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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Father (as in paternal parent, not God) (04/10/08)

TITLE: On The Other Hand...
By Jan Ackerson


When the drama teacher announced tryouts for “Fiddler on the Roof,” I knew right away I’d audition for Fyedka. First, Fyedka doesn’t sing. Second, I knew that Mallory Dabbs was a shoo-in for Chava, Fyedka’s girl. Mallory’s a singer and a dancer, but shy. Perfect for the part.

We both made it, and I finally got to talk to Mallory during our first read-through. In the play, Fyedka introduces himself to Chava with a great line, for a Bolshevik: I’m a pleasant fellow, charming, honest, ambitious, quite bright, and very modest. So I tried it out on Mallory, offstage.

She was doing algebra, chewing her pencil and scribbling out equations. I sat down beside her. “Hey,” I said. “I’m Zach. I’m a pleasant fellow, charming…”

Mallory pulled off a triple—she simultaneously laughed, blushed, and sneezed. A wad of gum shot into the hair of a nearby ninth-grader.

Mallory and Zach…Chava and Fyedka…I think we were meant to be together. We both liked French fries with ranch dressing. We both hated Beowulf.

We both wore purity rings.

And we meant them, too, because God was another thing we had in common. Mallory’s faith was as obvious to the rest of the cast as her green eyes. I let my tee-shirts do the talking.

So…about those purity rings. I don’t have to tell you what happened at the cast party.

Afterward, Mallory sobbed into my shoulder, and I stared at the pile of costumes in the backstage closet. When Mallory’s tears slowed, I closed my eyes and tried to remember a Bible verse that would make this all right while she fumbled for her clothes.

I remember choking back an ironic laugh—we were still Chava and Fyedka. Mallory’s father was a minister. He’d never let her be with me if he knew what I’d done. I imagined him doing a Tevye: No! If I try and bend that far, I’ll break!

Mallory wouldn’t meet my eyes the next day at lunch. Over pasty mac and cheese, I whispered “I’m sorry” to the top of her head.

I wondered if Mallory had the same wooden stomach as I did, the same tripping heartbeat, the same brain fuzz. I decided to leave her alone—she didn’t need the sight of me, reminding her...

And then I got my letter of acceptance to New Covenant Bible College. I wasn’t sure I’d get in with an ACT of 16, but there it was. Maybe I wouldn’t have to work for my dad after all—maybe I really could become a youth pastor.

I didn’t talk to Mallory for weeks. I thought about her all the time, and I watched her in the library and the cafeteria. She seemed okay. It was hard to tell, with Mallory. I decided to call her, to see if she wanted to hang out.

But she texted me first. We’re not supposed to have our cells on during school, but I turn mine on in study hall. Mrs. Hays is usually on the computer, and as long as no one’s actually committing murder, she lets us do whatever. I felt the vibration and checked the message: im late need 2 tlk 2 u

My first thought was crazy: Late? I haven’t asked her out yet…And then, alarm bells. She’s late. She’s pregnant. And finally a jumble: Mallory must be going nuts…what about college?...her dad’s gonna kill me…was it a sin if we love each other?… I hope Mallory’s okay…there’s going to be a baby…a baby…a baby…Then, realization gripped me like a parasitic alien: I’m gonna be a father…

I almost skipped out. It’d be easy to convince Mrs. Hays—she falls for the “fake nosebleed” every time. Fourth hour…Mallory’s in band…I should be with her. But as I shoved papers into my backpack, I saw the most recent letter from New Covenant, a roommate survey.

New Covenant Bible College will not want a youth ministries major with a pregnant girlfriend.

What kind of ministry can I have with teens, when I couldn’t even keep the promise of that purity ring?

If I ask God to forgive me, it’ll all be washed away, right? Like it never happened? So I could work with teens after all?

I should go to Mallory…but…I’m not ready to be a father.

In one hand, I held a letter. In the other, my cell, with Mallory’s text. I said a prayer. And sitting there in study hall, I made the hardest decision of my life.

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This article has been read 1178 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sheri Gordon04/17/08
I like that the ending is left open for the reader to decide--except I don't want to decide. :)

It's too bad you had the word limit--I would have liked to get to know these characters more. Everything happened so quickly.

Creative take on the topic--teen fathers. And I like that you used Christians, showing that they have the same temptations and make the same mistakes as non-Christians.
Christine Miles04/17/08
Nooooooo! What happened? Please tell me he chose Mallory... Please tell me that he still was able to minister - because isn't that what we're all called to do.... Heck, a cliffhanger! I'm going to have to make up my own ending.
TJ Nickel04/17/08
Hope the fiddling is done well at this young boy's father's place of business. Love the way you laced this in with the play, left the reader unsure at the end, and forced them (me) to attempt finding the mind of the author through the reference material (and thus my guess at the ending). I like the maturity shown in the So... sentence as well. Now, if his ACT score was twice as high, that would have had left me unsure at the end.
Debbie Wistrom04/18/08
This shines from beginning to end, so many details that show the story. Wonderful!
Leigh MacKelvey04/18/08
This is one of the best stories I've read in a long time. The writing is so sophisticated and mature. I'm scrathing my head wondering if I will ever be able to write like this. The idea was brilliant and so was the writing.
Laury Hubrich 04/19/08
Tough decisions for kids who shouldn't have to be making them. Very good story here. Liked hearing the MC's thinking. Good job.
Betty Castleberry04/21/08
Whoa! This is some serious food for thought. What actually would be the "right" decision for your MC?
This is expertly written, and a good read.
Joanney Uthe04/21/08
Very gripping story. Love the ending, but still undecided. I really enjoyed the twist on the topic.
Gerald Shuler 04/21/08
Incredible tie with Fiddler on the Roof. Here is a couple that, no matter what decision is made, will be forever the family members that changed religious tradition. They will make the right decisions because the had the right upbringing.
Chely Roach04/21/08
Awesome story...I really loved the ending. No devasting blows, or neat tidy bows; and the 'voice' was spot on. Loved it (of course!).
Mariane Holbrook 04/21/08
How can you write in red ink when there is nothing to "red ink?" This is such a great story and for those of us who like things tidied up with a ribbon and marked "Finis," it's a real challenge! Many Kudos!
Dee Yoder 04/21/08
It's a wonderful story, Jan, and I really like the open ending. I can tell that you have contact with teens-the conversations and the thoughts of the young man ring true. This hits to the heart of what a Christian teen will have to deal with-it should be published in a Christian teen magazine. It isn't preachy or fake with premise or tone, and lets the reader stop to think about the consequences of any decision he makes.
Kristen Hester04/21/08
Yes, Jan, great minds...

I like the open ending. I think it would also work for the reader to know he calls Mallory, or doesn't, then end.

I really like how you wove Fiddler on the Roof throughout the story. I like that the teens were not perfect. I wish you had more words (like I wish I had more words) so we could see more of his feelings. Great job, as always.
Loren T. Lowery04/21/08
Well, being the optimisitc romantic that I am, I'm thinking the msg is that she's late about getting back to him; but, if on the off chance, she is pregnant, then they will work things out together because, well because, that's just the way it should be! Besides, he's thinking of her in a caring way and she's starting to communicate with him...two very important elements in any good relationship.
Looking at the response this article is getting, I would say it a success in many ways. Great job : )
Sharlyn Guthrie04/21/08
An excellent dose of reality here! You captured the teen voice and the dilemma well. I think you gave us enough hints aout the young man's character that we can be fairly certain of his decision. Still, it wasn't nice of you to leave us hanging! :-)
Janice Cartwright04/21/08
Because I didn't want to be influenced by other comments just yet, I haven't peeked below the last line of your story.

In my opinion the teen male POV, with its strange mixture of immature self-cemteredmess fighting with a desire to do the manly thing, succeeded. I do remember going through a little jolt when I realized what they did. That was pure shock, but I got over it as the story played out. Funny but just the other night my husband and I watched a movie with a viewer's choice ending. I have to say I prefer this to pat endings, but at the same time I'm curious as a cat to know what REALLY happened. I believe Zach chose to embrace his responsibilities and back up Mallory.
Peter Stone04/22/08
So much is happening here! Don't know how you fitted that in 750 words, felt like a book. You did so well in portraying a shallow, self centred teenage boy who cares more for himself than for the consequences of his actions.
Joshua Janoski04/22/08
Superb writing as is the case with all of your entries.

I thought that the open ending worked out just fine, but I am the kind that likes the writer to decide for me. :)

If I were to guess what happened, I think he made the decision to be with Mallory. That's just how I best picture it ending.

This was such a joy to read, and I think you captured teenagers perfectly. Your writing made it easy for me to put myself into the character's world.

Thank you for sharing! :)
Joanne Sher 04/22/08
Wonderful job of weaving "Fiddler" throughout this. You absolutely NAILED the POV, in my opinion.

As far as the ending, I really like the "open endedness" of it, though I'm not positive what the decision would be.

Very, VERY well done, Jan.
Holly Westefeld04/22/08
I don't know what's wrong with everybody else's browser. In mine, I clearly see a small, four-word, final paragraph.
"I shredded the letter."

Mallory's "triple" was priceless.
Pam Carlson-Hetland04/23/08
Wow...just "Wow"! It took me a while to figure out how the title fit into that marvelous, so very relevant to today story; but I did. It amazes me how you pack so much characterization and story into so few words. I can go either way on the ending: I'd like to know, I hope I know, I'm OK with adding my own ending. Great job all around!!!
LauraLee Shaw04/23/08
I have nothing intelligible to add other than ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT.
Marita Thelander 04/23/08
I had so many interruptions from my family while reading your entry. I wanted to yell..."Leave me alone. I'm reading here." Couldn't wait to finish this. It drew me in from beginning to end. Like that surprises you. ; )
Sara Harricharan 04/23/08
Ouch. So sad. It started so well and I desperately wanted them to 'stick to the right choice' Great job with bringing the characters to life. (I also like that hint in the title) ^_^
Beth LaBuff 04/23/08
I love Fiddler on the Roof. (I played the piano for it during a HS production.) All the lines and songs are branded in my brain. I remember each line that you mention. Love your title... I like how you wove a story around/through the musical. Excellent!
Sharon Henderson04/23/08
In one hand he holds his selfish desires (which got him into this situation) and in "the other hand" he holds real life (in more ways than one). I like his choice.

Great story. As always, great writing.
LaNaye Perkins04/23/08
I loved this all the way through. But, what happened....it's driving me crazy to know what he decides to do! AWWWWWWW! The mystery of it all!
Aaron Morrow04/24/08
Extraordinary piece with great pacing. I love the fact that you ended it without resolution.

Great work!
Patty Wysong04/24/08
I felt like I was right there on the roller coaster with him. Excellent! (and then some!)
Tessy Fuller04/24/08
I wish I would of had this to share when we doing our youth group lessons on sex/dating. It would of been a great discussion starter. Very nicely done. My favorite part was "Mallory pulled off a triple—she simultaneously laughed, blushed, and sneezed." I really think you should write a follow-up to this one!!
Betsy Markman04/24/08
Very good, all the way through. Purity rings are only as good as the commitment of the people wearing them! I'm glad you left the ending open.
Jae Blakney04/29/08
This really is a gripping story, both in plot and in the flow of the prose. I didn't understand how this could be an either/or situation. If they are parents, they are family, and there's nothing scandalous about a married student in Bible College. On the other hand, if he abandons Mallory and his child, he's not going to have any ministry at all.