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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Gifts (11/13/08)

TITLE: Just One Away
By c clemons


The city streets were drearier than usual as Molly made her way from the parking garage to her building. Everyday since she transferred downtown she thought about how she hated it. Molly hated everything about being downtown, the commute, the car fumes, the nasty city sidewalks and most of all, the homeless people milling around or laying on the sidewalk grates.

“Please can you spare some change?” was the usual query. Molly would not respond or pretend not to hear. She would never meet their eyes with hers.

“Why can’t they just get a job? she thought. They are not my responsibility. I’ve got problems of my own.”

As she rounded the corner to her building she could see the city square and right in the middle was a gigantic spruce that had been decorated for Christmas. A city crew was putting up Christmas lights but all the familiar signs that use to say “Merry Christmas” were replaced with a generic “Happy Holidays”.

“Oh Lord, is it that time already? I’m pretty sure Halloween was just last week. It seems as though the world is set on making a mockery of our savior’s birth”. Molly saw the red kettle and the bell ringer before he saw her. She quickly ducked by so she would not feel guilty by not putting anything in the kettle. In doing so she ran right into a homeless person. Unfortunately she could not avoid eye contact.

“Excuse me, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.” Molly said.

“It’s okay, nobody does.” He said with a chuckle.

Molly was not sure whether it was the chuckle or his warm eyes that made her stop and really see him. He did not look crazy or smell. He had a bit of stubble on his chin but otherwise he looked liked anyone else. She noticed his sweatshirt read “One Away”. She was curious but figured he probably found it somewhere or maybe it was some religious statement. At any rate she had to go, she did not have time to converse with a homeless person.

She said, “Have a nice day.”

“Thank you, I will, but will you?” he said as Molly walked away.

As she hurried into the building the man was all but forgotten. This new job was all consuming with training and dealing with the daily office politics. Molly was intent on learning this job, because with so many jobs going away it was imperative that she got it. Finally she allowed herself to think about her situation. Most of the time she tried not to but sometimes without warning the panic would seep in. The mortgage was past due; car payment, insurance, and all her other creditors hounded her daily.

“How did this happen to me?” she lamented to herself for the umpteenth time. “Why, Lord, why now? I’ve tried to do the right things, I try to live by your Word, but for all my believing I feel you have forgotten me.”

The bulletin board in the break room had a flyer about a family that had lost everything in a fire. There was a box labeled “Christmas Gifts” for anyone who had items they wanted to give to help this family have a Merry Christmas. Molly knew it was not “Christian” thinking, but she wanted to know who was going to help her? As she went by the box she had to restrain herself from saying, “ ‘Bah Humbug’ People only feel loving and giving around Christmas time, give me a break.”

“Goodnight Molly. Have a nice evening.” called out one of her co-workers as she was gathering her things to go home.

“Goodnight Bill, you too.” As Molly went out into the cold she noticed the same man from this morning. The same smile with the same message on his sweatshirt. “One Away”. Molly felt compelled to ask him what it meant.

“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you, but what does that mean?” she pointed to his sweatshirt.

“No bother at all. I wear this shirt because I was just like you. I thought I had everything, but everything had me. I had debt and things, but no love, no compassion for my fellowman. I came to realize that most folks are just one paycheck away from being here on these streets with me.”

The truth of that statement hit Molly like a ton of bricks. She slowly walked away whispering, “Lord, I’m so sorry, please forgive me.”

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Member Comments
Member Date
Teresa Lee Rainey11/23/08
I like the story. Still trying to relate it to the topic, yet glad I took time to read it. :)
Teresa Lee Rainey11/24/08
You are correct. The whole gift connection is right there near the end and I missed it. So Sorry. :)
Sharon Kane11/26/08
You handled this well, from the description of the dreary streets, the angst and pressures of 'modern living' and the desperate wishing that the world's problems would just disappear. The suspense created by the 'one away' was a good hook, and you didn't let us in on what it meant too soon. I wonder if the ending would be stronger if you had the MC DOING something to show her repentance? Just a thought.
Clyde Blakely11/30/08
Good flow to a great story. Nice to see you back writing (and commenting on others' submissions).
Nice reminder for the "Holydays".