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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Telephone (07/17/08)

TITLE: God Doesn't Play the Odds
By Carol Sprock


Hearing her brother Michael clump upstairs from the garage, Marie paused in the hallway near the top of the stairs. Michael’s face was Friday-weary, his shoulders slumped under his lieutenant bars and his chin darkened by stubble-shadow. As she began to greet him, the phone trilled. Michael gave her a slight wry grin and walked into the kitchen to answer the call, setting his travel mug and lunch cooler on the counter.

He pronounced a terse hello and stood almost at attention, his Navy whites still holding a sharply starched crease. Marie wondered if it was one of the clients he counseled. But then his bearing softened in some inexplicable manner, still upright but not as severe, suddenly more man than mannequin. Covertly, Marie watched her brother stroll around the kitchen counter into the dining area where its picture window framed Washington rain forest dotting the mountainside above Puget Sound. Michael stuck a hand in his pocket and slouched a bit against the breakfast bar. Though his eyes stared at the scenery, Marie could tell he didn’t really see it.

Listening intently, Michael nodded slightly from time to time, even though he said nothing beyond a murmured, “Hmm.” His right fingers tapped lightly, unconsciously on the phone, not quite a caress but more a brush across it as if fingering guitar strings. Although now certain that it was Michael’s wife Jean on the other side, Marie wondered what music he heard, whether it distracted him from Jean’s voice or played harmony to it.

In the last couple of weeks, Jean and Michael had seemed a bit stiff with each other, probably a combination of them working overtime and Marie's presence as nanny for the summer before she started her new teaching position. That taut politeness had often quivered between the two during the first seven years of Jean and Michael’s marriage, a never-ending bungee ride of ephemeral hope and despair. None of the multiple surgeries to repair the endometriosis damage in Jean’s uterus enabled them to become pregnant. Finally, they had accepted the pronouncements of many doctors: Jean had perhaps a trillion in one chance of ever becoming pregnant, and that was on the optimistic side. A mere eight months ago they had joyfully adopted their daughter Melinda as the answer to their prayers for a child.

“Why did you do that?” Michael whispered tentatively, tenderly, even a tad playfully. With a shiver, Marie realized this was no perfunctory conversation about Jean accepting another overtime shift.

Michael’s weariness was dripping away like melted butter as his body grew more alive and voice more animated, his cornflower-blue eyes sparking a muted but silky-velvet glow. Marie had rarely seen her brother so strangely gentle and eager. His body seemed cupped around the handset, the cord tucked neatly against his belly. The intense intimacy of his posture reminded her of last night when Melinda’s scream ejected her from bed only to ram into Michael’s muscle-hard back. Stumbling backward, she had seen the same comma-shaped form, one of father cradling, soothing daughter.

Deep in Marie’s brain, an imagining began to squirm and burble. For some reason, she thought of the times when she and Jean had been digging weeds from the stone garden teetering on the mountainside below the house. Jean had taken frequent breaks, complaining of cramps and spotty blood though her period never seemed to arrive. Marie indulged in a “what might be” fantasy as she waited for Michael to say more.

“Was it positive or negative?” Michael queried somewhat sternly, causing Marie’s excitement to deflate in concern. His anxiousness signaled bad news, not good. Was Jean ill? Marie clutched her hands to her chest, forcing herself to remain still instead of leaping forward to snatch the phone from Michael’s grip.

“Positive? When?” Michael’s voice remained mellifluous and low, but its timbre ratcheted several octaves with thrilled glee.

Glinting through black stubble, a crooked smile bloomed on his face and shouted all Marie needed to know despite the paltry dozen words Michael had spoken. Shuffling into Melinda’s bedroom, she lightly stroked the infant’s sweet-smelling head. Then, in her own room, she curled on the bed with pillow scrunched to her to restrain her joy from bubbling over in dancing shrieks. A miracle had lit on them; despite the odds, Jean was expecting. Marie marveled, God’s powerful grace an awesome presence, utterly unfathomable.

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Member Comments
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Sunny Loomis 07/25/08
Excellent descriptions. I could picture it all. I wanted to hear Jean's end of the conversation. and a miracle to end it.
Very well done.