Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: OVERLOAD (10/06/16)
By Jan Ackerson
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Hampered by the overladen bags and her office high heels, Cheryl hesitated for a moment, considering whether she should pursue the slip of paper--but it was already too far away to conveniently retrieve. She sighed and proceeded to her car, but she thought about that sales slip off and on, all day. A brick labeled Littering was added to her wheelbarrow of guilt.
In fact, the acquisition of guilt was as natural to Cheryl as breathing.
Sometimes it happened when she was home, alone. In fact, on the same day as the flight of the sales slip, she had sloshed some orange juice onto the kitchen floor, distracted by a possible spider sighting. It wasn’t the orange juice spill that contributed to her burden of guilt, but the mild word she uttered as she cleaned it up, and that she wanted to utter as she steeled herself to smoosh the spider.
This time, the brick went into the wheelbarrow with Cussing(?) written there—because Cheryl wasn’t sure if that word even qualified. Nevertheless, she felt the guilt. Just in case.
Sometimes it happened at work. Her co-worker kept a bowl of wrapped mints on her desk—those delicious buttery mints that only seem to be available at baby showers and wedding receptions. Help yourself, Joanie always said, but Cheryl never saw anyone taking a mint. But one day, when Joanie was away from her desk, Cheryl passed the bowl of mints on her way to the copy machine. She took a mint, and on the way back, she took another.
She suffered for days about that—not only because she’d taken the mints, but because she found them so delicious. One shouldn’t enjoy doing something wrong, she thought. She added two bricks to the wheelbarrow: Theft and Enjoying It.
Sometimes it happened when she was out and about:
The time she felt irritated at a toddler’s temper tantrum, and at the child’s mother, who handled it poorly.
When she walked by a store and saw her reflection in the mirror, and thought This dress looks nice on me.
And once, when the line at the post office was long and moving slowly. She had looked at her watch and actually tapped it, as if that would make a difference. She had even sighed.
Every day, Cheryl added more and more bricks of guilt, so that the wheelbarrow was full to overflowing. I have to do something about this, she thought. What can I do with a wheelbarrow overladen with bricks?
Well, the choices were limited. So she built a wall.
It was an excellent wall, too—capable of keeping Cheryl away from fulfilling human interactions, from meaningful activities, from joy.
Eventually, the wall of guilt closed her in entirely. There was a small opening through which she crawled each day and attempted something almost like life, but by now, she’d acquired another wheelbarrow, and people were actually handing her bricks of guilt, piling them on, heedless of any weight she might already be bearing. She couldn’t bring herself to refuse; that seemed rude, and she already had plenty of guilt about possible rudeness.
And then one day, someone crawled through the opening, to Cheryl’s side of the wall. She waited there until Cheryl entered, panting, with bricks in her hands that read Laughter and Doubt.
The woman took them from Cheryl while she brushed dirt from her knees. Then she handed Cheryl a sledgehammer. Inscribed on the handle was the word Grace. The woman inclined her head toward the wall, smiling. Go ahead, she said. It’s a really good sledgehammer.
Cheryl thought about it for a while, hefting the sledgehammer in her hands, thinking about grace. Thinking about what it would be like to live without the burden of guilt. Thinking about whether it was wrong to want to feel light, free, unladen.
She shifted the sledgehammer to one hand, and with the other, she took up a new brick—Unworthiness—and made her decision.
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