Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Divine Redistribution

Hi everyone,

We have a new story for you! Catherine Pherson already shared some wonderful poetry with us, and now we get the pleasure of reading her fiction. The following short story is in line with our March theme (see description here), and addresses the economic inequality present in our society. In doing so, this tale also gives us a little dose of the poetic justice we all long for, but so rarely see. Read and take heart, friends!


By Catherine Pherson
Martha Lee Hobart had a million things on her mind, as usual.  As she turned the key in the final lock to secure the front door of her luxury Greenwich Village apartment, she mentally sped through the obstacle course of the day ahead. Lunch with her gossipy friends Gina and Janice came first. A glance at the jeweled face of her watch reassured her that she had plenty of time to get to the Rosa Mexicana restaurant on Columbus Avenue by 1:00.  After lunch, she would drive across town to her favorite salon, where she had a 3:30 appointment for cut and color.  She hoped her husband Don had remembered that they were going to Atlantic City this evening.  This thought reminded her that she should stop at her bank branch before heading uptown.  She preferred to take a set amount of cash to Atlantic City, and she would not allow herself to continue to gamble after that amount was gone.  She knew her own obsessive personality well enough to realize that she could get into deep trouble once she started down the slippery slope of gambling on credit.

Holding her full-length fox fur coat closed with her left hand and slinging her crocodile bag onto her shoulder with her right, Martha Lee clattered down the parquet hallway to the elevators.  Cooking odors wafted under the doors of neighboring apartments.  Some late riser’s bacon and coffee mingled incongruously with the rich scent of simmering curry.  As Martha Lee punched the down arrow to summon the elevator, the electronic strains of Beethoven’s 5th alerted her to an incoming call.  She reached into her bag, feeling for the handsome monogrammed leather case Don had given her, along with a new iPhone, at Christmas.   When she pulled the phone out and glanced at the glowing screen, she saw with dismay that the call was from her old college roommate Jessica.  Jessica had always been the crusading type, volunteering   to clean up polluted waterways, build homes for the needy and raise funds for various bleeding-heart causes.  In recent weeks, she had been pestering Martha Lee to purchase tickets to a charity ball to benefit a free health clinic in Harlem.  The phone went back into the crocodile bag, the call unanswered.

In the subterranean parking garage, while she waited for the attendant to bring up her Mercedes, Martha Lee’s elegantly manicured fingers tapped out a text message to Don, reminding him that she was planning to pick him up in front of his lower Manhattan office building at 5:00 sharp.  That man was always in a meeting or on a conference call, and an engagement with his wife could easily slip his mind if he was involved in discussing his byzantine business deals.  Just as she was hitting the SEND button, the youthful parking attendant brought up her car, slid out from behind the wheel of the gleaming vehicle and held the door for Martha Lee.  She checked the upholstery for any signs of dirt or debris before she inserted herself into the driver’s seat; you could never be sure what happened inside your car while it was parked in the garage.  Satisfied that the pristine interior had not been violated, she pushed the gear shift to DRIVE and pulled up onto the sidewalk on West 13th Street.  She didn’t notice an elderly couple, strolling arm in arm, who had to stagger back to avoid colliding with the emerging car.  Martha Lee briefly glanced to her left, checking for approaching traffic, and then pulled into the street.

It was a dull winter day, with weak sunlight barely penetrating a solid mass of gray cloud sky.  At the end of the block, Martha Lee turned left into the hurrying traffic on 7th Avenue.  She negotiated a few more turns to get to the Avenue of the Americas before pulling over to double park in front of the Citibank branch where she conducted most of her banking business.  She left the motor running, doors securely locked, and swept into the bank with her usual air of entitlement.  Bypassing the teller counters, Martha Lee moved to the rear of the lobby to request the assistance of a bank manager.  She asked for two thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills to be withdrawn from her checking account.  A few minutes later, she was tucking the envelope of cash into the coat pocket where her keys were already jingling.

As she emerged from the bank, a gust of chill wind sent the skirts of her fur coat billowing and generously dusted her face with urban filth.  Martha Lee felt the intensely irritating sting of a tiny foreign object imbedding itself under her eyelid.  While pulling her keys out to remotely unlock the Mercedes – thankfully, there was no ticket on its windshield – she tried to delicately dislodge the bit of trash without smirching her eye makeup.  At that very moment, the iPhone began to ring inside the crocodile bag.  Rubbing her eye, fishing for her phone and opening her car door simultaneously, Martha Lee failed to notice the bank envelope slipping out of her pocket and onto the pavement.  She jumped into her car, put her phone to her ear to greet Gina at the other end of the line, and pulled out into the traffic heading uptown.

As Martha Lee passed through the intersection at Avenue of the Americas and 14th Street, a petite figure emerged from the subway stairs onto the avenue, heading south.  Rosa Sanchez had as many thoughts swirling through her brain as the woman in the Mercedes.  Before she reached St. Vincent’s Hospital to begin her duties with the housekeeping staff, she needed to stop at a drug store to get a new baby thermometer, to replace the one that had failed to register any temperature when inserted in 8-month-old Juan’s bottom last night.  Rosa had known without the confirmation of the thermometer that the little boy was burning with fever, and she’d given him some Infant Tylenol to make him more comfortable.  He seemed better this morning, so Rosa’s sense of guilt had not been too acute when she had delivered Juan and his older sister Graciela to the facility on 103rd Street that provided affordable child care services for working mothers.

At the corner of 13th Street, Rosa encountered the noxious, filthy homeless man who regularly panhandled on the spot.  Some days, when she was feeling flush in the pockets, Rosa would drop a few coins into the man’s paper cup.  Today, conscious of looming expenses that were already beyond her means, Rosa handed the man the second of two buttered rolls she had purchased for her own breakfast.  She hoped some other kind person would provide him with a cup of coffee to wash down his roll and warm his bones.  She only fleetingly allowed herself to contemplate a world where she had enough cash to treat the poor old fellow to a sumptuous meal at a nice, warm diner.  If God had wanted her to be rich, she would have been born into a very different family.

Rosa’s family, far from providing her with a lap of luxury in which to wallow, was currently burning through her paychecks much faster than she could earn them.  The little ones always needed something – disposable diapers, doctor visits, new shoes.  Rosa’s husband Reynaldo was unable to work because of a knee injury he had suffered on his last construction job, so Rosa had to pay his doctor bills, too.  The biggest drain on her purse at the present was the fee for the nursing home where she’d had to place her mother Honoria.  Honoria‘s mind had become shrouded in a fog which her daughter could not penetrate.  The old lady didn’t recognize the apartment Rosa shared with her husband and children – she thought she was being held there against her will - and she would run out into the street searching for a familiar person to rescue her.  Reynaldo didn’t have the strength now to restrain his mother-in-law, and Rosa couldn’t stay home with her, so Honoria had been placed in a facility with 24-hour nursing care.  Rosa didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to keep her mother in the facility; she was already over a thousand dollars behind in the payments.  Rosa tried not to indulge in fruitless worry about this debt.  She had prayed to the blessed Virgin for aid, so the problem was out of her hands.

Rosa continued down the Avenue of the Americas, her attention divided between thoughts of family and the task of navigating through the crowd.  She was forced to step off the curb to get around a delivery truck that was blocking the walkway.  She continued walking in the street for a little way, until the stream of pedestrians thinned out enough for her to once again obtain the sidewalk.  As she was about to place her oxford-encased foot on the curb, she noticed a white envelope littering the street.  She picked it up with a gloved hand at the same moment her eyes located a trash receptacle on the next corner.  Rosa moved along considerately, trying not to jostle into other people who were sharing the sidewalk with her on this chilly winter day.  Snatches of ribald laughter mingled with irritated outbursts of profanity from some men working on an electrical connection.  Strains of popular music emanated from a radio on a nearby newsstand.  When she reached the corner and was about to toss the envelope into the waste bin, Rosa paused to contemplate the weight and thickness of her trash find.  Maybe she should check inside the envelope, just in case it contained something valuable that had been dropped accidentally.  She lifted the envelope flap to discover a short stack of currency.  To be precise, the envelope contained a stack of hundred dollar bills.

The crowds ceased to flow around her as Rosa’s mind carried her far away to a land of new possibilities.  With this windfall of cash, she could buy the homeless man many good meals.  She could get the best quality baby thermometer available for Juan.  Maybe she could even pay off her debt to the nursing home.  Then Rosa wondered about the person who had dropped the envelope of money.  Perhaps that person had debts to pay, hungry children and sick relatives, just as she did.  Would it be possible to return the cash to its rightful owner?  It was in an ordinary white bank envelope with no name or identifying information written upon it.  If she tried to turn it in (to whom?  the police? a bank?), would it ever find its way back into the hands that had dropped it?  Rosa thought not.  Besides, hadn’t she prayed to the Virgin Mother for relief?  This money – which she alone of all the passing throng had noticed and retrieved – must be the answer to that prayer.

Glancing up at the clock on a nearby storefront, Rosa realized that she was going to be late for her shift at the hospital if she didn’t fly.  She carefully placed the envelope in a pocket inside the battered, ancient hobo bag she carried everywhere, before continuing briskly down the avenue.  She would wait until after work to find a drug store where she could purchase the baby thermometer.  And then she would find a church where she could light a candle and pray.  Having sent so many prayers for money winging up to heaven, Rosa wondered fleetingly if the Virgin Mary was already waiting patiently to receive her prayers of gratitude.

Catherine Pherson was born in California and raised mainly in North Carolina. A theatrical actress by trade, she has performed in many shows, including Lettuce and Lovage, The Mousetrap, and Master Class. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Rob, and is mother to Jessica and Mallory and grandmother to Lily and April.  

Read more about Catherine Pherson on The Matchbox! 

Has this tale inspired you to want to take action and have your voice heard? Please send us your work today at veilleesubmissions@gmail.com. 

Feedback is greatly appreciated and encouraged!


  1. Some of this was polarizing almost to the point of parody. I would go a bit easier on the Wicked Witch vs Glenda the Good Witch. When you introduce elements just to show how bad/good a person is and don't develop anything with those elements it makes the reader feel like they're being beat over the head with the message.
    I think the exposition about Rosa's family showed a great example of how the polarization can be done subtly without losing the power.

    1. Thank you for the well-considered criticism. I worried that I was being too heavy-handed, but I wanted the reader to be able to rejoice at Rosa's find without any regret for the loss to the other person. Sorry if you felt whacked.

    2. Yo, Shouldntbreed. You'll gather from my post below that I pretty much disagree with most of your comment -- respectfully, of course. :) However, I do think your comment about the exposition involving Rosa's family acting as a subtle, yet powerful way to show Rosa's goodness is dead on. TRUTH.

  2. I think the intention was to somewhat "beat the reader over the head", and using extreme contrasts between the characters was part of that. Definitely over the top in some aspects, but I for one didn't feel like I was being beaten over the head :) Thanks for the constructive commenting though, as always, shouldntbreed.

  3. Whoa, whoa, whoa -- I am apalled at myself! I totally thought I commented on this earlier! I really, really meant to, because this story is one of my favs. My bad.

    Allow me to tell you why it's one of my favs.

    First of all, it addresses the extreme gap between rich and poor that exists in our country. New Yorkers see this first-hand, in extreme close-up, every single day. And after a while, one begins to wonder, "Where is the justice?" It can make even the strongest of faith question the powers that be. And this story brings that to light in the way that fiction should. It takes the reader on a journey and magnifies certain areas to make a point. So what if it's larger than life? So what if it's black and white? What about fairy tales and morality fables? Some of the most popular stories in the world are based on characters that are just as polarized -- if not more so. And that ain't for naught. Light/Dark, Good/Evil, Archetypes, Symbols, Human Psyche, etc. I could go on, but I'll spare you.

    Second, I love how this story illustrates the triumph of Faith. I believe that faith is an exquisite, powerful thing -- something that requires a certain amount of bravery. And Rosa is nothing if not brave. So often I see real-life versions of Rosa struggling to get their children into the care of others so that they themselves can go off and take care of other people, for a meager salary. It just seems so unfair. It is unfair, and that's the world we live in. But every now and then in life, something awesome happens to one of those struggling souls and they are freed from it all. It doesn't happen nearly as often as we would like, but that's what fantasy is for. And that's why I love this story. Thank you for sharing, Catherine! XO


Thanks for commenting! Please keep in mind that this is a place for new writers to get constructive criticism. So be open with your honesty, but go easy on the brutality.