Life is unbearable when all hope is lost.
Tomorrow was the day she had chosen. April 11th. The day she would die.
Marilyn Dreyfuss scowled as she struggled through the exit door, twice bumping the frame with the bulky package in her arms. The walkway between the post office service entrance and the parked truck was flanked with lilac bushes in full bloom, and the air was infused with their sweet perfume. Once, spring had been her favorite season, but it was a long time since she noticed the earth’s annual reawakening from its wintry slumber. Depression was a vacuum sucking the joy out of anything that once stirred her soul. Years ago, it began to creep into her spirit, though she couldn’t put her finger on the exact moment of its instigation. It worsened around the time her husband grew complacent with her as a roommate instead of a wife. Like a parasitic vine it lashed itself to every crevice of her soul, binding her to a joyless life.
Entering her truck, an empty smile tightened her face. This was the final run, the last delivery she would ever make.
Since deciding to take her own life, her outlook improved. There was power in the act of choosing her fate. No longer a victim of her own life, she felt in control of her destiny. She was tired from battling the sadness. For too long, she tried desperately to stave off the depression, only to surrender to it again and again. She enjoyed a brief respite when she took up collecting. She loved butterflies, and whenever she found a figurine or an ornament adorned with the winged beauties, she brought it home. Her husband recognized the flickering flame of cheer in her eyes, and in contempt of the relentless wind that threatened to blow it out, he rummaged through gift shops and craft fairs for kindling to stoke the fire. It worked for a time; but eventually, even her butterflies couldn’t console her. She didn’t blame her husband when he eventually conceded defeat, setting his love for her on a shelf alongside the other impotent curios; but the depression deepened. As of late, she took up collecting sleeping pills. She had a bottle full of them. Escape was the only answer; and tomorrow, freedom would be hers.
She headed across town to the neighborhood where she would make the delivery. At a red light, she glared through the windshield at the church on the corner. God, she sneered. You never heard me. Now I don’t need You anymore. She defied the familiar tug of guilt from her blasphemy. After all, attending church for years had been a colossal waste of time. Why pray to a deaf God? The light turned green and her last taunting thought as she passed the church was an old superstition from her childhood: If You can hear me, give me a sign.
She turned onto the street she was looking for, and scanned the passing houses for the right address. The street was lined with two-story, craftsman-style row houses. Marilyn slowly shook her head in despair. These houses must have been gorgeous in their heyday. Characteristic of attentive, manual refinement, the trim adorning the angular eaves was a remnant of a long-dead era of craftsmanship. “For what?” she muttered through pursed lips. Time and indifferent tenants had robbed them of their elegance. Peeling paint, crooked shutters and crumbling sidewalks exemplified the neighborhood’s decline.
She pulled alongside the curb, cut the engine, and reached for a small computer scanner. Methodically, she entered the codes for the parcel, barely conscious of the steps she’d followed hundreds of times. She pulled the package from the front seat, and headed down the sidewalk.
The box obstructed her view, so she was surprised by the tinny scrape of an irregular surface underfoot. Stopping, she twisted to look down. A window screen lay on the sidewalk. Curiosity drew her gaze from the object, up to the second story window of the house in front of her. A gasp caught in her throat. Oh my God, she whispered. The angelic profile of a toddler stood in the gaping hole where the screen should have been. Unaware of any danger, the baby was staring with delight at a bird on a tree branch. With horror, Marilyn watched a pink pajama clad knee mount the sill, and as the bird took flight, so did the child.
A woman’s tortured scream issued from the upper window, “MARI----!” A crash sounded as the package dropped from Marilyn’s arms. In a youthful burst of speed and agility her petite frame hadn’t known in years, Marilyn crossed the ten foot distance from the sidewalk to a position under the window. She reached heavenward, her eyes locked on their target, and with miraculous timing her outstretched arms caught the baby. Instinctively, her upper body withdrew to cushion its landing; soft knees absorbed the impact of the descent. The baby didn’t even cry. Her hysterical mother, hair hidden beneath a twisted bath towel, burst through the front door and rushed to where Marilyn stood.
“Oh Dios mío, oh Dios mío!” she sobbed, taking the baby and cradling her to her heart. She lifted a tear-streaked face to Marilyn; shock and gratitude shown in her eyes. “Thank God you were here! You saved Mariposa’s life!”
A delicate, gold cross hanging around the child’s neck glinted in the sunlight. The roar of adrenalin couldn’t drown out the sound of her heart pounding in her ears as Marilyn stared, astounded, at the symbol. Understanding washed over her.
She smiled through her own tears, and in a thick voice she asked, “Mariposa? Doesn’t that mean ‘butterfly’?”
(WC [including title] according to MS WORD - 945)
Author's Note: I am very excited to announce that this story has won First Place in the June, 2008 "Rising Stars Shining Brighter" contest, AND was chosen as "Invalid Item" June, 2008. My sincere thanks to all the Rising Stars involved with these two causes, and for everyone who has shown me so much support and encouragement. I am humbled and forever grateful!