Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: 24 Hours (01/27/11)
TITLE: An Hour a Day
By Beth Muehlhausen
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A rough-around-the-edges woman with oily, jet-black hair and searing eyes walked casually into her prison cell. The guard rattled the key as if in declaration: this was her new home.
She clasped her hands and surveyed her stark surroundings while sitting on the edge of the sunken cot. Prison would be a temporary endurance test. Surely that razor-sharp attorney would win his plea of not-guilty when her case was reheard within the month.
“You. Have. One. Hour.” Miss Andrews’ militant voice boomed over the loud speaker with crackly authority. She meant business. Everyone on her ward knew it.
“Don’t wasssste it.” She hissed ominously, with more than a hint of sarcasm.
Marilyn heard Miss Andrews’ footsteps approach – ca-clunk, ca-clunk on the concrete floor. Closer. Closer. Stalking. Closer. She didn’t realize challenging Miss Andrews could mean missing a meal – or worse yet, enduring degrading physical and emotional punishment.
Finally the ominous foot-pulse stopped. “What are you DOING in there?” clamored a bulldog-faced Miss Andrews as she rapped her stick on the bars of Marilyn’s cell. “What-what-what?” Her voice bounced down the corridor from wall-to-wall-to-wall. “You’re not PRAYING, are you?”
Marilyn was not praying, but rather rehearsing revenge.
“Of course I am,” she retorted bitterly. “This is MY free time.”
Miss Andrews’ face blossomed in venomous rage as her jowls shuddered. “You insolent girl! To the detention center with you!” Her sinister sneer oozed with rancid vengeance. “We’ll teach you to comply – you’ll see.”
The next day at exactly the same time Miss Andrews repeated the announcement. “You. Have. One. Hour. Don’t wasssste it.”
As the footsteps again drew near as Miss Andrews walked her rounds, Marilyn busied herself tidying her bed. “Good girl. I see you’ve learned to use your free time wisely.” Miss Andrews swung her remediation stick in a practiced circle as if to threaten any thought of insubordination. “That’s better, now.” The words rattled like the hoarse purr of a sick cat.
Marilyn soon fell in step with the daily drill. She grew especially fond of another inmate her age named Rachel, who, on day four, took a risk on Marilyn’s behalf.
“Psssst – hey.” Rachel said out of the corner of her mouth as they joined other inmates to march back to their cells after work.
“Yeah. What?” Marilyn replied.
“Bump into me just a little bit and grab the paper from my hand. But don’t put it in your pocket yet. They might see.”
In her cell, Marilyn stuffed the folded paper under her pillow, and after the lights were turned out she retrieved it in the inky blackness. WHAT DID IT SAY? All night she clutched it to her chest and wondered.
Day five began with the usual routine. Marilyn had exactly seven minutes to dress, use the toilet, and get ready for inspection. As soon as the wake-up alarm sounded and the lights came on, she unfolded the paper and hurriedly scanned it.
There was a big number three, but the rest of the print was so incredibly tiny! Marilyn carefully refolded the paper to make it as small as possible and stuffed it into a plumbing pipe’s crack beneath her sink toward the wall.
“Marilyn.” A guard stood at her door, jeering. “Ready for inspection?”
“Yes. Come right in, please.” Marilyn could play their game of mock respect.
Later that day during free time, and every day thereafter, Marilyn retrieved the scrap of paper, read and re-read its tiny words, and even memorized certain phrases.
On day twenty-eight an expressionless man dressed in a stained, threadbare uniform appeared at her door. “Marilyn, you’re going to trial in the morning.” The words tumbled out automatically amidst foul breath reminiscent of sardines. He stomped off as abruptly as he’d come, slamming each foot emphatically on the concrete.
This was her twenty-eighth hour of free time and the twenty-fourth with Rachel’s miniature scrap of paper. Did she believe what it said about love, truth, light, and redemption through God’s Son?
Marilyn lay on her cot shivering with emotion, remembering Miss Andrews’ caustic admonition. “Those twenty-four hours with John* weren’t wasted, Lord,” she whispered. “Tomorrow Your Light will shine.”
On the morning of day twenty-nine Marilyn tucked the scrap of paper into the plumbing pipe one last time. A few hours later she entered the courtroom trusting a Savior of rebirth who had transformed her inner darkness with His Light one hour at a time for twenty-four days: her day of redemption.
* John 3:1-21
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