Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: AS EASY AS PIE (12/01/16)
By Jan Ackerson
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So Barbara did the easiest thing she could when the clamp tightened down. So easy, in fact, that the tiniest baby could do it—she simply went to sleep. In her dark bedroom, her head on the pillow, she could ignore the uncomfortable pressure and keep the horrible world at bay. She didn’t even try particularly to make her room comfortable or inviting: the bed was unmade even when she happened to be out of it, and she often woke from sleep uncomfortably hot, but unable to summon the effort to adjust the thermostat. The floor was cluttered with tissues, food wrappers, crusty socks.
But sleep came so, so, easily. In sleep, Barbara could feel the release of the pinching clamp, could fly free, could savor her senses, could grasp elusive joy. And when she woke and examined herself mentally to see if the clamp was still there, she could slip easily again back into the oblivion of sleep.
Of course, she couldn’t stay asleep all the time, much as she’d like to. Sometimes the needs of her body pulled her reluctantly from her bed and she’d shuffle to the bathroom. Other times she’d go almost eagerly to the kitchen, to do the other thing so uncomplicated that infants have mastered it from the moment of their birth—eating.
How simple it was to mindlessly eat. Barbara knew that the things in her refrigerator were dubiously edible, but the pantry shelves yielded any number of items that would fill her belly—if not with nutrition, with something that would stop its rumbling. Saltine crackers. Spoonsful of peanut butter. Pull-tab cans of gloppy fruit, eaten straight from the can. Eating required the absolute minimum of effort.
Perhaps, Barbara thought, she was actually trying to recapture her infancy, that time when life was reduced to ultimate simplicity. Sleep. Food. More sleep. More food.
And then a morning came when some itchiness of Barbara’s spirit made it strangely difficult to stay in bed. The sunlight streaming into her room seemed to suffuse the air with presence, saying, You are beloved. You are beloved. You are beloved.
She suddenly felt that nothing was more important in that moment than to get up and clean her room, to wash her musty sheets. She took a shower and dressed, still aware of a feeling of being cherished.
The clamp was still there, but Barbara could feel it loosening, and she knew it was by the hand of the one who had called her beloved.
In an astonishing reversal, those things that had seemed so effortless in the past days and weeks—sleep, eating—now felt extraordinarily difficult, even burdensome. She wanted to create something, perhaps to sketch or to play the piano, and she felt that same unseen hand at the small of her back or on her cheek, urging her forward.
You are beloved.
In the following days, Barbara took her ease now in other rooms of her house, where she opened windows and polished dusty surfaces. She worked with her hands, relearning how to crochet, enjoying the effortless rhythm of hook and yarn. She listened, and although she never quite grasped any actual sound, a breath of grace wound itself around her strengthening spirit. She closed her eyes—not to sleep, but to capture peace.
It took some time, but finally one day she realized that the clamp was truly gone. At the same time, she understood that now it was time to try to do a hard thing.
She dressed in yellow and brushed her hair until it crackled, wanting to look like someone who might be called beloved. Her destination was a few miles away, but she walked, sometimes turning her face to the sun, sometimes smiling at strangers. As she neared the house, her steps slowed and her heart thumped, but she was lightened by a now-familiar reassurance: I have prepared the way. Don’t be afraid. My dearest, it will be easy.
She lifted her hand and knocked.
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