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Francis and Mary

by Tricia Akins 7 months ago in Series · updated 7 months ago
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A tale of change

Francis felt rotten! The screen door slammed behind him as he headed out. Yup, he felt rotten alright. Rotten like an apple, all shiny and bright on the outside, and mushy and brown on the inside.

He knew he looked good. Well, at least he thought he did. The girls always called him cute. His mother did too, “don't think cause you’re you’re going to get away with this one!” was something he heard often. Lately on a daily basis.

He walked with a slouch, hair in his eyes, hands in his pockets and scuffing his feet. His mother was constantly nagging him to stand up straight and get his hair out of his eyes! “Stop scuffing your feet, Francis. You'll ruin your shoes!”. He could hear her now. His mother was always yelling at him. “Francis, clean the kitchen!” rancis, did you do your homework?” “Francis, where's the clicker?!?”

Mrs. Mathers drove by and beeped. Francis looked up. She smiled and waved. Francis didn't. Francis almost never smiled and even he when did, it was usually only a half smile – that kind of smile that never quite met his eyes. He gave her a half-wave, half-salute. “Why did she always do that?”, he wondered. “It's annoying. She doesn't even like me. So why does she bother to wave?” Mrs. Mathers never let William come over, and he could only go to her house when she was home. That was one of Francis's pet peeves, fake people. Like, was he really that bad?

Everyone knew he was rotten. Especially his teachers. Didn't he always get blamed whenever anything happened?

Some days he wondered why he even got out of bed!

“Bzzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzzz”...... “Where the heck is my phone?” thought Francis, still in that ½ awake, ½ asleep stage. The stage that you could so easily rollover and go back to sleep if there wasn't an annoying sound invading his brain. Rolling over, Francis reached to grab his phone off the table, that was full of stuff he should have thrown out months ago. Knocking everything over, Francis grabbed and phone. Francis rolled his eyes, “ it's MOM. Unbelievable.

“Francis”, he heard, “are you still sleeping?”, in that Oh My God, you are going to be late for school voice.”You need to get up now. You have chores to do before you leave for school.”

“Francis”, “make sure you feed the dog.”

“I will,” he said, annoyed that she would think she had to remind him. “It's your dog Francis. I promise I'll feed it, Mom. I promise I'll walk it Mom, I promise I'll clean up after it Mom.,” she said, sounding just as annoyed as Francis.

“Who knew that it would want to go for a walk everyday!”. And Francis had never seen anything poop so much in his life. Right in front of the door every time! The latest was “The next time I have to ask you to take care of it, I am giving it away!”

Francis had every intention of feeding the dog, he really did. But Scott texted him and he got so involved that he forgot the time and then suddenly he was going to miss the bus! He ran out the door, forgetting to feed the dog. Now all day he had to worry about that!

The first part of the day wasn't so bad, even though Mr. Ellis asked him for his book report, that was 5 days late, that he hadn't even read the book for yet. “You kids spend too much time on face book. It's ruining your education,” he said. “Like you've ever even been on face book,” thought Francis.

“If that book report is not in tomorrow, you will get an F and that could cause you not to pass this class. And you NEED this class to move forward,” said Mr. Ellis, almost too cheerfully if you asked Francis.

Later, in study, Mrs. Leopold started in on him. “Francis,” she said, “You must have homework to do. Put the phone away and do it!”

“Make me,”said Francis to himself. Only it wasn't to himself. He actually said those words.....out loud....in front of everyone.

“What did you say?”, she asked, in that now you are really in trouble tone that his mother and teachers used when he was really in trouble!

Francis could feel his face heating up. “Nothing?”, in that on my god please tell me I didn't say that out loud tone.

Everyone laughed, that is everyone but Mrs. Leopold.

“Go to the office NOW! And leave your phone with me. I will personally give it to your mother!”

“Ooooo,” thought Francis, thankfully this time in his head.

Francis sauntered to the front of the class and slammed his phone on her desk.

He didn't bother to look up when he walked out of the class. He could see them updating their status's.

He must have waited hours for the principal to call him in. Francis actually liked the principal. Well, as much as you could like a principal. But at least he was fair. And understanding. At least he had been in the past. Francis wasn't too sure how he was going to react to this one.

“Well, hello Francis,” he said. “Hello, Mr. Routh,” answered Francis. “What brings you here?' asked Mr. Routh in that I know why you're here but want you to tell me tone. “Remember when we talked about me learning to control my mouth and change my attitude? Well, I failed. I honestly thought that I thought it, Mr. Routh!” said Francis in that please believe me because I am telling the truth tone.

“I don't know what I'm going to do with you Francis,” said Mr. Routh in that you are in so much trouble tone.” “Great,” thought Francis just as his mother walked in.

***

“I can't believe this,” said Francis, to himself of course. He had really been working on that, making sure he didn't say everything he thought. “I can’t believe they are making me volunteer here.”

The building was brick, big and ugly! He could smell the urine on the sidewalk. Why couldn’t he just have written I will think before I speak 100 times like before. “Maybe because you’re hopeless,” he said to himself, only this time it was out loud. The guy sitting in the door next to the door he had to walk in looked at Francis kind of funny. “Yeah,” thought Francis, “Like you got room to talk.”

Francis slammed the car door shut! “Francis, you don’t know what hopeless is,” said his Mother, as she sat in her car ready to drive away. “Keep your eyes open and please try to keep your mouth shut. And remember.” “Yeah, yeah I know,” said a very angry Francis, “you’re doing this because you love me.” Francis couldn’t believe they were making him do this!

Francis walked into the building, ignoring the guy sitting next to the door. The stairway was steep and creepy, like the kind you read about in scary books where get accosted by derelicts and demons of all types!

“What have I gotten myself into?”, thought Francis, He let out one of those I’ve held my breath as long as I can but now I need to breathe breaths, but it didn’t make him feel any better. At the top of the stairs there were three doors. “Which one is it?,” thought Francis, out loud of course, which was actually good this time because from behind the door at the top of the stairs he heard someone say “In here.” Francis opened the door and peeked in.

“Well, don’t just stand there, come on in!” The lady behind the desk had to be 100 years old. She was as round as she was tall. She said her name was Mary. Mary ran the shelter. As he followed her around while she showed him the place all Francis could think about was what would happen if she fell down. He saw himself just rolling her around, her little feet just wiggling away. Shaking his head, he tried to erase the image. He heard her say “and we keep those in here.” “What the heck did I miss?” thought Francis, out loud and as clear as day.

“Francis”, asked Mary “are you daydreaming?” “Did you know that people who daydream are more creative?” she asked him, instead of yelling at him for not paying attention. “Umm, no.” said Francis. “And believe me I am not creative. I can’t even draw a tree.” Mary told him that was because he hadn’t learned how to harness all of it yet, but he would. Starting now, with her. But he had to promise to work on only daydreaming while on break!

The rules were simple.

Do every job to the best of his ability.

No chewing gum (it ruined the floors and “didn’t I see the outside sidewalk, what a mess!”

No talking or texting on his phone , which was definitely not a problem since he still hadn’t gotten it back.

Be nice to everyone he came across while at the shelter, since their time here maybe the “best part of their day and we want to make it even better”.

This was the hardest. He had to find one thing a day to smile about.

Did she know who she was talking to?

Everyday after school, Francis volunteered at the shelter, volunteer not the adjective that he would have used. Forced was the adjective he would use to describe it!

The clientele changed on a regular basis, but the work did not. First he had to sweep and clean the stairway and hallway, as if that would really help it. Then he had to empty the trash. And then he cleaned whatever Mary had for him. Somedays it was the windows, others is was the floors and she even had him disinfect the toys the kids played with. Lately she had been talking about painting the place. Francis didn't understand why any of this mattered. Mary insisted that it “brightened the place up” and “everyone deserved a happy place”. It was a homeless shelter for pete's sake. Where people who had nowhere else to go. How much could you brighten that up?

Mary was always in a good mood. Everytime he walked in, she had a smile on her face and a “song in , her heart”. At least that was what she said when he asked her why she was always so happy. Francis couldn't figure it out, but he hoped it wasn't contagious. He did his chores without complaint, which was rare. He actually didn't mind going. It was kind of fun. Even rarer! He found himself looking forward to it. The rarest!

One day, a day like any other, Francis walked into the shelter and Mary wasn't there. There was a stranger behind the desk. Someone else was behind the welcome desk. “Wonder where Mary is?”, thought Francis. “She's in the hospital!”, said Ruthann (she was wearing a name tag). Francis couldn't believe it! He swore he said that in his head. It was starting all over again! “I could see the question on your face”, the stranger said, as if she knew what he thinking. “She's going to be okay. It should only be a few days before she's back!”

Francis went about his day, but everything felt just not right. Everywhere he went he expected to see Mary. Was she ok? What happened to her? When he finished emptying the trash, Francis approached the lady behind the desk. “What was her name again?” he thought, hoping that he actually thought it. Unlike Mary, she didn't follow him around, talking about her day or about the people who were there. Mary managed to know a little something about every person that walked through the doors. Francis didn't know how she did it, but Mary managed to make everyone feel just a little special!

“I'm done with the trash,” he said. “Mary keeps a list of things that she needs me to be do here,” adding things to it on an hourly basis, he thought with a smile. “ She calls it her little things list. The things that mean the most. I'm still not sure what she means by that, but I would love it if you would give me that list”. Ruthann looked at Francis like he had two heads. It wasn't often that a young man was looking for more work to do!“Well Francis, I can't seem to find that list. Do you happen to remember what was next?”.

He couldn't remember. Francis had looked at her list at least 100 times. Mary would scratch off what he did, but was constantly adding more things to do. The never ending list, as she so lovingly called it. Francis thought about how many times he wished the list would get lost and here it was finally lost.

Francis walked around the center. Each room served a purpose. Had a name. The bathroom and kitchen spoke for themselves. The baby room had a few cribs and rocking chairs, the library had a couch and a tv, bookshelves filled with books. The play room was there for all the kids who never got a chance to just play. What kind of kid didn’t get the chance to play?

Why couldn't he remember what was next? Maybe he should go to the hospital and ask Mary. That's what he would do. It was the only way, right?

Saturday came and Francis had the day off. It started simply enough. He remembered to feed the dog, on his own, with no nagging. “What's the matter with me?”, he thought. “Hmmm?', asked his mother, looking up from the paper. Francis just rolled his eyes. He was thinking he was talking to himself, and people kept answering him and when he thought he was talking out loud no body could hear him! He found himself looking for more chores to do. “Something is definitely the matter with me!”.

“Francis, what are you mumbling about. You've been walking around here talking to yourself for the last hour. Weren't you going to visit that lady from the shelter today?”

Francis walked into the hospital room and saw Mary. She looked so frail lying there. He was afraid she was dead, but then Mary opened her eyes. Not sure what he actually expected, Francis was so relieved he actually smiled! He didn't know how worried he had been, but the relief he felt was so intense, he must have been more worried about her then he realized. “Francis, don't just stand there. Come in and let me look at you”, said Mary, as bossy as ever. Francis shuffled over to the bed. “I hear you've been at the shelter everyday Francis. You are making me very proud!”.

Francis felt proud. And he felt happy. “I was so worried about you Mary, I don’t know what I would do without you.” Well love thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that now do we?”.

Francis mom pulled up to the curb. “Thanks mom, I’ll see you at 6?”.

“I can't believe this”, he thought as he watched the little boy play with the fire truck. “Mary was right. Francis walked over to the boy. “Hi, my name is Francis. Can I play with you?”

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Tricia Akins

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