Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: At the Pulpit (11/15/07)
TITLE: A Flicker of Hope
By Marita Vandertogt
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The fire crackled against the stones that were built up around it. It was warm, flickering, making shadows on the faces of the people that surrounded it.
“Where d’ya get the wood.” Jim rubbed his hands together over the flame, feeling the warm go through his skinny body. He pulled his coat tighter around him, as if he could store away the heat for later when he’d need it against the cold night.
“I pulled it from a dumpster back of the old church. They were cleanin’ out the basement and tossed it in, yellin something like they didn’t use this thing anymore. It was just takin’ up space. So I climbed into it and pulled it out again when they left. Heavy son of a gun it was too.”
“You got this out of a church bin?” Jim seemed surprised, and stepped back away from the flame. “We burnin’ church stuff?” His voice grew louder in the night air.
“Ya, so? Puttin’ it to good use I’d say.” Rodney laughed, his face too old for the years of his body. “Used to be that old podium thing at the front of the church. You know, where the pastor stood every Sunday in his fancy suit and talked till people fell asleep.”
A small rumble of laughter went through the little group. “Help me grab another piece of it will ya? I’m tellin’ ya. God don’t mind. They threw it away.”
Jim took his rubber booted foot, and kicked at the side, trying to break the wood free from a stubborn nail, and as he kicked, he could hear a voice in his head that he hadn’t heard in a very long time.
“Now Jimmy, get some polish on those shoes, and don’t forget to comb down your hair. We can’t be late. Pastor doesn’t like it when we’re late, comin’ in part way through his sermon.”
Jimmy remembered the man who stood behind a podium like this one so many years ago. He remembered a man who started to cry, almost every Sunday, halfway through his sermon. Remembered the man’s hands, big, with knotted knuckles, clutching the sides of the podium as the tears fell. And the people walking up to the front, his mother one of them, kneeling in front of this thing. Kneeling and calling out to the Lord. People didn’t do that in churches anymore, at least not that he knew of, he thought.
“Ya, you’re right Rod my boy, they don’t need this thing no more,” and with that, he gave his foot one huge thrust forward, breaking the wood from the nail with a loud snap. But he still felt something he couldn’t shake. He remembered again the words of his mother, kneeling in front of the tall wood structure, like it was some kind of special altar. “And my boy Jimmy, she’d pray. Don’t let him go. Hang on to him. Let him know your love.” Her prayer was the same every Sunday. That’s why he could remember it so well.
But she was gone, passed on years ago, when Jimmy was still a young man. He never went back to the church after her funeral. The pastor spoke his words over her from a pulpit as well. Reminding everyone of her dedication to her son, and that someday, he trusted, God would answer that prayer.
The fire started to burn down. “This thing’s almost gone,” Rodney said, his face growing darker as the light started to fade. “Guess we got some pleasure out of it, huh Jimmy old boy.” He smacked the man on the back, kicked dirt across the fire pit, and walked away, back to his makeshift home in a cardboard box across town. The others had already left.
Jim sat alone, watching the black smoke curl up against the moon lit sky. All that was left of the podium now was a few burning embers. A few burning memories. He thought again, about how disappointed his mother would be if she knew how he turned out, a man of the street, living day to day, and a wave of shame hit him.
The podium finally lay black soot in the black night.
“Think there’s still hope for me momma?” he called out to the air as he got up to leave.
A small flicker of light rekindled the podium for just a moment as his steps echoed on the empty street.
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