Local Writer: Short Story Highlight

July 18, 2017

 

Sunshine and Freckle Face

 

 

They call me Sunshine.

 

Cliché, I know, but what can be said for the minds of the masses? I’d say it’s a cheesy nickname well-earned.

 

Every human has a purpose. Their ‘raison d’être’, or ‘reason to be’. A hobby, or a career, or a talent, or an idea, that just makes their soul sing.

 

Another cheesy cliché, I know. I’ll warn you now, I’m full of them. It’s part of my charm. Of which I seem to have an abundance. For some reason, people can’t help but like me. I don’t know what it is about me that draws them in, but I do know that it’s all part of the reason why I’m here.

 

You see, MY ‘raison d’être’ is helping others find theirs. I've helped more people find their purpose than I can keep track of. I've helped creative duds realize their passion for painting, I've guided wannabe-businessmen to their calling as Sherpas, and I've even inspired inventors to grace the world with the real-life versions of their most innovative imaginings.

 

When someone is existentially lost, I provide the emotional road map. When they have given up hope, I wrap some up in a bow and leave it on their doorstep. And when they burn out on life, I find a new fire and show them how to create the spark that keeps it going.

 

You could call me a surrogate soul searcher. A Private Investigator of purpose. A finder of fundamental functions.

 

Or, you could just call me Sunshine.

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My most recent case came to me in the middle of the night. Now, I don’t mean to say that I woke up, drenched in sweat, fresh off of a nightmarish premonition of who I was going to help next, but I woke up, drenched in sweat, fresh off of a nightmarish premonition of who I was going to help next.

Then, my cell phone rang.

 

I glanced at the clock, nearly gagged at the indecency of the hour, and picked up on the fourth ring.

“What’s wrong with your grandma, kid?”

 

Had this been a video call, I am confident I would have been treated to the sight of the young man on the other end gaping his mouth open and closed like a fish. Thankfully for him, I was treated to his gob smacked silence instead.

 

Since most of my phone calls start out this way, and these kinds of things can tend to be delicate situations, I knew exactly what to say next:

 

“So you gonna ask for my help, or what?”

 

After that line usually comes the stuttering, but seeing as I had just been disturbed from a perfectly fitful sleep, I wasn’t having it.

 

“Listen, kid. You obviously care about your grandma very much, or you wouldn’t be calling me at –“ I glanced at my clock again and groaned “—this hour. You also obviously heard about how busy my schedule is. I admire your go-get’em attitude. So I’ll tell you what: You come to my office, 1312 Phish Street, tomorrow at 10 AM sharp, and we’ll see what we can do. Got it?”

 

I sensed the young man nodding in response on the other end of the phone line and I sighed. This one was going to be a real smart one.

 

“See ya tomorrow, kid. And don’t tell your grandma where you’re going.”

I hung up the phone and went back to sleep.

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At exactly 9:54 the next morning, there was an unsure knock on the door to my office before the door slowly opened and a freckle-faced head poked around it.

 

“Hello?” The sunlight glinted off the kid’s braces in a way that would have been poetic, if you were into that kind of stuff.

 

“Come in, kid. Sit down. I’m Sunshine.”

 

The lanky kid who walked in couldn’t have been more than 13. His hair was a glorious copper mess and I couldn’t tell if it was purposeful or not. He sat in the chair on the other side of my desk and I folded my hands and furrowed my brow at him.

 

“Listen, I have to be mean before I can be nice because this is important. Don’t ever call me in the middle of the night again, kid. It makes me lose sleep. And when I lose sleep, I get cranky. And when I get cranky, it’s hard to do my job properly. Got it?”

 

The boy nodded, his eyes as big as saucers. I sighed and put on my normal, friendly face. I reached my hand out and made a ‘gimmie’ motion.

 

“All right, let’s see the photos you brought of this grandma of yours.”

There it was – the gaping fish face I had managed to dodge the night before. It was somehow more fishy and less face-like than I had imagined.

 

“How do you know I brought – “

 

I raised an eyebrow and glanced at my watch.

 

“This ain’t my first rodeo, kid. I could explain every nuance of every case I’ve ever taken that has led me to the conclusions I come to, or you could hand over your stuff and we could get started.”

 

I made the ‘gimmie’ motion again, and the boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of folded, aged photos.

 

“That’s her,” he said, pointing to a faded sienna photo of a radiant young woman, probably fresh out of high school, aglow with laughter at something just outside of the frame. I flipped through the rest of the photos quickly. All the usual suspects spanning a lifetime were here: birthday parties, family vacations, candid shots, freckle-faced grandchildren, even a few funerals. I went back to the first photo and studied it for half a second more.

 

“What’s she laughing at?” I asked, looking up at the boy.

 

He swallowed, as if he was trying to hold something back. “Grandpa,” he said, and his voice cracked ever so slightly.

 

The life beyond the borders of the photograph suddenly came into focus.

“Hey, man, I’m real sorry,” I said gently.

 

The boy, who was built as if he could be taken out by a strong sudden gust of wind, slightly jutted his chin out. His face hardened. He looked at me straight in the eye for a moment, and when he spoke, his voice showed no sign of the stress I knew he had to be under.

 

“She’s not herself anymore. She’s lost her hope. She’s lost her purpose. I need you to help her find it again. That’s what you do, right?”

 

I looked through the photos again, more slowly this time. I saw Grandma, Grandpa, and a young woman who must’ve been Mom surrounding a young Freckle Face blowing out five candles on a birthday cake. I noted the same crew on the beach, doubled over in various states of laughter as Grandpa pointed to something in the distance. I chuckled at a photo of Grandma’s shocked face as Grandpa ran past her, surely pulling some unexpected prank. Then I noticed in one of the funeral photos that the open casket in the background held a man who looked a whole lot like Freckle Face. I flipped the photo over for the date, did some mental math, and swore under my breath. This kid sure had been through the wringer.

I looked up at him, and his face hadn’t softened one iota.

 

“So, can you help her or not?”

 

I gave Freckle Face a friendly smile, stuck out my hand to shake his, and said, “Kid, you’ve come to the right place. I like you. I like that you look out for your grandma. I like it so much, in fact, that I’m gonna do this for no charge.”

 

The relief that crossed his face was unmistakable and I felt a pang in the ol’ ticker.

 

Half an hour later, I sent him on his way with detailed instructions to spend as much time as he could with Grandma over the next four weeks. I told him to get her talking, about anything she wanted to talk about. I told him to ask her for stories – from her youth, from his youth, from all the time in-between. I explained to him that it takes the average person four weeks to really get to know someone inside and out. I told him to come see me in exactly four weeks to report back everything he had learned, so I could determine what her purpose in life was and help her find it again.

 

I only lied to him a little bit.

 

-----------

Three weeks and six days later, I crept out of my place at dusk. I made my way to the local cemetery, where I already knew Grandma would be. She had been there every night for nearly four weeks, always after Freckle Face was in bed. She always sat at the same gravestone, a double-header with only one half engraved. Even though it was hard for her to get on the ground and back up again, she did it every night. She leaned against her half of the stone, closed her eyes, and talked for at least an hour. Every night. It was the only time I had seen her smile in the three weeks and six days I had been following her.

 

She was so lost in her one-sided conversation that she never heard me coming. It was quick and as painless as I could make it, and when the deed was done, I trudged back to my now-empty office to look around one last time. I had been here longer than I had been in most other places, and I had grown a little attached to this small, tight-knit community.

 

I knew the death of Grandma would be hard. Especially on Freckle Face. But, to his eternal credit, he had spent the past month getting to know her life like he never would have otherwise. I told Freckle Face that it took the average person four weeks to really get to know someone inside and out. What I had failed to mention was that I was not the average person. I had known what had to be done the day he came to my office. All of his so-called ‘research’ was for him, not for me.

 

He had heard all of her most colorful stories and shared some of his own. He had been given access to her most precious memories, and now held the retelling of them as dear as she had. He had grown to understand her deeply, and because he wasn’t as dumb as I had initially thought, I knew he would figure out what I had done. Whether he would ever forgive me for it was up to him, but I knew that on some level he didn’t even want to acknowledge the existence of, he would understand exactly why I had to kill her.

Every human has a purpose. Their ‘raison d’être’. A hobby, or a career, or a talent, or an idea, that just makes their soul sing.

 

A human being’s raison d’être is very rarely another human being. But when it is, and when those two human beings find each other, and then one of those human beings goes away, there isn’t a force in the universe that can bring the other one out of the emptiness that shrouds their entire existence. Death is the only hope – the only tiny possibility of reuniting and finding purpose again.

 

I openly admit, I don’t actually know what happens when someone dies. I’ve never had a premonition about the afterlife. The truth is, no one can be certain.

 

What I do know for certain, though? Trying to go on after permanently losing your purpose isn’t anything like real life at all; instead, it’s as if light itself has been extinguished and there’s nothing you can do but stumble around blindly in the dark.

 

The other thing I do know for certain? No matter where I go, no matter how many times I change my name, my appearance, my business card, one thing always finds me again.

They call me Sunshine.

 

 

 

Part 2 Coming Soon!

 

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