Monday, February 18, 2013

How Claudia Became a Bad Girl (a short story)

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 the light. Claudia’s younger brother, André, looked out of 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”.

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