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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Week(s) (02/10/11)

TITLE: Jenny
By Michael Throne


It’s my fifth, or maybe my sixth incarnation, but this time, I think it might stick.

“Hi. Welcome to Burger King.”

Hey, it’s not much, but I’m sober.

“May I take your order?”

I’ve done better, of course, but now I have something to live for.

“Would you like fries with that?”

A reason to get up in the morning.

“Thank you.”

A chance to make a difference.

I’d met Jenny outside the Food Pantry. She was pulling an old two-wheeler cart and having a hard time getting it over the curb. I’d stepped right up and, being the gentleman that I am, helped her, taking care not to disturb her stuff.

“Thank you,” she said. She was young for the street, maybe thirty or thirty-two, with stringy red hair and soft green eyes. She was wearing an old, wore-out overcoat.

“Certainly,” I said, bowing, nearly sober. “Always happy to help one of our own.”

“Oh…no.” Her expression got all contorted. “I’m not….” She appeared horrified to seen as a street person, but then, almost immediately, horrified at being horrified. It all played out so nicely on her face.

“Thank you,” she said finally, her face nearly as red as her hair.

I liked Jenny. There was a kindness about her. Turned out she was volunteering at the Pantry and the cart was full of donated canned goods.

Myself, I was back to living in my car.

We talked after that, off and on. Jenny didn’t talk down to me like the others did, like I maybe hadn’t had a shower lately, but as a person, an equal. She was sweet that way. I hadn’t been talked to by a regular woman in so long, I’d almost forgotten how.

But I didn’t think twice about her claiming to be married. Hey, I’m no saint. Besides, we were just talking, though her eyes really were soft and kind. Sometimes I’d stop by even when I didn’t need any more bread, especially if I’d had a touch to drink. Did I mention how nice her smile was?

Anyway, a couple of months in, I noticed her walking down the aisles with her cart.

“Checking inventory?” I asked.

“No,” she had that nervous look to her again, like when we first met. “My husband’s been out of work. I’m…I’m getting some groceries.”

Whoa. Now that changed things.

“Jenny, come on out when you’re done and let’s talk about it.” And to my surprise, she did.

Turned out, she really was married and they were in a pretty bad hole. Two months late with the rent, no kin nearby, and a sick kid to boot. They were in a fix, alright.

“How about unemployment?” I asked.

“It’s not enough.”

I liked Jenny. I liked her a lot. I thought long and hard about what to do.

And then I did it.

“No onions? No problem.”

Those first nights were tough. And when I got my paycheck, I almost did a little celebrating, though I knew better, really.

One week at a time, that’s my motto, nowadays.

I felt kind of nervous when I made my proposal to Jenny and her husband. Let me park out front and use the facilities upon occasion, and I’d help them out as best I could. They talked among themselves and, to my disappointment, said no.

They’d put me up in the basement, but no booze, period.

“Ketchup? Next to the soda.”

I moved right in. Contributed what I could, even did some babysitting. Young couple like that needs their time alone, and besides, their kids say I’m funny.

“Yeah, it’s chicken. I’m pretty sure.”

Sometimes the guys on the street ribbed me about living with Jenny. I told them where to get off. I mean, come on, she’s got a husband and two kids; what kind of person do they think I am?

“Here. Have some sauce.”

Jenny’s like a daughter to me, almost.

Jenny’s husband got his job back, yesterday. Thought maybe they wouldn’t want me around anymore. I debated going on a celebratory binge, but Jenny saw right through me. She stared at me with those soft, green eyes. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

I don’t know. I’d done my good deed.

She smiled.

“We need you here.”

“Would you like cheese on that?”

I don’t even miss the booze, usually.

“How about some fries?”

Ten weeks and counting.

“Here’s your change.”

This time, it’s gonna’ stick. I’m sure.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

It’s nice to be needed.

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This article has been read 753 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Anita van der Elst02/17/11
Well, that made my throat get a lump in it! Having a family member who is now over 4 years clean, but who still lives one day at a time & takes joy in helping others, this struck close to home. Thank you for this story.
Joanne Sher 02/22/11
Great storytelling. I was right there - and I love the back and forth.
Margaret Kearley 02/24/11
I enjoyed this - a great story and well deserving its placing. Congratulations.
Rachel Phelps02/24/11
Awesome! Congratulations on your EC!
Henry Clemmons02/24/11
"It's nice to be needed." Isn't that a fact. Well done! and glad to see your EC.
Bonnie Bowden 02/24/11
What a lovely story. I loved the characters, both giving from the heart.

Congratulations on a well deserved award.
Loren T. Lowery02/25/11
Very well done, with a truly authentic voice. The message was clear and indeed, profound - being needed changes everything. Congratulations, Michael.