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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Great (07/06/06)

TITLE: Finding Gracie's Joy
By Jan Ackerson


The file on my desk told Gracie’s tragic story. She had been in her mother’s car with her twin sister and baby brother, on an evening errand to the grocery store. As her mother rounded a curve, the headlights caught the startled gaze of a deer. Nora had swerved to avoid the frightened animal and skidded on wet pavement, sending the car spinning into another vehicle. Gracie and Nora had survived; Sophie and little Jack had not.

That was six weeks ago. The cast had just been removed from Gracie’s broken arm, but Nora was concerned about the deeper injury to Gracie’s spirit. The little girl never spoke of Sophie or Jack—and she never smiled. Nora had called me for an appointment, frantic that her remaining child seemed to be disappearing into grief.

I knew that Nora and Gracie were in my waiting room. Surveying my office and the play areas that I had set up for my sad and wounded little patients, I breathed a prayer. Lord, help me to find Gracie’s joy. Through the peephole, I saw that Gracie was sitting solemnly beside her mother, her feet inches from the floor but motionless—as if the simple act of swinging them might somehow betray her sorrow.

I opened the door, and knelt next to Gracie’s seat. “I’m Meg. What’s your name?”

Gracie shot a look at her mother, who nodded. “It’s okay, sweet pea.”

Her wide green eyes studied me for a moment. Then—almost a whisper. “Gracie the Great.”

I’ve learned this: let the child guide the session. “Well, Gracie the Great, would you like to see what’s in my playroom?”

She slid out of her chair and followed me, then quietly surveyed each play center. I saw that she was wearing a dishtowel, pinned cape-like to her pink tee-shirt. As good a place as any to start. “Gracie the Great. Do you have any superpowers?”

Gracie’s eyes flashed. “Yes!” She took a few steps toward the road mat, a carpet printed with streets and traffic signs. Taking a toy car out of a nearby bin, she hesitated at the edge of the mat. Her grip on the toy whitened her knuckles.

“What are your superpowers, Gracie?”

“Gracie the Great!”

“I’m sorry. What are your superpowers, Gracie the Great?”

She took another car from the bin and tapped their bumpers together, ever so gently. “It doesn’t hurt me.” She looked at me, then at the cars in her hands. “When cars smash up. It doesn’t hurt me.”

“That’s a really useful superpower, isn’t it?”

But Gracie didn’t say a word for the rest of our time together. I made arrangements with Nora for a series of sessions.

Over the next few weeks, I learned more about Gracie the Great’s powers. She could talk to animals, and see in the dark, and she had no blood—“just more skin.” Clearly, Gracie was working through the accident, trying to regain control. Always, her face remained solemn, her eyes wide.

One afternoon, Gracie the Great revealed another superpower. Twisting a corner of her dishtowel cape, she gazed at her shoes. “I never need to drink juice.” Then, to my astonishment, she sank to the floor, sobbing.

“Gracie? Why don’t you need to drink juice, honey?”

Several weeks’ worth of emotions poured forth. “I told my mommy I wanted juice but we didn’t have any so I told her to go get some. She didn’t want to because daddy wasn’t home to watch J-Jack but I cried a little bit and she had a mad face and said okay we’ll go get juice…” Gracie stopped, her broken heart choking back her words.

“Oh, Gracie. Do you think the accident was your fault?”

A nod. Shuddering gulps.

I gathered her into my lap. “No one thinks it was your fault, honey. It was just an accident.”

“It was just a dumb deer?”

“Yes, Gracie. Just a dumb deer.”

Gracie sniffed. “I don’t like dumb deer.” She peered at the framed print on my wall—a smiling Jesus surrounded by happy children. “Is Sophie in heaven?”


“Is Jack in heaven?”


“Do they know he likes his tummy buzzed?”

“Yes, Gracie. They know.”

Gracie sat silent in my lap for a minute. “I have another superpower.”

“What is it, Gracie the Great?”

“I can see your underpants.” I drew back and looked into her tear-stained face. She was not smiling, but a twinkle played at the corner of her eye.

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This article has been read 1562 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Dixie Phillips07/13/06
Powerful visual...... Loved the twists and turns... I'll be thinking of Gracie the Great the rest of the evening.
Lynda Lee Schab 07/14/06
Very good story within the 750 word guidelines! Touching and sad, yet filled with hope. The only thing that didn't flow for me for some reason was the first paragraph. Other than that, nicely done.
Mark Anthony Belosa07/14/06
Touching story...
Georgia Velasquez07/14/06
Beautiful, heart-wrenching story!Left me with tears streaming down my face for little Gracie.
Rita Garcia07/14/06
Heartfelt story! I felt like I was right there in the office with "Gracie the Great." I felt each emotion and even cried with her.
Melanie Kerr 07/15/06
What a wise lady the counselor was! And patient too! I think you did a good job o letting us see into the mind of a child and how they perceive tings and how they deal with tragedies.
terri tiffany07/17/06
Good emotions. I think pretty realistic as well and a great peek into the mind of a child too in how they might think of an accident and their part.
Lynda Schultz 07/17/06
You did this in a hurry? I should write so well when I'm in a hurry! Gracie's emotions live. Great piece.
Linda Watson Owen07/17/06
What an artist you are, Jan! This portrait of Gracie is so compelling. I could see the actress who played the little daughter in 'Hope Floats' playing this part in an expanded version for a TV movie.
Brenda Craig07/17/06
Trying to comment while crying, this is beautiful and real. This one will stick with me. Excellent writing! In a hurry huh? I'm goina write faster next time.
Jen Davis07/17/06
Such a tragic story that left me smiling at the end. Gracie's character was endearing and believable. Great writing!
Pat Guy 07/17/06
It's difficult to pace a child's recovery in so few words, but you did a good job of it. Gracie was precious and we feel for her - and that's good.
Donna Haug07/17/06
Great dialog. Her breakthrough was a little rushed - but what can you do with such a word limit. Amazing what goes on in the heads of these little ones.
Trina Courtenay07/18/06
I loved this. One of my fav's for sure! I wish I could write something like this in a hurry.
Ann Grover07/18/06
Tender and touching.... not much that can be improved upon... wonderful, as always...
Joanne Sher 07/18/06
What a story! You had me drawn in from word one to the very end! I loved the finish - definitely gave me just the right feeling to finish this wonderfully crafted piece!
Kevin Kindrick07/18/06
A tragic story with a wondrous ending. Oh, for that twinkle in a child's eye! There is something undeniably pure about it.
Thank you for sharing this, and for finding Gracie's Joy.

God bless,

Stephen Paynter07/18/06
Jan, you have so many comments extolling the virtues of this wonderful, moving story, you don't need mine. Still, I don't suppose you mind another one! This story is very haunting, and beautifully observed. Thank you for letting us see Gracie
discover her joy again.
Suzanne R07/19/06
You've painted the picture of Gracie the Great beautifully, and you've revealed to us the story step by step, so as to keep us wondering. My only criticism (which is just an opinion, really) is that at the beginning, I didn't know the relationships between Nora, Grace, Sophie and Jack, and so was a bit too confused for a moment or two. My opinion only. I really enjoyed this and the ending was great too.
T. F. Chezum07/19/06
This is weak and hurried?? I wish my weak entries were this good.
George Parler 07/20/06
I agree with Tim. This is wonderful.
Julianne Jones07/21/06
One of my personal favourites in this challenge. A very moving story. Well done.