10.25.2011

be the change

They walked up Main Street holding hands, bellies full of frozen yogurt, her daughter singing as she skipped: "Oh that girl was full of fun, she was so fun, so fun! And she loved yo-gurt the most, after bur-ri-tos, which was her most fav-o-rite!"

On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in autumn, the street was flowing with people--college students, older couples, men in drag. The stroller brigade. Street musicians.

Her daughter pulled up short. "Mama, there's another of those signs you never read."

"Wha--? What signs I don't read?" But she knew the answer even as she stammered the question.

"You know, mama, those cardboard signs you never read. There's another one!"

"Oh, baby, let's talk about this, let's talk later, I can explain what I meant by I don't read-- hey!" The child had let go of her hand and raced ahead, stopping directly in front of a woman sitting on the sidewalk. Pack of cigarettes and a worn cardboard sign. The woman looked up into her child's face.

"Let's go, love. You can't run away from me like that."

"But Mama, what--"

The woman reached for her daughter's hand. "Little girl, do you think I should not be sitting here? On this public sidewalk?" Her daughter stared.

She moved forward and grabbed the girl roughly by her shoulder. "That's enough. Sophia, come now!"

As she moved to pull her daughter away from the woman a figure flew past, close enough that she felt a rustle of fabric on her bare arm. She glanced back as a raised fist swung down and made contact with the woman's skull.

The slow-motion movement, the sickening thunking sound. That was no closed fist, he was hitting her with something, again and again. What was it? Amidst screams, running, yelling, she remembered with a start her own small child, glued to the concrete right there, close enough to feel the breeze as his arm fell over and over, her eyes wide and glassy.

"SOPHIA!" She bent and scooped the girl into her arms, squeezing her close, feeling her little heart racing with her own. She scurried under an awning and collapsed with Sophia on the sidewalk just as the sirens began to echo down the street.

"Sophia, are you okay? Sophia?" The little girl struggled in her arms until she could see the woman again.

Someone had subdued her assailant; two men held him on a bench, dozens of onlookers circling the scene. A young man with a purple nametag held what looked like a washcloth to the woman's bleeding forehead. Another woman sat by her side, murmuring. "You'll be all right, you will, you'll be all right." The woman growled in reply.

"Why did that bad man hurt her, mama? Why?" The girl shook slightly and her mother began to wonder if she would need medical attention herself. Maybe her daughter was in shock?

"Oh, baby, I'm so sorry, she is going to be okay."

"NO AMBULANCE! NO DOCTORS! DON'T LET THEM TAKE ME!" Medical personnel approached. Police officers swarmed around the bench, handcuffing her assailant.

"Please, please no, leave me be. Leave me. I wanted him to kill me. I wanted him to--" She moaned as they lifted her onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.
 

Sophia jumped up and pulled on her mother's hand. "Mama, mama? What does her sign say? Will you read it, what does it say?"

She stood and stepped a bit closer to make out the words.

PREGNANT + HOMELESS. BE THE CHANGE.

I'm back in the Indie Ink Writing Challenge! This week, Kurt challenged me with a lyric from Elliott Smith's song, King's Crossing: "This is the place where time reverses/Dead men talk to all the pretty nurses/Instruments shine on a silver tray/Don't let me get carried away..."

I challenged the lovely Lilu with this: "The elevator was out of service, so he had to take the stairs." Go read!

News flash! This story is now posted over at Indie Ink: Be The Change 

11 comments:

  1. Oh my GOD. I just got chills. Hand to Jebuddha, no exaggeration. This is amazing. Shit. Wow. And I love how creatively you interpreted the prompt, which is fantastic in itself.

    WELL DONE!!

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  2. Oh my goodness this is so powerful and riveting, and sickening - just very very good writing. Whew! I feel like I had a close call!

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  3. This had my heart in my throat! I thought for sure Sophia was going to be hurt somehow but that all became irrelevant with the last line which tied up the beginning of the story nicely. Very sad tale.
    I would have liked to have been more invested in the homeless woman though because her tale is so tragic but I felt like Sophia was the focus.
    I liked how you wove that story from those lyrics.

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  4. Heart-rending... very skillfully done, my dear.. you had me grinning at Sophia's song and then WHAM! you hit me like a ton of bricks with cold reality. Will have a take a few moments to recover from that one...

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  5. It's hard to read this and not get short of breath. The action and the surprise are so musculare in the story. I liked the soft build and hard exit. It was a well written piece.

    Loved it. It was special.

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  6. thank you, friends. you are all far too kind.
    if i work on this one any more, it will be focused on Sophia, and really on her mother, & what's going on for her about all of this.

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  7. Oh,that was so beautiful amidst the uglyness of that random act.

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  8. Beautiful and haunting and powerful. I love that it took the child to notice the woman and the words and the cardboard signs her mother never reads. I love the initial description of the stroller brigade, the men in drag, the college students and the other couples...and the omission of the signs in that description.

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  9. Excellent job! Very visceral.

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  10. thank you for the prompt, kurt.
    i went around a bit about it. i am a fan of elliott smith, but not of this song. i had a strong reaction to the song and to the fact that it was one of those published after he died. i had to get past that to write.
    this piece feels very much unfinished, we'll see if i come back to work on it. thanks again.

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