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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Touch (the sense of touch) (08/05/10)

TITLE: Not in the Skies
By Anita van der Elst


E.J. stood at the fourth grade classroom sink. Placing his hands under the spigot, he scrubbed at the craft time accumulation of glue and paint. As he added scratchy powdered soap from the dispenser, two small purple-splotched hands grasped hold of his. He raised his eyes to Joanne’s smile. “Let me help you with that, E.J.,” she said. Humming a little tune, she gently massaged up a lather.

Thoughts and feelings tumbled like California surf. A question buoyed. She wants to touch me? What a startling contrast to the previous afternoon at home.

Glancing over his shoulder, he’d bolted onto the front porch of the Craftsman bungalow, screen door slamming. Now she’ll be madder than ever. But he didn’t stop—down the steps, diagonally across the lawn to the sidewalk, and sprinted to the corner. Rounding it, he slowed. Since she never allowed the neighbors to see her rage, he was in the safe zone. What’d I do this time to set her off? He wandered around the neighborhood, the afternoon’s events reeling through his mind. Came home, put my school books away, went downstairs to eat the cookies and milk she’d set out. And then she was cursing me and getting the wooden spoon out of the drawer!

He knuckled his eyes to keep the tears from forming. I can never figure out what I’ve done. Must be there’s just something horribly wrong with me. She never hugs me or even pats me on the shoulder. What is it about me that makes Mom be so mean to me? Why’s she hate me so much? I don’t understand!

At dusk, when he knew Dad would be home, he’d returned. Neither parent spoke to him as he passed through the living room and into the kitchen. His mother got up and followed. She plunked a plate of cold spaghetti on the table and pointed. He sat and ate and went to bed. E.J. knew he could expect a repeat performance three or four nights out of the week.

Now here was Joanne affectionately washing his hands. Maybe it isn’t that there’s something wrong with me, at all!

That afternoon he again escaped the house and raced around the corner. Mrs. Threedy waved to him from the rocker on her porch. Last summer she’d bought several boxes of the greeting cards he’d been selling and often had a glass of lemonade for him.

“E.J., come on up here. I’ve something for you,” she said, her English accent precise even after years away from her native London. “There is something I’ve been meaning to give you, young man. I think you’re mature enough.” Her thin hand patted his arm and then grasping his sweaty one, led him up to the attic.

E.J.’s mouth formed a perfect O when Mrs. Threedy showed him the Lionel train set, each car in its own box, and twelve feet of train tracks.

“My husband and I bought these for our son who never had opportunity to play with them before polio took him. Mr. Threedy didn’t have the heart to give them away but now that he’s passed, I’m ready. Would you have room to set it up at your house?”

“Yeah, I think so,” E.J. said, once his vocabulary returned.

Her arm around his shoulder, Mrs. Threedy said, “E.J., I know you’ll take excellent care of it. You’re a good boy and very smart. I hope you’ll show it to me when it’s set up.”

A connection of sorts developed between E.J. and his father as they worked on the model landscaping together. As his mother’s rages increased, E.J. frequently found refuge with kind-hearted Mrs. Threedy, who called him a charmer.

Years later E.J. joined a group of young people riding in his buddy’s van. Arty careened around corners at reckless speeds. Face down on the van’s carpeted floor, a terrified young woman in a halter-top trembled. E.J. suggested Arty take it easy. Arty only went faster. E.J. didn’t know the girl but he reached out and placed his palm on the young woman’s bare back. She calmed.

I was that young woman. I’ve been married to E.J. for over thirty-four years now. He’s told me about his childhood. The other night he said, “I think God placed sweet old ladies and compassionate children in my life just when I needed them.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “They were angels in disguise.”

He grinned charmingly, “No, they lived in houses, not in the skies.”

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Member Comments
Member Date
Robyn Burke08/12/10
Cute ending! E.J.'s sense of humor reminds me of someone I know.;)

Good, strong descriptions throughout. I like the way you carried the theme from his childhood, being comforted by others, into adulthood, showing EJ as the one to offer a touch of comfort.

Charla Diehl 08/13/10
I wanted to take E.J. in my arms and reassure him that he had done nothing wrong. My heart ached for him and all kids that suffer abuse from "sick" parents. I'm so glad your story included some of God's angels in disguise.