The Sign Revisited.

by Amber on July 29, 2011

Fighting to keep her writing steady despite the lurching of the bus, she carefully lettered her sign.

Then, gathering up her ratty backpack, she clutched the flimsy piece of paper to her chest and pulled the cord. The bus slowed and she stood, hunching over herself as she walked to the exit.

With a hiss, the door opened. As the shock of the icy morning air passed through her, she hesitated. Could she really do this?

In answer, a vision of her daughter sipping watered down chicken broth popped into her head.

She took a deep breath and stepped down and out. As the bus pulled away, she looked over at her chosen spot. Good. It was still unclaimed.

Shoulders sagging, she walked to the grassy median and thunked her backpack down in the frost. Then she turned to face the oncoming traffic and, sending up a silent apology to her younger, more hopeful self, held up her sign.

“Family in need,” it read. “Anything helps.”

But she wished it read, “I’m not a drug addict or alcoholic. Just a single mom who lost her job and can’t find another. I’ve already lost my car and soon I’m going to lose my home. I’m terrified that if anyone finds out, I’ll lose my daughter too. Please help.”

Fifteen minutes went by. Then thirty. Then forty five. No one stopped. No one made eye contact. Once, she saw a woman glance at her. Saw her face contort in sympathy. Saw her reaching for her purse. But then the light turned green, and the woman drove away.

As despair flooded her veins, she heard a tentative, “hey!”

The woman was back. Her hazard lights were flashing and she was getting out of her car.

Getting out of her car? Why would she do that?

“Hey,” the woman said again.

“H-Hi,” she answered.

The woman reached out and grabbed her hand, folding a wad of money into it.

“It isn’t much, but I want you to have it,” she said.

“Th-thank you. I…”

“No, don’t thank me. Just know…it can get better. It will get better.”

As the woman walked away, she counted the crumpled bills in her palm. All told, there was $123. And in the middle was a business card. “Haven’s Cross Women’s Center,” it read. “Counseling, Financial Assistance and Career Services.”

For the first time in what felt like years, she smiled.

This post was written for the Red Wrting Hood. This week’s prompt asked us to revisit an old story and revise it down to 400 words. I chopped 350 from this one. What  do you think?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Katie July 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm

This brought tears to my eyes. We never really know what another is going through, and what really struck me with this tale is what your main character wished her sign read. I’ve seen so many people with so many signs, and I know that I sometimes think the worst. But the worst is not always true, sometimes people have just fallen on hard times…and this was an excellent reminder of that fact.

Visiting from TRDC.

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Amber August 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to me!

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Galit Breen July 29, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Wowsa! This one? Is really powerful. I love that you went somewhere raw and humbling and took your reader right there with you!

Thank goodness for the lady in the car, yes?

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Amber August 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I just wish all those people reduced to panhandling could have an actual lady in the car…

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Carrie July 29, 2011 at 5:49 pm

This was so emotional. I felt the woman’s dispair, her need, her embarrassment. My eyes were watering, brimming with tears.

I love that it has a happy ending and that the right person saw her and realized she could help, even if it was just a small way

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Amber August 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I’m glad you liked it. I was nervous about posting this one!

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Shay July 29, 2011 at 6:52 pm

very powerful. Took me back to a recent trip I made to NYC and how I (shamefully) walked past those we saw asking for help. Like most, I thought “drug addict, alcoholic”…thank you for giving me thoughts to ponder and for humbling me!!

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Amber August 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I am guilty of the same sorts of thoughts. That’s why I wrote this – to remind myself that things aren’t always what they seem.

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Nancy C July 29, 2011 at 8:19 pm

“sending up a silent apology to her younger, more hopeful self, held up her sign.”

This was the essence of the piece to me. The sacrifice of her dignity and her pride to help her daughter. Feeling the judgment in those stares.

Powerful stuff. Hits you.

And then, the gift of that card and that money…you really feel the weight of that gift thanks to your perfect, thoughtful phrases. We get it.

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Amber August 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Thank you. Very much.

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Natalie @ Mama Track July 29, 2011 at 11:04 pm

This is beautiful. Just lovely. I went from despair and humiliation to hope and gratitude for the better parts of humanity. You really made me feel such a range of emotions with this one.

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Amber August 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Thank you. It’s always hard when you’re posting something outside your comfort zone.

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Wendy July 30, 2011 at 12:39 am

I could perfectly visualize this scenario. Great writing.

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