Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Reading (01/25/07)
TITLE: Oren's Burden
By Sandra Petersen
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And Saul, my king, says to me, “You are but a boy. What can you do against this giant?”
“I have tended my father’s sheep and the Lord saw fit to strengthen me to deliver them from both lion and bear. This Philistine is like one of them, defying the living God of your people.”
King Saul persuades me to wear his armor and his coat of mail and crowns me with his helmet. He straps a sword on my loins, but I cannot walk with . . .
Twelve-year-old Oren heard the whistle of the ruler in the air before it cracked against his knuckles. He winced.
A hand from behind yanked him by his shirt collar to his feet.
“I see Oren knows the primer lesson so well that he can spend his time daydreaming,” Miss Gulliver sneered. “Perhaps you would like to demonstrate your reading skills in front of the class.”
Oren’s cheeks blazed . He shambled to the front of the room and hunched beside the teacher’s desk, his primer in his trembling hands. The thing he feared most had come to pass. Would he be able to decipher the jumbled words this time?
“Read for us, Mister Cramer.”
Oren swallowed to clear the lump from his throat. The words swam before his eyes.
He focused his attention upon a shaft of sunshine that bleached the worn wooden floor an unnatural white. The sunbeam seemed to taunt him with a promise of freedom. Is it a doorway to another world? Then a shadow with skirts obstructed the light.
“We’re waiting, Mister Cramer.”
Oren shifted his gaze to Miss Gulliver’s feet. He had never noticed before how tiny they were and how her lace-trimmed petticoat peeped out from under her blue calico.
She grunted her impatience. “Go stand in the corner, young man. I will talk to your parents after school.”
As his classmates’ voices droned on in their studies, Oren imagined himself kneeling beside a muddy brook . . .
And he picked up five smooth stones. One stone nestled in his sling as he faced the calico-clad giant who mocked his youth and threatened his existence.
“This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, for the battle is the Lord’s.”
The giant drew his primer from the sheath at his side. The leather sling whistled in the air over Oren’s head . . .
True to her word, Miss Gulliver accompanied the boy home. Oren shrank in stature as she painted a picture of a boy given to laziness and sure to become morally corrupt if his ways were not corrected with swift and severe discipline. His mother’s face paled as she clasped and unclasped her hands. Oren watched a muscle twitch along his father’s jaw line. He knew he was in for it.
That evening Oren and his mother listened to his father read about Solomon by the flickering firelight of the hearth. Oren squirmed in his seat. The welts on his legs from his father’s whipping stung like the bites of a hundred fire ants. Shame clouded his thoughts. For once, as his father read, the boy did not imagine himself as the hero of the Bible story. He hurt too badly.
Lord, I need the wisdom and knowledge of Solomon. How do I tell my parents how much I want to read, but can’t?
His father yawned. Placing the Bible on the mantel, he lumbered off toward the curtain that divided their bedroom from the rest of the cabin.
“Oren?” His mother roused him from his silent prayers and leaned forward to gaze into his eyes. “I know in my heart you’re a hard worker. Something has been troubling you. What is it?”
He hesitated and frowned, trying to frame the words that would describe his struggle. With sudden inspiration, he reached up to remove the Bible from its resting place.
“Let me read to you, Mama.” Oren found Psalm 1. Sounding out each word was such an effort that minutes passed before he was halfway through the first verse.
When he finished the verse, he was exhausted. He felt his mother’s arms around him and her tears on his neck.
“My precious son! I didn’t know.”
His burden shared, Oren embraced his mother, the Bible open in his lap.
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