Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The Pen is Mightier than the Sword (04/08/10)
TITLE: Just a Few Words
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Spots of bacon grease decorated Miss Augustine’s scanty wardrobe of threadbare, musty-smelling housedresses. Rheumatoid arthritis had gnarled her fingers; the thick lenses of her smudgy glasses proved she could hardly see. Wispy gray hair surrounded her sagging face like a coarse, untamed horse’s mane. As she shuffled laboriously around her small home, the flattened heels of her fleece-lined slippers scuffed along with idle resistance.
She lived alone with Ruthie, her twenty-year-old Persian cat, in a log cabin situated on a large lake. Persistent winds often slammed white caps into her seawall with crashing, spraying voices chanting a mantra: “Faith (shhhhhh), hope (shhhhhh), love (shhhhhh) ...” Sometimes neighbors saw her sitting on her porch in the sunshine, nodding her head and mouthing those words, affirming the waves.
Debilitating pain was Miss Augustine’s constant companion, one almost everyone seemed to overlook. She was atypical and odd, an eccentric would-be nun living a reclusive, cloistered life. People left her alone, labeling her as either mysterious or else just plain odd. Her niece Stasi was particularly outspoken. “You’re crazy, auntie! All that religious hocus-pocus controls your whole life. It’s embarrassing!”
At times Miss Augustine and Stasi had heated conversations – battles of will where verbal shrapnel flew. Both refused to back down. Miss Augustine’s argument remained essentially the same: “Jesus is the truth, honey. And the truth will set you free.”
One day in mid-April the wind whipped across the lake driving particularly forceful waves. Miss Augustine spoke to them as if they were human. “You’re so noisy today! Why all the racket?” But she already knew. They insisted she focus on MORE faith. MORE hope. MORE outspoken love.
That day her arthritic pain seemed especially difficult to bear, and Ruthie appeared similarly listless. However, the churning water inspired Miss Augustine. “Maybe this is the day for the journal, Ruthie?”
Several months prior on her eightieth birthday, a friend from church named Anne had given her an empty book with a picture of tempest-tossed waves on the cover. “I know writing is difficult with your arthritis, but keeping a journal could be therapeutic and energizing - a way to pour your heart out on paper. I’d be happy to do the writing for you if you’d ever like to dictate to me,” Anne said.
At the time Miss Augustine thanked Anne but thought it a useless gift. She’d never been a writer, and dictation sounded a little too transparent. But in the midst of that windy April day, Miss Augustine knew one thing: she must write! She looked at Ruthie, curled in an almost-fetal position. “Ruthie, those legions of whitecaps say the time has come.”
It took several clumsy minutes for Miss Augustine to fish the journal from a bottom drawer and begin to scrawl oversized letters across the first page in slow motion. Her arthritic fingers could hardly hold the pen, let alone write smoothly. Still, she persisted.
“The waves are my faithful friends,” she wrote. “What do they say? To live by faith in the Lord of life - and His hope - and His love!”
She leaned against the back of her chair, exhausted. Those few words were so large they took up the entire page. She turned to page two.
“I love Stasi. But she doesn’t know how much You love her, Lord! I beg You – call her to Yourself!”
With that, her aching hands pushed the journal aside and she sighed. So much effort to say so little!
Two weeks later Miss Augustine’s body lay in a coffin. The day after the funeral Stasi stopped by the cottage intending to adopt Ruthie, but ended up sitting at her aunt’s scarred oak table staring at the lake as if in a daze. Ruthie purred and rubbed against her legs while the waves spoke their peace. Did Stasi have ears to hear?
The journal lay in plain sight; she opened it. Miss Augustine’s scribbles on those first two pages acted as arrow-sharp messengers, impaling her heart. An inner dike broke; violent tears mimicked the sprays of water erupting along the seawall.
With a quaking voice Stasi said, “I’m taking this journal home with us, Ruthie … to fill out the rest of the pages.” Little sobs punctuated her words. “There’s something I need to find out. Auntie’s battles are over – her war with pain as well as her war with me. Now I must seek the truth …”
In the background, Miss Augustine’s waves agreed. “Faith (shhhhhh), hope (shhhhhh), love (shhhhhh) …”
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