Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Hard and Soft (04/23/09)
By Connie Dixon
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Before she died, Bill and Betty Harper were good neighbors. Betty was the grandmotherly type. She always had a smile and a kind word for everyone. When she decided to bake a pie, she made several and delivered them around the neighborhood. We had received our fair share of Betty’s baked goods. She would arrive unannounced, carrying her sweet offering and stay just long enough to make you feel like queen for a day.
Bill was likeable but quiet. He had a hard time keeping up with Betty since his accident at the rail yard. He’d gotten his foot caught between two train cars and barely got it out in time. The doctor said he was lucky he didn’t lose it. It pained him terribly.
The elderly couple never had any kids, and no visitors to speak of. The only people attending Betty’s funeral besides Bill were a few loyal congregants from the local church and a hand full of neighbors who had been the recipients of Betty’s pies. Now she was gone and Bill had lost his reason to live.
The neighborhood kids had been in an ornery mood and began throwing sticks at Mr. Harper’s house. They were yelling and carrying on, daring each other to run up and knock on his door. This ruckus continued for several minutes before Mr. Harper threw the screen door open, slamming it so hard, one of the hinges broke. He yelled uncharacteristically at the top of his lungs: “You kids get away from my property or I’ll call the cops.”
As soon as that door had opened, those kids scattered like bowling pins during open league. Mr. Harper disappeared as quickly as he came out.
Betty’s death had devastated Bill and the lines on his calloused face were proof. My heart broke for him but he wouldn’t have anything to do with me or my family after Betty died. He didn’t answer the door, wouldn’t take any calls…he just kept to himself. I couldn’t get him out of my thoughts today, even long after I’d gone to bed. I tossed and turned for some time and finally decided to get up. I brewed a cup of sweet tea and rocked in my antique Windsor, while focused on the house across the street.
What was that? Something moved…someone on Mr. Harper’s front porch. I knelt on the couch in front of the picture window, hoping my eyes would soon adjust to the dark. It moved again, it resembled a man’s figure. He shifted clumsily with his driftwood cane, stepping away from the door and down toward the front gate.
I stared as he hobbled east, away from town, towards the nearby cemetery. My eyes were fixed on the hardened old man until his body became a shadow in the faint sunrise. I lingered until he was completely out of sight, then I got in my Taurus and drove the long way around the back of the graveyard. I got out quietly and snuck up the hill – crouched army style, out of sight, in the shadows of early dawn, to spy on the grieving soul. I knew he made this trip often, but I had never had the inclination to follow.
I stole a glimpse of an old man in his agony, his silhouette heaving against the first light, anguish piercing the stillness of morning. Kneeling with hat in his hands, he buried his head in the grass, just beneath her headstone, next to a vase filled with dead daffodils. Sorrow poured from his broken heart, purging the bitter anger he’d stored up. He relinquished the hardness that had taken root.
That next afternoon, I baked a pie and carried it across the street. I pushed the squeaky gate open and let it slam behind me, banging back and forth. The screech of the third wooden step announced my presence. Before I could knock, Mr. Harper…Bill appeared in the doorway. His eyes met mine and for a second, I thought he might speak. He looked at me hopefully, slowly pushing the screen door open. With tears spilling down his cheeks, he attempted a smile while motioning for me to enter.
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