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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Lights (10/30/08)

TITLE: It's Just Plain Old Laziness
By Jan Ackerson


Agnes Whittaker walked to the end of the driveway in her faded pink slippers and a wildly flowered housecoat. She bent over with an oof to pick up the newspaper, which had landed mostly under the hedge. As Agnes straightened, one hand on her right hip, she glanced toward the Benson’s house and made a small grunt of disapproval. She hurried toward the house; although the air held the promise of a warm spring day, a damp chilliness had already seeped through Agnes’s thin cotton housecoat.

She slammed the kitchen door and tossed the newspaper on the table toward George, who didn’t look up from his crossword puzzle. “George, they’re still up there,” she said, as she began to prepare a pot of coffee.

George made a mmmpph sound and continued to work on his puzzle.

“Did you hear me, George? I said they’re still up there!” Agnes took a mug out of the cupboard and drummed her fingers on the counter while the coffeepot gurgled.

George tapped the eraser end of his pencil on the table. “What’s a 7-letter word for sweet?” he asked.

“Oh, how should I know? George, you’re not listening to me!” Agnes reached over and held George’s pencil to the table to stop the tapping. George looked up from his puzzle and glanced around the kitchen as if orienting himself to the room. His eyes landed on the coffeepot.

“Is that coffee?”

“Of course it’s coffee, you ninny. I’ll get you some in a minute. Now will you listen to me? I’ve been telling you about the Bensons.” Agnes kept her hand on George’s pencil and stood staring at him, blocking his view of the tempting coffee.

George’s shoulders slumped, and he pushed the puzzle away with reluctance. “What’s this about the Bensons, then?”

“I’ve only been telling you this for weeks now, George. If you’d listen every now and then, instead of burying your head in a crossword puzzle all the time…” Agnes sighed heavily.

George waited, glancing longingly first at his puzzle, then in the direction of the coffee, which smelled rich and tantalizing. Agnes was glaring, clearly expecting a response. George hazarded a guess, hoping that the right response would earn him coffee and some respite from Agnes’s voice. “The Bensons…still…have a dog?”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, George. It’s not their dog. It’s those Christmas lights! Here it is the second week of March, and they still have their Christmas lights up! It looks horrible, George. What can they be thinking? They can’t possibly still be celebrating Christmas, it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day. It’s just laziness, I tell you, plain old laziness. That Harry Benson ought to be ashamed of himself, and I don’t know what Laura is thinking, letting him keep those lights up so long past Christmas. Why, if I were her…” Agnes sputtered to a stop, looking to George to confirm her indignation.

George thought for a moment, then pulled the crossword puzzle back. “How about some coffee, then?” With a slight tug, he freed his pencil from Agnes’s hand and started to tap the eraser.

Laura Benson sits at her desk, answering another e-mail from a stranger. This task has not gotten easier, although she has been doing it for almost five months. She pauses often, her breath catching in her throat. Harry walks over to her and squeezes her shoulder. Together they gaze at a framed photo on the desk—a handsome, solemn soldier standing with square shoulders in front of an American flag.

He has been missing since November 21st.

Laura reaches out with one slim finger and traces the jaw line of the young soldier in the photograph, then sags in her seat. Harry kneels and takes her in his arms. After a long embrace, they break apart, both bravely smiling. He takes her hand and they walk toward the couch, passing a display of tiny shepherds adoring the infant Jesus--passing the mantel where a lone stocking still hangs—passing the tree with its skirt full of unopened gifts. As they nestle close together on the sofa, Harry fumbles at the wall; he finds a cord and plugs it in.

Outside, the house is flooded with welcoming white light.

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This article has been read 1186 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Loren T. Lowery11/06/08
Well written and a beautiful illustration of a paradigm shift. There is always two sides to every story --- if we could but learn to hold our tongues to hear the other side.
Verna Cole Mitchell 11/06/08
Your characters in your excellent story are all finely drawn and your message clearly presented. This was a good reminder that we should not be so quick to judge others.
Sally Hanan11/06/08
Great characterization! Isn't it strange how all the men who don't pay attention are called George? As for your message--a sober reminder of many things.
cindy yarger11/07/08
Nice take on the subject. I really liked your contrast of the two homes. Courage and hope / discord and judgement. Well done.
Scott Sheets11/07/08
What a great reminder to put ourselves in someone else's shoes before we judge them. The characterization of the first couple was well done, though it did seem a little too stereotypical to me. However, the stereotype certainly fit well in the story. The story engaged me and the ending quite meaningful. Great job!
Joanne Sher 11/08/08
Oh, I love this. Incredibly done, with an amazing, poignant message for all of us. Great descriptions of BOTH scenes.
Sheri Gordon11/08/08
Very unique take on the topic. I'll raise my hand and admit that I've played the part of Agnes one too many times. Wonderful lesson, and great take on the topic.
Laury Hubrich 11/08/08
Oh my, you made me cry. Excellent writing.
Charla Diehl 11/10/08
There's a little of Agnes in a lot of us, and your story is a great reminder to help us to stop judging others. The contrast in the two households was very well done.
Sharlyn Guthrie11/10/08
So many things to admire in this story, but I liked the irony in George's question, "What's a seven-letter word for sweet?" The ending was sobering, and not at all what I was expecting.
Celeste Ammirata11/10/08
This is very well written. I like the reminder not to judge others, until you know the whole story. The ending was very sad. Thanks for this reminder to remember those overseas and their families at Christmas.
Beth LaBuff 11/10/08
I didn't expect your ending. Agnes and George need their own soap opera... or at least an Archie Bunker and Edith-type sitcom. I hope to see them again. :)
Leah Nichols 11/11/08
Excellent work!
Beckie Stewart11/12/08
Once again, you have an incredible way of weaving a story. Excellently done.
Dee Yoder 11/12/08
Awww...this is so poignant, Jan. I wonder how many moms and dads are doing this same thing? You broke my heart when the MC traced her son's photo with her finger...has to be a mom's worst fear and most heartbreaking moment in life, no matter the circumstances.
Yvonne Blake 11/12/08
Ahhh... so many hearts are breaking in this world, waiting and wishing for their loved ones.
Dianne Janak11/12/08
I knew there had to be some kind of humbling at the end to solve the "mystery" but your ending surprised me and blew me away. WHat a great lesson for all of us who rush to judgement so easily.! Love it when I get my toes stepped on while enjoying a story.. thanks Jan once again! Wow.. Im speechless and tearful at this one.
George Parler 11/12/08
I absolutely love this story. The characterization is superb. The emotional heart shift the reader experiences,beginning at the desk of Laura Benson, is subtle in it's transition but in the end weighs heavy in the revelation of why the lights illuminate in March. Wonderful writing!
T. F. Chezum11/12/08
Great take on the subject. Well written and great characterization. I always enjoy your work.
Joy Faire Stewart11/13/08
Though sad, I love the twist at the end of the story. Congratulations on your EC win!
Catrina Bradley 11/13/08
Wow! I had the idea of the neighbor who left his lights up, but could never have written something this good. The ending was key, totally changing the tone and the mood...and the meaning of the story. Love it. Congrats, Jan.
Kristen Hester11/13/08
Ouch! I needed this story because I HATE it when lights aren't down by Jan. 1. I'll remember this next time I'm tempted to judge. Great story as usual. Bravo.
Karen Wilber11/14/08
Laughing one minute, crying the next. What a great contrast between the 2 couples centered around the lights. Didn't expect that ending.