57: In the Blink of an Eye

57: In the Blink of an Eye

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

In the Blink of an Eye

Good instincts usually tell you what to do long before your head has figured it out.

~Michael Burke

Midland, Texas. January 1982. I sat on Mrs. Everett’s sofa and glanced at my watch. My last appointment for the day had rescheduled. If I could wrap this one up quickly, I could get home in time to play with the kids and cook a hot supper for my family.

My client decided on a lovely cream and rose–striped fabric to reupholster her sofa. I thought we were finished when she said, “I’d like to talk about the dining room now. I think I’d like new draperies.”

I pasted a smile on my face as she talked about her ideas for the room. Then I reproved myself. As an interior designer, I owed this client my full attention, especially since she would be spending a substantial amount of money for my services. An hour and a half later, I packed up my samples and headed home, leaving a happy client behind.

It was Friday afternoon, and the week had been long. Looking forward to an early start on the weekend, I stopped by the grocery store and picked up ground beef to make lasagna, and a chocolatecake mix. The kids couldn’t yet tell the difference between a boxed or homemade cake. Besides, they loved to lick the batter bowl.

I smiled as I pulled into the driveway of our lovely, old home. Even though the inside was rundown, I loved the grand dame. Built in the 1920s in the Art Deco style, it was rambling and spacious. We had dedicated two large rooms for the design business. Four ladies did the office work there while I worked in the field. The rest was our family home.

As a bonus to the arrangement, one of the ladies, a grandmotherly type, loved Amy and Jonathan. Miss Wilma would make their snacks and see to their needs after school until one of us got home. The kids walked the two blocks to and from school with the gaggle of neighborhood children who lived around us.

Amy, our eight-year-old, sat at the kitchen table eating a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and watching cartoons.

“Hi, sweetie. Where’s Jonathan?” I asked as I refilled her glass of milk.

Talking around a mouthful of peanut butter, she said, “His teacher wanted to talk to him after school.”

I groaned. With dark, curly hair and green, mischievous eyes, our six-year-old was precocious and funny. After the first six weeks of school, his teacher sent home a note with his report card: “If you ever want to get rid of Jonathan, I’ll take him.” I knew there was a reason I had liked her at first sight.

Unfortunately, he then developed a propensity for chatting too much in class. He just couldn’t help it; there was so much energy in his small body. After the second six weeks, she sent another note home: “I changed my mind.” If Jonathan was meeting with the teacher, we likely had another parent-teacher conference coming up.

I went to my office to write the orders for the last job before Jonathan and my husband Mical got home. I’d learned it was much better to complete the paperwork while the details were fresh in my mind. Putting off the task could lead to costly mistakes. Besides, it would only take fifteen or twenty minutes, and then I would be done for the weekend.

At my desk, I glanced out the window. Steel gray clouds were forming in the east, and I could already hear distant thunder. I thought about my sweet little boy. This morning, he had come down for breakfast in his robe. When he turned to go back upstairs, I noticed a hole near his bottom in the back of it. I asked what happened. He grinned, revealing his missing front teeth. “Musta’ stood too close to the heater in the bathroom.” Thank heavens for child-safe fabrics.

He was likely right now at the duck pond on his way home. Between the school and our house was a lovely small park with a pond in the middle — a rare treat in our arid desert climate and one of the reasons we had chosen the house.

Jonathan loved the ducks, and they loved him. More than once, he had come home with a fat duckling waddling behind him. We would have to walk back to the pond to reunite the feathered family. I could picture him tossing his left-over lunch crumbs to them, with his tongue stuck through the space where his two front teeth had been.

I spread the materials and drawings out on my desk and began to work. As I was transcribing the fabric numbers, a dark sense of foreboding dropped over me like a heavy mist. I tried to shake it off and told myself to stop being silly.

In the next moment, the premonition turned to cold fear. I grabbed my keys and ran out of the house.

Large drops of rain had begun to fall. At the end of the block, I turned left. The pond was on my right and just past it the elementary school. A ramshackle car had parked beside the pond. When I pulled in behind it, a man with a greasy shock of shoulder-length black hair jerked around in the driver’s seat and stared at me. I scanned the area looking for Jonathan and caught sight of his bright red-and-blue jacket. Four or five feet in front of Jonathan, and obscuring my full view of him, a scrawny man with bushy, bleached-blond hair appeared to be talking to him. The man’s clothes were tattered and hung on his frame like a scarecrow. I started to get out of the car and wave to Jonathan when he pointed toward me. The man wheeled around, and then sprinted to the old car and jumped inside. The car sped away.

Jonathan waved to me and headed to the car. When he climbed into the passenger seat, I asked, “Who were those men?”

Jonathan shrugged. “I dunno. They called me over, so I went to see what they wanted. One of ’em said, ‘Your mama’s looking for you.’ You drove up right then, and I pointed to your car and said, ‘Yep. There she is now.’ ”

My breath caught, and I started shaking. Another minute, even less, and he would have been gone. Possibly forever. What if I had not come home early? What if I had waited to finish the paperwork for the order?

It seems our precocious little boy had a destiny neither a bathroom heater nor nefarious men could thwart. Thirty-six years later, Jonathan has a beautiful wife and three children of his own. He is an active member in his community and a deacon at his church in West Monroe, Louisiana. I still tremble when I think about how different life could have been, in a matter of seconds.

~Carolyn Hill

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