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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Patience (08/21/08)

TITLE: Three Cards--No Play
By Jan Ackerson


This job suits me. In the morning there’s a large basket of papers and envelopes to be inserted into hundreds of perfectly alphabetical mail slots. My workroom in the basement is quiet—I work alone. And I can control the lights and the temperature. It’s never too bright down here, never too cold or too warm.

It’s very satisfying to bring order to the chaos of the mail basket. Sometimes, before I fill the slots, I arrange the mail into neat piles by size and category: single typed sheets, small white envelopes, large white envelopes, brown envelopes with string closures. The piles of mail do not expect anything of me. I never have to try to interpret their faces, their gestures, their voices.

I finish the first basket about 10:30 and take a break at the square table in the corner of the mailroom. I always play five games of solitaire, using my cards with all-red backs. All-red backs, so the deck never has turned-around cards when I shuffle. My English grandmother called this game “Patience”. It’s a good name…if I have patience, the cards will eventually fall into the correct order: red on black, black on red, in four tidy stacks. Spades, diamonds, hearts, clubs.

My sister Joy used to cheat at patience. “Why do you do that?” I’d ask. “It’s not the right way to play.”

“Shut up, freak,” is what Joy would say to me, her cards haphazardly splayed on the table.

I’ve just started my second game of patience when I’m startled by a sudden brightness. Someone has switched on the rest of the lights.

“Oh, gee, I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone was down here. I just—the pop machine upstairs is out of Mountain Dew.”

I know I’m supposed to say something, to look at this man’s eyes. I remember my lessons: Meeting Someone New. I drag my eyes upward and manage to find his chin. Polite greeting. “Good morning. Nice to meet you. I’m Faith Townshend.” Smile. I position my lips correctly. Shake hands. Reluctantly, I hold out my hand. He shakes it. Too hard. His hand is warm and damp.

He puts some money in the pop machine, and I continue my game. Three cards. No play. Three cards. No play. Three cards. Jack of hearts. Three cards. No play.

“Red six on the black seven.” The man with the Mountain Dew is standing over my shoulder. I can feel his breath on my neck. I sit very still, and hope he will go away. “Faith, is it? Look—six of hearts on the seven of clubs.” He reaches over my shoulder and moves the card.

I freeze. This man is making everything not right. He should leave. I try to remember my lesson on Social Situations. Eye contact. Use “I” words. Polite. This time I look at his nose. “I think it’s time for you to leave now,” I say. “Please and thank you.”

“Oh, sure,” he says. “Well…catch you later, then.”

That’s just silly. He won’t catch me, because no one will throw me.

The next day, he’s here again. I’m playing my fourth game of patience when I hear him coming. Perhaps the upstairs machine is still out of Mountain Dew. Three cards. No play. Three cards. Four of spades.

He leaves the lights dim, pulls a chair to the table, and lays out a game of patience. “Morning, Faith,” he says. I don’t know how to read his voice. “Mind if I join you in a game of solitaire?”

Polite. Smile. “I don’t mind.” I show my teeth.

He comes every day, and always plays four games of patience. He’s not very good at it; sometimes I look at his game and see cards that he has missed. I think—I’m not sure—that he likes playing patience in the mail room. I don’t know why, though. He misses lots of moves, and he never wins.

He doesn’t say much, but he smiles a lot. He doesn’t cheat. I don’t talk--I won’t give him a reason to say “shut up, freak” to me.

On his second game today, he pauses for a long time. Is he waiting for something? I stop my game and look at his cards; he has missed a play again. I find his eyes. I think they are kind. “Black eight on red nine,” I say, and I resume my game. Three cards. No play. Three cards. No play. Three cards. No play.

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This article has been read 1380 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sheri Gordon08/28/08
Very creative entry for this topic. I'm assuming that Faith has a mental disorder--I'm not sure which one it is that has to have everything in order. I love the way that's portrayed, with the stacks of mail, the dim lights, etc. And I love the way you show the compassion of the strange man. Excellent writing and creativity.
Charla Diehl 08/28/08
I too, assume that Faith is mentally challenged although it isn't immediately apparent. Like the way she deals with the stranger--at first she is annoyed with him and through patience begins to accept his company. Good job.
Shirley McClay 08/28/08
Wow.. this is so incredibly moving. What a guy. You gave us so many details to help us figure out things you never told us. Awesome writing.
Scott Sheets08/29/08
Great portrayal of an autistic adult and the challenges such an individual faces. Many don't have the patience necessary to break into their world as this man demonstrated. Excellent writing!
Kimberly Lane08/30/08
Excellent writing! You must have firsthand knowledge or experience with an autistic adult. Haunting and beautiful.
Chely Roach08/31/08
Wow, the characterization of the MC was so profound; I felt as if I was experiencing a taste of her life through her eyes...I knew her. Excellent.
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/31/08
This one's even better with a second reading. If I hadn't picked up all the obvious hints in the characterization, "you freak" would have done it. I felt like I could see into Faith's soul, and I liked how the kind man was able to put her at ease.
Yvonne Blake 08/31/08
Ah... you put both kinds of "patience" into one story.
I was wishing there was more, but you ended it perfectly...just enough to see that things were going to change for the better.
Well written.
Pamela Kliewer08/31/08
I really like how you wove the game of patience with the characteristic of patience. At first I thought the MC was Obsessive Compulsive, but someone else mentioned autistic, and I think that's the right mental challenge she faces. I think it was good to infer and not tell us outright, Jan. Well done, as usual. :)
Dee Yoder 08/31/08
I recognize Asperger's when I see it and the familiar aspect of what I also see in my son has me rooting and cheering for Faith! Love the splash of hope at the end-just enough to let the reader know that maybe Faith will begin reaching out beyond her safe world. Love this!
Sharlyn Guthrie08/31/08
I think the amount of revelation was just right. No further explanation was needed, and it somehow seemed to preserve her dignity. I wasn't familiar with the game Patience, but I think I could play it from your description! Great to see you entering again.
Deborah Engle 08/31/08
I loved this story. The character was well-developed, and it was easy to identify with her reluctance to open up to an unexpected situation.
Great writing here!
Ellen Dodson08/31/08
As a high school teacher who has worked with students with varying forms of autism, what I most appreciate about this piece is how you show your MC struggling to control it. So many people believe that the autistic aren't emotional, but many are lonely and do often feel like "freaks." This is so seamless, so vivid. I am, however, a little curious about the Mountain Dew guy, feel like I need a bit more background on him only because I am worried for Faith.
Betty Castleberry08/31/08
You've captured the ordered world of an autistic person well. I was rooting for Faith.
Patricia Turner08/31/08
I didn't get that Faith had a mental condition; just thought she was shy. I'm sorry her sister called her such a name, but I'm glad this nice guy, a complete stranger, had the patience to take time to befriend her. Wonderfully written!
Laury Hubrich 08/31/08
Love this entry. I worked with a high school student last year that showed similar characteristics to Faith. Great writing, as always.
LaNaye Perkins08/31/08
I really enjoyed your entry as well. I thought Faith was just extremely shy, and fearful of interactions with another person. Either way, I truly enjoyed this entry.
Lynda Lee Schab 09/01/08
Am I the only one who got a little creeped out by this guy? I was waiting for him to grab her or something...too many crime shows, I guess. LOL. The thing about this piece is that it gripped me. Every word was masterfully placed to result in an entry where I was completely engrossed in the main character's story. Beautifully crafted - as ALWAYS.
Betsy Markman09/01/08
Well done. I have a son with Asperger's and a son who is autistic and bipolar. I often wonder what it would be like to see inside their heads. Thanks for brief glimpse.
Lynda Schultz 09/01/08
How do we know Jan's back? The masterful, insightful way the author takes us into the human mind—that's how. Welcome back, Jan, and kudos on another excellent piece of writing.
Leah Nichols 09/01/08
Wow. Amazing writing! I felt totally drawn in to the story. Great to see your writing again!
Catrina Bradley 09/01/08
This story leaves me wondering a lot - but that's not a bad thing. Why is this man so interested in Faith? What exactly is wrong with Faith? I can guess, and that makes it fun. I kind of like you not spelling it out, but letting the reader form their own conclusions. Wonderful writing, as always. :) Cat
Joshua Janoski09/02/08
I'm scratching my head trying to figure out exactly what is wrong with Faith, but you know, part of the fun is thinking about it.

In my opinion, this story works fine just the way it is, but it also could have worked by telling the reader what is wrong with her. I personally like the approach you took though.

As always, a very well written entry from one of the true writing masters. :)
Anne Linington09/02/08
I was fearful for the girl part way through, and relieved that she didn't come to harm; I still find it strange that authors can be identified so early in the process- I thought it would be anonymous somehow?
Jan Ackerson 09/02/08
Anne--don't know how to contact you, so I hope you see this. Entries are anonymous until about Sunday or Monday, when the Challenge co-ordinator, Deb Porter, goes to the forums and posts an "All Clear". Then people can hint about the title of their entry, which is how all the commenters from a certain point know the story is mine.
James Dixon09/03/08
You described the condition very well. Will the wall ever be broken down? You have left us in suspence.
Carole Robishaw 09/03/08
I really liked this story, I can relate a little with it, my SIL is Mentally Challenged. I was also concerned for Faith, when the stranger kept coming back. Whatever happened to our world that we immediately see danger when someone is friendly and we don't know why? Even worse, we NEED to see and be aware of the danger.
LauraLee Shaw09/04/08
Excellent piece, Jan!
Helen Paynter09/04/08
Beautiful, tender writing. And skillful, too. But that goes without saying.
Still on form, Jan.
Beth LaBuff 09/06/08
I just wanted to say, I love the richness of this!
Karlene Jacobsen09/09/08
I have to admit, I didn't really pick up on the "freak" part. I just figured it was something siblings do to each other (insult), that is unless the parents have instilled a sense of respect for each other in them.

Whether mentally challenged or socially challenged, I thought Faith's need to remind herself of protocol was great. There are times I catch myself doing things like that, especially in situations I am unfamiliar and uncomfortable with.

Great writing!