By Janice Price
I do not ordinarily write fiction stories. This one is an old writing exercise I stumbled upon today. It brings to mind how a decision to follow Christ will affect the choices we make in every aspect of daily life, whether at home or on the job.
The sudden downpour is over. The sun is again burning Perry Johnson’s bare shoulders. Sweat rolls swiftly down his face and drips off his chin.
Perry scratches his cheek. His facial hair is still short and soft as peach fuzz but he is seventeen and it is his first attempt to grow a beard. He believes it will help him appear more grown-up for his first summer job.
It is his first day of work. Tom Hawkins, the busiest house painter in Logan and the associate lay pastor of the church Perry attends, is a kind but no-nonsense boss.
“Painting is hard work,” Mr. Hawkins directed him when he was hired. “But it takes more than hard work to build a reputation for honesty and integrity. I won’t have a slacker or a dishonest employee working for me. As your employer, I expect your best efforts, and as a Christian, I desire that all of my employees follow Proverbs 22:1.”
Mr. Hawkins decided to go home and have lunch with his wife when the rain began. He would be returning soon to judge Perry’s progress. Perry wants to make a good impression. He finishes scraping loose paint off the west side of Miss Lila’s old house.
Miss Lila was born and raised in the house. She and her husband, Joe, raised their own family there too. Now, she is preparing to sell this house and move into a small trailer on her oldest son’s property. A rumor has been making the rounds in Logan that Joe distrusted banks. Supposedly, he hid their cash, and when he died suddenly of a massive heart attack, Miss Lila didn’t have a clue as to where their savings were hidden. She is living on a small pension and can’t afford to hold onto the family home.
Perry is hungry but the rain delay has put them behind schedule. He reaches deep into a pocket of his denim shorts and pulls out a quarter. Heads, I eat first. Tails, I start scraping the paint off the north side of the house before I eat.
He flips the quarter into the air. It hits the porch railing and sails into some nearby bushes. Perry needs to find that quarter. Until he is paid he has only $7.27 and his mother’s birthday is in two days. He parts two bushes and finds himself in a small clearing on a downhill slope surrounded by tall, thick bushes. As he leans down to pick up his quarter, he is surprised to see the top of a large cage jutting out of the mud.
What an odd place to find a cage, Perry thinks. It must have been thrown out. I wonder if Miss Lila would let me have it if I dig it up? If I clean it and remove the rusty door, it might make a nice birdfeeder for Mom’s birthday present. That is, if it can be salvaged.
He looks around for something to dig with and remembers noticing a shovel leaning against the old shed in the back yard. He digs some and then tries to rock the cage loose, but it is deeply embedded. It seems almost as if it has been buried and the topsoil has washed downhill from heavy rains, but that isn’t possible. No one would bury a bird cage. He continues digging until he is able to remove the cage from the mud.
The cage is filled with a black plastic trash bag held closed with a twist tie. Perry untwists the tie, expecting to find a bag of trash. Inside is another bag of clear, heavier plastic. Perry’s eyes widen as he begins to pull out hundred dollar bills by the handful.
He hears Mr. Hawkins calling his name from the front of the house. There is no time to count the money, but it is more than Perry has ever imagined he would see at one time. He has a whole lifetime stretching before him. He is broke. There is only one thing for him to do in this situation.
Later, as the family is eating dinner Perry answers a knock at the front door. He is astonished to see a deputy standing on the stoop.
“I’m looking for Perry Johnson,” the deputy says.
“I’m Perry. What do you want?” he asks nervously.
The deputy reaches for him and a viselike grip closes over his shoulder. “I’m Deputy Collins, Miss Lila’s nephew. She asked me to thank you for what you did today. The money has been deposited in the bank and Miss Lila will be taking the family home off of the market. The media has learned of your honesty and integrity, so expect to hear from them at any time.”
As the deputy leaves, Perry closes the door. A slow smile lights his face, as he realizes he has kept his word to Mr. Hawkins and followed Proverbs 22:1. He heads back to the kitchen, resumes his seat at the dinner table, and bites into a large slice of cold watermelon.
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches. Proverbs 22:1
© 2006 Janice Price