Tough Decision – (day 3)

by

Sarah Hendrix

Crissy stood with her kids as they waited for the bus.  Her oldest, dressed in second-hand jeans and a pink shirt with a few ketchup stains, swung their clasped hands and sang half a line from one of the songs her music teacher sung to the class the day before. The youngest looked up at her from under thick lashes.

“Do I have to go to Miss. Jessie’s house today?”

“Yes you do,” Crissy said as she knelt down between the two.  “I have to look for another job. Today’s the only day I have off. I might not be home in time.”

Derik pouted a bit. “But I want you to play with me after school.”

She tapped his lip gently, making him smile. “I wish I could be sure I would be there hon.”  She drew her kids in for hug as she heard the bus making the corner.  “I’ll pick you up at Miss. Jessie’s house as soon as I can.”

The kids boarded the yellow mammoth before her tight smile faded and her shoulders slumped.  She was lucky the kids weren’t old enough to see through her disguise.  They didn’t notice the tear marks on her cheeks in the morning or the bags under her eyes.  What they did notice was the lack of cigarette smoke in the apartment and the last loaf of bread. They would get a hot breakfast and lunch while she choked down a peanut-butter sandwich and a glass of water.

She went back upstairs to the apartment and sat at the small table.  Her stomach rumbled, but she didn’t really want to eat.  Instead, she picked up the envelope that contained her bills and her paycheck.  One of the numbers was larger than the other, not by much, but not nearly enough to cover the baby-sitter bill, a tank of gas for her car and the electric bill. 

Tears welled up in her eyes and she allowed herself a few bitter moments. Child Services had yet to track down that skunk, Devon, so there would be no help from that end. Her parents had already sent her as much as they could. Her full-time job had laid her off three months ago, and she supposed she should feel lucky she was able to get a part-time job as a cashier at the grocery mart, but the paychecks didn’t stretch far and her savings was already used up.

Sighing she got up and rubbed her eyes as she walked into the living room.  The shelves along the wall held books, games, puzzles and a few photos. The battered-looking TV had survived a fall down the stairs and except for a cracked case worked well enough for the few programs she let the kids watch and the news.  Her furniture was third-hand at best, nothing matching and a few holes or well worn spots on the fabric.  Nothing worth anything except for the small black case sitting on the table beside the couch. 

Crissy sat and picked up the laptop.  She flipped open the lid and hit the start key.  It whirred and booted up, slow as usual, but instead of her screen saver, the default settings popped up.  She checked the files and confirmed nothing was left.  Before she let herself fall into another crying spat, she slid the computer into a leather shoulder bag, wound up the cords and grabbed her jacket. 

The shop that she wanted was a short squat building huddled between two taller ones. With the flaking paint, the pawn shop looked a little like a fat old hen squatting between two of her more lseeThe Three French Hens was a little shop on the other side of town. The brick building had once been whitewashed but it had faded over the years becoming more of a dirty white flecked with brown. The tall building to either side stood tall and proud, almost looming over the shorter squat building. She almost laughed at the mental image of a plump hen squatting among the thinner more proper chickens.

The door chimed merrily as she entered. Neatly stacked rows of books lined the first two aisles she slid in between. Her fingers lingered on a few of the spines before she pulled her hand away. Her eyes glanced over the power tools and movies wondering if any of them had been hers at some point in time. Devon had waited until she was visiting her mother before he cleaned out the apartment with anything valueable. While she didn’t see anyone in the building, it didn’t feel empty, but maybe that was the inviting smell of cinnamon that lingered in the back of her throat.

Crissy set the leather case on the counter, flicking off imaginary dirt as she looked around the store again. She looked around again then reached over and gingerly tapped the bell.

“Hold on,” a woman’s voice cried out from behind a dark, heavy curtain. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

Chrissy fidgeted and looked back at the rows of tools, movies and radios next to the door. She had a sudden urge to slip the strap of her computer bag over her shoulder, grab a handful of DVDs and walk out the door. She wondered how many people who came in walked back out with more than they came in with. Resolutely, she stuck her hands in her jacket pocket and stared at her case until the curtain parted and a short, gray-haired woman wearing coke-bottle glasses shuffled through.

“Afternoon!” she smiled brightly and came to the counter. “What can I help you with today?’

Her breath tightened in her chest as she shoved the case over to the woman. “How much?”

Wrinkled fingers worked the zipper open and pulled out the laptop. “Works?” she asked as she flipped the top up and hit the start key.

“You’ll have to plug it in, the battery doesn’t keep a charge very well anymore,” Crissy said as her cheeks began to warm.

“Ahhh,” the old woman said. “You use this for work?”

Crissy shook her head. “I’m a…” She licked her lips. “I was a writer.”

The brown eyes behind the glasses flickered up to her for an instant before returning to the contents of the case. She pulled out the cord and plugged in the computer. When she hit the power key, the fan began to hum. “Writer hunh? Did you get a new machine?”

Crissy found she couldn’t answer for a moment. She had pens and notebooks at home but nothing felt the same as when she was quietly clicking keys while the kids were sleeping. Now she would have to go to the library and use the public computers in order to copy her stories.

The old woman gave her another sharp glance. “You any good?”

Crissy shrugged. “I had a couple of sales this year. I’m editing a novel and I have a few short stories out.”

The old woman nodded. “I’ll give you seventy-five, it’s an old machine, going to need a cleaning and probably a memory upgrade before I can sell it,” the firmness in her voice brooked no argument.

Crissy knew the tone, she heard it when she took in her engagement ring to another pawn shop and when she made call backs to jobs she applied for. She had a choice but it wasn’t much of one. Take it and enjoy her freedom for another few weeks. See if any of the other shops would give her a better deal. Or hope that one of her stories sold and would carry them through the month.

She didn’t look at the older woman as she turned the laptop around and shut it down. Her breath caught in her chest again as she slid the computer into the black leather case. She managed a throat-tight, “Thanks,” before she turned and headed to the door.

“You know much about those online auctions?”

Crissy paused, uncertain if the old woman was speaking to her. “Excuse me?” She turned around.

“You got kids?”

“Two,” Crissy answered. “They’re in school.”

“Electric or gas bill?” the woman asked suddenly with the same tone she had offered her seventy-five bucks. When Crissy stood there stunned, the woman chuckled. “Let me see it.”

Crissy handed her the bill from her pocket.

“You got a job?”

“Part-time at the grocery store.” She felt her cheeks redden, shame and embarrassment tugging her eyes down to her toes.

The cash register rang. The woman pulled out some money and walked around the counter. “I been in your shoes before hon. Selling your dreams is hard. Harder when you know you are trying your hardest and there isn’t anything else you can do about it.” She grabbed Crissy’s hand and put the electric bill and some cash into her hand. “You go pay your bill. Your next day off, you come and help me with that ebaze stuff.”

Crissy stared at the cash in her hand. Enough to cover the electric bill. Conflicting emotions boiled up inside – relief first, then, shame. “I can’t take this,” words suddenly spilled from her.

The old woman smiled, “Sure you can, call it an advance on your paycheck.”

“Paycheck?”

“You have time for another part-time job don’t you?”

Crissy nodded mutely, before she understood. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

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14 Responses to “Tough Decision – (day 3)”

  1. Patti Larsen

    Lovely and timely. So many people are struggling right now, not just the creative types any more! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Tony Noland

    That’s hard, very hard. Terrific and heartfelt.

  3. Jim Bronyaur

    Wow… another heartfelt story here. Thank you writing this for 12 Days 2010 🙂

  4. Chuck Allen

    I enjoyed sharing the internal conflict that Crissy was experiencing and the joy of someone helping another. Great story!

  5. Wulfie

    Good story. I detect some personal experience in there. Nice to read something up-lifting. Thank you.

  6. Tweets that mention Tough Decision – (day 3) « 12 Days 2010! -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brandon Layng, Wulfie , Jim Bronyaur, Shadow, Jim Bronyaur and others. Jim Bronyaur said: Tough Decision by @shadowflame1974 – #12days2010 – http://ht.ly/3q9K9 […]

  7. lil_monmon

    Made me cry a little. I’ve been there, and I know the crushing despair of feeling like a failure (coupled with the stomach pain of living on oatmeal and lentils). I loved the ending. I love endings that are real, yet still feel like a magical Santa Claus gift. This was awesome and drew me in completely.

  8. Icy Sedgwick

    Oh that’s an awesome shopkeeper! Nice to see her branching out into the wonderful world of eBay too – and to such a deserving person. Heartwarming stuff.

  9. Lori Titus

    Oh, that’s so sweet. I got teary eyed!

  10. Cecilia Dominic

    This was a perfect Christmas tale, one human being helping another. It left me with a smile.

    CD

  11. WA_side

    Trust and caring for others – now that is what Christmas is about.
    Very moving, though perhaps a bit too close to the bone. ;o!

  12. Cindy Mantai

    Oh, I got chills at the end! Lovely story.

  13. Eric J. Krause

    Good story! Santas come in various shapes and sizes this time of year.

  14. adampb

    A cold, dark tale that ends with warmth and hope.
    Adam B @revhappiness

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