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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "Every Dark Cloud has a Silver Lining" (without using the actual phrase or literal example). (02/28/08)

TITLE: It Wasn't in Vain
By Debbie Roome
03/02/08
~10th Place


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It was a normal day at Pleasant Hill Respite Care Centre. That is as normal as our days could ever be. To the world outside, this was a place for the rejects of society. For those deficient and defunct, disabled and damaged. We had a few long term patients but most were short term regulars; booked in for a few days to give their care-givers a break. Often their family brought them in, exhaustion and guilt etched deep in their faces.

I walked into the communal lounge, breathing in antiseptic and stale cooking. “Good morning, Lillian. You’re looking well today.”

The old woman, hunched like a comma, gazed round in bewilderment. “Where’re Patsy and John? I need to get them ready for school.”

I took her elbow and steered her to a comfortable chair. “Patsy and John are away, Lillian. You’ll see them next week when they get back.”

I turned my attention to George, a teenager with cerebral palsy. “Howzit, Buddy.” I grasped his twisted hand and stroked it gently. His mind was perfect, trapped in a body over which he had no control. “Would you like to watch a video?” He blinked his eyes, his lips contorting in a grotesque grin as I steered his wheelchair to the TV lounge. “Superman, Shrek or Old Yella?”

I knew what the answer would be. George lived for the visits from Suzanne and her Labradors. They were wonderful animals; so gentle and blessed with an innate ability to read the residents. Sometimes they would rest their chins on a knee or sit patiently while children pulled their satiny ears. My favourite was a puppy who seemed extra sensitive to special needs. Milton was six months old now, a wiggling exuberance that lavished love on everyone at Pleasant Hill. I thought of him as I popped Old Yella into the VCR; of his thick golden fur and deep honey eyes and paws that were too big for his body.

As I turned to go, I noticed a little figure curled up in the corner. “Come sit by George, Joel.” No response. “He’s going to watch Old Yella.” No response. I reached out my hand to take his. No response. Joel had come to us four months earlier from a background of physical and emotional abuse. In four months, he hadn’t spoken a single word or responded to any therapy.

“It’s a psychological block.” The experts said. “We just have to be patient until something shifts in his mind.”

“Lynn, call for you.”

Suzanne was crying. “I’ve got bad news, Lynn. I took Milton to be de-sexed this morning and he reacted badly to the anaesthetic.” My heart froze, guessing what was coming next. “They couldn’t save him…he died about an hour ago.”

He was just a dog, I kept telling myself but my grief was real. He had loved whole-heartedly and the residents had loved him in return. I thought of how I had helped George run his arm across Milton’s fur. Of how Milton had licked Lillian’s knees and made her giggle. Of how he had rolled over and over and then barked for a biscuit. The pain was sharp and unrelenting and several times I blinked back tears. Concentrate Lynn. You can’t cry here. Not over a dog.

I managed until lunchtime. “Come on, Joel.” I coaxed, spooning vegetables into his mouth. “Open a little wider.” He obeyed but his eyes were blank, bottomless and lifeless. I was on the last spoonful when a staff member stopped next to us.

“I heard Milton died, Lynn. I’m so sorry - he was the most adorable dog I’ve ever met.”

The tears overflowed as she walked off. Stop it Lynn. Get a grip. I dug in my pocket for a clean tissue and soaked them up before turning back to Joel.

He was crying. Two silvery streams, washing feeling and emotion back into his eyes. Liquid pain, releasing the poison in his soul.

“Joel?”

His voice was husky, dry after months of disuse. “The doggy died.”

I pulled him onto my lap and for once there was no resistance, no stiffening or turning away. Instead he laid his head on my chest and together we wept, our tears mingling as we remembered a puppy who had revelled in life. A dog who had given his all.

“Your life wasn’t in vain,” I whispered, hoping the message would reach doggy heaven. “It wasn’t in vain, Milton.”

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Member Comments
Member Date
Sheri Gordon03/06/08
This is very sweet, and really shows the devastation of a situation having something positive come from it. Nice job with the topic.
Patty Wysong03/09/08
What a touching story --definitely a silver lining here. Wonderful.
Betty Castleberry03/10/08
This is heart-wrenching. Good job with the topic, and well written.
Holly Westefeld03/10/08
No, it wasn't in vain. Excellent writing. I was your shadow as you worked, getting to know each person through your eyes, feeling the shock of Milton's young death, and the amazing breakthrough of shared sorrow.
Good thing I already had tissues next to me from the dregs of being sick. :-)
Karen Wilber 03/11/08
Oh my - this is a beautiful story. The characters are drawn so carefully that I can picture them all. Right on topic, lovingly told.
Seema Bagai 03/12/08
Sweet story.
LauraLee Shaw03/12/08
I cried several times while reading this. Great job of taking me right to this place.
Lynda Lee Schab 03/12/08
"The old woman, hunched like a comma" Love this visual!

Descriptive writing with a nice take on topic. Well done!
Sara Harricharan 03/12/08
So sad, but so good to see that it wasn't in vain. I'm glad your topic tied in so beautifully. I felt as if I knew Milton too. What a precious story! You did great with the characterization, my only note is, I didn't get who Lynn was until the thought to herself. I thought it was someone else. ^_^
TJ Nickel03/12/08
really liked the story and its emotion, liked the similes (esp. the comma)...this part felt fragmented to me "He was crying. Two silvery streams, washing feeling and emotion back into his eyes. Liquid pain, releasing the poison in his soul." Thanks for the story.
Lauryn Abbott03/12/08
Wow! Heart-wrenching and beautiful. Thank you.
Jan Ackerson 03/12/08
Moving, tender, bittersweet.
Sara Harricharan 03/13/08
***Congratulations on your EC!*** Awesome writing! ^_^
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/13/08
I'm glad this beautifully sad story was an EC choice. Congratulations.
Shelley Ledfors 03/13/08
This one really touched my heart. There is so much I love about this piece it is hard to know where to begin in listing it...the descriptives, the emotion. It is just masterful. Congrats on the well-deserved EC!
Sheri Gordon03/13/08
Congratulations on your EC. This was one of my favorites this week.
Joanne Sher 03/13/08
I also loved the visual of the woman bent over like a comma - and the amazingly vivid characterizations. This is a wonderful, wonderful piece. Congratulations on your EC. Definitely deserving.
Beth LaBuff 03/14/08
Wow! Being an animal lover myself, you've really nailed down the emotions associated with loss of a pet. I love your use of "doggie heaven". Great story and writing. Congrats on your EC.