Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Miracle: Another Short Story From My Attic (shorter than the previous one)

I didn't write the first paragraph.  It was provided and the challenge was to construct a short story using it as the opening.

The Miracle

It arrived in the morning mail - a small, unimpressive-looking package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a double strand of twine.  There was nothing to distinguish it from thousands of packages passing through postmen's hands.  But it was different - very different.

This tiny parcel was special because it was the only one Corporal Jeffrey Morgan had received in all his ten long months in Germany.  And it was doubly special because it was from Margaret. 

Margaret was one of his Sunday School pupils, one of the ones who made the ninth-grade class interesting.  She was pretty and innocent and a stubborn adherent of the old-time religion.  Naïve, yes, very.  But she was a challenge to him, as he hoped he was to her; he was laboring to introduce her, gradually, to more enlightened thought. 

She, meanwhile, was trying to convert him.  Some Sundays, she even met him after church to carry on their debate.  He would take her to lunch - it felt good to take out an American girl, even if she was only a ninth-grader - and they'd talk. 

"I used to believe in God," Jeff had admitted when they had last met.  "Then I became an atheist.  And now I am firmly persuaded the most intelligent position is agnosticism." 

After she had wondered aloud why an agnostic would want to be a Sunday School teacher, she had brightened.  "It's no wonder you don't believe," she said.  "You've never experienced God.  What you need is to experience Him firsthand."

At that point the argument had bogged down - how did one convince her that whatever she thought she had experienced was not God? - and the conversation had drifted to other things.  Like his court-martial the next week.  He told her he had mislaid a rifle.  That wasn't the real reason for the court-martial, of course; that was a fib.  He didn't even know why he had mentioned it to her at all.  Perhaps he had needed someone to tell it to.  At any rate, she had listened sympathetically.

That was two weeks ago. He hadn't seen or heard from her sincem except in Sunday School - until the arrival of this little parcel.  He glanced at it now, then leaned back on his cot to examine it.  Taped to the back, as big as the package itself, was a small envelope, labeled, "OPEN THIS FIRST!"  He did so and scanned the note inside:

Dear Mr. Morgan,

Please bring this package with you to evening service the Sunday after the court-marital.  (You promised.)  Do NOT open until then!
He frowned, puzzled.  Yes, he had promised to come to church this Sunday night...  He shrugged, sat up, and laid the parcel in his footlocker until then.

On Sunday night, he slipped into the back pew of the Army chapel just in time for the first hymn and looked around for Margaret.  She wasn't hard to spot; a hanging lamp, shining directly down upon her smooth, blonde hair, made her seem the brightest object in the room.  She was with her girlfriends, Cassie and Heather, and Heather's parents, Colonel and Mrs. Evanshrope.  Colonel Evanshrope was Jeffrey's commanding officer and his wife was the Sunday School Superintendent.  Nervously, Jeff patted the little package in his jacket pocket and sat down to endure the service and wait for Margaret.

As soon as it was over, she came hurrying down the aisle to meet him.  She was flushed and smiling and visibly trembling.  "Hello, Mr. Morgan."

"Hi, Margaret."  He reached for his jacket poicket.  "I - uh - seem to have received a present from you.  Am I allowed to open it now?"

She nodded.  "In the chaplain's office.  He won't be there, so he said we could use it."

The chaplain? 

"Okay," he said.  He followed her into the green-carpeted, book-lined office and seated himself in a red overstuffed chair opposite the one she took.  "Now?"


He slid off the twine, tore open the brown wrapping, and lifted the lid of the flat little box.  Inside it was - a piece of paper!  Glancing up at her, he unfolded it and read:

November 3.  This is to certify that as of this date, Margaret Barnett and Cassie Donovan have begun daily prayer for Cpl. Jeffrey Morgan for the whole 10 days before his court-martial.   Since we haven't been able to prove to Mr. Morgan that God exists and loves him, we are asking God Himself to prove it, by giving him a break at his court-martial.  What kind of a break we don't know.  We are praying the jury will suspend his sentence or find him not guilty or something.

So that Mr. Morgan will know we really did pray for him before the court-martial, and did not just say so afterwards, we are putting this note in the mail today, for him to see, whether anything happens or not.

It was signed by both girls and "witnessed" by two other girls from the Sunday School class, including Heather Evanshrope. 

He could feel his eyes filling up as he lowered the document and gazed over at Margaret with a dumb smile.  Finally, he whispered, "It was called off.  Canceled."

"I know.  One of your buddies told me at prayer meeting."  She was radiant.   "But nobody seems to know why."

"No reason was given.  Just suddenly at the last minute, the charge was dropped."

"Then it's even better than we had hoped!  Now, Jeff, now!  Now God has proved His love for you."  In her mind, there could be no doubt this is what had happened.  "Now you can believe and be saved!"

He shook his head, slowly, to prevent a tear from flying off.  "You did this for me, and - Margaret, I'm not worth it.  I've done so many wretched things in my life..."

"That's why you need Jesus.  He has made it possible for you to receive forgiveness.  If only you let it be.  Give Him your life, Jeff.  He will heal it.  He will give you peace.   He will give you joy."

"And you did all this - this praying, so I could be the recipient of such joy and peace?"  He was still shaking his head.

She nodded.  "I want that more than anything.  So does Jesus.  He's standing outside the door of your heart right now, Jeff.  Waiting for you to let Him come in and take charge."

It all sounded like a fairy tale to him; it had no bearing on real life.  Life just wasn't that simple.  She was so naïve.  And yet - he envied her.  Her faith, her vision, her serenity...

"Margaret," he sighed, "I won't argue with you tonight.  What you have is beautiful, and I wouldn't for all the world try to destroy it.  But I feel I just cannot accept it, either, without prostituting my intellect."

She looked puzzled and hurt.  "Not even now that you've experienced God's love firsthand?"

"What overwhelms me, Margaret, is not God's love..."

That remark, he saw, was lost on her.  If it were not God's love, then she had failed to bestow upon him what she considered her most precious gift.  That was all she perceived, and sorrow, genuine sorrow, was moving over her face.  Oh, God, oh, God, he thought - it was an epithet, not an invocation - and he buried his face in his hands. 

He heard Margaret slide off her chair and kneel on the green carpet before him.  Her purse clicked open, and he felt her lay a tissue on his knee.  He picked it up.  She was crying, too, quietly.

Oh God, he thought again.  The absurdists, the dadaists, the nihilists, they were all wrong.  Life did have meaning.  Yes, it might all end in the grave and have been for nothing - he was beginning to doubt that too - but meanwhile, for right now, life meant something.  It meant Margaret loved him.  And for right now, that was enough.