounter in a dark alley on a day just like this. They had dragged her off half-dead and sold her to a pimp.
Johnny was good to her while she was bruised and broken and he had ways of taking away the pain, until she forgot her past and clung only to him. He bought her fancy things, tight, skimpy skirts, long boots and fur-lined jackets. He changed her hair to red and gave her rings and bracelets. He named her Scarlet and showed her off to his friends, driving her in his fancy car.
Johnny brought a girl home late one night. She was a whore. By morning Scarlet understood who Johnny was. It was as simple as that, as simple as a bird in a thicket caught and locked in a cage. The bruises of that horrid night were this time left untended as her years of slavery began. To hide from her ugliness, her thoughts escaped to the patch of white daisies blooming on a sloping hill that beckoned her, not far from her childhood home, as it had in years gone by. Birds nesting high on branches of a willow tree sang for her and sometimes she would hear their songs breathed softly through her lips.
The old woman on her street dressed in rags, shoveling along day after day, her gnarled hands pushing a half-filled grocery-cart, had caught Johnny’ eyes and made him mad. Scarlet had tried to warn her to stay away, to take another route to the mission but she waved her hand and grinned. “I’ll be back.“
Scarlet didn’t see her for a few days. On a drizzling afternoon she stole away and searched the surrounding alleys close to the mission. An open hand stuck out from under a large piece of cardboard near a dumpster. Scarlet gasped as she saw the old woman. She dared not move closer to look at her, she knew her gnarled hand.
Terror gripped her at the thought of Johnny, she knew him well and now she knew he would kill.
Frightened she ran to the first alley door and knocked, not knowing it was the back door of the mission. An older man with soft gray hair and kindly eyes let her in.
It was days later, after Johnny‘s arrest and confession, that Scarlet took her first, freeing breaths. Max, the man who’d opened the door and let her in that rainy day, had stood by her through the investigation. He had offered her a simple dress to look respectable and help her testimony.
Scarlet sat alone at dinner in a remote corner of the mission dining-room when Max passed by. She called him over. “Come sit by me.”
“I will Scarlet, just let me fill my plate.”
“Don’t call me Scarlet, Max, my name is Grace Crane,” she said when he sat down. He smiled and nodded his head.
“Tomorrow is Sunday, Grace, feel like going to services?”
Grace's hand trembled when she laid her fork next to her plate and when she looked up at him she smiled. “Sure Max, I will, if you’ll go with me.”
When Sunday services ended and sinners walked the aisle, it was as if an unseen hand took hold of hers and led her to follow. After the counselor's words, and after her prayer, her wildly beating heart stilled. She suddenly knew she was born again, all things were new.
That was when she knew in a flash, that all things that had been before, were forgiven.
When Max arrived at the mission the next morning, he was given a package containing the dress he’d bought Scarlet and a note of thanks, “Dear Max, keep the dress for the next girl that knocks on your door. I’m going home just as I am. Forever, Grace.”
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