6:00 A.M. Monday 12/31/12
“That stupid alarm clock,” I thought to myself. Its persistent clanging in my ears much like the other children’s perpetual teasing back in grade school. Opening my eyes in the morning almost wasn’t worth it anymore. The first image to flood my senses was the crusty old ceiling of a should-be abandoned shack of an apartment. Moving my stare to the left where my alarm clock lay on a dilapidated cardboard box, I cringed because of a sharp pain in my neck. Every morning, the same vertebrae seemed to not want to comply. It was the rebel in the lunch line, the impatient child whose ravenous desires caused him to disrupt the entire system of the cafeteria. Slamming the “SNOOZE” button, I twisted my neck back into place. I sat up in my tiny, spring bed and felt under my pillow for the thirty dollars I earned last night. “This should keep me alive another day, don’t know why I’d want to be.” I stood up to see the door to my one room abode was still locked, so nothing had been stolen. I walked over to my tiny sink which was on the opposite wall from my sleeping quarters. It had two handles, hot and cold, but only the cold one was in working order. I turned this knob and proceeded to wash my face. As I splashed the chilly liquid onto myself, I couldn’t help but scream as I felt the entire room shake. It was a tiny earthquake, but we don’t get many of those in Pennsylvania. Another piece of my mirror fell from the wall above the sink. It had only a few shards still hanging and it cast a broken reflection onto a face with a broken smile. I just kept telling myself , You’re gonna make it, you’ll get through this. I walked to the hole in the wall to the left of my bed that I called a closet and tried to find the tightest skirt I could. All the guys on Salvation St. seemed to like that. I picked a tank-top and glittery jacket that went to about the bottom of my ribs. I knew that it was cold outside, but I would make more money this way.
Again, I walked over to the sink and took out a tiny Ziploc bag from behind the faucet. It contained all of my makeup, including my Cover Girl red lipstick and dark mascara. As I pasted the crimson paint onto my pale lips I tried to keep them puffed out to make them appear more attractive. This ensemble made me look like a completely different girl. I hated it, but I knew that the makeup was good for business. I sighed and walked out the door to the right of my bed.
I took my usual route through the woods across from my house. I stopped by the old cemetery, as usual, and strode to the tenth aisle. I walked eight stones into the row and came upon a small pebble of a tombstone that had the name “Roxanne S. Jones. 1970-2004.” My mother Roxy was the best you could ask for; always had a homemade meal waiting at the end of the day, had a warm, loving, heart, but always made sure we behaved. After she passed when I graduated elementary school, my father’s drinking really took a turn for the worse. His addiction led to his own grave only six months later. He collided head on with another car on the road after drifting into the wrong lane. Alcohol has that sort of grip on people, it controls them, makes them do things they wouldn’t normally do. Daddy learned that the hard way.
After saying goodbye to my mother, I felt a strange vibe flow through my body as if I had been touched by an electric current. I felt uneasy and I knew that this day, this day something was going to be different. I felt as if someone, somewhere was trying to send me a message, but what message I was not sure of. I continued my stroll with lingering paranoia.
Turning the corner, I looked up and saw that familiar sign, Salvation St. This was the place I met most of my clients. I walked past the old barber shop, then the bank with its golden print in the window,“TRUST IN US.” I wondered for the first time, Why would you trust a bank when their only purpose in life is to obtain more than they already have? Trusting a place with greedy intentions seems hardly reasonable. I felt that that feeling, that thing in the cemetery, was provoking these thoughts. It was causing me to think, question and ponder, but I did not know why. I tried to shake the feeling and focus on my craft. I walked to a dark corner of the street that was near the bank in an alleyway. I did not venture too far into the dark abyss, but simply stayed at the threshold. A few minutes went by, then thirty, and it was nearly eight o’clock. I soon heard the monstrous belltower belching its obnoxious cacophony. Once, twice, three times, until it rang eight times. It resounded in my ears much like my alarm clock, only louder, more thunderous.
I thought I heard a manifestation of that strange feeling.
“Hello! Are you alright? That belltower is quite the opposite of pleasant, wouldn’t you say?”
It spoke again, but this time I realized that it was not in my head, but rather coming from the big-lipped mouth of an African man standing only three yards away. His language was quite loud, it was as if he was trying to overpower the huge clock, but the ringing had stopped now.
“I would say so,” I replied.“ You lookin’ for any special services this morning?”
He inquired,“What kind of service?”
“Well for only a few dollars, I could give you the time of your life, and-”
“Oh no! No no no, no thank you ma’am. I was married and am far too old for that sort of thing anyways.”
He looked like he was in his late 60’s, but it was still worth a try.
“Well, alright then. Tell your friends I’m here!” I tried to sound enthusiastic.
“I’m sorry to seem clueless ma’am, but um, what sort of business are you running here exactly?”
I simply told him, “Any kind that’ll keep me alive for another day.”
“Well this ain’t no way to live. You should be in school, trying to find a real job, trying to make a life for yourself, trying to be happy. No good can come of this sort of thing.”
He had a calm, kind tone about his voice that quieted down as he spoke. It was a bit raspy, but I assume that was only because of his age. He had a grey, plaid beret that was pulled down over his brow a bit too far. He had large, brown, kind eyes that somehow resembled his voice. He was hunched over and it seemed as if time had treated him well. He was wearing a yellow button-up shirt with brown stripes running up and down vertically. It seemed very worn, the type you find at thrift stores. Over that he was wearing a brown corduroy blazer, also very worn, with a small hole under the right chest pocket. His grey dress pants fit tightly around his waist, but they were straight legged all the way down. His shoes were black with silver buckles and they seemed at least twenty years old. The part that struck me as odd was his smile. When he spread his lips, two rows of glowing pearls shone from his mouth, perfectly aligned, perfectly white. And when his countenance lightened and his cheekbones became exceptionally visible, his wide grin emanated a spectacular happiness. It attracted me like bees to sweet smelling daisies. The happiness was genuine. It was the sort of joy I used to possess as a child.
“I would never wish this kind of occupation on any woman,” he spoke to me as if I were his own daughter. He made me feel so loved, yet I had only just met him. I felt I could be honest with him.
“Well ya see, I’m alone. My mother passed when I was just ten years old and my daddy was reunited with her soon after. I haven’t had a real family in eight years and I’m trying to make do with what I was so graciously given. Now if you don’t mind, I’m trying to run a business here, so goodbye!”
I didn’t really want him to leave, his presence comforted me.
“Ma’am I understand. You feel like there ain’t nobody watchin’ out fer ya? Well I’ll tell ya, there’s gotta be at least a dozen angels watchin’ you right now, hopin’ you turn around.”
“Who exactly are you?” I challenged. He started to seem familiar, but I knew I’d never met him before.
“My name is Henry Clyde Jones, but most people called me CJ. And um, what’s your name, might I ask?”
“Elizabeth, Elizabeth S. Jones though everyone calls me Lizzy.”
I was named after my grandmother, Elizabeth R. Jones and my mother took her middle name, Roxanne. I always liked my name, Elizabeth.
“Well ain’t that a beautiful name,” the words ran through his lips like a smooth stream as a huge smile flashed over his face. It sounded as if he wanted to laugh but he refrained. It was as if he had found some sort of irony or humor in my name.
“Did I say something funny?” I asked, trying my best not to be rude.
“No ma’am, not at all.” He finally let out a little chuckle. “Say, you got time for a story, Elizabeth? Nobody wanna hear me talk no more. It’s a quick one I promise.”
“Um, sure, I guess,” I answered, still a bit unsure of him, but with every word he was drawing me closer.
“Alright yes! OK, here goes it.”
He proceeded to tell me a story that, to be honest, I couldn’t understand all too well. He was so energetic that it caused the once steady stream of syllables flowing from his lips to become a rushing, muddy flood of letters and sounds. But again it was his eyes and his smile that kept me captivated, intrigued. My engrossment was due to a lack of hostility and a complete presence of compassion in his voice. I caught most of the general story and some details. From my understanding, it was about a girl. This girl had gone through some tragedies as a child. Apparently, God had bestowed upon this girl a gift of which she was not aware. This girl loved to draw and paint and had projects all over her room as a child. She continued to practice her hobby even after becoming a hopeless orphan. She grew up in despair, begging for money and shelter. She thought there was no way out. One day, as she lay destitute on the street, a man stopped when he saw her laying in a cardboard box. She had drawn a beautiful picture of God and all his angels in heaven. He inquired,“Did you do this?”
She answered,“Yes, I saw it in my dreams.”
He replied,“Ma’am, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but there’s a great big chapel a few blocks down that has a big blank wall on the inside. I bet they’d love a great mural of that picture there. Whad’ya say?”
Here CJ stopped and looked straight into my eyes, I mean it was as if he had seen a ghost. His eyes perfectly met mine and he began to say,“The girl looked up and saw a sign: Salvation St. The road she had been living on for the past twelve years of her life had the same name as the gift we receive from our Lord and Saviour. This, Elizabeth, is the very same street on which your feet are standing.”
I looked at him, my face changed from an expression of joy to one of perplexity. I didn’t understand what was going on. My head began to hurt. That feeling from the graveyard overwhelmed my body and I felt a bright light. I closed my eyes as tightly as I could and I heard the feeling, which I believe materialized and became a being, whisper into my ear,“Your salvation has come.” I was so bewildered; my imagination, like a ferris wheel off its cradle, was loose and running in every direction. I heard a constant buzzing sound which rang in my ears. I felt a strong luminescence shining from an unknown source. I could feel its warmth on my face but I would not open my eyes to investigate its origin. I cannot exactly describe the feelings and emotions that were running through my body, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the being from the graveyard was instilling all this turmoil into my body. I could not contain myself any longer. My eyelids parted.
At that very moment, all was still. CJ was gone. The buildings disappeared, the roads, clouds, sky, even the looming belltower. That bright light filled the space I was left in, but it did not blind me. Rather it caused me to focus my gaze on the only thing left in this barren place. It was a sign, a metal pole, with a green plaque drilled into the top. There were two words painted on it: Salvation St. I closed my eyes again and in that moment I felt at ease. I had the overwhelming sensation that everything was going to be alright.
The next thing I could remember was waking up in my bed back at home. I opened my eyes and sat upright. The crick in my neck was gone. I looked over at the alarm clock: 8:07 A.M. I could not distinguish my experience as reality or fiction. After all, the mind can be perceptibly deceiving. I felt under my pillow and instead of the usual thirty dollars, I found a little note with a quarter taped to the bottom. It read as follows:
I am so very sorry about any distress I might have caused you. You seemed very distraught. I hope you are feeling better. There is an open spot in the church choir down the street and I heard you have a beautiful voice. This quarter is for a phone call at a phone booth if you so wish to contact me. My number is 777-7777. If you have any questions give me a holler! Goodbye!
P.S. I fixed your mirror. I figure it’d be better if you could actually see back from it. God bless you!
-Henry Clyde Jones
Astounding rapture consumed my being. It was great joy and obscurity. I had so many questions that I knew would not be answered. I hurried and put on some sweats and a warm coat from my closet. I walked to my sink and was astonished at the fact that I actually did have a new mirror, one free of fractures. It had a beautiful oval frame with gold embellishments of flowers and cherubs on its perimeter. Above sat a sculpture of two angels holding lyres and on the very zenith stood a man, one without a face with flowing hair and a beautiful white gown. He was holding a book in one hand and the other was held out in beckoning gesticulation. I peered at my reflection and stared at myself. I felt beautiful. I had washed away all the makeup and wiped off all the lipstick. A feeling of extreme joy overcame me as a grin appeared in the mirror. It was the smile I saw once on the face of a familiar friend. It was pure joy.
I turned the corner back onto that same street I had been on only a day before, or so I thought. I discovered a telephone booth next to my place of business. I dropped the quarter in and dialed the number, 777-7777. It rang seven times. On the other end I heard a voice I knew was none other than Henry Clyde Jones. He exclaimed,“Salutations Elizabeth! You received my note?”
“Yes, yes I did, and I have a lot of questions, and I-”
“I’m sure you do, and I’m sorry but I can’t answer them all now. I understand that-”
“How did you know I could sing?” I questioned. The only time I sang was when I was alone.
“You get to see a lot from up here,” he told me.
“So do you really think the church would want me to sing for them? I mean I’m worthless, no one wants me.”
“Oh no dear! He wants you and He has great plans for you. He sees you, He loves you, He is bringing your salvation. All you have to do is answer His call.”
As soon as Mr. Jones had stopped his breath, I felt a strange sensation. My vision lifted towards a green street sign with two white words on it: Salvation St. Tears filled my eyes and the grandest jubilee filled my heart as I heard three words from the other end of the telephone. They were three familiar words that inevitably caused a smile to spread across my ecstatic face. CJ let the words flow from his lips and they caused my heart and soul to soar: “So, whad’ya say?”