Short Stories

A Short Story About Hope

On her way to the chicken coop, the brilliant sunset once again caused her to pause in the backyard, and to sit momentarily on the bench her husband made last week, at her request, according to her specifications, with a few professional tweaks of his own, like the curved edges of the armrests.

It sat by the path beside the small garden, leading to the chicken coop, facing the sunset this time of year. It was just big enough for their little family. She smoothed her hand over the sanded wood, appreciative of the workmanship her husband was known for in their community.

Tonight’s sunset brought the hints of a dark purple peaking through the spectacular and brilliant smears of yellow, oranges and pinks, that swirled in the distance with the brilliant light of the sun behind them. She never tired of the brilliance of the sunsets, most nights, savoring them as long as they remained in the sky.

But tonight was an exception.

“Mom”, the preteen called, running from the house. “Dad told me to come out and help you say goodnight to the girls.”

“Yes, come help”, Hope beckoned, admiring the way the neighbor’s hand-me-down dress fit her daughter so perfectly. It was white, sleeveless with tiny yellow flowers and a wide pink sash around the waist that tied into a bow at the back. Amber was thrilled when she received it a year ago, but it was sadly saggy and needed to go back on the hanger until the following summer. The occasion tonight was perfect for such a dress.

Hope took Amber’s hand and they walked to very short distance to say goodnight to their little feathered friends at the back of the small yard. They did a head count of the girls who had already found their way into safety for the night and then, said their ‘good nights’, ‘sleep tights’ and ‘thanks for the eggs”, then closed up the hatch for the night to keep them safe from predators, which were few and far between in the city.

As they entered the house, Hope noted her husband Tyler’s excitement as he grabbed his harmonica with a huge grin, stuffing it into his pocket. “Let’s go! We’re going to be late”.

Hope smiled at his childlike enthusiasm. “Did you pack Josh and Lindsay’s eggs? They are trading with us for some some nice, fresh, red peppers. And by the way, let me remind you that the word ‘late’ doesn’t exist anymore.”

She thought back to the time when they were positively ruled by the clocks that dictating their lives and even seem to gauge their success and failures.

Clocks were everywhere back then – starting with the most annoying of all – the alarm clock. Finding the right kind of soothing music to wake up to did not help much. Five days each week, that obtrusive, noise woke them up and each morning, they would look forward to the two days it was shut off.

The next clock was the kitchen clock on the stainless steel range hood. This clock would hasten their breakfast, tooth brushing, lunch making, which was followed by the car clock to ensure the day care drop off had been quick and efficient and that traffic jams would not mean a GPS reroute. Even the damn reroute would add much needed minutes to that part of the day.

The clocks at work moved very slow. Hope urged them forward at each glance.

The car clock on the way home from work was not quite as much an issue, but there was always that secret longing for it to just skip ahead to 8 o’clock or or 8:30, depending on whose turn it was to do the bath and story, when she could sit down on the couch in PJ bottoms and a favorite t shirt, and hit the couch. Social media browsing and posting usually accounted for the first hour, followed by binging on her latest favorite TV series, commercial-free of course, while downing a couple of diet cokes and sometimes munching on chips, if her daily calorie calculation allowed for it.

That was the normal ritual…. unless there was a fight with Tyler, or her mother or some other interruption invaded that part of her day.

The last fight she could remember was when the day care worker scolded her for forgetting to pack the Amber’s bottle, making her feel like an utter and complete failure as a parent. All the way home, her feelings ping-ponged in her rattled mind between guilt and seething toward her husband, which was the one she finally settled on by the time she had battled the daily traffic to get home. She was pretty sure it was Tyler’s turn, not hers, to fill the diaper bag. He heard all about it when he returned home to a supper of frozen pizza with added green pepper – his least favorite meal topped with his least favorite vegetable. Back then, passive aggressive behavior was not beneath her. Unfortunately, she knew no better.

They resolved the issue by deciding to write down the diaper bag responsibility on the already-full calendar that also included Tyler’s Tae Kwon Do, her girl’s night, play dates, medical and dental appointments, vehicle service reminders, haircuts and spa appointments. There was constantly something being added. She could barely imagine what that calendar would like when Amber grew older and even more activities would be added. She caught herself shuddering at the thought of adding a second child to all of this, as they had talked about.

Instead of binging watching the night of the last fight, she went shopping ’til the mall closed, spending more than she should have on 2 new shirts, a skirt, a piece of wall art she would find some space for and decorative pillows.
Instantly, purchases always made her feel better…. until the credit card bill arrived.

Even during the time of world-wide tribulation, she felt better with purchases. Stores and malls were closed so it was very different. She didn’t get to browse from store to store, checking the ‘new spring arrivals’ or ‘new winter arrivals’ or ’50 percent off rack’, or the break time lining up and sitting down for fries amongst the hustle and bustle of everyone else seeking that same high.

But there was certain amusement spending a few hours here or there looking online and making the clicks to send items to the checkout. Then, there was always something to look forward to – that brown box always provided instant gratification and would raise her spirits momentarily.

Silas interrupted her thoughts, tugging on her shorts as they walked. Although the walk to the neighborhood bonfire and potluck was short, and so was he. His little legs demanded he be carried and Hope joyfully obliged, passing along the plateful of salad to her now 10 year-old daughter so she could scoop up her son.

She was thankful for the moments that she took, simply to reminisced about the life they left behind. It was still hard to believe the enormous shift in priorities that occurred. Back then, she did a lot of ‘if only’ thinking. ‘If only Tyler would help me more’. ‘If only we could move to a bigger house’. ‘If only I could get a big raise and get a better job’. ‘If only, we could take more vacations’. “If only Amber was out of diapers”. She was always hoping for better… for more. For change.

Then the world did change. She knew her life would never be the same, but she also never imagined that it would be invariably better.

At that thought, she inadvertently quickened her pace, knowing what the night ahead would bring to her and her little family. The local people who played instruments and sang, practiced regularly for moments like these. There would just enough food – not way too much, like in the former years. The emphasis and the conversations surrounding the food would be on the quality, the seeds used, the labor that went into the growing or harvesting of it and of course, the preparation -the spices, marinades, the searing, baking, the roasting. A few would contribute to the creation of the bonfire and the nurturing of it, all night long, as logs split earlier that day would be added.

The old world that was ruled by clocks, media, news, TV shows, money and powerful politicians was now ruled by the weather and leaders who were chosen to settle disputes among the people. Their involvement was strictly voluntary and they were not allowed to accept any means of compensation.

The shift from the old world to the new occurred and the once-powerful advertising of new home and clothing fashion “must haves”, better technology and toys and cars that were all promised to improve their lives had finally lost its grip.

Eventually, people recognized they were caught in a system of constant barraging, urging them spend their hard earned money, remain in slavery at jobs they didn’t like that took them away from people they loved for hours and hours on end.

Some were resistant at first, but now agreed that it was a necessary all shift to a low tech world where simpler times meant happier times. The people reprioritized their needs and wants and the focus changed to creating a better world for themselves, their children and their grandchildren. They realized the focus should stop being about having nicer things, to being nicer people. They realized that they’d fallen for myths concerning ‘quality time”. Quality time should be happen more of the time

The shift didn’t happen over night.

The fear of the unknown was very real. No matter how mediocre or be present is, the thought to exchange it for a colossal proverbial question mark was difficult. As well, the realization that one has lived in a lie usually comes with pain. The shift had been a real struggle for most.

Although everyone who truly thought about it, knew that any ruling class that took half of the currency that was earned from the average household was a corrupted system, it was the minority, at first, that viewed it as a serious problem.

The minority had to convince the majority that this system that changed over the course of generations, that took so much from our humanity needed to finally be challenged.

The minority had to convince the majority that a corrupted system was close to totally robbing all of the freedoms of it’s citizens. They had to convince them that evil exists and that evil people find themselves in positions of power.

Over and over, all around the world, history proved it many times over. And the simplest manner the corrupted system used to gain control, was to convince the people that it was imperative that their freedoms be halted, just momentarily, for their own good, and for the greater good.

Over time the minority was successful. Despite the fact that ruling class had the benefit of the blasting their messages much louder and in constant repetition the lies and manipulations, the truth shone through.

The people rose up. They realized, sadly, that in this cursed world, freedom isn’t free. But it is always worth the fight. The passive became warriors. Those who were in flight mode, rose to fight mode.

When the minority became the majority, they rose up courageously in any way they felt comfortable, but especially with the kind of joy that recognizes truth.

Hope was memorized by the fire staring and savoring the colorful flames and crackling wood noises until she noted the activities abuzz of her community… her neighborhood.

Some were baking cinnamon apples on a newfangled invention by Emily, who was overseeing the process and awaiting the results. The funny, louder, older guy, Jake, had their next door neighbor Zach in stitches about something. She could overhear Kate talking to Stacy about her discovery of wild strawberries in the woods on the west side of town by the stream where people fished. Tyler and Amir, their next door neighbor, were chatting enthusiastically. Hope figured they were planning for the shared greenhouse. The new guy and a girl that she had not yet met, strummed on their guitars and sang a Bob Marley song about freedom, reminding all of where they had been and where they were now at. Some sang along knowing every word.

As the night would progress, undoubtedly, some of the musically-inclined would present new songs of freedom that they had composed.

She looked around the crowd and wondered if anyone else had recollections about previous years, in that old world, where most of these people would take moments like these to be on their ‘smart phones’, somehow preferring that to the conversations, the music, the interactions, the laughter, the jokes.

In one corner of the big yard, children of all ages were laughing and tumbling on the ground in some kind of new game they had invented. The thought of grass stains on her daughters newly acquired white dress, suddenly gave Hope pause and the inclination to tell her to be careful. Instead, she discarded that thought, looked above and gave thanks for the grass stains that she could clean up the next day.

Her family was finally truly free and they were happy.

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