Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: GRATE (11/19/15)
TITLE: The Grate Word
By Kate Oliver Webb
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“Ruby James Cannon!” she heard from behind her. “Wait up!”
Laurel Brand, cellmate and best friend, trotted up beside Ruby, slightly out of breath.
“Y’all tryin’ to avoid me?”
“Naw, why would I do that? Just have stuff on my mind is all.”
The weather was icy; they could see one another’s breath. Of all days to clean out that culvert grate! Ruby thought. She wasn’t bothered by the work, but being down in that frigid ditch would not be pleasant.
Only half-listening to Laurel’s chatter, Ruby’s thoughts drifted back to her trial. It took four days for her jury to reach its decision; her attorney told her later that the vote favored her acquittal until halfway through the third day. He was never able to discover why the sudden shift, but by the end of the week Ruby had been sentenced to fifteen years to life for the murder of her husband.
Murder, huh--it was self-defense! If I hadn’t stabbed him with that knife, he’d have killed me for sure. And all I did was accuse him of throwing out my Bible. That temper of his!
“Whattsup, Rubes?” Laurel bent forward to look into her friend’s face. “The Bible thing again?”
“Yeah, it’s been bothering me lately, for some reason. I guess because it’s been 20 years in here now. Just had the ‘happy anniversary.’” She gave the universal two-fingered quote gesture.
“I know that Bible’s important to you, Ruby, but you’ve got to let go of it. It’s gone. I know you said you prayed to have it back, but I just don’t believe God is interested in those little details. I don’t mean to belittle your faith, but really….”
Laurel began pulling debris out of the grate with her gloved hands. Ruby zipped up her heavy jacket and flapped open the huge garbage bag so Laurel could shovel the muddy stuff into it.
With one bag filled, Ruby sealed it with a twist-tie, threw it over a shoulder and trotted over to the detail supervisor and dropped the bag at her feet. They both looked back at Laurel as they heard a sudden shriek: “Ruby!”
Laurel stood in front of the grate, staring at something in her hands. Ruby panicked, thinking perhaps Laurel had injured herself trying to clean out the grate. She took off at a dash down the side of the culvert, slipping and sliding awkwardly on the uneven, icy ground.
Tears were coursing down Laurel’s whitened face. She was trembling from head to foot. Ruby caught her just as she began to slump, and held her while she sobbed.
Ruby still had no idea what had caused this outburst. Her friend’s expression ranged from hysterical to stunned shock.
With a final, shuddering breath, Laurel held out her hands and shook a small black book in Ruby’s face.
“I found this in the grate.”
Ruby reached her hand toward the book, but hesitated as though afraid to touch the miracle of it. She did, finally, and hurriedly checked the flyleaf on which was scrawled her name in a 15-year-old’s loopy hand, “Ruby James.”
She thumbed to the “Dedication” page and read the sweet message from her mom, who had gone to be with Jesus a year after the Bible was presented: “May God always bless and keep you, Baby Girl. He will always show you His love for you, in miraculous ways, if you but trust and obey.”
Laurel’s eyes were wide; she continued to cry.
“Ruby, do you know what this means? God brought your Bible back to you. He really did it.”
“Yeah, and you know what else this means?” a beaming Ruby asked. “It means you’ve got to honor your promise. You promised me that if God gave me back my Bible—a long shot, for real—you’d put your own life in His hands. You ready for that?”
Laurel’s smile was answer enough.
Within earshot of the supervisor, the two women bowed their heads, and they closed the deal, holding onto the Word.
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