Jeffrey Allen Mays

Two Women

Two women worked in a field. One was very diligent. The other took frequent breaks and was considered a bad laborer.

The diligent woman was praised by everyone. She gained a reputation with the farm owners and in the markets. But the other woman had only a few unhealthy friends. By her hard work, the diligent woman raised her standard of living. She moved into a bigger house in a quiet suburb and bought many fine things to enjoy. She bought a 55″ television and she would fall asleep in front of it every evening after a hearty and nutritious dinner.

The diligent woman developed new ways to increase her production, and her eyes stayed fixed on the work of her hands. The other woman was easily distracted by the birds and the clouds which took the shapes of elephants and sailboats. She had to stand up frequently and stretch her sore back, and she would stand stretching and watch as a cyclist rode by. She would always interrupt her work if music could be heard, either from the nearby school, or church or even a whistler out on a walk. One day, a traveler passed by. He had returned from a poor land and told stories about how thin the children were there. “Here,” she said, “here’s a hundred dollars. Buy the children some food next time you go there.” “Idiot,” shouted the other woman from across the field, not raising her eyes. “You’ll never see that money again. And neither will any hungry children!”

There were times in the day when the diligent woman was alone in the field. She was already there working when the other woman arrived, and she stayed after quitting time, into the dark almost every day. She had developed a frame of lights that strapped to her forehead and shoulders, and it was as bright as daylight beneath her lamps. She only stopped to reload an energy drink into a backpack with a tube that she gripped in her teeth. She drove to work in a black vehicle and she wore a stylish black exercise outfit made of advanced material, with pink stripes down the side of the legs.

The distracted woman wore the same cotton slacks and apron every day, and a floppy straw hat with a ribbon around it. Twice a day she would fold out a three-legged stool and she would eat carrots and celery and watch the migration of the birds. When Daylight Saving Time was in effect, the diligent woman scoffed at her because she left while there was still three hours of sunlight left, but she replied that she just wanted a cup of tea or perhaps something stronger. She was thin, even without going to the Pilates class that the other woman attended.

One day in the field, she glanced up at the angle of the sun and saw it was time for a break. She opened her little food satchel and started fixing some saltines and cheese whiz. “There’s supposed to be a big storm coming through,” she said to the other woman, loud enough to be heard across the field. The diligent woman bustled more fervently as if to silently retort that the distracted woman had better worry about the financial storm that was going to overtake her soon. In the mid-afternoon, the distracted woman had another break and turned her face into the cool wind, and she ate her saltines and drank grape juice from a box. She saw clouds building in the northwest and instead of returning to work after her break, she sat and watched. The clouds came closer and were a foreboding gray-blue color. She noticed the birds had stopped singing, and wind was changing. She picked up her stool and skipped away toward her bicycle, and she shouted to the other woman, “We’d better get inside. A storm’s coming!”  But the diligent woman never raised her eyes. “Well, now,” she thought, “I can work in a cool shade for a change. It’s not a storm, just a more pleasant work environment. Thank heaven for the clouds.”

When the rain started, the diligent woman said to herself, “The cool rain! Let it come. It will pass through as it always does; but I will certainly not let it interfere with my goals.” The storm grew stronger and she determined to ignore it. And at last a tornado came and carried her away, and she never raised her eyes from her work. She continued looking at the fields and the work of her hands, even as the field turned and receded from her view, and the storm lifted her into the sky.

And the distracted woman trembled in the dry storm shelter, and pitied the diligent woman, sitting in safety among the other distracted folk who had seen the storm coming.

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