Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Life (06/15/06)
TITLE: The Life Saver
By Linda Germain
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I try to ignore him but I know he will tell me anyway. He is a slow reader who likes to share stories that take his fancy. I keep part of the newspaper in front of my face so he won’t know whether I give a hoot or not.
“What’s that, Bert?”
“Well,” he begins, but has to pause for a big slurp of coffee. “It says here that if we ever have a nuclear explosion – you know, that kills the whole world and every living creature...?”
I peer over the top of my printed barricade, waiting; but he has stopped talking. I will not let him irritate me today. Lord, please help me to be patient.
“Yes, go on,” I prompt, “ You said something about every living creature...?”
He looks up with that vague, innocent expression.
“Bert,” I sigh, “you said you were reading something interesting.”
“I did? What was it?”
He takes another long swig, then sets the mug down and begins to stir what’s left with his aggravating spoon. I know what’s coming next. My teeth begin to grind.
Tap, Tap, Tap
There it is. How does he manage to perpetuate this slow, predictable cycle of torture every morning? I decide to go outside and sit in the old wood porch swing. Bert does not see me leave. He is engrossed in the article again. I’m sure I’ll get a report later.
Curiosity should be my middle name; at least that’s what nearly everybody tells me. After chores and errands, I find the paper on the table where he left it. I grab a glass of iced tea and settle down to satisfy my nagging nosiness.
I see the point poor Bert was trying to make. The story is about cockroaches: Even if every ounce of life were erased from the earth by radiation, those hateful, ugly insects would survive. I can’t see why. Who in the world would they have to bug?
In the living room, I curl up on the end of the sofa to watch my defective brother who is asleep in the recliner. I promised Momma I would give him a home and be kind to him, but there are times when impatience washes over me in discouraging waves. Bert stirs and opens his eyes and smiles as if he truly is glad to see me. I smile back.
“Can we catch fireflies tonight?” The mature face of a grown man has the hopeful countenance of a seven-year old child.
I make an effort to sound eager to scoop little winged luminaries out of mid air. “That might be fun. Do you still have the jar with holes punched in the lid so they won’t die?”
He ambles off to search for the container. As soon as dusk appears we take our places in the sturdy swing where we used to sit as children, before the accident. He is motionless.
“Have you changed your mind, Bert?”
He turns toward me, his brow wrinkled with confusion. “About what?”
“I thought you wanted to catch lightening bugs.”
His gaze is on the gathering fireflies but I know he is struggling to wrap his limited mind around an elusive concept.
“If a nuclear bomb exploded, “he begins tentatively,” it would kill everything but… uh, roaches.
“Bert, honey.” I unconsciously pat his arm. “ I hope you are not worried about that happening.”
Only the creak of the old swing disturbs our silence as we watch the tiny bug flashlights flitting around.
“Sissy, does anything live forever?”
I feel overwhelmed with love for this person who is so dependent on me. I pray for guidance. “Remember when Pastor came to your special Sunday school class and talked about eternal life?”
He tilts his head back to ponder the question as he contemplates the vast and mysterious universe. He answers, “Uh huh.”
“Bert, you tell me what lives forever.”
His beautiful face lights up with the answer. “We do…I mean, our spirits do. When we ask Jesus to live in our hearts we get to go to Heaven.”
He begins to laugh joyously, and then skips across the backyard in his clumsy way, singing a song only he knows.
“Where are you going, Pal?” I am blatantly overprotective.
He stops to be sure I hear him. “Nowhere until I die,” he teases, “but over to this trash can right now.”
There’s a muffled clatter as the empty glass jar hits the bottom.
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