Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Childhood (09/03/09)
TITLE: Child-Sized Armor
By Catrina Bradley
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Jonas didn't completely dislike hiring kiddies. If they could do the job, they could make him money. And if not, they went back home to Mama.
Most of the tykes could be trained to do the simple tasks required, and those who couldn't either weren't grown up enough for their age (Jonas picked off those weaklings easily); or their learning abilities fell below the standard required (their parents were encouraged to seek special education).
Sylvia bowed over the small sacks. Each one held an egg-salad sandwich, an apple from the orchard, and a fresh-baked oatmeal-raisin cookie, and was marked "LUNCH" in either pink or blue crayon.
<i>Lord, I'm glad I can do this simple thing. Please bless each boy and girl with nourishment to their bodies and their spirits. Amen</i>
Into each sack she slipped a scrap of paper. The sacks with pink crayon got the following words: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." The sacks marked with blue got: "And whatsoever ye do, do heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men."
Sylvia breathed one last prayer and rolled the tops down.
Jonas looked up from his paperwork to eye the huge round clock on the factory wall. <i>Time to do a check. Gotta reinforce the rules while the brats are still green.
Especially those Nielson brats.</i>
He couldn't decide if the girl would drag her brother down into her well of self pity, or if he would pull his sister up with his stubborn tenacity. The boy could be a good worker if he'd focus more on the line and less on the pathetic crybaby.
Sylvia settled each sack lunch into her shopping bag then toted her burden to the 13th Street trolley stop.
A scowl was Jonas' answer to Sylvia's timid knock on the frame of his open door.
Sylvia lifted the bag. "You know the new children might not have lunch."
"Bah. Spoiling the brats, you are."
"We can't fault them for not knowing on their first day, can we? It's just this once, Jonas. And they'll work better fed than hungry."
The noon whistle shrieked and the assembly line rumbled to a halt. Jonas lumbered to his office door and hollered out, "Lunch break. Twenty minutes."
The conglomeration of ragamuffins staggered to their feet and stretched their cramped muscles. The new ones looked to each other with fear and uncertainty. Only a few had brought a crust of bread and some cheese, or a scrap left over from last night's meager supper, wrapped up in a handkerchief.
Sylvia sought out the hungry and distributed her offering, along with a soft word and a stroke to matted hair or a gentle hug to a tiny unwashed body.
Jonas watched her until the last sack was handed out and she was on her way. He then retreated to his office to spy on the brats through the door and eat his roast beef and freshly baked bread.
He didn't exactly approve of his wife's charity, but he found malicious satisfaction watching the newbies open their gifts. Most tore into the food, leaving the silly scrap of paper with the rest of the rubbish. A few took their time, seemingly in wonderment of what they held.
The Nielson brats were different. First out of the sacks came the scraps of paper, and before they even looked at the sandwiches or sniffed the apples, they read the words Sylvia had printed, traded papers to read each other's, and then traded back read their own again.
"Bah. Blabber-jabber is all that is." Jonas redirected his attention to the food in front of him and his thoughts to putting his feet up tonight.
Out on the factory floor, the Nielson children joined hands in prayer.
Outside the factory door, Sylvia paused to pray.
Another shrill whistle signaled the end of the break, and Jonas scanned the floor to make sure the brats all hurried back to work.
Especially the Nielson brats.
His eyes widened, then narrowed as he watched the tiny girl square her shoulders and set to task with new determination and confidence, and the boy actually grin and work faster.
What in the world did that woman put in the egg salad today?
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