Winter, 2004
24-Hour Short Story Contest
3rd Place Winner!


She looked behind her once again before she pushed open the largest door in the house. She only had a few seconds to search her employer's office or she risked detection. Her eyes were immediately drawn to a handwritten note sitting in the middle of the desk...

By Kathleen K. Andrews, Jacksonville, FL

If you've never jumped into a roof-high pile of dazzlingly colored maple leaves or careened down a snow-packed hill on an 8-seater toboggan, then it might be difficult to imagine life in Hyde Park, a tiny town in upstate New York. Our playground was Cornelius Vanderbilt's estate. Our adventure was climbing the wall into FDR's Rose Garden or sneaking through the woods to Mrs. Roosevelt's Valkill.

But, as most kids in town, we were raised by the "firm but fair" method of parenting. We had fun, but we had chores, too. Honesty, hard work, and good manners were expected. By our teen years, we'd already done a life's worth of babysitting, lawn mowing, and newspaper delivering. That's when we were expected to get our work papers and a summer job.

I got my first job the summer I turned 14. My dad's friend, Tubby Kernan, was Mrs. Roosevelt's driver and handyman. Tubby got me a job working in the garden at Valkill, pulling weeds and raking leaves. I daydreamed as much as I worked. I'd catch glimpses of the First Lady coming and going with Tubby, or entertaining visitors in the sunroom of the main house.

One midsummer's day, the gardening staff was summoned for instructions from the grand dame herself on preparing the grounds for the annual Labor Day gathering. It was my first time inside and history hung in the air like smoke at a barbecue. Photos on the walls matched the ones I'd seen in my American History book-FDR with Winston Churchill, Mrs. Roosevelt surrounded by children in Latin America, kings and commoners, alike.

As we approached her office, we heard conversation coming from inside. Mrs. Roosevelt was clearly upset. We hesitated until she motioned us in. This room, too, was filled with memorabilia. I found myself half listening to Mrs. Roosevelt's gardening instructions as my eyes wandered the room. My gaze fell on an old wooden wheelchair in the corner and a walking stick leaning againsther desk. An assortment of treasures lay on the desk, but in the center a slip of paper caught my eye. It was a note that read, "229-2389, Timmy, $500.10 car repair."

I gasped. The phone number was our home phone! Timmy is my second and most favorite brother. An active little boy, he'd spent the better part of his seven years in his room for some misadventure. And $500.10 for car repairs. What had he done now? My family couldn't afford that kind of expense! This meant big trouble.

My mind was spinning as we were ushered back out to the garden. There had to be something I could do to. This would kill my father, but probably not before he'd gotten to Tim. Then it struck me. Once Tubby and Mrs. R. had gone into town, I'd creep back into the house and retrieve the note. She wouldn't try to call until Dad got home from work, and maybe she'd forget by then, if the note to remind her was gone.

The crunching of the driveway gravel signaled me that the shiny, although bruised, car was leaving Valkill. With an over-the-shoulder remark to thegardener about thirst, I detoured to the house. Glancing over my shoulder once again before I pushed open the door, I raced to her office. I only had a few seconds to search my employer's desk or risk being caught. Unfazed by Richard Nixon's smiling face looking down on me as I went to grab the note, footsteps on the patio stopped me short. Panicked, I snatched a pen from the desk,and altered the phone number and scurried from the house. Another home in Hyde Park would get a surprising phone call that evening.

Arriving home after work, I headed straight for Timmy's room where he was once again confined. Favorite or not, I stripped him from the floor and demanded an explanation as he dangled in mid-air. With large, well-practiced tears, he explained he'd been pedaling down the sidewalk on his brother's too-big bike, lost control, and careened into the side of long, black car parkedat the curb. Tearfully, he said this very tall, horse-faced, old lady had scolded him properly and demanded his name and phone number. He sputtered that he'd meant to tell Mom or Dad, but he was already in trouble for taking the bike.

After dropping him back to the floor and lecturing him about telling the truth, I began to have my own pangs of conscience. My mother's face always interjected itself into my mind when I even thought about doing something I shouldn't. Now that I'd actually done the deed, her countenance was relentless. For three sleepless nights and bone-tired days, she plagued me with remonstrations of honesty and good character.

By the third day, I could no longer deal with the onslaught of conscience. I dragged myself to the front door of Valkill, knocked half-heartedly, and Mrs. Roosevelt herself opened the door. As the words of my confession tumbled out like a dam breaking, she stood regally in the doorway. I begged her not to call my father and said that I would surrender my income for the summer as payment for Timmy's actions and in restitution for my misdeeds. Without a word, she extended her hand and took my dirt-encrusted fingers in an acknowledgement of the deal.

I worked out the rest of the summer as promised and lived a solitary school life as a teenager without cash. My parents never questioned my staid social life, prideful that I was being so responsible.

Mrs. Roosevelt died that November. The world came to Hyde Park to celebrate her life and mourn her passing. Marine One brought a solemn, young president, whose own death devastated us a year hence. Watching the funeral cortege pass our home, I realized she'd never spoken of our incident to my father. My remorse and shame were threaded with gratitude.

Early the following Spring, Tubby stopped by to see Dad and handed me a small package with the presidential seal and my name handwritten on the front. In the solitude of my room, I slit the envelope's seam releasing a notecard monogrammed ER, the altered note, five $100 bills and a dime. In sprawled handwriting, her notecard dated November 1962 read; "My husband often praised others for courage and caring. It would dishonor his memory for me to do less. I acknowledge yours. Sincerely, Eleanor Roosevelt."

Clutching the dime in my fist, I wept the first tears of the woman I would become.

What Kathleen won:

$200 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)


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