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Drama Fiction Sad

A smile pushed through my somber expression upon sight of the image. Displayed on my monitor was a photo of two men, one of which I used to know in much younger form. The crinkles of thirties scrunched their eyes into the most genuine exuberance as they held up two fish of varying sizes. The caption read: Bram’s is bigger.

Bram. Was that the name of the man he had chosen? Had he found his joy in the aftermath of what may have been the most traumatic event in his life? For nearly two decades, I had hoped and prayed for happiness for my dear, sweet nephew.

My fingers found the screen and traced lightly over his pixelated face.

“I leave Josh in your care as always, God,” I whispered with a hitch in my voice. Only the whir of the vent above my desk filled the silence.

A knock at my office door had me minimizing the image. I pulled up the file of my next client, bidding her come in as I worked. The hinges squeaked to reveal a rail-thin woman with lines of trepidation on her aged face. My guess was her fatigued, resigned expression alluded to an older age than her actual years. They all entered with an apologetic air.

“Miss Paulette?” she asked with an unsteady southern lilt. “I’s told you could help me.”

I beamed at the woman and nodded confirmation. “Come in and rest yourself, Miss Gina. Would you like a water?” 

She shook her head. It was then I noticed the toddler clinging to her stained jeans. The child stared up at me with bright eyes. Yellow ribbons bounced in her thick black curls.

Usually, children were prohibited in this area, but I had always told the higher-ups that I would assist anyone who needed it, disruptions or not.

Gina shuffled the child to the extra seat in front of my desk and closed the door behind her. Soft whispers from a loving heart had the child nodding to her mother. Gina withdrew a plastic pony toy from her bag to keep her treasure busy.

I could feel that blessed aura of peace and hope only the gentlest of mothers exuded. Adversity often forced parents to take a closer look at what they had left; at what truly mattered in life. If only all people could show that brand of love to each other.

Could my life have turned out different? Could my nephew’s? What if my sister had humbled herself as Gina did now…?

I blinked away the wistful, impossible notion.

Once Gina was settled in her own seat, she fixed her attention to the flat carpet while I ticked away on my computer. My eyes flicked to her hunched form more than once. When she patted her daughter’s back, the sleeve of her shirt moved just enough for a blackened bruise to be visible on her lovely, tawny skin.

No matter how many years I worked this job, I never grew accustomed to seeing the stories play out in front of me. I had seen the black eyes, handed tissues to whimpering children, comforted elderly couples who had watched their home turn to ashes.

I had to force my vision back to my screen. “I see. Groceries from the food pantry, two sets of clothing, and financial aid?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Still no eye contact. The shame most people exhibited when forced to seek assistance, to reveal how deeply their life choices and circumstances affected them and their families, pained me still. Whether by foolish choice or fate, some souls are dealt a more sinister hand.

“I was young and married the wrong man…”

“My father kicked me out when I got pregnant as a teen…”

“Our bills stacked up after my husband’s accident…”

“I was laid off…”

I typically avoided personal questions to focus on kindness and acceptance to help return a shred of dignity to the broken.

“Do you need toys or books?”

Gina’s weathered face finally raised. “Oh, could you? It’s been so hard with the little’un.”

Gratitude. Hope. Humility.

The unshed tears in Gina’s wavering tone had my focus falling back on the child. Even at what my guess was barely four, she was more well-behaved than any Sunday Schooler I had seen. Her mother had been driven into a corner and chosen to sacrifice dignity for a chance to give her a better life. Perhaps she had been left high and dry by relatives, or she had none to turn to.

While I passed Gina some final paperwork, I said, “What’s her name?”

Proud maternal light glittered in Gina’s eyes. I let it flow around me, tickle my heart as if she were my own mother. Then, she said, “Colleen.”

An invisible jolt ran through me. I could no longer focus on the two in my office. Hearing that name, so rare in current times, had my palms sweating. 

In a previous life, that had been my name.

***

“Forgive me, Father, for I’m about to sin…”

I offered the whispered words up to the dusk breeze. Leaves rustled and rained down as the seasons shifted all around me—green to yellow to crunching under my boots. I was as still as a leopard in tall grass.

In my hands, I held the weight of my weapon steady. The house was a mere thirty yards away from where I hid behind an ancient water oak, other trees peppered around me to conceal my actions. The driveway accepted the lights of a single vehicle turning to roll to a stop.

If I didn’t continue my one-way conversation with heavenly authority, I feared I would bail my mission. I couldn’t this time.

“You and I both know what she’ll do…”

I listened for the dying engine; the creak of the car door.

“I can’t let her do it again. Not after everything else…”

A woman stepped out.

“It would kill Josh. I can’t let her cut him off as she did to me. I know she will.”

The woman paused to reach back into the front seat. For a tense breath, I closed my eyes to continue the prayer in my mind.

“It’s not revenge. I could handle my sister purposely burning the bridge between us. I could even handle her calling me a heathen who hangs out with gays and saying I’m headed straight for hell. Even forbidding me to see or speak to my nephew—”

The clunk of the car door had my eyes flying open. The rifle my previous CIA boyfriend taught me to shoot felt like salvation and destruction in my grip. I couldn’t miss my chance or I would miss it forever. It was either protect from afar or sit back and watch my sister laugh in the aftermath of yet another emotional train wreck.

This time, with her own son as the victim.

Poor Josh. He wants so much to please her. He thinks she’ll still love him if he confesses to her. You saw what he wrote on his secret blog. He’s going to come out to his mother tonight, and I can’t even warn him not to. With her new religion as justification, she’ll disown him. Not even her own child will be above her newfound love of absolute judgment. God, he’s only fifteen! She’ll crush him inside. She doesn’t even pay enough attention to know he’s already suicidal. You made him so perfectly sensitive…you made him this way…please!”

She had done it to my mother, she had done it to me. Even her ex-husband still suffers from her selfish whims. Not my poor nephew, too. A blow like this could kill him. Did I kill instead—become a murderer?

“God…if I’m not meant to, let me miss.”

But I knew I wouldn’t miss. Practicing with my rifle almost daily, picking my ex’s brain about how people change their identities…I hadn’t known it back then, but everything had prepared me to act as the angel of death. Was I justifying my actions just like Becky?

In the deeper lines on my mother’s face was a clearer story than I could ever tell of my sister. Since her first careless marriage, Mama went from receiving comments like, “How could you possibly have two daughters that age?” to “Are you getting enough sleep lately?” I had tried so hard to reason with Mama—tell her that paying for Becky’s second divorce and now child support could leave her destitute, but she wouldn’t hear any of it. Becky was her firstborn, and my mother was nothing if not loyal. Mama’s enabling allowed Becky to do as she pleased without fear of consequences.

As such, my sister had learned that everything and everyone was expendable to her will. The values we had both been taught as children paled in comparison to the high she found in deluding herself in her own justifications.

I often wondered if she was sick in her mind.

Once, my mother had to bail Becky out of jail for refusing to give Josh back to his father for legal visitation. Becky had told me deadpan that she didn’t regret the arrest, and would do it again to punish her ex. Josh had witnessed his mother led away in handcuffs. I had told Becky it was a horrific thing to force her child to watch, and that she should ask God to help her become a better parent to Josh. That honest comment had triggered the end of our relationship.

My vision sharpened at the movement between two trees. Becky straightened, staring at her phone. Oh, God…was Josh texting her now? Asking to call? My pulse spiked at the thought. 

How dare she? How could anyone barrel ahead with no regard for the consequences to those they claimed to love? Their own children? The bitter thought had my trigger finger twitching.

Not yet…  

“So what if I am angry, God? For Mama, my nephew…for everyone Becky’s hurt. Aren’t we supposed to love one another? Forgive? Show grace?” My eyes followed Becky as she rounded the front of her car, out of sight from the street.

Deep breath in. Trigger finger primed.

“I realize this is no act of grace on my part, but for future lives Becky will destroy? For Josh? For Mama and her own stacking bills? I do this out of love for them. Even if I can never see Mama or Josh again…help me watch over them like one of your angels.”

 A tear ran down my cheek as I trembled. Stillness came when I sighted Becky’s head in my scope. The silenced shot was heard only by me and nearby birds but would forever be folded into my subconscious.

***

I gasped at the sound of Gina dropping the pen she had borrowed. She bent to pick it up off the floor, muttered an apology, then handed the papers back to me. When I accepted them, my hand was shaking every bit as badly as when I held that rifle so many years ago.

I cleared my throat and put on my best smile. “Thank you, Gina. Mel will check you out at the front. Tell her I added three children’s books and two dolls as well.”

“Oh, bless you. God bless you. I don’t know what I’d-a done without your help.”

Gina reached her hand for me then. I accepted her palm, the warmth of it feeling like my own salvation surfacing in another redeeming deed.

“I wish you and Colleen a happy future. If you ever find yourself at another dead end, feel free to call me.”

She slid her hand away, but the light of her straightening countenance filled my tiny office and lifted my spirit. Surely this made everything worth it; the sight of another family with rekindled hope. Because of my horrific actions, I was here now—working for the benefit of others.

Colleen trotted her pony over the arm of the chair before sliding down to follow her mother. The door closed behind them. Only God and I remained inside the square room.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” I whispered. “I know none of this makes amends for removing a life from this plane. I may regret my methods, but…”

The picture of Josh and his boyfriend lit up my screen again. I clicked over to another image. A more wrinkled and carefree version of Mama smiled at me now; her silver-haired husband beside her. She had finally been able to focus on her own life after the grief of losing both her children had run its course. 

“If they’re happy now, I can’t regret the outcome. Even if it means I’ll be alone forever…even if helping complete strangers is my earthly punishment. Maybe it’s all part of your plan?” I lifted shimmering eyes to the ceiling. “By your grace, I forgive Becky. I hope she’s up there with you in paradise.”

December 04, 2020 13:33

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