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The Value of Life  by veraelaine

     Barrgon was an old, established department store, one of the largest landmark businesses of St. Luscious, MO.  It was also one of the busiest stores, with customers going from floor to floor, looking for bargains.  Among the many people inside, was a middle aged woman who managed to reach one of the 8th floor windows, unnoticed.  Standing in the empty hallway, she carefully opened the window, climbed outside, and seated herself on a wide ledge.

     The lady was five feet, two inches tall, with her hair styled in many dreadlocked braids.  The silver strands of her hair and deep circles under her red rimmed eye made her appear older than her fifty years of age.  She wore a long, faded blue denim dress.  The pockets, on each side, and collar were trimmed with black lace designs.  From one of the pockets, she pulled a small bottle of soda pop.  Removing the cap, she casually tossed it to the street below.  The cap bounced off the head of one young man and lodged itself down the back of his white pullover shirt.  The young man bagan a series of gyrations, while trying to remove it.  Watching as a small crowd of people gathered around him, the lady laughed out loud.

  "Thanks, 'fella,'" she said, "I needed that laugh.  It may be my last one."

Meanwhile, someone in the crowd pointed upward and said, "I think that woman, on the ledge, threw the cap."

     The woman sat there, watching the clouds, as someone slowly opened one of the windows to her left.  She might not have noticed, but for the sudden squeak of the window as it was being lifted open.  The window to her right was boarded up, so she slid closer to it.  A well groomed young man, with blue gray eyes, stuck his head out of the window.  The tag on his shirt announced his status as one of the store employees.  His smile was pleasant, but concern showed in his eyes.

  "Ma'am," he asked, "would you like some help?"

Even the tone of his voice had a note of sincerity.  By contrast, the lady's voice was as cold as ice.

  "Young man," she said, impatiently, "I'm sure you can find something else to do, or someone else to bother instead of me, Good Day!"

When the young man started to protest, she yelled, "BEAT IT!"

Turning away from the window, with a tired and hurt look on his clean shaved face, the young man muttered, "I was just trying to help!"  Two other store attendants were dismissed in the same manner.

     Fifteen minutes later, the window opened again.  This time, an older man took a seat on the wide window sill, inside the building.  His short, nappy hair was gray at the temples, and the wrinkled bags under his eyes testified to many sleepless nights.  He carried a styrofoam cup, and a paper bag, from which he drew a sandwich and an apple.  As he sat there, preparing to sugar and cream a piping hot, large cup of coffee, he seemed oblivious of the woman, until she spoke loudly and angrily,

  "Just what do you think you're doing!"

She spoke so suddenly, that the man jumped straight up in surprise, spilling the cream on his dark gray maintenance uniform.  With his dark brown face now fallen into an angry frown, he turned toward the woman and exclaimed,

  "Hey woman, you almost made me spill a good cup of coffee!"

To her repeated demand of what he was doing, he replied,

  "As any fool can see, I was trying to eat my lunch in peace till you started yelling."

  "I was here first," she replied, indignantly.  "If you've come to drag me inside, forget it and scram!"

  "Lady," he interrupted, "I've been eating here for the past six months, now you show up today, like you own the place!  Eat where you want, just don't bother me!"

The lady's mood softened.

  "I'm sorry," she said in a kinder tone, "I thought one of those young clowns sent you to get me inside."

  "No," was his terse reply.

     After a long, cold silence, she said, in a more friendly tone,  "My name is Etta."

  "That's nice," he replied, sarcastically.

  "You don't have to be so rude!" she said, turning away in a huff.

  "Look, lady," he caught himself, sighed and said, "You're right.  How do you do, I'm Ocar."

     The two of them looked as though they were on a picnic as they sat discussing the weather, the traffic, and the now furious young man, still trying to remove the bottle cap from his shirt.  They even shared Oscar's lunch, while the people on the street strained their necks, watching with fascination.  The conversation took an angry turn when Oscar asked,

  "So what brings you here to the 'lunch ledge?'"

Etta's smile turned completely upside down, her brown eyes bulging in anger. 

  "All right," she stammered, "Who sent you!  Was someone worried that I'd fall and mess up their nice, clean sidewalk with my tired, old blood and body?!  Well, screw them, because that's just what I'm gonna' do!"

  "Who, Etta," exclaimed Oscar, standing suddenly.  She backed away, grabbing the nearby drainpipe to keep from falling.

  "Don't you touch me," she shrieked, "or I'll jump right now!"

As sidewalk security tried to clear the crowd below, someone shouted, "Jump, Jump!"  The crowd grew in size as more people shouted, and more police tried to control them.

     They stared at each other for a few moments.  Oscar glared at Etta though dark brown eyes that seemed to shoot sharp pointed daggers.  Slowly he spoke, choosing his words carefully.  With a cold, wavering voice that grew louder with each word, he said,

  "My wife used to meet me here every day, for lunch.  After a lifetime of drinking and drugging, I quit, two years ago.  My wife, Helen quit eight months ago.  A few weeks ago I lost her when a drug  crazed junkie stabbed her to death.  I wouldn't mar her memory by helping you or anyone else kill themselves, especially not here!  Her memory is worth more than that to me, so if suicide is your plan, go somewhere else!"

     While Oscar spoke, everything went quiet for a while.  The street was almost empty of pedestrians, tired of waiting for something to happen.  Even the traffic was light.  Only the brigiht sunlight remained, the clouds had vacated the area.  It was Etta's turn to speak,

  "At least your wife had you by her side."

Etta's face was still screwed in a frown, now there were tears in her eyes as she began her story,

  "My husband and I used to party all the time.  He even taught me how to use and sell drugs.  I got tired of all the traffic in and out of our home, not knowing when an undercover cop might show up.  When I quit drinking and drugging, my husband quit me.  He said that I was no fun any more.  The other night I came home to find a note that read, 'Good-bye.  I need my space.  By the way, my girlfriend thinks she may have given me something and I passed it on to you, so you might want to see a doctor.'  Well, he was right.  During the company physical, I tested positive for HIV and I was fired."

     Oscar's frown softened a little. 

  "I'm sorry," he said, "My wife was fired for being intoxicated on the job.  When she found out she had terminal cancer, she came  home from the hospital, sat down at the kitchen table and cried for all of about two days.  That's when she and I made a date to meet here, every day, for lunch, to enjoy the rest of our time together.  One day, she was late getting here and I got panicky.  It turned out, that she had met some woman on on the street, crying, reeking of alcohol and reffer.  The woman kept calling herself a loser, so Helen told her story including how she had been fired for being drunk while cleaning offices.  She convinced the woman to check into a treatment facility and to repay her by helping someone else.  That act made her feel real good.  'For the time I have left,' she told me, 'I'm gonna' try to help at least one person a day.'  It was worth waiting for her, to see the joy on her face from trying to help that woman.  Helen refused to leave this world known as just another drunken junkie.  She volunteered at hospitals and counseled people, til the day she died.  She was trying to convince a young girl to get help when the girl's boyfriend came up suddenly and stabbed Helen in the back.  The hysterical girl turned herself in that very night.  Helen's last words to me were that helping that girl made her pain worth while.  She died with a smile on her face."  Etta had been listening, intensely.

  "I doubt that I could do what your wife did," she whined.

  "Maybe and maybe not," continued Oscar.  "It won't bring your husband back, but it could help you regain your self-respect."

Oscar wasn't looking at her, he was staring, dreamily, out of the window at the clouds. Slowly he turned and held his hand out toward Etta.

     Still clutching the draianpipe, Etta stared at Oscar for a moment, before reaching for his hand, when one of her feet slipped and, were it not for the pipe, she would have fallen.  At that moment, the pipe came loose from the buidling, plummeting toward the ground.  Just as Oscar grabbed Etta's hand, her screams alerted a new wave of on-lookers, below.  Quickly, two policemen and one policewoman appeared to help the now frightened woman inside the window.

  "I knew it, " Etta fumed loudly, while struggling unsuccessfully to get loose from the officers and get back to the outside ledge. This time, the crowd applauded and cheered Etta's rescue. Once inside, when she calmed down a little, the frightened woman began to sob, fitfully.

  "Well, I'm a failure at marriage, job, even suicide," she cried, then glared at Oscar and said, sarcastically, "I hope you're happy!"

  "I'm am," declared Oscar, with a slight smile, "a failure at suicide means a chance for success at making your life mean something."

  "Yeah, right," sobbed Etta, as the police escorted her through the door to the elevator, "I'll let you know!"

  "I hope you will," answered Oscar. Standing before the window for a few moments, he unzipped and removed the grey uniform.  A slight breeze from the windoe cooled his policeman's  uniform shirt (slightly damp with sweat).

     When another, older man walked into the room, the policeman turned toward him and said,

  "Thanks for the use of the maintenance uniform, Oscar."

  "No problem, Officer Williams," said the man, " I'm glad it fit you."

     After the real Oscar left the room, Officer Williams turned back toward the window.  Raising his cup to the sky, as if making a toast, he said, "It was worth my time.  Thanks, Helen."  There was one cloud in the sky, and looking at it, Officer Williams could clearly see the face of a slender, middle-aged woman, flashing a lovely smile and a wink at him.


The End.







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  'The Value of Life' statistics: (click to read)
Date created: July 27, 2010
Date published: July 29, 2010
Comments: 0
Tags: bargain, life, suicide, value
Word Count: 2459
Times Read: 606
Story Length: 1