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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Inner Strength (04/20/06)

TITLE: Clean up on aisle five
By T. F. Chezum


“This sucks, man!” Jason flopped into a chair in the corner of the break room, “I hate this.”

“What-cha mean?” Randy slurped his root beer.

“Nothin’ ever goes my way,” he ran his hands through his hair until his fingers clinched behind his head. “I don’t know if I can hang. Old man Withers is puttin’ me on the late shift. He knows I got an early class in the mornin’. And my physics class …”

“Jus’ chill bro. College is tough some times.”

“I wan’na quit.”

“Quit the job?” Randy set his beverage on the table taking an interest in his friend’s comments.

“Everything, man. Pack up ‘n go. I ain’t cuttin’ it … can’t deal with it.”

“You can’t run an’ hide jus’ ‘cause things don’t go right. Tough it out, dude.”

“Clean up on aisle five,” the intercom echoed throughout the back of the building.

Jason pounded his fist against the wall. “I’m on break,” he grunted. “Prob’ly some dodderin’ ol’ geezer dropped a jar of prunes, or somethin’.”

“Jason!” Mr. Withers poked his head into the break room. “Some kid just puked in canned fruits. Get the mop and take care of it,” he disappeared down the corridor.

“Freakin’ great! I loose my break ‘cause some little brat hurled! It’s not fair, man.”

Jason swabbed the floor, leaving a smear of disinfectant and bile on the tile, “This is so gross!”

“I’m sorry mister,” a tiny voice uttered. “I didn’t mean to get sick.”

The young man turned to glare. The sight of a frail young child caught him off guard. She sat against the fruit cocktail display, her knees pulled tight to her chest. “No prob,” he smiled, trying to mask his insincerity. “Kind-a went heavy on the Cap’n Crunch, huh?”

“Nah, the medicine makes me feel real icky sometimes,” she pulled the floppy brim of her hat down the sides of her face. “And I get tired lots-a times, too.”

“Not feelin’ too good?” he plunged the mop into the bucket.

“It gets rid of the lumps in my stomach.”

Jason froze, numbness spreading through his innards. His blank stare fixed on the petite girl’s head. Beyond the edges of her loose, pink hat he noticed a light fuzz where beautiful curly locks belonged, “I … I’m sorry.”

“My name’s Jenny,” a smile lit her face. “Me ‘n Mommy are having a special day b’fore I go back to the hospital … I like shopping with Mommy.”

“The hospital?” stunned, he dropped the mop handle and squatted near the youngster. “That’s a bummer. Aren’t you scared?”

“Nah, Dr. Roy says he’s go’na take the lumps from me and then I’ll get all better.” She grabbed a delicate chain dangling around her neck and held it up, “He gave me this last time I was there,” a tiny angel glistened in the display light.

“That’s pretty neat. Bet your friends are jealous.”

“I only got friends at the hospital. And Dr. Roy gives everyone a special angel. I think it makes him feel good.” She dropped the charm and began tracing the flowers on her skirt with a finger, “Mommy says we’ll have a big party when I’m all better.”

“Doesn’t it bother you … being sick? Don’t you get sad?”

“It makes me sad when my mommy cries. I asked God to make her happy again.” Her emerald eyes met Jason’s gaze, “You look sad, do you want me to ask God to make you happy, too?"

“No … I’m okay.”

“You should talk to God, He can help.”

“Jenny,” a voice called from the end of the isle, “I hope you’re not bothering the man.” A wearied lady scampered toward us, “I am so sorry. I only went to grab some towels to clean her. I usually carry some with me.”

“It’s all right,” he stood up. “She’s nice. I’m sorry she’s …”

“The doctor says she’s a fighter,” she dabbed the moist towel on her child’s face, “I wish my spirit was a strong as hers.” She scooped Jenny into her arms, “You’re my precious gift.”

“You take care, Jenny.” Jason grabbed the mop.

The young girl waved, her head resting on her mother’s shoulder, “Bye bye.”

“Let me know when your havin’ that party, I’ll send you somethin’.” He wiped a hint of a tear from his eye, “Good luck … both of you. You’re very special.”

“Yes, she is,” she hugged her daughter. “We could all probably learn something from her attitude.”

Jason smiled, “I already have.”

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This article has been read 1089 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Helen Paynter04/27/06
Beautiful -and I'm so glad he had the grace to learn from a littl'un! Good stuff
Amy Michelle Wiley 04/27/06
Wonderful story!
Jan Ackerson 04/29/06
This story has a wonderful "awwwww" factor. The language was a bit strong for me--they may have been euphemisms, but they still caused me to gulp a bit. I understand, though, that you were establishing a character. The sweet innocent wisdom of the little girl is very precious.
Lynda Schultz 05/01/06
Very engaging story. One of those things that makes me realize that I complain too much about things that really don't matter. Well done.
Pat Guy 05/01/06
This is absolutely great! Great voices and characters. You did a fantastic job!
Jesus Puppy 05/01/06
Sometimes a slap in the face doesnt work... it needs the smile of a child to drive it home... well done.. very well done.
Dr. Sharon Schuetz05/01/06
Powerful message. Well written. It sure makes one stop and think how great we really have it.
Caitlynn Lowe05/01/06
Aww...very sweet, and very touching.
Anita Neuman05/01/06
This is a really great story, with a great message! And a creative way of approaching the topic - well done on that.

I found the language to be somewhat distracting. You could still convey your characters adequately without shortening so many words. ie. keep the stilted sentences, but make most of the words complete.

That's my only criticism, though. I really liked this story (aside from the nasty memories of being the mom of an aisle-five puker!).
Jean Elizabeth 05/01/06
Great story - right on topic. The characters were real and the dialogue flowed nicely. Very well done!
Sue Dent05/01/06
My daughter was on steroids several times for ADEM when she was younger and is now on Avonex. This girl reminds me so much of her. Good Job!!
Rita Garcia05/01/06
Lessons from a child, well written. One of my favorite entries this time around.
Debbie OConnor05/02/06
Great job. I love the whole thing. The dialouge was natural, the situation beleivable and the little girl a perfect angel. Congratulations, this is excellent.
Maxx .05/03/06
This is well constructed, well thought out, and the pace is right on. The last 2/3 of the piece are as good as anything that I've read so far this week(and I've read all the advanced and Masters!). It felt like your natural writing voice... there was passion, emotion, the words just flowed. It was so well put together that it made the initial scene in the breakroom feel forced. The dialect wasn't natural, although the topic and sentiments certainly were. My suggestion... forget the dialect. Start the story with Jason cleaning the floor. Bring the emotions of wanting to quit out as he's doing that. Then bring in the girl. That way your natural voice and talents will shine through the obvious strength of this piece. Most excellent work!
James Clem 05/04/06
Congrats Tim! The dialect did seem a bit forced, but aside from that - this was my top pick of the week!
Karen Rice05/05/06
Well deserved, Tim. This is a very realistic look at life with God's fingerprint on it.

I dunno though, I kind of like the dialog, would suggest only toning it down to the meat though. I say this ONLY because I've had the displeasure of parking in the closest fast-food parking lot of the local high school and had my ears nearly burned off (gads, sound like my Grandmother) with the bombardment of disrespectful words made common in their conversations. Maybe if you could get the point across by discribing action in place of words, the sulky attitudes and such. (don't you love being limited to 750 words?)

Congrtas though on winning!
Jessica Schmit05/05/06
This is incredible. beautiful job. made me cry...still crying!
Marilyn Schnepp 05/05/06
Congratulations on your well deserved ribbon! If I had read this before I would have predicted it - GREAT story, touched the heart of this reader, to the point of "lumps" in the throat. Thank you!
Julie Arduini03/29/07
I'm still dabbing tears here. I loved that this was so strong I felt like I was eavesdropping from aisle 6 watching the whole thing. So well crafted and emotional.
Tabiatha Tallent03/30/07
What a beautiful story. It's good to read those stories that make you realize how truly blessed you really are.
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/03/09
You created a little girl that's a keeper in my heart.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 10/12/10
This is beautiful. I feel in love with the little girl. We all can certainly learn from her.