Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Childhood (09/03/09)
TITLE: Another Fresh Sheet of Paper
By Jan Ackerson
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Overheard fragment of conversation at the mall, teenaged girls talking, one of them says “Amish Barbie…”
Woman in hippie skirt and wood-and-leather jewelry at airport, reading New Age book—why am I not surprised when she stretches, revealing unshaved armpits?
Homeless man in Philadelphia with surprisingly articulate, beautifully lettered sign: Be charitable before wealth makes thee covetous.
Little girl sitting under large maple…she hugs her knees, her head is down…why is she there?
This last one would have to do—Professor Portman’s deadline loomed. Characterization, 350 words. With a sigh, Juliana tapped her pen three times on a legal pad, then began to write.
“…eighty-five, ninety, ninety-five, a hundred!” Scooter lifted her head from her knees and looked around. Everything had changed: an orange sky overhead displayed a few purple clouds, and a few feet away, a long-eared greenish creature was signaling frantically. “Scooter, come quick!”…
With a snort, Juliana tore the top sheet from her legal pad. She’d never be a children’s writer, that was for sure. Find your voice, Professor Portman had said. Well, fine. Perhaps a different direction altogether, then. Why is that little girl there?
Mikayla put her head down and gulped in great breaths. She had been extra careful not to slam the screen door, and she was a fast runner. Probably Daddy wouldn’t even have missed her yet. Besides, he was having lunch with Lisa, and Lisa had a little girl of her own. Didn’t he miss Mommy any more? At the touch of a hand on her shoulder, Mikayla jumped up, ready to punch Daddy’s leg. But it was Lisa standing there…
Juliana’s hand slowed, and she covered the paper with wide, back-and-forth slashes of ink. Think, Juliana. Why is she under that tree? Forget about the professor’s rules, and just write her story. You know her story, don’t you?
Another fresh sheet of paper, and Juliana started one more time.
Annabel sits under her favorite tree, figuring out how to pray. She doesn’t know much about God, but she figures it’s polite to refer to him as Mister. That’s how you address grown-ups, is what her momma always said, and Annabel reckons God’s pretty old. She uses his full name, the name she’s heard Daddy use once or twice.
With her head bowed between her knees, she begins her prayer. “Dear Mister Jesus H. Christ on a Pony…would you please make my momma smile again, and get out of bed? Because I think little Billy needs her. He’s just a baby. And it would be nice to have cookies again. And I don’t think my panties have been washed in a while. Sorry to mention panties, Mister Jesus H. Christ. Amen.”
She hops to her feet, brushing dirt off her overalls, and walks home to see if Jesus was listening. She stops first to get Billy out of his cradle. He’s fussing, and she sticks a finger in his mouth as she walks into Momma’s bedroom.
“I brought Billy, Momma. I was careful of his head, too.” She lays Billy beside Momma. Her back is turned, but Annabel knows she’s awake. “Momma, I wanted to show you something pretty I found outside, okay? Momma?”
Momma shifts a bit. She’s on her back now, propped up by a few pillows. Her eyes are sad and tired. Annabel wonders why Momma’s tired, since she’s been in bed all day.
She starts pulling items out of her pockets: a yellow stone, a rusted bottle cap, a bit of blue robin’s egg. And then she’s startled by an unfamiliar sound—Momma has made a noise. Annabel looks up from her pile of treasures. Momma is smiling a little bit. Annabel follows her gaze, and sees that a little green frog has escaped from her overalls. It’s perched on Billy’s chest, staring at him with round froggy eyes, and Billy’s staring too—with his eyes crossed and looking right down the middle of his nose.
Annabel reaches over Billy and the frog, and touches Momma’s smile.
Whispering something that sounded quite a bit like “…on a pony,” Juliana tucked her legal pad into her backpack and headed for class. On the way, she fingered her favorite necklace—a little frog pendant, a gift from her mother.
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