Facing the Light

Sunset

The man’s eyes struggled to focus. He cocked his head to compensate for his blurred, bottle induced vision. His breath reeked of whiskey and his slurred speech revealed that his alcohol levels were near toxic. The security officer slowly finagled the man’s car keys from his clenched hand.

The drunk relinquished the keys with little effort when he noticed the boss’s wife. He was on a mission and became a prowling tiger. He stepped behind the table, inside of the festival booth, and opened his arms to welcome Jennifer with a hug. His stubbled face slipped to her side, as he planted a moist, dripping kiss on her neck.

He held the hug long enough for Jennifer to push back, turning her head away from the fumes escaping his mouth. Her eyes filled with fear and gave me a look, a visual cue for help. My hand clenched into a fist and I stepped toward the man who hovered a good four inches above me.

“Derrick,” Jennifer said with a mix of slurred words. “You remember my close friend of the family, Carl.”

Carl closed his eyes, lightly shook his head, and turned toward me. His eyelids opened revealing his veiny eyes, half glossed over. “Good to see you again, Derrick.”
He extended his hand.

I glanced at Jennifer who leaned into her friend and wrapped her arms around his lanky, yet oversized bicep. They looked like lovers who had just finished a quarl and were considering if there was time for make-up sex.

I cringed at the thought and reached my hand forward to shake his. The squeeze around my hand suggested he had turned wrenches thousands of times before his retirement. His arm slipped around Jennifer and she leaned into his chest. Their eyes revealed matching desires to get a room, while mine closed in disgust.

The moment of chivalrous thought quickly turned to sorrow as I considered that the boss had been cheated on by his friend and wife. My demeanor shifted with a repugnant taste creeping into my soul from the experience. I looked above for hope and saw a setting sun tossing out beautiful orange and purple colors.

Turning back to preparing the booth for the eminent crowd, I scanned my memory for anything that might be of cheer. Helen Keller’s noted words rose to the forefront of my thoughts. “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadows.” The simple words brought a sense of hope back into my life.

Her phrase was naturally accurate and held a spiritual truth worth remembering. I needed to keep my focus on the good in life and live as an example for anyone in need of hope. My choice to follow the light might even draw others into a warmth worth embracing. A smile stretched across my face as the festival guests entered the park.

I noticed the security officer walking Carl toward the medical tent, as Jennifer stepped next to me. “You know, I hate having to pretend I’m something that I’m not around him,” she said. “I hate having to pretend we’re close because he’s my husband’s friend.”

“I don’t understand. Why would you need to pretend at all?”

“Listen, you don’t know what it’s like living with my husband,” she said. “I’d be punished for days if I snubbed one of his friends.”

“I’m sorry you have to indulge in his antics to keep your relationship at home intact.”

“Thank you. You’re the first person who understands.” Jennifer turned and set up the brochures.

The topic was finally over, but I was trapped in my head wondering what it was that I supposedly understood. I shook it off, turned toward the sunset and pondered how the difficulties of life’s shadows disappear when we look to the light.

It was going to be a good evening.

© 2018 by CJ Powers
Advertisements

Elevator of Providence

ElevatorDoorPlacing the razor to my face, which was lathered with shaving cream, became difficult when the lights flickered. I had skipped shaving yesterday, so it was important to finish. After a few strokes, the lights went out and I faced the dilemma of going to work with a partially shaved face or hunting for a flashlight in the dark.

I banged my hand into the door as I reached for the doorknob. The handle was not where I had imagined. Once found, I opened the door to a window-lit bedroom and spotted my cell phone laying on the desk. After swiping up for the flashlight, I moved into the bathroom and positioned the light on the right side of my face. There was enough bounce light coming off of the glass shower door to illuminate my left side. Within a few minutes I was clean shaven and curious.

There was a rythmic thumping noise coming from outside my unit near the hallway. Faint voices bantered back and forth, so I figured they spoke on the topic of the day—the electrical outage. Choosing to take a very short shower, I jumped in and lathered up in record time, but I hesitated to rinse when I heard a plea for help. I stood motionless trying to hear the words being uttered.

My shower backs up to the elevator and I realized someone was trapped inside. I scrambled to dry off and get dressed with the understanding that taking time to help the woman would make me late for work. I chuckled as my mind flashed back to the end of work yesterday. In that moment I thought about providence.

Circumstances caused me to work an additional hour past my normal quitting time. One of the owners told me to come in later the next day to avoid overtime. So here I was staring providence in the face with an hour given me in advance to help calm the woman and her anxious dog. I was amazed and immediately focused on making sure the woman was okay.

She and her dog had been trapped in the pitch black box suspended around the third floor for 10-15 minutes. The woman’s voice trembled with fear as she responded to someone a floor lower shouting about the phone in the elevator. The backup battery had failed and the phone line was dead.

I looked for the elevator key, but there was not a breakable glass case that held the key. “I’m going down to the first floor to get the elevator key,” I said.

“Thank you,” she responded with a tone of relief in her voice. Her confidence level was boosted.

I moved swiftly down the hallway lit by a couple fading emergency lights and was thankful that the staircase was still lit. On the first floor I bumped into the building manager who providentially arrived seconds earlier for a planned meeting. “The fire department is on the way,” she said.

“I’d rather the woman trapped in the elevator not have to wait any longer,” I said. “Let’s grab the elevator key and I’ll head upstairs and speed her escape.”

The building manager moved quickly to the glass case and noticed it was cracked open. The key was gone. “I’m not surprised,” she said. “The new laws only allow police and firemen to open an elevator door in emergencies.”

“Today would be a good day for an exception, is there another key somewhere else?” I asked.

She took me into the elevator room where the equipment is stored. As we entered, she threw the light switch to the “on” position and nothing happened. Then she laughed.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “You did it out of habit.”

She nodded and scanned the room for a backup key, but couldn’t find one. Then the thought hit her. “There’s probably one in the Knox-Box,” she said. We headed toward the one hanging in the foyer. After struggling to get into it, she remembered the one at the backdoor.

I watched her struggle with it. “Don’t worry about it, the firemen are here,” I said when I noticed the reflection of red lights flashing on a pane of glass.

The building manager walked out to the Fire Chief car, but no one was there. I circled back to the front door and went outside to see if he was doing a quick inspection of the surroundings.

“There’s a woman trapped in the elevator on the third floor,” I said.

“Is the electricity out?” he asked.

“Yes.”

The Chief got on his radio and instructed his team of the situation. He entered the foyer and met with the building manager. They went to the Knox-Box at the front door and found no elevator key. She took him next to the one at the back door, which was also void of an elevator key.

“I have a universal key in my car,” he said. “I’ll get it.”

“Shouldn’t one of the smaller keys open the elevator box next to the elevator? Won’t there be an elevator key there?” asked the building manager.

“Yes, but it’ll be faster to grab my keys.”

Soon a fireman dressed in full gear carrying an axe entered the foyer with keys in hand.
“Oh, don’t bring that axe in here,” said the building manager. “We don’t want anything destroyed. There is a key.”

The fireman held up a metal loop of a dozen different elevator keys. “I’ve got the key right here. Where is the woman?”

“I think she’s stuck between the third and fourth floor,” said the building manager.

“She’s on the third floor,” I clarified. I’ve already talked to her and she’s expecting me to come back up with the key. I can take you there.”

The fireman signaled for me to lead the way. I was being followed by two male firefighters, a female firefighter, and the building manager. When we got to the elevator door the fireman started working his loop of keys, but couldn’t find one that seemed to engage the mechanism needed to open the door.

“Shouldn’t we get the key from the Knox-Box to open the elevator lock box and get the key we know works with this elevator?” asked the building manager.

“I have every known elevator key right here,” the fireman said as he lifted the loop of keys.

“Okay,” said the building manager with a huff.

The fireman worked a key, then another and another. Then he pulled the loop back and the keys slipped, forcing him to start the search over.

I thought about providence and wondered if it was about to show itself once again. Just then the lights in the hallway came on. The building power had been restored.

“Should I turn the elevator back on?” said the voice over the fireman’s radio.

“Yes, turn it on,” he responded.

The sound of power surging was heard. “The lights came on,” shouted the woman trapped in the elevator.”

I leaned toward the door and said, “Push the door open button.” The door opened and her shaking dog charged into the hallway. The woman followed with a broad smile on her face. Everyone was relieved.

Realizing her predicament the woman asked, “Is the elevator working now?”

“Yes,” answered the fireman.

“Well I need to take the dog downstairs then,” said the woman. She stepped back in the elevator, but her dog fought to stay out.

“It’s good to get back on the horse after a fall,” I said. “The dog will need to rebuild his confidence.”

The woman looked at me and nodded. Then she gave the dog a big yank and his little feet slid across the carpet and entered the elevator. She pushed the first floor button and the door closed. She was back on schedule to letting her dog outside.

I stood in awe of the team of people who gathered to help the woman. After watching everyone head toward the staircase, I turned toward the opposite staircase and passed by many congregating in the stairwell with questions and stories to share.

One man who followed me asked, “What happened?”

“Providence was able to save the woman before any of us could,” I said.

I opened the stairwell door and we were met by a lady with lots on her mind. “I just got off the phone with the power company,” said the lady. “They said there was an accident and they lost power to 155,000 buildings in the area. They also said the power will be on in about two hours.”

I smiled and quietly stepped away from the group. I glanced back and saw the man who had followed me step away from the group. He seemed to be in a daze. As I entered the garage I heard him mutter, “He knew something happened. I want that ability.”

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

A Chance Meeting: A Story to Warm the Heart

pexels-photo-688012The cold drove me down the street faster than normal with the hopes of stepping into the next shop for warmth. Handing out promotional rack cards to every business in town was difficult due to the whipping wind. While I loved the freshness of the Chicago breeze during other seasons, winter typically saw the wind chill drop below zero, which was once again the case.

I stepped into a beauty parlor and my eyes locked onto a gorgeous woman who welcomed me to the shop. Her green eyes and reddish hair suggested an Irish heritage, but it was her Celtic Claddagh ring that convinced me of her family line and availability. The ring was on her right hand with the heart facing outward to signal that her heart was open to the right person.

The Irish side of me lit up and I engaged in an enthusiastic conversation. She was funny and generous with sincere compliments, but our time was cut short when her boss called her into the backroom. The moment was awkward at best. I headed to the door hoping to hear her voice one last time. The bell overhead clanged as I opened the door and faced the frigid air.

“I hope you come again!” the woman called out with a cheerful voice. I turned and gave her a smile, then twisted into the wind as I closed the door behind me. My face numbed from the below zero wind chill as my mind raced with warm thoughts from our chance visit. It was a good day.

Sitting by the fireplace in the early evening, I took a sip from my mug of soup and collected my thoughts. I penned a thank you note to the woman that had warmed my soul during the blizzard. I chose my words carefully knowing that she would most likely read the note several times over. Not because I wrote well, but because we seldom receive handwritten correspondence.

The words flowed directly from my heart with a sense of passion that would catch the attention of any healthy woman. Every syllable added to the rhythm in a fashion that, when read out loud, might sound musical to the discerning ear. The melodious words affirmed her hospitality earlier in the day and encouraged her to shine for others entering the shop for days to come.

As I signed the parchment, I reread the inspirational paragraphs to make sure when scrutinized the note reflected nothing more than a platonic thank you. Albeit encouraging beyond what most would attempt in a day of harassment allegations. But I made sure that not a single word suggested anything beyond a wholesome acquaintance.

That’s not to say a woman might not misconstrue certain words to be hints of a future she might long for, or inflate other words to the point where she could dream of a future that I would never accept. But within context and the definition of each word, she should only understand how well she comes across to others and the value she holds within her heart.

As for my heart, it was not ready to consider returning to the salon. My heart was still pounding for a woman from my past that I never had a chance to date. She was a woman of high moral character, though her past suggested a few dusty roads had been traveled in her younger years.

But I enjoyed the refreshing and warming company in those few moments while my toes and fingers warmed. And hopefully, the woman will always appreciate the stranger who entered her life long enough to encourage her with sincere compliments of her hospitality.

The Christmas season seems to have little moments of surprise that gives us that extra push through our hardships in life. It’s a time when all men consider good will to those they meet. And hopefully, it’s a time when simple words of affirmation can be magnified to boost a person’s morale for those who don’t have family around to celebrate.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Grandma’s Empty Story Chair

Grandma's Empty Story ChairMy favorite chair sits empty today, crowded in by boxes of stuff I collected over the years. Some of it will see its demise in the dumpster out back, while the more contemporary pieces will be given a home thanks to a local mission or charity.

When I left this world, I was freed from the days I spent in darkness. Having perfect sight again makes this new life extraordinary. My skin is silky smooth and my new body has no stretch marks from the excess weight I once carried on earth. I wish my great grandkids could see me this way.

I can barely remember the fear in the little one’s eyes as she reached out to touch my aged, wrinkled skin. The discoloration from medication gave my arm an eerie and deathly bluish shade. The texture alone was enough to startle any three year old, but I was glad she screwed her courage to the sticking place.

My heart raced with joy when her soft fingers touched my fragile skin. Caution was quickly voiced from my kids for my skin could be too easily torn—but I needed my great granddaughter’s touch regardless of the risk. Her loving, yet hesitant touch, gently slipped away and I fell back into my distant prison of old age. Always feeling alive, while trapped in a decaying body that no longer responded as I willed.

Now, glancing at my empty chair brings a subtle note of joy. I was glad for the opportunities I had, although few, to share stories from a time long ago. My son listened attentively to each tale and responded with questions that taxed my memory, as he searched for enough detail to remember my younger years going forward.

My daughter was also eager to learn more about my life including the love interest I had before meeting her father. She was the most empathetic person that listened to my stories and understood the value of each object I amassed over the years. The symbols were reminiscent of several life-impacting stories that I lived out and my daughter could retell most of them just by looking at the piece collected.

But today the boxes are being tossed because the grandkids and great grandkids see no value in any of it. My stories are fading as each representation rusts away or turns to dust. My empty story chair will soon be pitched, as its worn-torn look no longer matches the decorative styles of the day. And with it, I’m afraid family members will no longer cherish my remarkable stories.

Oh, my daughter will continue to share several stories, and my son will even share a few, too. But even he will one day contemplate the waning interest by his children and their kids. His time will become finite and he will have to choose between sharing one of my wonderful stories or making sure his grandkids listen to one of his. I would never wish that frustration on him.

Instead, if I could encourage him right now, I’d say…

Grandma’s story chair is empty and the artifacts surrounding it no longer speak of the thrilling life I led, so say goodbye to me once again, not fearing that I’ll permanently fade from your memories, and speak into the lives of your kids, grandkids and their kids. For you are of great value to me and I want your stories to resound with compassion and wisdom that will bless our family for generations to come.

NOTE: The sketch illustration was created by CJ in an attempt to make his story feel real. While not an illustration artist, CJ used his Bamboo drawing tablet to sketch elements from his mother’s living room.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

A Story of Humility

HumilityThere once was a humble man. He rightly assessed himself with truth and wisdom. He accepted himself, faults and all, and shared with others freely. His confidence was in his author. He was content in who his maker had made him to be.

When his life excelled, his survival was due to his creator. When his life went belly up in the darkness of despair, his maker held him from demise. He could survive all that he faced. He could do all things through his maker who strengthened him.

There once was a manipulative religious leader. She knew the humble man was set apart for glorious things. She judged him unfit, for his self-awareness suggested a lack of humility. Her network labored to take him down a few notches. They stripped him of money, home and relationships. They blocked him from any and all forms of success. They even found his Achilles heel and dropped him into a repetitive menagerie of daily pain. And finally, they teased him with lovers just out of his reach.

He survived. He cried. He humbly acknowledged his new place in life. He knew that he’d no longer shine as he was made to do, but instead testify to the actions of those that were made to support his creations. He endured for a dozen years, fighting to keep bitterness from tearing up his soul. He finally let go and accepted his new lot in life and waited for judgment day.

The manipulator was proud of her ability to play god in the man’s life. She saw him breaking and would soon announce his new humble status. But something was wrong and she’d have to delay her announcement.

The man stood firm in the face of agony and disgrace. He rightly divided the word of truth and still accepted himself in spite of circumstances. He again acknowledged that his creator made him for a glorious cause, as had been done for the man with a coat of many colors. And, his confidence remained not in himself, but continued to reside within his savior who strengthened him.

The manipulator was angry that the man’s humility did not look like her own. She was convinced it was “fake,” yet it survived the worst of emotional, physical and spiritual attacks. Could she be the barer of fake humility? She trembled at the thought. Her attempt to play god would soon be revealed—her status sinking beneath that of junk bonds.

The humble man simply lived his new life without the glorious gift his savior intended for him to share. No one missed the loving gift, for they never knew it was on its way. The future soon became bleak with no relief in sight because the humble man’s humility didn’t look like hers.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Steele Blue: The Forgotten Crime

steele_blue_bookcover_72This week was busy with the release of my first novel in paperback. My first interview for the book was in the United Kingdom, which was a fun kick-off event. I’ve already talked with a couple bookstores interested in having me in for book signings. These activities are starting to make me feel like an author.

Steele Blue: The Forgotten Crime is about Diaz, a notorious dealer that’s expanding his cherry meth distribution in Chicago, who desires undercover Detective Steele as his life partner. Fighting to keep her cover intact with plans to bring down the drug kingpin, Cassie spends extra time with Diaz, blurring the lines between justice and her growing love for him.

Realizing her precarious situation, Cassie sees to her son’s safety and works hard to regain her memory from the night of the opera house fire—the night Diaz lost his first love. Feeling slighted, Diaz hunts down everyone involved in the death of his “Carmen.”

Racing against the clock, Cassie tries to find balance between her motherly duties, her infiltration as the kingpin’s girl, and her role as the officer tasked to close the case. Cassie is forced to face her fears in discovering the missing piece of her memory that will bring Diaz down. But will it alter her future?

There are elements in the book that came from rubbing shoulders with cops my entire life. My dad was a Sargent on the police force and many of his friends were cops. Every time we got together the group would share true-life stories from their work. They shared stories that were scary, hilarious and unreal sounding—even though all of it actually happened.

I crafted the main character, Cassie Steele, from interviews with two female detectives. Due to a coupe plot twists in the book, I also salted in observations from a local woman. This combination plotted out over actual Chicago locations that I walked made for a fast paced story sprinkled with humor.

I’ve already heard from two women who read the book faster than I thought was possible. They loved the mother and son relationship, and Cassie having to work through her life balance issues to become the hero by the end of the book. One man said that he couldn’t wait until the movie comes out to see the Lake Shore Drive chase scene.

This book means a lot to me and I hope all of you will purchase a copy. Let me know what you think about the story and be sure to pass word about the book onto everyone you know. I could sure use the help getting the word out of the book’s availability. Happy reading!

© 2016 by CJ Powers

The Rubber Band Man

Peter stretched his chewing gum and bit off a piece. He secured it to the corner of the sagging music poster and pushed it back onto his dark blue bedroom wall. The teen looked up to make sure the album covers were secure on the ceiling. A soft knock at the door signaled the hazel-eyed geek that it was time to impress. He swung the door open to see Lisa, a music-crazed cheerleader type that was way out of his league.

“Is that it,” Lisa asked as she pointed at the guitar hanging behind Peter’s back.

“Yeah, it is.” Peter swung the guitar around keeping the strap over his shoulder. He noticed a smudge and quickly polished the body of the electric guitar with his sleeve.

“Well, are you gonna play it for me?” asked Lisa.

“Sure, yeah.” Peter walked over to his mini amp, plugged the cord into the input jack and grabbed his pick. He nodded toward his ceiling display. “They’ve inspired this song.”

Lisa glanced up, but wasn’t impressed.

Peter started with a simple riff and then looked into Lisa’s eyes as he sang. “It is you … the reason why I live … it is me … that stays our happi…”

“Your too low,” Lisa interrupted. “You’ve got to take it up a full step.”

Peter stopped playing. He didn’t know what to do. He could only play the song in one key.

“If you can’t translate the chords, use a capo,” Lisa said.

“I don’t have one.”

“I thought you were a musician.” Lisa turned and left the room.

Peter’s heart sank. He glanced around the room and spotted his desk. He yanked the draw open and pulled out a pile of rubber bands. Stretching the bundle over the guitar neck, the bands snapped into position above the second fret. He swung his pick across the strings sounding the music two half steps higher.

Elated, Peter ran after Lisa, but the chord pulled taut. His shoulder felt the burn of the strap stopping his movement. He unplugged the guitar and took it off. Peter pulled the stack of rubber bands from the neck and stuffed them in his pocket.

The colorful leaves crunched beneath Peter’s running shoes as he entered the park. He saw Lisa walk into the underpass where the bicycle paths merged. Closing in, Peter heard violin music echoing from the tunnel. He picked up his pace, hoping Lisa stayed to listen to the soulful music.

Lindsey_StirlingPeter stopped to catch his breath at the entrance. After composing himself, he entered the tunnel. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he was surprised to see a homeless woman playing the fiddle with the skills of a master. The woman started to dance while playing. A couple of children from the small crowd dropped money into her worn cigar box lying on the gravel floor in front of her.

Scanning the crowd, Peter spotted Lisa leaving out the other end of the tunnel. He sprinted after her, but collided with the twirling musician. The fiddle crashed into the cement wall, sending pieces flying to the ground in all directions. Silence fell on the crowd as they watched Peter pick himself up and offer his hand to the musician.

“I’m sorry,” Peter said. “I was chasing after … my dreams.”

The woman watched the crowd dissipate. She bent over and picked up the cigar box that held a couple dollars and a few coins. “Looks like no lunch today.”

“I’ll buy you lunch,” Peter said with enthusiasm. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bundle of rubber bands. His face cringed with sorrow. “I’m sorry, I only have…”

“Listen kid, it was an honest mistake,” said the musician. “Was that cute brunette the dream you were chasing?”

Peter nodded with humility.

“You certainly have no trouble going after the gold.”

“I keep on messing up,” Peter whispered.

“Join the club,” said the musician. “I trusted a manager that was worthless.”

“Everything has value,” said Peter. “But not always the value we seek.”

Peter looked down at his rubber bands, and then glanced at the scattered pieces of the violin. Grabbing the neck and the cigar box, Peter used the rubber bands to form an instrument. After cutting a hole in the box and attaching the strings, Peter handed the homemade fiddle to the musician.

“Nice work!” the musician said. She raised the fiddle to her shoulder and drew her bow across the strings. The rich tones resounded through the tunnel. People gathered as she quickly tuned the instrument.

The crowd smiled and swayed with the newly manufactured sound. The musician had no fear and played more passionately than before. Peter took several remaining pieces of the broken violin and strapped it together with a couple rubber bands. He set it in the place where the musician’s cigar box once collected tips. People immediately dropped various denominations of paper money into the collection box.

Peter noticed Lisa returned to listen. She saw the unique instrument and pointed at Peter with a face contemplating a question. Peter sheepishly pointed to himself and nodded that the instrument was his handiwork. Lisa smiled and moved his direction. Applause erupted after the final draw of the bow, slowing Lisa’s approach.

A man stepped toward the musician with his hand holding a business card. “I’m Steven Kilpatrick from Maverick Records. Word of mouth put me on your scent and you didn’t disappoint. In fact, your creative approach to music is worth millions. I’ll give you a six figure advance to sign you to our label.”

“You’ll have to take it up with my manager,” the musician said, as she glanced at Peter.

“Well son, what’d ya say?” asked the businessman.

Peter looked to the musician who winked her approval. Lisa took his arm and wrapped it around her. With a sense of pride, Peter faced the businessman. “It’s a deal.”

Everyone in the tunnel cheered. Lisa kissed Peter’s cheek. “You might not be a great musician,” said Lisa. “But, you sure can see the value in the simple things, Mr. Rubber Band Man.”

© 2016 by CJ Powers