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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Light

Many years ago a mother and her young child clung together as they trudged down one of the many dirt roads of Covington County. A man, unshaven, spitting tobacco, stood at the door of a small shack and leered at the woman. The woman stopped to stroke her three-year-old son’s hair and breathed a heavy sigh. Her stomach grumbled, as did her child’s. She hesitated for another second before turning toward the man. Her son hid behind her skirts as she approached the shack.

A black eye, sprained wrist, and other unseen insults to her body seemed a small price to pay for a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.

One chilly night, thankful the man had gone out, the woman stacked lighter in the firebox and knelt on the hearth to light it. The pine aroma drifted through the room and the woman added a log, careful not to smother the flame. The log caught fire and she added another piece of wood. The flames licked up the chimney and their warmth dispelled the chill. The woman sat down to mend while the child played quietly by the fire.

The door swung open and the man staggered in. His drunken gaze swept over the boy.

“Get out,” he said.

“It’s too cold.” the mother said. “You can’t send him out into the night.” She stood to face the man.

The boy remained huddled by the fireplace. The man brushed the woman aside and snatched up the child. The boy struggled against the man’s powerful arms, crying for his momma. The woman tugged at her son, but the man’s grip tightened. He shoved past the woman and she fell back, crashing against the wall. The man glanced her way and shot a stream of tobacco juice over her. He then readjusted his grip on the writhing boy and clamped his hand over the child’s mouth to  stifle the screams.

The man looked into the fire and back at the boy. Then, he thrust the child’s feet into the fire. The woman struggled to stand and stumbled toward them. She attacked, clawed, bit, and beat until he flung her son down. He rounded on her.

As the child whimpered in a corner, the man beat the mother until she stilled. Ignoring the child, he stared down at the woman’s body for a moment, wiped his mouth, and strode out into the night.

The boy crawled to his mother’s side.

“Momma.”

Silence and stillness. The boy cried as the pain intensified.

The fire died down and darkness descended and the young boy shivered against his mother’s cold body. He finally raised his head.

The door hung on one hinge and he crawled painfully across the floor of the shack toward it. He paused on the small front porch, straining to see into the blackness. Clouds blotted out the stars and moon and the sounds of the night were silenced, the night’s heavy curtain concealing all. Wincing at each bump, he crawled down the steps and headed to the road, feeling his way in the dark.

The clouds drifted apart and a thin ray of moonlight squeezed its way through. The boy crawled slowly, painfully, each movement agony. He slogged through the darkness that draped over him like a soaked blanket. Rocks scraped his hands and deep ruts slowed his progress.

The clouds drew closer together and complete darkness descended once again. The boy stopped crawling and rested his weary body against the cold ground. His tears dried and an emptiness grew within.

He shivered and pulled himself to his knees. He forced himself to crawl forward into the darkness, a darkness so deep all was masked. He crawled steadily forward and his hands met nothing but air. He plunged into a ditch. As he fell, he clawed the sides, frantic, until his hands closed around a root. He scrambled out, his burnt flesh scraping against the dirt.

He rested a moment and a light rose before him from the darkness. Hope fluttered in his chest. The light led him from the road and into a field. Sandspurs clung to him and pricked his skin. Weeds and vines entangled him. He yanked them away and crawled faster, ignoring the pains from his feet, his hands and his knees. Inky blackness surrounded him on all sides, yet the light still shone ahead.candle

And then a small house loomed out of the darkness. He crawled up the steps and his small fists beat upon the door. And all went black.

When he awoke, a woman sat by his bed, a warm bed with clean sheets and a colorful quilt. Sunlight streamed through the window. The woman, plump and fair, watched with tears misting her eyes. His wounds had been cleaned and bandaged, easing some of his pain.

As tears spilled down his cheeks, he looked up into the strange woman’s face that shone brightly in the light. He lifted his arms and she gathered him to her, shushing and rocking gently.

And she became his mother.

(This is my version of a true story told to me many years ago. This young boy’s mother was murdered, his feet were burned and he crawled, following a light until he came to a house. The people in the house adopted him. The man who killed his mother was never found. What was the light? A firefly? Moonlight glinting off a pool of water? A light from a house? No one knows. No one but God.)

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