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

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