Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: The Manuscript (04/29/10)
By PamFord Davis
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“Valerie, take a break from the computer files. Carry these discarded books to the dumpster,” said my boss.
I picked up the cardboard box and pondered the sadness of authors’ blood-sweat-and tears being labeled discarded. The chill in the Boston autumn air brought shivers and goose bumps. I hastened to complete my assignment, raised the dumpster lid, and tossed in the unwanted books before hustling back inside.
“Ms. Hopkins, would you like me to make fresh coffee? Could really use it myself, just got a chill out there.”
My boss and I were still on formal terms. I felt uncomfortable by calling her by her first name. She never tried to intimidate me. I just felt a sense of deep respect for her, which held me back from casual name calling. I turned on the coffee maker, enjoying the tantalizing aroma of brewing coffee before returning to pick up where I left off at the computer.
“Sorry, overlooked these discarded books earlier. Better hurry Valerie, don’t want to miss the afternoon trash pick up.”
“No problem. Coffee should be ready by the time I finish.”
I spotted an elderly woman pawing through the dumpster and pulling out books. She seemed to be in a daze, but clearly knew she wanted as many books as she could reach. At the discovery of my presence she cringed, causing the dumpster lid to drop with a bang. The books fell from her grasp, scattering below among autumn leaves.
“Librarian says its okay! Lets me take old books. Ask her, she’ll tell you!”
“She never mentioned it, but guess it’s alright, just being hauled off to the landfill. Let me help you pick them up.”
The scavenger smelled of offensive body odor. Time had not treated her kindly. Her frail body showed weathered skin and several front teeth were missing. A tattered flimsy dress left bare arms and legs exposed to the elements. In the brief encounter I felt ashamed by my discomfort in her presence.
Grabbing books, she shuffled out of sight murmuring, “Gotta go! Gotta go!”
“What’s wrong, something frighten you out there?”
I began to explain my surprise meeting to Ms. Hopkins.
“That’s Margaret, a crackpot that takes old books every chance she gets! Sorry I forgot to tell you. Better watch that woman; sometimes she has quite a temper! Can’t figure her out. I’ve seen her cleaned up a few times, even carried on conversations. People say she lives in the basement of the old abandoned church around the corner. Crackpots like her should be locked up!”
My opinion of my supervisor dropped several notches. She seemed as cold and cruel as the biting outside air. I went to the bathroom to wash my hands, but could not remove my dirty feeling of conviction inside. Do I care about Margaret, or just feel guilty because I don’t?
I took the risk of love. Many gossips of the neighborhood were eager to tell their tales about crackpot Margaret. A few other residents tenderly shared details of her plight. She and her young groom Edward prepared for service as foreign missionaries. Her dreams shattered when he lost his life in a tragic plane crash before they were commissioned. Margaret spiraled downward into debilitating Bi-Polar Disorder. She could be lucid and briefly in control. Most often she failed to take medications, living in the depressed state of confusion.
The church door stood ajar and I took baby steps inside.
“Hello! Anybody here?”
My voice echoed from the cathedral ceiling. I inched my way downward to the basement, barely able to see the stairs. Will she let me in?
Lord, give me courage.
I rapped on the door repeatedly and slowly turned the rusted knob. A ray of rainbow light came through a narrow cellar window, illuminating the lifeless face of the saint. Her hand rested on an open Bible. Books and magazines were strewn everywhere. Peeling plastered walls held an outdated calendar and a solitary picture. A young bride and groom reverently posed erect behind cracked glass.
What’s under her pillow? Crumpled manila envelope.
I beheld a scribbled manuscript signed by Margaret Andrews. The title accurately became her eulogy: Broken Vessel. She now resides with the author of the Book of Life.
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