Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How Claudia Became a Bad Girl

(Here is my story for this week's Search Engine Fiction 'If Only..')

On the day the light appeared at the top of St. Mary’s steeple, Claudia was sure her prayers had been answered. Although her father looked at the red-gold light high up in the sky and decided the only cause could be aliens, Claudia was convinced that God had finally found time in his busy schedule to listen to her nightly prayers. Every night for two and half years, once the door was firmly closed, Claudia knelt at the side of her bed and made a deal with him; she would be a good girl for the rest of her life if only he would find her mother and bring her back home. Somehow she was positive the light was him saying the deal was on.

It showed up on a Friday night. Claudia and her family lived in the house at the corner, just opposite to the church so they were among the first people to see light. Claudia’s younger brother, André, looked out the window after hearing a noise. He was always thinking he heard stray dogs outside, so any noise had him rushing to the window. André believed that though their father had banned all dogs, a stray dog was a different story. Who could pass up an orphan? Claudia knew the answer was her father. That night, like all of the nights before it, there was no stray dog. Instead it was the beginning of the crowd that would soon begin to assemble on their front lawn.

“What’s that?” André said pushing the dusty curtains aside to get a better look.

Their father got up from the sofa where he’d been reading the newspaper to see what André was on about. “Well I’ll be damned! Claudia, get the camera!”

They rushed outside and joined the growing crowd. They flung their heads back like everyone else to look at the light. It was a glowing ball stuck on the very top of the steeple creating a giant, golden shish-kabob. Claudia smiled. She knew that God was just then working on her mother’s mind. He was sticking in thoughts and memories that would remind her that when she got in the taxi saying she was off to her sister Glenda’s, she had left behind a husband and two children who still waited for her return. The light was the sign that holy forces were at work.

Since God was keeping his part of the deal, Claudia immediately got to work on her part. She stopped fighting Mrs. Anderson, 14th in the parade of baby-sitters that passed through their house since Claudia’s mother left. She started taking better care of André and kept her room tidy and neat. Claudia knew enough that cheating in a bargain with God was not a good idea.

As the days passed and the light remained on the steeple, people collected from all over the state to stand in Claudia’s yard to look at it. Claudia found it odd that no one climbed up there to see exactly what was going on, but she suspected that they, like her, preferred to operate from a firm position in faith. The factual intricacies might just mix them up.

On a Tuesday evening, with a gasp from that evening’s collection of onlookers, the light went out. The crowd slowly drifted away. Discussions about the light fell back into memories only pulled out when relatives visited who hadn’t been there during the time. Claudia watched the trampled grass in their lawn unbend itself, and kept an eye on the road for her mother who was surely on her way home. Every day that the grass got greener, Claudia’s faith in the light got dimmer.

Claudia sat at dinner, more than a month later, another meal of burnt hamburgers and milky macaroni and cheese, Mrs. Anderson’s specialty, and Claudia’s father said out of the blue, “I wonder what the point of that light was anyway?”

André shrugged his shoulders.
Claudia looked down at her food, and then she said, “There was no point. Just a bunch of nonsense”.


groovyoldlady said...

*sniff* That was so sad and hopeless and depressing.

(Groovy runs off to sit in front of her therapy light and nibble on chocolate. She thanks God that her faith in Him is based on truth and not on wishful fantasies!)

Anonymous said...

You captured so well that idea many of us had in childhood that we could bargain with the powers that be. I used to do it myself. I still do it. I also think that symbolism is a powerful force in childhood. The light at the top of the steeple was symbolic not just because it may have represented the power of God but because of the fact it could also have meant that Claudia's mother might one day come home. Yet another brilliant, meaningful piece!

Lauri said...

Groovy- sorry to have upset you. Just a story. I hope you've recovered. I'll try better next time.

Selma- You're such a pal. You know as writers we need the people who cut us down to size to sort us out and put us back on the right path and then we need people like you who apply the salve on our wounds and prop us up back at the keyboard and say - "Write".

Anonymous said...

Geez, this is even more sad than my gloomy poem! I like it very much, though.

Lauri said...

Is it sad, Chris? I thought of it as quirky but then I've always been a fan of bad girls.

Glda you liked it eventhough- thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

“There was no point. Just a bunch of nonsense”.

The transition from childhood to adulthood isn't marked by one event in a person's life nor by an arbitrary birthday. It happens event by event, birthday by birthday. Children lose their faith (in the most innocent, naive, childhood sense of the term)-they (we) realise that exceptions are not always made for stray dogs and orphans and that sometimes being good achieves nothing and that a light that seems to be message from God isjust a bunch pointless rubbish. Your story is sad because as adults, somehow, we recognise ourselves in it and see the dramatic irony that Andrei and Claudia, as yet, cannot.
Thanks for a great read.


paisley said...

oh lauri,,, well worth the wait in every way!!!! you are so talented.. i look forward to your stories... so thrilled to have 'met' you via selma's meme's....

Anonymous said...

sad story but I see it as a childhood moment that can be easy forgotten

faith can be lost just like that, I see her getting it back when she gets older, it's too easy when you're a child but as an adult, it's all altogether different story

Lauri said...

David- Thanks for your wise insights.
Paisley-Happy to have met you folks too. Thanks for the compliments.You folks are gonna make my head swell but that , of course , is conteracted by the rejection from Mslexia yesterday. It all works out.
Lissa- Let's hope for Claudia's sake you're right.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lauri - glad to meet you via Selma.

This is such a beautiful story. Your writing is so straightforward, genuine feeling, and illuminated with well drawn and fresh images. The description of the unbending grass was particularly resonant for me.

I of course wanted the mother to return, but I think the way it ends underscores something really important. That faith (in what/whomever)is only real when it is formed of belief/knowing that endures outside rational demonstration.

Really thought provoking and wonderfully written - great read, thank you!

Lauri said...

Hi Kayt, ditto for me. Selma has done a lovely thing.

Thanks for your kind comments about my story.

Karen said...

Well done, Lauri. I don't see it as being really sad (just a little bit) but I must admit that I wish someone would have climbed up to see what it was. Of course, that's all part of faith, don't look too close or you might see something you don't expect.

I loved the way she started being nice to her babysitter and her brother, doing everything a "good girl" does. Also, the part about the blades of grass unbending... beautiful! I love details like that.

Lauri said...

Thanks Karen.