Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: MEMORY LANE (04/23/20)
- TITLE: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Tears
By Phillip Cimei
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“Baylee…no, baby girl…oh…oh!” Aren’s mother shouted. “Oops! Too late!”
Baylee, a free-spirited one-year-old, was unfazed by the outcry. Both hands, like two demolition grapplers, opened and latched onto Minnie Mouse’s face—her favorite cartoon character decorating her birthday cake. She squeezed until the chocolate cake, and two frosted ears came oozing out between her fingers. She then deposited her haul into her mouth, onto her face, neck, party onesie, and anything or anyone nearby.
“Baylee…stop…stop! Oh, well, ya only got one first birthday,” chuckled Baylee’s grandma, followed by her signature snorty laugh. How ironic and haunting that statement would become.
That evening Aren stood over an exhausted Baylee—eyelids flickering and head slowly tipping. Aren gently stroked her hair and said, “Tomorrow will be a fresh start.” Would it?
April 19th ushered in this seemingly new start with a gorgeous spring morning. It announced itself through the open bedroom window, flapping the chenille curtains as wildly as it did Baylee’s baby-fine hair. “Oh, my! I guess washing your hair three times made it a little, no, a lot frazzled,” Aren giggled as she hugged Baylee. “I’ll just tell ‘em you stuck your finger in a socket.” They both chuckled, Baylee not knowing why, as Aren slipped on her little white socks, nothing cute or fancy. Aren was unaware of their significance.
“Okay, little Missy, it’s off to the daycare and my new job.
Aren walked into the federal building and took the elevator up to the second floor. The America Kids Day Care Center was bustling with laughter and, yes, crying. “You be a good little girl, pumpkin. Mommy see you later.”
Aren went on to work. A calming euphoria blanketed her heart as she settled down to her new job. A childish smirk appeared as she recalled the cake incident. Then it happened. 9:02 AM would define this day.
The building shook, and all ran to the window. Black sooty smoke billowed down the street. Aren could hear in the background, “It’s the Alfred P. Murrah building.” Adrenalin pumped through her body. Confusion overwhelmed her like a mother turning around to discover her child was missing. She gasped for air and then yelled out, “Baylee…my Baylee is in there.”
Arin rushed out. Her mind was spinning like the tumbler on a slot machine, flashing one scenario, then another, and another. She stumbled over debris as she approached a chaotic scene of screaming and crying. Unveiled through the smoke and settling dust, a nine-story building that looked like a great white shark just took out a third of the building in one massive bite—a two-ton explosive of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil will give that appearance. “My baby…my baby is in there,” Aren screamed out.
“Check the local hospitals; that is where they are taking the victims,” came a voice followed with a hug. Aren called her father and began her search.
Amid the deadly debris, a police officer came scrambling out of the rubble and handed a limp child to a fireman—covered in dirt and soot, hair disheveled, bloody and unrecognizable, all except those plain white signature socks. The fireman thought to himself, “This is somebody’s world just getting ready to be totally undone.” He raced her to the ambulance, but not before an amateur photographer snapped a photo.
Aren sped to St. Anthony’s Hospital. No Baylee. On to Children’s Hospital. She came across her pediatrician’s nurse, “Aren, they brought a child into St. Anthony’s. The description sounded like Baylee.” Aren’s eyes widened with hope. She clenched her fists and yelled, “Yes!”
Aren raced to meet her father at the hospital. Every breath she took a prayer, a hope. But the doctor’s stoic look said it all.
“Noooo! My baby’s gone!” Aren’s soul, now an empty cistern. What possibly could fill it?
The next day Aren saw it and screamed out, “That’s Baylee…Baylee…oh, God!” There on the front page was a fireman cradling a limp child—the white socks, her hallmark.
It is now twenty-five years later. Aren had attended the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial every year. Not this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But she can still walk down memory lane, in her rocker, holding that Pulitzer-Prize winning photo. They say time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t wipe away the memories. Aren opens up her bible, and with tears streaming down, she reads, “Can a mother forget her suckling child…” (Isaiah 49:15 NKJV).
Author’s note: this is a true story enhanced by me for literature’s sake. The photo says it all and can be seen by typing in “Baylee Almon picture.” Warning! Quite graphic.
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