Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Surprised (09/06/07)
TITLE: A Bird in the Hand ...
By Beth Muehlhausen
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I plodded down the creaky wooden stairs, holding my breath all the way. At the bottom of the staircase I panted in-and-out, in-and-out, compensating for the imposed oxygen deficit. The putrid, sweet-sour stench of dead rats now decaying in the walls – the result of our intentional poisoning – sent me running to the bathroom, gagging all the way.
For an entire summer we inhabited a tumbledown house earmarked for demolition by local volunteer firemen while our big farmhouse up the lane was being remodeled. Every day included some sort of trauma. Electricity in the water lines shocked us when we washed our hands; excessive voltage blew up the stereo; baby mice crawled from holes and fed on scraps of food the kids offered them; rats ran at will across the living room floor as if they owned the place!
As I poured cereal into three bowls for the children that morning and shooed them out the back door to enjoy a morning picnic away from the disgusting odors inside, I heard a knock on the front door. “Just a minute!” I called, wondering if my husband, Ron, might have returned for a forgotten tool after heading to our “dream house” to work.
With my nose pinched between my thumb and forefinger, tousled hair standing on end, and robe split in an inverted “V” to display my very pregnant belly which was covered only by a scanty nightie, I swung open the door with great flourish.
“Hello Suzanne! I’ve brought a young friend; we’re going to help paint at the remodeled house this morning.”
Aaaaaagggggg! My jaw tried to drop to the floor as my body turned to stone. “Why … hello, Pastor! What a … SURPRISE!”
Pastor Clayton stood before me with twinkling eyes and a big grin, while his curious teenaged buddy peered around his shoulder at the frightful woman standing before them.
I wanted to die a thousand deaths.
“Yes, we thought we’d just show up and see if we could get some paint on those walls so you could move back sooner rather than later.”
“Oh, OH! How nice! I’m so sorry … this place stinks … so I won’t ask you to come in … but thank you!” I pulled my robe around my swollen body as best I could. “Just go on up … I’m sure you’ll be very welcome … they’re already working … the more hands the merrier!”
“Ah good … well, we’ll see you later then!”
As they turned to leave, I called after them, “Will you two be staying for lunch?”
“That would be wonderful, if it’s not too much trouble. Thanks Suzanne - see you in a few hours!”
Oh my - what had I done? The pantry was barren, the refrigerator almost empty, and I had no car. And yet I’d just invited our pastor and an unknown volunteer to join us for lunch accompanied by dead animal smells!!
After putting fans in several open windows, I scrounged the vegetable garden to gather whatever fresh produce might be there. A pioneer woman at heart, I then headed to the chicken coop where a couple of chop-chops, some gutting, plucking, cutting, and skillet frying yielded a plate of golden southern fried chicken.
As the door opened and the weary workers entered, I hoped the predominant aroma would be that of the sizzling, browned chicken – rather than decaying flesh.
Pastor Clayton beamed: “We accomplished a lot, Suzanne!”
“That’s so wonderful … thanks all of you … ! I hope you enjoy lunch … chicken doesn’t get much fresher than this homegrown bird … I killed and prepared it just this morning!”
I stood by the stove with the chicken platter resting on my protruding stomach, and smiled a perfect hostess smile. “Just have a seat – mashed potatoes and green beans from our garden are already on the table.”
Shocked, the young helper turned to me apologetically and said, “I’m sorry - I just don’t think I can eat something that was alive and running around just an hour or two ago.”
“Well now … that chicken doesn’t care … so you shouldn’t either. And besides … didn’t someone once say, ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do?’”
Taken aback by my reply, his eyes brightened. “OH! Of course!”
He crunched into a thigh. Fans buzzed, voices chattered. I squinted at the empty chicken plate. The baby kicked within me.
I’d been surprised by grace.
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