Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: In-Law(s)( 05/08/08)
Neon Circles and the Matchbox
By Debbie Roome
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My own heart has turned to stone. It was a slow process of petrifaction as I processed the loss of Jess and Baby. Now it just lies deep within; a heavy lump that I drag around, day by day.
“Coming for some soup, Rocky?” Seamus pokes grizzled features into my scarred edifice of cardboard.
I think for a moment. The weather is vile and my fingers are swollen and numb from the cold. “You go ahead. I might join you a bit later.”
There is something on my mind and I rummage in the sack that houses my belongings. I am looking for the matchbox that Jack gave me a week ago. Jack is a good man; a man who loves God. He’s also Jess’s father, Baby’s grandfather and my father-in-law.
Funny how he is the only one who persists in staying in touch. My parents are dead and the rest of my family has given up on me. Some have even disowned me. I can just imagine the gossip at family gatherings.
“Have you seen Rocky recently?”
“He hasn’t shaved in a year and his clothes are filthy.”
“Tragic what’s happened to him. He’s totally lost his mind.”
I pull the matchbox out and pause, regarding the grime embedded in my skin and under my nails. I suppose they could be right. When the hit and run driver hit Jess, he stole my wife, my unborn child and eventually, my sanity.”
Funny how Jack doesn’t seem to mind the way I look. He always gives me a firm hand shake and pulls me into a close embrace.
I slide the matchbox open and look for the hundredth time at the paper nestled within. Its message is contained in one word. One word that Jack wanted me to have.
I think again of Jack; of how he tracks me through the streets, month after month. Of how he tries to give me warm clothes and blankets, toiletries and a cell phone, food and books. Of how he tells me there’s a room in his house, waiting for me. I have refused everything as life is a bare existence these days. I have no need of such luxuries.
Funny how he still comes after me. How he visits the shelters when he thinks snow may have forced me off the streets. How he circulates the soup kitchens looking for me.
I look at the paper again.
A simple one-word message. “I know you don’t want anything.” he said, “But there is something in this box that you need. I know your pain. I understand your loss, but Jess and Baby wouldn’t want you to live like this. I still grieve for them but God has given me hope for the future. I’ve put some of that hope into this box for you.”
I slide the matchbox shut and push it back into the sack.
Funny how his words keep coming back to me.
Suddenly I’m squeezing out of my shelter, turning my face towards the soup kitchen. The sidewalk is frozen and neon reflects in icy puddles; quivering lines of red, lime and yellow that scoot in circles and then flash…flash…flash. Deep in my heart of stone, I feel an echoing movement; a tentative stirring as a ray of hope pulsates. The realization dawns as I hurry on my way. I am hoping that Jack will be waiting for me.
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