Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Christmas Lights (10/30/08)
TITLE: It's Just Plain Old Laziness
By Jan Ackerson
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She slammed the kitchen door and tossed the newspaper on the table toward George, who didn’t look up from his crossword puzzle. “George, they’re still up there,” she said, as she began to prepare a pot of coffee.
George made a mmmpph sound and continued to work on his puzzle.
“Did you hear me, George? I said they’re still up there!” Agnes took a mug out of the cupboard and drummed her fingers on the counter while the coffeepot gurgled.
George tapped the eraser end of his pencil on the table. “What’s a 7-letter word for sweet?” he asked.
“Oh, how should I know? George, you’re not listening to me!” Agnes reached over and held George’s pencil to the table to stop the tapping. George looked up from his puzzle and glanced around the kitchen as if orienting himself to the room. His eyes landed on the coffeepot.
“Is that coffee?”
“Of course it’s coffee, you ninny. I’ll get you some in a minute. Now will you listen to me? I’ve been telling you about the Bensons.” Agnes kept her hand on George’s pencil and stood staring at him, blocking his view of the tempting coffee.
George’s shoulders slumped, and he pushed the puzzle away with reluctance. “What’s this about the Bensons, then?”
“I’ve only been telling you this for weeks now, George. If you’d listen every now and then, instead of burying your head in a crossword puzzle all the time…” Agnes sighed heavily.
George waited, glancing longingly first at his puzzle, then in the direction of the coffee, which smelled rich and tantalizing. Agnes was glaring, clearly expecting a response. George hazarded a guess, hoping that the right response would earn him coffee and some respite from Agnes’s voice. “The Bensons…still…have a dog?”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, George. It’s not their dog. It’s those Christmas lights! Here it is the second week of March, and they still have their Christmas lights up! It looks horrible, George. What can they be thinking? They can’t possibly still be celebrating Christmas, it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day. It’s just laziness, I tell you, plain old laziness. That Harry Benson ought to be ashamed of himself, and I don’t know what Laura is thinking, letting him keep those lights up so long past Christmas. Why, if I were her…” Agnes sputtered to a stop, looking to George to confirm her indignation.
George thought for a moment, then pulled the crossword puzzle back. “How about some coffee, then?” With a slight tug, he freed his pencil from Agnes’s hand and started to tap the eraser.
Laura Benson sits at her desk, answering another e-mail from a stranger. This task has not gotten easier, although she has been doing it for almost five months. She pauses often, her breath catching in her throat. Harry walks over to her and squeezes her shoulder. Together they gaze at a framed photo on the desk—a handsome, solemn soldier standing with square shoulders in front of an American flag.
He has been missing since November 21st.
Laura reaches out with one slim finger and traces the jaw line of the young soldier in the photograph, then sags in her seat. Harry kneels and takes her in his arms. After a long embrace, they break apart, both bravely smiling. He takes her hand and they walk toward the couch, passing a display of tiny shepherds adoring the infant Jesus--passing the mantel where a lone stocking still hangs—passing the tree with its skirt full of unopened gifts. As they nestle close together on the sofa, Harry fumbles at the wall; he finds a cord and plugs it in.
Outside, the house is flooded with welcoming white light.
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