A Flash of Hope


I thought the timing was right for this first place short story.

The news too often is filled with suicides, gang wars and school shootings. Most of us feel helpless to make a change. But I believe it all begins with family.

We teach children values and morals through our words and actions. Bullying, rejection and hurtful words last a lifetime. But, so do acceptance, friendship and love.

I hope that no matter where you are in this world, you show compassion for others by your words and actions. You never know the crosses they carry or how your words will affect them.

I invite you to share your thoughts and stories so that we can join hands in making this school year a great experience for all of our future leaders.

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A Flash of Hope

Lakeisha cursed to herself as she gripped the blank notebook with one hand while using the other to push a divergent black curl out of her face. The January winds whipped furiously as she waited for the bus to arrive. The English assignment, due Friday, wore on her mind. Normally, she’d be finished by the time she got home from school. Not this time. For two days she’d stared at the paper, the words refusing to bleed from her pen.

“What is your dream?” Ms. Lowery made it sound as if every student lived a normal life, complete with options and the financial support to achieve them. “College? Career? Travel? Write what you want to happen Did she have any idea what my life is like? NO! The question seemed cruel to the new transfer student.

I have no dreams. Lakeisha lived in the real world, filled with responsibilities and hardships, drugs and booze, bill collectors and angry people. Her days left no room for dreams. With a mother imprisoned for selling drugs and a father killed when she was five, the chance of having a successful career was improbable. College was out of the question. A high school education, if she were lucky enough to finish the year, would get her a minimum wage job.

Many of her classmates had applied to numerous colleges and waited anxiously to hear from each. Her goals? The first, survival, avoiding gang fights that erupted into gun battles at any given time. Walking from the bus stop to her front door involved risk. The second, keeping the electricity on. Dreams? How am I supposed to write about such foolishness?

There had been much controversy between the districts when the decision was made to transfer students from failing inner city schools to academically successful ones in affluent neighborhoods. At first, Lakeisha felt a tinge of excitement, holding out hope that she’d make new friends and learn useful skills. Hope faded quickly during the first week. The long commute added more stress to her day and limited the hours she could work.

Cliques of girls that didn’t look like her, didn’t speak like her, and didn’t dress like her, whispered and giggled as she walked alone through the long hallways. Even the boys said lewd and offensive things, much like those in her old school, just in hushed voices.

Lakeisha knew why she’d been unable to complete the assignment. She wanted to tell the truth, not lie or pretend her future held magnificent opportunities. Dreams required more than just imagination. She wanted to respond to the snickers as they pointed to the same pair of shoes she wore every day. Her threads came from nearby dumpsters or Goodwill, hardly the place to find a dress for the upcoming prom.

It hurt to watch the students snub their noses at lunch menus and throw away perfectly good trays of food, knowing how many times she’d stood in soup lines waiting for a meal. Their spoiled, over-indulgent lifestyles sickened her. The anger boiled inside her head as she squeezed her pen. Suddenly, the words spilled across the paper. One page filled, she flipped the notebook and began another without pausing. The furor didn’t’ stop until ink seeped to the edges of a dozen pages.

With trembling hands, Lakeisha slammed the notebook closed, pressed it against her chest and glanced around to reassure herself of the private moment. The corners of her lips turned upward in acknowledgement of her decision. I’m done! And I’m going to turn this in, no matter the consequences.

Sleep evaded Lakeisha as she tossed and turned in bed, bits and pieces of her essay inching through the protective wall that normally kept her worries at bay. Did I share too much? What if I have to read it out loud? Would it be worse than it already is? Fear rose in her throat and she jumped up from the bed. I should rewrite it.

She picked up the spiral-bound notebook and studied the cover that was filled with her favorite words. Words like dauntless, temerity, indomitable. Words never spoken in the world she lived in, but so inspirational to Lakeisha. Somewhere in the recesses of her mind, a quote from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged. “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

The frantic doubt that had unnerved her earlier settled down to a vibration. She placed the unopened notebook on top of her coat, convinced the words had needed to be written and now they must be heard. I’ll be a voice for others.

***

Lakeisha held the papers tightly on the twenty mile ride to school. Silently, she repeated her conviction. I have a voice. I can make a difference. It took hold and by the time the bus arrived at school, she held her head a little higher than normal and smiled as she strode down the busy hallway.

“Sorry for the thumbprint, Ms. Lowery.” Lakeisha mumbled as she laid the assignment on the paper-free desk, aware the rest of the class had submitted their stories electronically, not scribbled on lined paper.

“Don’t worry about it.” The teacher smiled as she accepted the paper and stuck it in her drawer, out of sight. “They’re still trying to get a computer for you. Hopefully, soon.”

Her words rang like an empty promise, one she’d heard for months. I’ll be gone before it gets here.

The essay lingered in the back of her mind the rest of the day and throughout the weekend. Her emotions rode the wave from excitement to fear. One minute proud of her courage. Then next, kicking herself for lowering the wall. Upon arrival in English class on Monday, Lakeisha was greeted by Ms. Lowery.

“Before you take your seat, the principal would like to speak to you.”

“Mr. Hackmann? Why? I didn’t do anything!” The announcement rattled in her brain. Oh, Crap. My essay. They’re going to send me back to my old school.

“You can put your books down first.” Ms. Lowery looked at the blackboard as she spoke.

Lakeisha left the room on trembling legs, stopping at the water fountain to sooth her parched throat. A bright light shined on the metal object, her mouth agape at the brilliance as she searched for the source in the windowless hall. Suddenly, the place she’d dreaded walking down every day took on a significance she’d not previously considered. My ancestors were never allowed to walk this hall, much less quench their thirst from this fountain.

The unexpected affirmation filled her with renewed courage. Changes were made by brave people who dared to speak up. I have a voice. I can make a difference. She repeated the mantra as she walked through Mr. Hackmann’s office door.

“Good morning, Ms. Washington. Please have a seat.” The tall, gray-haired man gestured toward a round table aside his massive oak desk. He reached for a file folder and joined her. “How are you today?”

“I was fine until I got called to see you. What did I do?” Lakeisha’s voice sharp, but respectful.

“I understand you wrote this essay.” He passed the lined papers to Lakeisha as he spoke.

“Yes, sir. I did.” Lakeisha straightened her back and look directly at Mr. Hackmann, prepared to defend her assignment.

“Ms. Lowery was kind enough to share your story with me and my staff.”

“And?” Her question blurted out more defensively than she’d intended.

“Your words stung. Painfully.” He furrowed his brows and shook his head side to side, looking down at the floor. “I’ve always prided myself on being in tune with my students.”

Lakeisha stirred in her chair, unsure how to respond.

The man drew in a long breath that filled his chest, then looked at Lakeisha with moist eyes. “I’m sorry. I was wrong. So very wrong.” He choked as he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his eyes. “You have shown me how much I have to learn, how much we all have to learn.”

“You’re not mad at me?” Lakeisha tucked a curl behind her ear and leaned forward.

“Of course not, Ms. Washington. You were brave enough to share intimate details of your life and by doing so, you educated me and my staff in more ways than reading a thousand books. I want to ask a favor of you.”

“A favor of me? What could I possibly do for you?”

“Share your story with the entire school. Every teacher and student needs to hear what you have to say.” Mr. Hackmann raised a brow and waited for her response.

Lakeisha paused, her eyes flashed toward the door. “Share with everyone? Do you really think that’s a good idea? I’m not very popular with my classmates.”

“Teenagers can be hurtful, but I’ve seen the same students rally to support injustice when an issue is brought to their attention. Everyone needs a reminder of the things we take for granted. Your essay delivers a lesson they won’t soon forget. I hope you will give them a chance to show you.

***

The gymnasium buzzed with questions regarding the school assembly.

“So what’s the assembly for?”

“Just Black History Month. Boring.”

A voice loud enough to be hears across the room drew Lakeisha’s attention.

“What she’s doing up there?” One of the students glared at Lakeisha who sat on a folding chair a short distance from the stage.

You’re not going to rattle me today. This is too important. Lakeisha directed her attention to the hundreds of students taking their seats. Ms. Lowery worked her way through the crowd and settled into the chair next to her, gently touching her arm with a reassuring nod.

Mr. Hackmann called Lakeisha to the podium. She stepped forward, forcing her shoulders back and raising her chin.

She inhaled slowly, repeating her mantra in silence then began. “I’m Lakeisha…Jackson…a transfer student from Roosevelt High.” She glanced down at the ink filled pages for reassurance, then raised her head and continued. “I’ve been asked to share my story with you today.” Quiet murmurs buzzed the room.

“More than 50 years ago Dr. King addressed the sacred obligations of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence in his speech, I Have a Dream. His words inspired significant changes, changes that I’m privileged to experience today, just by being in this school.” Lakeisha paused, searching the room for reactions. “He also spoke of the ‘tranquilizing drug of gradualism.’ I didn’t understand what he meant until recently.

“He was saying that while America has made tremendous strides, there‘s more work to be done. Ms. Lowery assigned an essay, ‘What is your dream?’ I’ve been asked to share my response. This is what I wrote.” Lakeisha spoke slowly, deliberately as she read her essay, allowing the words time to penetrate. When she finished, Julie, the cheer leading squad captain, stood and clapped slowly. Joshua, a football quarterback followed, then another and another. Soon the entire audience joinrf in a deafening applause.

Mr. Hackmann stepped to Lakeisha’s side, a smile spread across his face. In a hushed voice, easily drowned out by the cheers, he said, “Thank you for taking the risk.” He nodded toward the assembly that continued to cheer. “I think you’ve made some new friends. Can you forgive our ignorance?”

“I can do that.” Lakeisha stepped away from the podium, moving toward her seat.

The principal stopped her and motioned to the students to sit. “Ms. Washington, we are grateful for the wisdom you’ve shared with us today. Ms. Lowery has something for you.”

Her teacher came forward carrying a package. “Lakeisha, this laptop is a small token of our appreciation for your eloquent presentation. I think I speak for the entire school in saying you’ve touched our lives in ways that will continue for years to come. Thank you.”

Lakeisha’s eyes widened and a smile spread across her face as she accepted the gift. “Thanks.” The room exploded in another round of applause. Maybe I did make a difference.

Silence Has A Voice


Blogs, email, text, twitter, FaceBook and occasionally, a phone call or face to face talk.  So many ways to connect to others. But how do we connect with friends and family who have dementia and are losing or have lost these lines of communication?  I wrote this poem during the final stages of my mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s. I think it’s what she would have said.

Silence Has a Voice

 

My memories of yesterday

Will become distorted over time

The written word will lose its strength

A verse will have no rhyme

 

The laughs we shared will pass me by

My words will make no sense

Such simple things we once enjoyed

Will often make me tense

 

Old photographs will fade away

Your face will lose its name

You’ll think I’ve traveled far away

But my heart will know you came

 

No need for words nor bouquets bright

No trinkets made of gold

No promise for tomorrow’s light

Just your hand for me to hold

 

Your love’s the only treasure

It will endure through all the pain

Just speak to me in silence

You’ll be my sunshine in the rain

 

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Black stained glass graces the tangerine wings that rest upon mossy green foliage while hints of dandelion yellow tickle about

Perhaps you have a loved one who just needs to hold your hand. Don’t miss the chance to visit with him or her. Words aren’t always necessary. Silence has a voice.

Her Lifeline


Most of my posts are passionately lighthearted. Even the most humorous writers have a serious moment now and then. A tissue may be required.

Her Lifeline

 

It was a foolish dream, tucked in the corner of her heart for more than thirty years, still it had survived, even kept her moving forward during difficult times, until today.

Rose Ellen stared into the mirror and assessed the changes since she had last seen him. A little sagging, a few more greys, but not too bad she decided. Life had been good to her. No need for a walker, no hearing aids, no serious medical issues, her memory still intact. Yes, she had been blessed in so many ways, yet the longing for something more was always there.

Anticipation accompanied Rose on the walk to the beach. It was the good kind. The kind that made her feel like a young woman again. She took off her sandals and let the ocean splash over her feet as she strolled along the shore, lost in the memory of his warm embrace and passionate kiss. It brought unexpected flutters in her belly, just like the first time. The delicious scent of his woodsy aftershave lingered in the air and she wondered if it was her imagination or someone walking past.

She glanced around and found no one in sight. Her thoughts drifted again and she smiled to herself, picturing him standing on a beach in cargo shorts and t-shirt. His well-toned body and dimpled smile had drawn her attention, but she’d been enamored by his kindred spirit and passion for life. In between work discussions, he’d asked about her dreams and encouraged her, even showed her, how those dreams could be reached. `Dreams don’t just come true, you need a plan. And a plan B` he always said.

He never focused on his own accomplishments, which were significant, rather, he built her self-esteem by recognizing her knowledge and abilities. He urged her to return to school to finish her degree. Their friendship grew as the years passed. They shared childhood memories and family stories that brought laughter and tears. Often they discussed values and strong beliefs, as if testing each other. She never met a man so willing to help others, expecting nothing in return.

He was a man of character and she ached to tell him how deeply she loved him. She knew she’d never summon the courage to say the words that pressed on her lips with every encounter.

A small child squealed nearby and stirred Rose back to the present. The sun beat on her uncovered head and made her sway. She decided to rest for a little while on a bench under a towering palm tree. The glare from the water penetrated through her sunglasses and she closed her eyes, drifting off again.

The intense heat reminded her of the day that changed everything in her life. It started with such a simple conversation.

“I’m leaving early to mark the trail in Ste. Genevieve for my club’s next 10K walk.” Rose’s voice did not reflect her normal enthusiasm.

“What’s up? You seem bothered by something.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, really. My co-chair can’t make it, so I’m going alone. I’m just a little apprehensive about being in an unfamiliar rural area.”

“I’ll take you.”

“Don’t be silly. You don’t need to waste vacation time on me. I’ll be fine.”

“Consider it done. I’ll clear it with the boss and meet you by my car at noon.”

A smile formed on Rose’s face as she shook her head side to side. “You’re something else. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for someone?”

His dimple surfaced as a grin spread across his face. “For you, no.” He turned and walked into his boss’ office.

Rose tried not to read too much into his response, but excitement and nervous energy made the morning pass quickly. Rose felt her heart pound, like a smitten teenager, during the hour drive to the location. Each time their eyes met she looked away, afraid that he could read her mind. How foolish she’d feel if she blurted it out. She wanted to believe that he held similar feelings for her, but she buried the thought.

***

They finished marking the trail, ending in a park near a lake. The temperature neared 100 degrees as they stood and admired the tranquil waters.

“We could just jump in and cool off.” He laughed as he skipped a stone across the still lake.

“I love the water. It always make me feel at peace.” Rose wiped sweat from her brow with the sleeve of her blouse. “Guess we’d better be going. We’ll both be stuck in traffic if we wait much longer.” Rose tightened the cap on her bottle of water and turned to walk away.

He reached out and took her free hand, pulling her close. “I love you.”

Rose didn’t resist his embrace. She let the tears stream down her face without any effort to conceal them. His lips met hers with an urgent, passionate force. He offered a second, softer kiss that took her breath away.

“I love you too.” He kissed her again. She looked into his deep blue eyes and released a heavy sigh. “I thought those words would follow me to the grave, without ever telling you.”

Neither spoke much on the drive back to the office. He reached across the console and squeezed her hand, a mixture of joy and pain in his eyes. Their unspoken words hung in the air. Both knew that nothing more would come of the revelation. The price to their families would be too great. An occasional, discreet kiss in the parking lot, an especially long squeeze of the hand when no one was looking, silent gestures that only the two of them understood, would have to be enough. An affair of the heart, that’s what they had called it.

Before summer’s end, a job transfer took him overseas. They remained in touch, often corresponding by mail. Cautious to never reveal the depth of their love, each read between the lines. The distance between them probably saved their marriages. The temptation to be together would have been too much.

“That’s why God made oceans,” he once wrote her. It was then that their dream took form. A lifeline they shared. An unrealistic plan that neither controlled. Should both spouses pass before they did, they would meet in Maui on the beach. Many years had passed before they reconnected. Today they’d share another passionate kiss without the guilt of hurting someone else.

The scent of his aftershave, stronger, closer this time, stirred Rose from her nap. She cupped her hand over her eyes, blocking the sun. There he stood, looking just as she remembered. The sandy brown hair showed no hints of grey. His sturdy, toned body much too fit for someone his age. She closed her eyes again, unable to accept the reality of the vision before her.

“Rose.”

She forced herself to look again, then looked away, the pain too much to handle. “When?” The word choked from her dry throat.

“Last week. I’m so sorry.” The young man’s eyes grew moist as he stepped closer and placed an arm around her shoulder.

“You look just like your dad.”

“I hear that all the time. It’s a compliment.”

Rose nodded in agreement. “How did you know I’d be here?”

“He asked me to come, just before he passed.” The younger version of her true love held her as she wept. When she stilled, he continued talking. “Dad loved you very much. He told me after Mom died, but I knew that from the first time I saw you together. Remember the time we all went to the ballgame together?”

She nodded. “I remember.”

“I respected him for not cheating on my mother. And you too.”

The handsome man pulled something from the pocket of his shorts and handed it to Rose.

“He carried this with him wherever he traveled. He said it was his way of keeping you near.”

The gold, four-leaf clover still shined like the day she gave it to the love of her life.

“He said he’d see you on the other side.”

“Always have plan B.” Rose forced a smile and clutched the treasure to her chest.

 

This story won first place in the Saturday Writers July,  2016 “The Sense of Scents” contest.