This story is by L’Michelle Clarke and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Greerson could not move. Today was his last day working on the plantation. Greerson, his wife Casena, and Timothy, their infant son, journeyed to this district with a fresh perspective, positive they would do better than others who arrived before them. Determined to overcome any obstacles in this unknown country, they would not succumb to defeat. Greerson, confident this community was special, prayed Casena’s gift would pass unnoticed here. To his dismay, chains of oppression and social unrest marked them at once as outcast.
Disease of this land infected him, taking a toll on his body, scarring him unfit. Casena worked longer in the fields and community homes to compensate for their increased debt. The possibility of Timothy being caught by himself only increased their fear of losing him to another tribe if the monitors found out. Casena believed the Father answered their concern when Greerson’s sickness forced him to remain home.
Casena entered their cabin, watching Greerson warily massage his leg. The sight of his once muscular frame, fragile, saddens her. Today she would try anew to have the discussion with him about the alternative. Faithful to the prayers taught since childhood, together day and night, they sought Father for a response to their latest predicament.
She asked, “if you would let me use….”
Before she could finish, he put his hand to her lips. “My dear wife, how can this work without your presence at home?” In his spirit, the words sounded selfish. “The Father showed us the way we must travel. Why would he not answer? We must wait, Casena.” his last word on the subject.
He withered in pain when she wiped a cluster of oozing sores; the stench seething through his thread of barren burlap pants sickened her. Casena rubbed a bit of precious ointment given to her by the ancient herbalist on a large sore. With a gentle hand she ended her task, removing old soaked through bandages to be tossed into the outdoor fire pit.
The early morning sun crept into the sky as if it did not wish to be in this place, either. Casena watched the bandages burn and turned to wait in line at the outdoor pump to wash her palms. On the walk home, pulling her ragged shawl closer to her body against the cool air as a shadow overtook her, Casena waited. She knew Wilbur, the overseer, would arrive with an overture.
His invisible presence blocked her route. No one could look at Wilbur unless they wanted to be blinded by his blight and suffer.
“Casena, you perceive what you must do to save your household,” he snared. “Why resist my bid?”
“You know why.” She stood her ground.
“Come now, Casena, why wait for the Father when you are capable to decide?”
“No…. That’s not what we do.” She pulled the dilapidated shawl tighter against Wilbur’s coldness.
“You hesitated, Casena!” he taunted her. “You want to go? I see it in your spirit.”
She drew a deep breath. “My family needs me here.” Standing resolute against his shadow, Casena waited for him to travel from her direction.
“It’s a season, Casena, for you to practice your gifts. Try to imagine Greerson healed, and Timothy with plenty to eat.”
His words lingered. “Casena, on the other side someone needs you too.”
An ardent desire to help nudge her visionary gift. “I can’t!” she begged. “Please leave me alone.”
“I’ll give you until this evening’s stars for your answer.”
Time resumed. The chilled air and shadow departed. Casena contemplated her decision.
On the other side as lingering snow thawed, the dark days became brighter. The long, dreary, icy cold temperatures climbed, announcing the transition into spring. The woman peered at the box, waiting for it to open. Each year the keeper of the box appeared in the quiet darkness of the moon, whispering promises of consolation and joy.
Casena agreed to Wilbur’s proposition. In an instant, she was transported into a box with specific instructions. She heard a woman weeping in prayer. Casena’s wish to dry the woman’s tears broke her heart as she listened to the woman’s worship, not unlike her own. Casena thought of Greerson and Timothy. She murmured to the woman, “In time I will gently cradle your hands.”
Both women experienced an uncertainty of life.
Nature prepared the soil for spring, April showers wet the earth. Six weeks of fasting began as it did each year. Now the woman’s struggle started as she remembered her mom’s soul went to heaven. The woman noticed a slight movement as the box opened a crack.
During Holy Week, she peeked inside the opening. From her place in darkness, Casena looked into weary rheumy brown eyes and lightly blew a kiss through the opening. Like the flutter of butterfly wings, the kisses landed on the woman’s wrinkled, powdered cheek. The woman’s hand grazed the spot in bewilderment.
Visitors seldom showed up, making it difficult for her during this period. In her youth the woman prospered into her fullest potential, sharing love with family, friends, and the Father. Once at one point, she happily shared her birth date with her deceased paternal grandmother. Years ago, two days before her birthday, Dad died, marking her day with mourning. The woman no longer celebrated her birthday. May flowers bloomed riotously around the woman’s home birds sang in the dawn breeze. The box opened for the woman to slip her wrinkled hands covered with age spots into the opening. An unassuming spirit of thankfulness filled her hands. Over times she served with harmony. The woman beamed.
Remembering. The woman’s tears fell. Casena caught each drop, wrapping them in a silk handkerchief. She would need them to create a special gift. Delicately, the woman’s fingers probed, searching. Casena caressed the hands tenderly, filling them with graciousness and grace.
June’s warm air with windows opened higher, sounds of children’s carefree laughter, and lawnmowers trickled into her window. Today was Father’s Day again. The woman mourned his loss. She placed a family photo on her desk, her feelings locked in her heart. Overwhelm with grief, the woman missed them all. Although this occasion felt different sadness kept her company.
Casena wove the tears into diamond earrings. She sensed her departure date was approaching in this world. Greerson and Timothy came to mind. Prayers of healing and peace transcended from her into the spirit realm to them.
The woman unsteadily rose from the armchair, her cane tapping the floor as she approached the box. A fragrance from her childhood wafted her nostrils as she moved closer. Nutmeg from her mom’s sweet tea cakes. A white dessert plate with purple irises hand-painted on them held two tea cakes on top of a doily. The woman peered at the plate. In disbelief, the woman, stunned, stumbled back, searched her room for someone.
The woman’s surprise made Casena feel good, and she grinned. The woman touched the plate, then lifted a tea cake. They were both real. Her mother’s voice whispered, “Why are you surprised? I used to make these for you. Sit, eat, and enjoy.”
The woman’s spirit soared with comfort. She relished her mom’s secret ingredient she made in all her food. Love.
The woman finished eating her breakfast of toast, hard-boiled egg, and tea, excited to get to her box. The nurse smiled in wonderment, noting a change in the woman.
Casena wrapped the gems in a silk handkerchief, then arranged them on the box ledge. She couldn’t wait to look at the woman’s face. The tapping of the cane got closer as Casena disappeared into her hiding spot and watched.
The open box lined in vibrant red velvet revealed a shimmering mirror. She came closer. Inside a handkerchief trimmed in lace, yellowed with age. A gift from her parents, “Young ladies always wear gloves and carry handkerchiefs in their purse. Now that you’re sixteen this is for you.”
The woman, teary-eyed, held the handkerchief delicately in her hands. Feeling something inside the fold, the woman sat on her bed, resting the cane next to her frail leg. She unfolded the handkerchief. Inside, she found the gift from her parents for her twenty-first birthday. The woman murmured, “I lost these diamond earrings;” she reflected as they glittered in her aged hands. The woman wondered how this could be. She gingerly put the earrings into long-closed holes, looking at the mirror inside the box. They twinkled like new.
The woman touched the inside of the box. Casena’s hand took hers affectionately. The woman stood straight without the cane, returned to her armchair. Comfort, happiness, Joy, Love, filled her with Peace. The woman smiled one last moment, then closed her eyes.
Casena, bright with wisdom, found herself at home. Greerson shook his head with incredulity. He showed her his healed body. Timothy’s little hands excitedly grabbed hers, pointed to the table filled with abundance. The Father had acknowledged their prayers.