Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Our Mutual Friend (not about the book) (09/15/11)
TITLE: Charlie Angel
By Beth Muehlhausen
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A continuous curtain of thick snow fell as 80-year-old Lena waited to cross the Jordan from antiseptic-scented room 204 of Thomasville Nursing Home. Minutes crawled as deliberately as the snowflakes, the IV drip, and the patrons’ feet indistinctly padding the hallways, one by one by one. How much longer, Lord?
Just a block away, blonde 20-year-old Missy unloaded snow-covered boxes from a borrowed, rust-stricken pick-up truck. She was moving to Thomasville for a fresh start, and everything seemed heightened, including her anxieties. This small burg hardly brimmed with possibility. No matter. Anything was better than the life she’d left behind.
These two women, one ending a journey and another just beginning, were strangers with nothing in common except intense loneliness and a corresponding need for encouragement. In that regard they were soul mates.
Lena lay in her bed like an emaciated marble statue waiting to be laid to rest beneath the snow. Wispy hair cascaded in a silvery waterfall over her pillow, and the lopsided neck of her hospital gown exposed a protruding, Auschwitz-looking collarbone. Needles and tubes passed in and out of her body to assist with various functions. Nurses periodically monitored her vitals, but otherwise she remained alone.
During lucid moments Lena watched for Charlie, a favorite black-capped chickadee who sometimes visited the birdfeeder outside her window. His jaunty demeanor and energetic activity uplifted Lena’s weary soul. “That’s ma boy,” she whispered whenever he appeared. Charlie typically snatched a sunflower seed and flew to a far branch to eat it privately, while Lena’s standing invitation held: “Come back, Charlie Angel – time is fleeting.”
On the other side of the block, Missy’s boxes towered inside the cheaply furnished apartment like oversized blocks. After shedding her too-thin jacket and wet tennis shoes and socks, and then shaking the crusty snow from the bottom of her frayed jeans, Missy wilted into a cross-legged heap on the floor. She landed next to a sliding glass door to watch the snow and consume an easy lunch of dry-roasted peanuts.
Although ravenous, a nauseus knot formed in the pit of Missy’s nervous stomach halfway through the second handful of nuts. With her free hand she leaned forward and cracked the door, inviting fresh air inside. As snow whooshed across the well-worn carpet onto her bare feet, she tossed the remaining nuts outside toward a protected corner - a snack for a hungry squirrel.
Missy’s hands brushed the invading snow with token effort as if expecting it to walk back outside unaided. Then she slammed the door against the brutal cold, grabbed a knife, and slashed the packing tape on her boxes – zip, zap, one by one by one. However, she did not open a small box holding a few old journals, but archived it in the cave-like space beneath her bed.
By mid-afternoon Missy had unpacked half of her boxes. Exhaustion punctuated the isolation she felt in this new home-that-wasn’t-home. As she slid into a flimsy chair at the dinette table and stared outside at the bleak whiteness, a flurry of movement caught her eye.
Charlie had discovered her peanuts!
The little bird ceremoniously carried individual morsels to a tree branch as Missy sat in silent contemplation, coveting his busy, productive countenance. When he disappeared for longer than usual, Missy’s usually controlled voice cracked with emotion. “Come back, little guy; hang out with me. I have more time than anything else these days.” But Charlie had other work to do just then. He was due outside room 204.
“I’m leaving, Charlie Angel,” Lena whispered as Charlie landed on the feeder platform, cocked his black-capped head, and selected a prime sunflower seed. “Carry on; you’ll know what to do.” When the nurse performed the routine check soon after, she found Lena’s body devoid of life.
Within minutes Missy welcomed Charlie: “Oh! YOU CAME BACK!” Suddenly inspired, she pulled out the box of old journals, slit the taped flaps, and sat down before the sliding door to read.
It didn’t take long. Borrowing Charlie’s contagious intensity, she vehemently tore the hand-written pages, throwing the resulting shreds in the trash. Over. Finished. She was done with that.
“Thanks,” she remarked to Charlie as he picked up the last peanut. “You helped me a lot today. If I leave more peanuts outside, will you come back tomorrow?”
On the other side of the glass, Charlie stood at attention, still as a stone, as if a drill sergeant had just spoken.
This was his new assignment.
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