Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Hear (07/08/10)
TITLE: Two Eggs and a Smile
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Mrs. Shelton’s pudgy round face nodded emphatically with a commanding air. “Look both ways when you cross the street.” Her oily black curls shook as she returned Susanna’s brown ceramic bowl holding a cup of borrowed sugar. Wiping her hands on a stained gingham apron, Mrs. Shelton’s cloudy eyes narrowed. “Look at me, child! I said, look both ways – you hear me?”
Susanna cringed inwardly to avoid what felt like verbal arrows, and Mrs. Shelton softened momentarily when she noticed the dark shadow fall over Susanna’s countenance. “C’mon, I’ll walk you to the curb.” She grabbed the young girl’s arm roughly, jostling the sugar. “Tell your mother I hope her cake turns out real fine.”
Susanna’s heart choked her throat. The brown bowl – a special one made on a potter’s wheel by her Aunt Ruth – shook in her quaking hands. Susanna disliked neighborly errands to Mrs. Shelton's house. This time she seemed to presume the worst by thinking, “Are you going to prove to me that you’re actually as stupid as I think – that you don’t know how to cross the street safely? Look at me, you insolent child! Obey me – ARE YOU LISTENING?”
One day Susanna’s mama sent her to Mrs. Shelton’s to borrow two eggs. Susanna dutifully took the brown ceramic bowl from its spot in the lower corner cabinet and set off toward the big white house across the street. She looked both ways for traffic, trotted carefully to the other side, and knocked on Mrs. Shelton’s massive oak door.
The knock sounded especially hollow as Susanna clutched the brown bowl to her chest, so she knocked again, pounding with her doubled-up fist. The door opened, but a face other than Mrs. Shelton’s greeted her.
“Hello,” Susanna said shyly, scuffing her foot on the porch. “I live across the street. My mama sent me over to borrow two eggs. She and Mrs. Shelton borrow from each other a lot.”
The strange woman was tall and slender, unlike the squatty Mrs. Shelton, and was wearing jeans and a friendly-looking knit shirt with a logo advertising pizza. She smiled warmly. “Of course! I’ve heard about you. Your name must be Susanna?”
Stunned, Susanna nodded. A stranger knew about her? What did she know? What had Mrs. Shelton said? Her feet stood frozen in fear. She swallowed hard and gripped Aunt Ruth’s bowl until her knuckles turned white.
“Come in, honey. I’ll be happy to get those eggs for you.”
Shyly, Susanna’s lead feet shuffled forward as the door opened. Was it safe? Who was this person? Where was Mrs. Shelton? She instinctively headed for the kitchen at the back of the house without speaking.
“My name is Julia, and I’m dog-sitting Cyrus while the Sheltons are gone for a couple of days.” She gestured toward the grey-muzzled hound dog curled up on his pad in the corner of the kitchen. Cyrus’ tail thumped the floor when he recognized Susanna.
“Oh!” Susanna placed her bowl on the table and knelt down to pet the old dog. His familiar, saggy brown eyes gave her courage, and she looked up at Julia tentatively. “What did Mrs. Shelton tell you about me, anyway? I don’t think she likes me very much.”
“Ah.” Julia squatted down and put one arm around Susanna’s thin shoulders, pausing just long enough to stroke blonde wisps of hair from the sides of Susanna’s cheeks with her other hand. “She thinks you’re very special, and although she’s never been able to have children of her own, she loves you fiercely.”
Julia’s arms encircled Susanna in a giant hug, as if to punctuate her words.
“Special? Really? She always sounds so … well … mean.”
Julia smiled. “I can see how you might think that, but just remember Mrs. Shelton needs someone to love her, too. And YOU just might be the perfect person to do just that.”
“Love her?” Susanna’s eyes widened.
“Yes. She doesn’t know how to express love to little girls – what to say, what to do – but you can teach her! We all expand and blossom when we hear that we’re loved and appreciated for who we are. Sometime try saying, ‘Mrs. Shelton, I’m sure glad you’re our neighbor.’ She’ll soften. You’ll see.”
The eggs rolled gently in her bowl as Susanna headed out the door. “Thanks, Julia!” She stopped on the porch and looked back at the smiling woman in the doorway. “Thanks for being my special neighbor, just for today!”
“Bye-bye Susanna!” She winked. “I love you!”
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