Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Walk to Forget: An Anti-Chic-Lit

Meryl was not sad or scared when the doctor diagnosed her. Mostly Meryl was irritated. It annoyed her that the doctors wanted to make a fuss over it. She didn’t want medicines and check-ups. All she wanted was to live her life until the end.

There was nothing to like about the Meryl. She didn’t have a pleasant face or a pleasing figure. She wasn’t friendly or helpful. She did not like other people and was comfortable in the knowledge that none of them liked her.

So it was that when Meryl Harr learned of her coming death, nothing changed at all.

James Oliver and Heather Grant were precisely the opposite of Meryl in every way. They were friendly and obliging to everyone. They went out of their way to be useful to people. Everyone admired their attractive features. And neither of them was about to die.

Monday morning came and school went on in the usual way. Teachers taught, students ignored them, and everyone was relieved when the clock struck two.
After school the cheerleaders went to the gym, the nerds gathered in Gregory Munce’s basement, the do-gooders volunteered at the homeless shelter, and Meryl had to make a hard choice between throwing stones through storefronts and stealing sweets from small children.

In the end the decision was practically made for her by the lack of unattended children in the park. Storefronts it was; and a lovely day for it too. The looming clouds kept any would be witnesses at bay. She probably could have broken as many as ten windows, if only the first two hadn’t belonged to the homeless shelter.

James Oliver recognized Meryl as soon as he saw her face. In the third grade she had tied him to the flag pole with his own jacket on a Friday afternoon. It was early Saturday morning before he managed to gnaw his way loose. But while James easily identified Meryl as the culprit, when they filed their report it was actually the quick thinking homeless man, Phil, who had written down the license number and got her hauled into court.

Phil apologized many times for writing it down, after the judge sentenced Meryl to community service at the shelter, but James unselfishly shared the blame, knowing he should have kept his mouth shut about seeing her face.

Heather was excited about the opportunity. She believed this could be Meryl’s chance to change and how thrilling to be the ones who finally made her understand how horrible she was! She could practically hear Meryl at church, telling the congregation about her turning point and how she owed it all to the Heartland Homeless House.

Meryl was in shock. A three month community service sentence when she only had three months to live? It didn’t seem quite fair.

But life is what you make of it. Meryl optimistically took the thing as a challenge. She could quietly leave this world having unwillingly helped people for the last three months of her life, or she could make them all wish they were the ones with a fatal disease.

She broke dishes, bullied children, was rude to the volunteers. Soon Meryl couldn’t imagine how she could have wished to spend those last months in any other way.

Then one day the unthinkable happened. As she was screaming at an elderly man, Meryl collapsed. At first everyone simply watched the old man kick her, but when it became apparent that she was unconscious someone reluctantly suggested they call an ambulance.

“Don’t do it,” said James, “She won’t pay you back the money and her parents are even meaner than she is.”
“James!” Heather cried, “We have to help her, once she sees how we care even though she’s terrible, she’ll have to cha-.”
“I’ll take her in the Corrola, It’s still better than she deserves,” James said tersely, visualizing those chilly predawn hours in third grade.

And that was how everyone discovered that Meryl Harr was two weeks from death.
Heather was certain that the breakdown would come any hour now. Surely Meryl had a need to make things right before she died. Even James kept one eye open for a change.
Sometimes when they cuddled on his parent’s couch he would make up small changes so Heather would feel better.

“She didn’t trip Mr. O’Conner as much today,” James offered.
“Really?” Heather gasped.
“Mmmhmm,” James mumbled. He hated to lie.
“How many times less?” Heather pressed.
“Oh well, not many. It might be she lost count, but then again it mightn’t.”
“James, this is such a crucial spot. I really think we should pray for Meryl tonight,” suggested Heather.
James sighed, “A short prayer.”
“Jamesie, I mean, really pray. You know, instead of making out.”
James knew he’d been wrong to take lying so lightly. God was refining him now and he’d have to take it like a man, “Oh alright, I’ll start.”

The two weeks flew by the same as the ones before them. Soon Meryl’s time was gone and only her pale, chubby body remained. The day was sunny and sweet. There was no pastor and no mourners. There was only the young couple sitting on the grass by Meryl’s grave.

“It just makes you think how short life really is,” said Heather.
“Life is short,” James agreed.
They stared at the cheap plastic grave marker.

The caretaker didn’t approve at all of the young couple necking by the fresh grave. It wasn’t respectful to the dead. He should probably stop them. Then again, grief takes so many forms. Maybe he would just mow the lawn on the other side of the cemetery for a while. After all, life is short.

A word of explanation:

My sister, Bethany, and I were mocking "A Walk to Remember" and "Here on Earth" the other day. It led to a discussion about how cancer is used in stories. We're ok with cancer as a plot device, but we really hate it when it's a sweet girl with cancer (refusing treatment) who helps the rebel young man (who coincidentally has to volunteer at her place of employment to make restitution for his wrong doings) to realize he should change - as they fall in love. We find it repulsively sappy and absurd.

Bethy mentioned that she would like a story about a unattractive, mean girl getting cancer.
No redemption. No moral. Just death.


Emily said...

It's nice to find fellow "Walk to Remember" haters. This makes a nice short story, but I can't imagine it being picked up as an actual movie.

Melody said...

Oh I'm so glad you hate that movie too! So few people hate it.

Yes, I don't suppose this would work as a movie. Technically I suppose it could be fleshed out, but I have a hard time picturing people willing to spend 2 hours watching Meryl.

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