Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Eternity (03/10/11)
TITLE: The Gift
By Michael Throne
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I remember it as if it were yesterday, John walking into my hardware store, tall, red hair, thirtyish with a thin, gangly body. It was in the heart of the Depression and the gangly look was all too common among men, but John wore it well.
What I especially remember was his grin. He was missing his right arm and I couldn’t help but to stare, but it was his grin, his benevolent, slightly mischievous grin that pulled you back, that kept you from lingering too long at the arm that wasn’t there.
He asked for a job. He said he could work the cash register and stock inventory, even sweep up at the end of the day. I didn’t need the help; I couldn’t afford it, but something about him moved me. When I told my wife that I’d hired him, she slapped me and then started crying. Everything we owned was tied up in that store and we could barely pay the rent as it was.
We lived in the apartment above. I gave John a cot in the back storage room, and paid him next to nothing. It didn’t matter; he was content. Soon, he began eating with us. The kids loved him, and in time, he became part of our family.
One morning, I heard him knocking about before breakfast. When I went downstairs, there he was, doing sit-ups.
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to stay in shape.”
This was long before gyms became popular.
“I have to take care of this earthly body. It’s really quite useful. You should take better care of yours. It’s a gift, you know.”
He talked kind of strange like that sometimes.
“Just breathe the air!” John had a zest for life that was simply missing in the mid-thirties. He did absolutely amazing magic tricks with cards, especially considering he only had one hand to work with. First my kids, then neighborhood children, then even adults would come to my store and gather around to watch, and talk with him.
He paid for himself in no time.
“The earth is an incubator,” he said one afternoon, “for immortal souls.”
“Sure, John.” Hey, I was a Christian, pretty much.
“It’s such a privilege, such an opportunity to be here,” he exclaimed. “I’ve waited an eternity for this.”
For what, indeed.
People flocked to him, especially the homeless. He would share what little he had and talk about God.
The children adored him.
Eventually, he confided in me. He said I’d have figured it out soon enough, anyway. John always seemed to hold me in high regard, though I never knew why.
“I can do things here,” he said, enthusiastically. “As an angel, it’s a nudge here or maybe a pat there, but to really affect things here on earth; it’s almost impossible.”
An angel? I didn’t really believe him. At least most of me didn’t.
“We’ve always been so envious,” he said. “You can affect things so easily here.”
I asked him about his arm one day. He said he lost it in a coal mining accident. “An occupational hazard,” he shrugged.
“But you’re immortal!” I said, doubtfully.
“So are you.”
“But your body….”
“It’s just a body. Eventually, I’ll lose it through an accident, or it will simply wear out. They do that, you know.” There was a sadness in his eyes.
Toward the end of the Depression, when Germany was on the move, we began gearing up for war. A bustle, a sense of purpose came over the country. It was about good verses evil; it was about our children.
I should have looked before stepping off the curb. But I didn’t, and when John pushed me out of the way, the bus that would have run me over smashed into him.
He died instantly.
I know he’s in a better place. I do. But he’d rather be here.
In the years since, I started exercising. I quit smoking and watched what I ate. And, eventually, I became a minister.
Even now, seventy years later, I’m not quite sure what to make of John. Every once in a while, I feel a nudge, a pat on the back, and I can almost see his grin out of the corner of my eye. But I don’t know; I’m old. Time plays tricks on a person.
Still, every day, I breathe the air in deeply.
Life is a gift.
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