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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series

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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 April 2009 - 8:04pm.

A Change of Heart
Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

--Beyond the door awaits a whole new world, longing to be discovered--

As Eileen Lennox peered out through the thin slats of the window blinds, she spied one of the neighbor children retrieving a football from her lawn. She let the slats snap back angrily as she pulled her hand from between them and turned to reach for the phone. The number for the police station was more familiar to her than her own number these last few years. She waited impatiently as the second ring was interrupted and the dispatcher rattled off the familiar introduction.

“This is Mrs. Lennox, young man. I have an intruder in my yard and I want something done about it, do you hear?”

There was a soft sigh at the other end of the line and then the Officer calmly responded, “Yes, ma'am, I do. I will have someone come 'round immediately.” There was no need to ask her address. Every policeman knew it and dreaded having to respond to her calls. Besides, he had no chance to say more, as the connection was abruptly broken.

It seemed that what had started as once or twice a week was now nearly a daily ceremony. Invariably, it was a child or a dog or her overactive imagination, but the police had a duty to respond, much as they would like not to have worried with it. In the one instance that it might be a real threat, if they did not perform their duty, they would end up with egg on their face for certain. So..., they went when she called, but they privately thought her to be loony as could be. In fact, they took playful bets as to which Officer would 'get to visit' her next.

This day was no different. Eileen Lennox was wreaking her vengeance on an innocent child trying to recover a stray ball that had inadvertently gone into her yard. He was in and out in an instant, doing no damage whatsoever, as all the children of the neighborhood knew what a reputation this woman had. Some of the more naive and fearful were afraid they would be arrested for trespassing, even to get their own property back. These faint hearts would not venture anywhere near her yard with a toy they valued even in the least.

This day it was a rookie Officer who drew the short straw. Kevin Jenkins walked to the door while his partner waited, snickering, in the patrol car. He had not even had time to fully raise his hand to knock or ring a bell when the door flew open and a sour face was thrust rudely into his.

“I swear you men get slower every time I call. Don't you take your duties seriously anymore? You have the responsibility to protect the public, you know. And it's time you do it. I want these hooligans kept out of my yard permanently, do you hear?”

“Yes, Ma'am. Which one was it?”

“Which one? Does it matter? At one time or another, they have all trespassed into my yard. And it has to stop, do you hear me?”

“Yes, Ma'am, I do, but unless you can point out the one who trespassed, I can't know to which parent I need to speak.”

“Harumph! Alright, young man, it was that one over there, in the red shirt.” Her bony finger stabbed past the Officer's face and nearly took the end of his nose off. Why do people have to be so difficult to get along with? Why can't they save their ire for times that justify their upset?

Kevin Jenkins, Officer of the law, walked away from the door and approached the young man in question. He couldn't have been more than seven years old. As the policeman drew closer, the boy's gaze adjusted to the looming height of the approaching figure. He began to look a bit concerned and then almost frightful as Kevin stopped in front of him and looked down upon his upturned face.

“Don't worry, son. I'm not here to cause you any trouble. Can you tell me your name and where you live?”

The boy nodded his head, but was still too stunned to say anything. He just kept staring up at the rookie. Kevin couldn't help but see the humor and as he smiled involuntarily, so did the young child.

“Alright, let's try this a different way, shall we? Take me to your house, okay?”

The child turned and, swift as the wind, ran two doors down. The friends who had been watching from the safety of their own yards, or from behind bushes or trees, now ran out to follow these objects of interest down the block.

Kevin knocked and waited as he heard through the screen door the water in a kitchen sink shut off and, after a brief delay that he assumed was for the drying of hands, a pretty young woman came to the door and opened it.

“Yes, Officer, may I help you?” She looked a bit puzzled as to the meaning of the visit.

“Sorry to bother you, Ma'am, but it seems your son was in the yard of a woman down the street. She complained and we are required to respond.” It was difficult to not stare at her, she was so beautiful.

“Well, if I had to guess, I would say it was Mrs. Lennox.” The woman had a mixed look of exasperation and amusement.

“Yes, Ma'am. I assume your son was only trying to recover his ball, as I saw one in his hand when I approached him. I don't think any real harm has been done.” He said this apologetically.

“Well, Officer...” she looked at his badge, “...Jenkins, I have tried to warn Tommy about the result of going near that yard. We are new in the neighborhood and he hasn't quite figured out all the rules yet. The other neighbors tell me she is just totally unreasonable and they avoid her like the plague, but a few have said she wasn't always this way. They just don't know what to do to change the situation. I guess it wasn't for lack of trying.”

“I guess not everyone can be happy, unfortunately. Listen, I hate to respond to this type of complaint just as much as you hate to have me do so. No harm done, though. Please don't take it personally if you get more visits in the future, alright?”

“I won't. He's a good boy and all he wants to do is make friends, since his father died. I guess it's his way of coping with the loneliness. There's only so much a mother can do.”

Kevin had been about to turn and go to the squad car when this bit of news was exposed. Now he felt a twinge of sympathy for a young mother who was raising a child alone and in a new location. Nothing was perfect even when all the necessary parts of a kid's life seemed to be in place; they were certainly more of a challenge with his father missing.

“If I might ask, how long has your husband been gone?”

“About a year and a half now. He fell from a ladder onto a cement slab while on a construction project. Somehow the ladder shifted and buckled. Some think it may have been defective, others say that something hit it or that the beam it was leaning against shifted. I never got a clear answer, I'm afraid. We got some insurance money and decided to move here, away from the reminder and to a quieter, less costly place.”

“Well, less costly maybe, but quieter....?” He nodded his head in the direction of the complainant. He was captivated by the woman's smile as she laughed and responded in the affirmative to his suggestion. It was now or never. “I didn't get your name, Ma'am.”

“Oh, sorry. Cheryl Robbins. Pleased to meet you.” She extended her hand to shake his. Her handshake was firm and friendly and Kevin was loathe to let go at the appropriate time. He held on until it felt questionable and then tried to recover gracefully. He didn't.

Cheryl Robbins began to blush and looked away for a second, then at the porch, then at the Officer again. He was now blushing, too.

“Well, perhaps when I am in your neighborhood again, it will be under more pleasant circumstances.” He smiled awkwardly and began to back away from the door.

“I would like that,” she said simply.

Kevin Jenkins stopped dead in his tracks, mid-turn, and studied her face. She was being sincere. She really did want to see him again and under different circumstances. She was blushing again and Kevin had the feeling that he was, too. He mumbled something incoherent and nearly floated to the car.

As he opened the door and slid into the patrol vehicle, his partner asked abruptly, “So, when's the wedding?”

“What?!” Kevin's head whipped about in a single stunned motion.

“Oh, come on! I could see the little stars and birdies flying around your head from a mile away. I have to say, she is a looker, though.” He smiled at the discomfort that Kevin was showing and couldn't hide. “Okay, Romeo, mission accomplished...until tomorrow, maybe.”

Kevin was glad for the sudden change of subject, but he couldn't quite forget about Cheryl Robbins the rest of the day. She crept back into his thoughts at the strangest and most unexpected times. There was no doubting that he would find a way to see her again, no matter how hard it might be to think of an excuse.

A few days later, another call came in from Eileen Lennox and Officer Kevin Jenkins was within earshot and overheard the police side of the conversation and the groan of disgust that followed the hanging up of the receiver.

“Sarge, I was out there a few days ago. If you don’t mind, I’ll go this time.”

“If I don’t mind? If you don’t mind.”

“No, sir. Be glad to.”

And he turned to go, but not before hearing his Sergeants’ voice retort--“Have fun, lover boy!”

Word had gotten around, it appeared. He didn’t know how far it had gone, but it didn’t matter. This might be a good excuse to see Cheryl Robbins again. If it wasn’t, he might make it one.

After taking care of a problem more imagined than real, Kevin began to wonder if anyone had ever hinted to Mrs. Lennox that she might herself become the target of an arrest for being a nuisance to the local police department. It was one thing to call if there were a genuine emergency or concern, but this woman needed to get a hobby to keep her busy.

Kevin walked down the block and knocked at the door of Cheryl Robbins. This time, his heart was racing in anticipation and when she came to the door, it took his breath away.

“Officer Jenkins! Did Tommy get into Mrs. Lennox’s yard again?”

“Oh, no, not at all. I just thought I would check in and see if everything was alright with you…I mean, if you needed anything…er, how are you?” He felt clumsy and stupid and with each new word, he felt it getting worse.

But Cheryl Robbins was not the kind of person to react unfavorably to a man smitten and vulnerable. She smiled widely and thanked him for his kindness.

“Well, if that isn’t the nicest thing…. That’s very kind of you. I hope it was no trouble.”

“Oh, no trouble. My pleasure.” And then he just stood there, silent, smiling and looking foolish to both of them, but fortunately, her degree of being flattered was directly proportional to his degree of awkwardness.

“Would you like to come in, Officer?” Cheryl stood aside from the door to allow him to enter. He found himself inside before he could find the word ‘yes’ in his vocabulary. In a moment he had a cold soda in his hand and a light in his eyes that was unmistakable to the world…and especially to Cheryl Robbins.
The conversation eventually turned to the types of entertainment available in town and Kevin mustered the courage to ask Cheryl out to dinner and dancing. It had been ages, she said, since she had gone dancing, but she promised not to step on his feet if he promised not to laugh. Kevin would have done anything short of crime for her at that point. They both laughed when she said that she would at least be well protected with a policeman for her date.

Before he left, Kevin mentioned his previous thought that maybe someone ought to hint to Mrs. Lennox that being a nuisance might have some unfavorable consequences for her. He was somewhat surprised when Cheryl wondered aloud if anyone had tried prayer, since nothing else had seemed to work in the past. Kevin felt almost guilty as he compared his childhood training with the thoughts he’d just had concerning the handling of this situation. It was obvious he had slipped some since his more proper upbringing.

The date with Cheryl was marvelous--there was no other word for it. Every moment had been perfect and Kevin hated to see it come to an end. Afterward, he had a few minutes to get to know Tommy a bit better, too. He was pleased to see that the boy responded favorably to him out of uniform.

Kevin had not been involved in the next several calls to respond to Eileen Lennox, but he had not forgotten the suggestion Cheryl had made regarding prayer. In fact, he called Cheryl and said he wanted her to join him in prayer for Eileen Lennox for the next week and see if it made any difference in the call-in rate. Cheryl had, of course, readily agreed.

It was the last day of the week-long prayer project for Mrs. Lennox and so far there had been no change apparent in the pattern. She had called like clockwork about every other day. Kevin began to wonder when she would consider a butterfly to be a trespasser and report it. He didn’t like the negative feelings she caused him, so he said another prayer each time he had one--to repent of his negative thoughts and to ask for help for Mrs. Lennox to become happier.

Eileen Lennox was just turning out the light in her room and heading toward her bedroom for the night, but she made one last routine trip to each window to peer out and determine if she were safe and alone. As she finished at the last window, a familiar voice called her name softly. It was a voice she had not heard in some time. She nearly dropped to her knees as her legs began to shake and buckle. Reaching for the wall to steady herself, she whirled about to look for the source of the voice.

“Hh-How…Howard?” Her voice trembled as she spoke. She waited for an answer.

“Eileen. I have missed you.”

“Howard, where are you? I can’t see you.”

“Eileen, you are not the same woman I knew when I passed away. You are no longer happy and you are no longer kind to everyone. It is no wonder you are lonely and miserable.”

“Howard, where are you? Show yourself.” She reached out with her arms and walked methodically forward to discover his position.

“Eileen, you must listen. You are not only making yourself unhappy, but you are making changes in the lives of others. There are some tender ones that you could be influencing for the good, but you are missing the opportunity to do so. Tonight, you will have a visit from one who will instruct you in what you must do to become happy again. It isn’t only you that this is important for. Remember that.”

“Howard, won’t you let me see you?” Eileen was in tears at this point.

“I must go now, Eileen. Listen well and take heed to what you are told to do. I will see you again, if you are obedient.”

“Howard, no! Wait! Let me see you.” She was pleading now.

And then the voice was gone. There was no vision, no disembodied spirit, no light shining in the darkness--just emptiness again and the unbearable quiet of solitude. Only this time it seemed far more lonely than ever before.

Eileen found that sleep escaped her completely that night. She tossed and turned and could never find comfort. Every little noise of the house settling and creaking seemed louder than she had ever noticed before. Each gust of wind against the pane left her feeling cold. Even the street light that shone through her window felt like one mocking her from afar.

Around three o’clock in the morning Eileen again heard her name called. This time it was not Howard, her love. It was a kind voice and yet Eileen was frightened. She had been alone for so long that it felt a bit threatening to know someone was in the house with her--someone that wasn’t her Howard.

“Eileen.”

“Y-y-yes?” She pulled herself into a sitting ball in her bed, cringing in fear at what might happen next. Howard had warned her that someone would be coming to visit her tonight, but she had hoped it was just a mistake. Perhaps she had heard incorrectly. But no, she had heard it right after all.

“Eileen, you need not be afraid, if you will listen to me.”

“Alright,” she whimpered softly. “What is it that you want?”

I want what you want, Eileen. I want what Howard wants. I want you to be happy again. When Howard passed away, you closed the world out and became a shut-in, a miserable shadow of the person you once were. That you would miss your husband is to be expected, but you have stopped living right along with him. You died a long time ago, Eileen. You have no joy and you bring no joy to others.”

Eileen began to cry as the truth set in. She could not deny it. She was indeed miserable and saw that she was making others miserable, too. She was punishing everyone else for her own loss. It wasn’t right and it must stop immediately, but she hurt so much. All this time she had locked it away as best she could and put up a front and fought away the things that might make her vulnerable. To drop that wall of protection now would open her up to possibly being hurt again, but to remain closed off would keep her from feeling love, appreciation and hope again. Eileen wept bitterly as she saw herself for what she was…what she had become. It was not a pretty picture. It couldn’t be allowed to continue this way.

For several hours the visitor taught Eileen, giving her insight, hope and the will to live again, not just for herself or for Howard, but to live for those she might serve and influence for good. He told her that she was not the only one who had suffered a loss. A neighbor close by had also lost her husband and now she raised a child by herself in a new neighborhood and a new home. There were times that she could use a friend who understood her loss and would be a listening ear, as well as to let her be a friend and listening ear when the need arose to reciprocate. Eileen felt ashamed for the first time in ages. It was a cleansing experience that she had sorely needed.

Eileen learned a lot that night and when the visitor left, she remained awake thinking of how she might make amends for all the misery she had cast upon others. She knew where she would start, that was for sure.

Cheryl Robbins was doing laundry when the bell rang. Her heart jumped as she thought that it could be Kevin Jenkins. She had taken quite a shine to him. He was so cute as he tried to be calm and nonchalant with her and only succeeded in tripping over his own tongue. She knew it meant he cared for her and that was exactly what she needed right now. Since her husband had died, she had felt a strange peace inside that assured her he felt she should remarry for her sake and that of Tommy. As Cheryl reached the door, she saw that her visitor was an older woman she was as yet unfamiliar with.

“Hello, may I help you?”

“Yes, dear. I am your neighbor, Eileen Lennox….”

Cheryl’s heart jumped again, but not upward this time. She braced herself for the bad news she was sure would come next. What happened surprised her beyond belief.

“I wanted to introduce myself and give you this. I hope you like pineapple upside down cake. It’s been awhile since I baked anything, so I may have lost my touch.”

Cheryl moved her mouth, but nothing happened for a moment. When it finally did, all she could do was stand aside and wave Eileen in.

“I know your son will like a treat. Kids are like that. I should know--I used to make treats for all the kids in the neighborhood before my husband passed away a few years ago.”

“I…I’m sorry…did you say you are Eileen Lennox?”

“Yes, dear.” Her countenance softened briefly and she set the cake down on the table as she explained her story--how she had become a miserable shut-in, afraid of everything and everybody, but mostly afraid of her own feelings. She also told how she had experienced something extraordinary that had made her see the light and that from now on she would be a different person.
Cheryl nearly cried when she thought that her own prayers might have had something to do with the miraculous change Eileen had experienced. And Kevin would be pleased to hear of the change, as well.

Cheryl and Eileen became fast friends that summer and remained so for several more years, until Eileen passed away. The amazing thing was the large number of people who turned out to attend her funeral. Nothing that was said of her was critical. The only things remembered were the kindnesses she had shown others. Eileen had indeed become a different and better person and more than this, she had inspired others to be better, too. It would be no stretch of the imagination to say that Eileen Lennox changed her world by reminding and inspiring others to be kind at every opportunity.

Oh,…and Kevin finally got up the nerve to ask Cheryl to marry him, with Tommy’s complete blessing. They are now a happy family…a family of four.

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