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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Good and Bad (05/07/09)

TITLE: Apartment 218


As dusk gave way to a temperate December evening, Mallory searched for number 218 in the Hanging Gardens Apartments. She tried not to notice the rust streaked down the concrete walls, the cracked walkways, and the grime edging the murky pool. The deterioration of human existence.

A light popped on at the deep end of the pool, just below the receding water line, startling her. The illuminated moths and beetles floated haphazardly on the surface, no filter at work. Mallory had learned to swim in such a pool, in such a courtyard when she was five.

It was the summer her mother had married a new “daddy,” making Mallory ask where her old daddy was. “Shush," her mother had said, “You don’t want to hurt Tom’s feelings, do you? That’s your daddy.” She pointed to Tom waiting in the water. “Go get back in there.”

Mallory had been jumping to Tom near the drop to the deep end. Her Styrofoam “bubble” centered between her bony shoulder blades, clasped at her diaphragm. No amount of coaxing could convince her she didn't need it. Over and over she had leaped to within a foot of Tom, and over and over he found her up-stretched arms, even before she bobbed to the surface.

After her mother had shushed her, Mallory streaked across the grass, trying to please. “Here I come, Daddy!” She was mid-air when she realized she’d forgotten her bubble. “Gonna learn to swim now, by golly,” he yelled, laughing. No strong hands met hers.

That was the last time she thought of him as “daddy,” and the first time she thought of him as a bad man.

Mallory stepped away from the pool, her overnight bag sliding from her shoulder. She headed for the staircase to her left, passing flowering, yellow, Chinese Lanterns and Hibiscus. Here was something she missed, the flowers and shrubs of southern California. The exotic colors and shapes did all they could to make places like this habitable to the heart.

Broadcasts of news, and basketball and Hispanic television drowned out the crickets as she reached the second-story landing. Raw odors seeped from under peeling doors. She had always known she’d come back to a place like this—though she thought it would be for her mother—to take her away because Tom had died. Tom with two strokes and chronic high blood-pressure.

Even during childhood, Mallory had lain awake, sandwiched between her mattress and the cool wallboard, praying God would kill Tom. That He would release her mother from his meanness.

Mallory had banked on time, made it her hope. Eventually, she’d have her mother.

When the call came, Tom had had to repeat himself for her to understand. “Dead, she’s dead—in her sleep.”

Apartment 218 was two doors from where Mallory stood. Only the dimmest light could be seen coming through the bent slats at the window. For a God of justice, this felt horribly unjust. Mallory moved forward, her turtleneck constricting.

No answer came from her knocks. Maybe, he was dead, too. Slumped on the kitchen floor. She tried the door. It slid open without resistance. The place reeked of aged body odors. Tom sat on the edge of the couch, head in his hands. His body and hair, in equal measures, thin and filthy. As he breathed, he groaned.

Mallory looked for dirty dishes, used glasses. There were none. No casseroles from neighbors. No flowers. No cards. A silent phone.

“Mallory—you came,” Tom was looking at her, eyes sallow. Beard underway. She found him completely disgusting, but damn if she didn’t feel pity, too. “You came,” he repeated.

“Where is she—her body?”

“I’m not sure. They want me to make decisions—I can’t.” He groaned so low it reverberated in Mallory’s boots. She dropped her bag and sat in her mother’s rocking chair. The stain completely worn off the arms. Some people chewed their nails, others rubbed stain off wood.

This wasn’t the Tom she’d expected. Mallory began rocking in the chair. What was she supposed to do? Fly him three thousand miles home? No. Absolutely not. She’d call Todd. But she knew what he’d say, for she had married a good man, a man of mercy. A man who was everything her stepfather was not.

This wasn't how she'd planned it.

She feared for what it would do to their lives.

And yet God wasn’t worried. He knew the effect the good man would have upon the bad one.

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This article has been read 1043 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Bryan Ridenour05/14/09
Wow, great writing...vivid pictures...makes me want to know the rest of the story.
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/14/09
Excellent descriptions and raw emotion in this well written story.
Loren T. Lowery05/14/09
In Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” Portia reminds us that… “the quality of mercy is not strained – it dropeth as the gentle rain from above, it is twice blessed, it blesses he that gives and he that taketh away.” Yet, I have often wondered why some must abide such unbearable pain for the redemption of others. It can only be for God’s unfailing, relentless love for each of us equally.

This story brings to mind a scripture “He has sent me . . . to comfort all who mourn . . . to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…7: For your shame ye shall have double; and for confusion they shall rejoice in their portion: therefore in their land they shall possess the double: everlasting joy shall be unto them.”

This story, beautifully, but achingly told reveals this simple yet perplexing truth.
Jan Ackerson 05/15/09
Superb writing--I love, as always, the tiny details you include: the dead insects, the constricting turtleneck. Moody and atmospheric--just excellent!
Joanne Sher 05/16/09
Incredibly vivid and engaging. I was right there. Powerful
Emily Gibson05/17/09
This has so much realistic detail that it feels like memoir, not fiction. And the resolution is a call to service in His name.
Betty Castleberry05/18/09
I felt as if I was watching this. The details were superb. I could even smell the odors in the apartment. Very well done.

Connie Dixon05/18/09
This is an incredible piece, very true to life. It always seems like there should be a happy ending to our stories, but when it comes right down to it, happy endings are rare. Great job, loved this.
Glynis Becker05/18/09
No sugar coating here! I was completely taken in by the descriptions and the emotion and the sense of hope amidst hopelessness...beautifully done.
Mona Purvis05/18/09
Oooh Lisa, this just "took over" as I read it. I was there with the MC, could feel her pain, anger, confusion, disgust. Dilemma.
Your writing is so perfect for the piece, nothing but bleakness. Even the flowers .
Powerful and dynamic.
Joy Faire Stewart05/18/09
Superb writing, as always, with raw emotions and minute details drawing your reader into the story.
Gregory Kane05/18/09
I like the way that God moves from being a distant dispenser of justice and wrath to someone unseen but offering grace and forgiveness.
Rachel Rudd 05/18/09
Jim McWhinnie 05/18/09
An engaging story of mercy ... I found interesting mix of grit and tenderness in this piece. I know it might sound strange ... but I kept visualizing this 1940's black and white film ...

Is it "There were none" or "There was none"? That is one of those grammar points that keep confounding me.
Sharon Kane05/18/09
Excellent writing. You brilliantly portray the ugliness of fallen man, and the amazing-ness of grace.
Sheri Gordon05/19/09
Excellent writing--as always. You have a great talent in putting the reader in the middle of the scene. Excellent job with the topic.
Genia Gilbert05/19/09
Truly wonderful! Thanks for the message of good and bad, of mercy, and grace and forgiveness.
Catrina Bradley 05/19/09
This story broke my heart. I'm grateful for the bit of hope at the end. Your descriptions put me right in the middle of the action. Very good!
Diana Dart 05/20/09
Once again, I am eating up your chewy, sometimes smelly descriptions. The writing was crisp, hesitant almost, totally suiting the mood of the MC. Gripping and so engaging. I totally love how you can capture an entire scene with one short phrase "The deterioration of human existence." Wow - sigh.
Kristen Hester05/20/09
I want to write like this when I grow up. Awesome!!!
Myrna Noyes05/20/09
Oh, WOW, this is GREAT!! :) You have such a gift of storytelling!!

Your descriptions were superb, and I especially like the following two:

"The exotic colors and shapes did all they could to make places like this habitable to the heart."

"He groaned so low it reverberated in Mallory’s boots."

The ending was excellent, as well, with the contrast between the two men and the suggestion that good will triumph over evil!
Patricia Herchenroether05/20/09
Lisa, as always, your stories are absolutely great, complete with a message, tiny details, well-chosen words. This one really hit me dead-center. No red ink here!
Loren T. Lowery05/21/09
Congratulations, Lisa! I'm so glad to see this place so highly in the ratings. It is a very remarkable piece of writing and so deserving of the recognition.
Myrna Noyes05/21/09
CONGRATUALTIONS ON YOUR EC for this excellently-written story! It was one of my favorites this week! :)
Marilyn Schnepp 05/21/09
Congratulations! A well written, NO! An EXCELLENT written entry...as usual. Kudos!
Sheri Gordon05/21/09
Congratulations on your EC. So glad to see this place--it is definitely one of my favorites.
Sharon Kane05/22/09
Good job Lisa! Congratulations!
Janice Fitzpatrick05/22/09
Very well done! I could feel the emotion; sadness, surpise and disgust as the daughter walks through this story, from childhood memories to now a motherless daughter. Very sad piece but stirred with mercy at the end. Congrats on your win hon! God bless.
Joy Bach 09/14/09
Well, all the words have been used. So I'll just say "ditto".