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Story 1: Starfish

by Tuckster


Story 1: Starfish

“Random acts of kindness, however small it may be, can transform the world.”

― Amit Ray, Walking the Path of Compassion

The bright sunlight woke Russell earlier than he wanted to rise, and he squinted into the light as he shifted onto his other shoulder. His right arm was sore from lying on the hard, cold pavement all night, but he had no place to stay and no energy to move. His mouth was parched and his stomach was empty, but there was no immediate solution to either of those problems. His physical and mental health were in sharp decline, but he had no one to turn to, no way of picking himself back up again.

He felt something hard hit him in the side, right below his protruding ribcage, and squinted up at the sun to see an immaculately dressed businessman staring down at him. "You're blocking the whole street! The homeless population is unsightly to this city. They're an eyesore! Can't you move somewhere else?" he snapped.

Russell pushed himself into a sitting position and mumbled an apology.

"Look at me when you're talking to me! No wonder you can't find a job. You have no sense of basic respect. People like you belong on the street," the businessman spat. He shook his head and then continued walking without even a backwards glance

Russell sank back down, swiping his matted, gray hair out of his face. His head lolled backwards onto the pavement, and he closed his eyes for another nap. Next time, he promised himself, he would get up and scrounge for food. Next time…

~

Russell awoke randomly some time later. He had no way of knowing how much time had passed, but he guessed about an hour. The rumbling in his stomach was impossible to ignore now. He pushed himself to his feet and ambled into the streets, which were still filled with people moving purposefully from one place to another.

He sank onto a bench in the park and watched everyone mill around. It seemed as if everyone had a purpose except for him. After a while, the busyness made his head spin, so he closed his eyes for a few minutes before standing up and wandering over to the local Starbucks.

The line was out the front door. Russell sighed and leaned against the doorframe as he waited for the line to shorten. Slowly, the line dwindled until Russell was up at the counter. The barista wrinkled his nose at Russell but still recited his line: "What can I get for you today, sir?"

"Just a water, please." The smell of the fresh baked muffins made Russell's stomach hurt, and the gentle alternative music in the background made his head spin. Coming here had been a mistake. He should just leave.

As he turned to leave, dazed, a gentle but firm hand gripped his shoulder. "Stay. Please."

Russell's gaze traveled from the perfectly manicured, delicate hand to the caring, round face of a woman in her mid-thirties. A large red purse dangled from her shoulder, and she was fishing around in the pockets of her new, skinny jeans for a ten dollar bill. "Please, let me buy you something."

"I should go." Russell's words were so faint the music drowned them out, and he didn't have the heart to repeat them. "Nobody wants me here," he said a little bit louder, and this time his new friend heard them.

"I want you here." The woman held his gaze, her piercing blue eyes boring straight into his soul. "Please, let me buy you something," she repeated.

Russell relented and turned back around. The woman stepped up to the counter and placed the wrinkled $10 bill on the counter. "One tall skinny caramel macchiato and one breakfast sandwich, please."

The barista eyed them disdainfully but nodded. "Name for the order?" he asked as he held out her change.

"Lisa." The woman, Lisa, accepted the change and handed it to Russell. "For later," was all she said, and Russell was too tired to reject it. "Thank you," was all he managed.

The barista handed Russell his sandwich, and he bit into it eagerly. The woman walked him over to a table where they waited for her drink.

Russell was too hungry to make conversation as he devoured the sandwich. As soon as he finished, the barista called Lisa's name, and as she went up, she ordered another sandwich with her credit card. The barista sighed but handed her another one, and she slid the sandwich to Russell without another word.

Russell accepted the sandwich and devoured it. Once he finished, contented for the first time in weeks, he leaned back and watched her as she sipped her coffee, her blue eyes peering over the lid.

"Why are you doing this?" he managed to ask.

Lisa set her drink down and searched his tired, brown eyes. "Have you heard the story of boy who rescued starfish at the beach?"

"No," Russell admitted. "What does that have to do with this?"

"Well, the story goes that a young boy was at the beach and saw starfish had washed ashore and had no way of getting back into the ocean as the tide was going out. So he picked them up one by one and threw them back into the ocean. A man passing by asked him why he was doing this. 'Surely you know you can't save all of them', the man said. 'There are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish per mile. It won't make a difference!' The boy looked at him as he threw another starfish into the sea and said 'It made a difference to that one.'"

"What does that have to do with me?" Russell's head still felt slow, despite the food in his belly.

Lisa smiled at him. "This is me throwing you back into the sea. Now all that you have to do is swim."


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Wed Sep 25, 2019 4:46 am
mdjones199 wrote a review...



Hi Tuckster!

I really enjoyed this story as I am a softy. I liked how you took us to a point of view of someone we all see and recognize, even pity and sympathize sometimes, but maybe never put realistic thought into their position.

You did a wonderful job of setting up the atmosphere for us to feel compelled to long for happiness for Russell. i feel like the scene with the businessman really set that up well. I also thought it was a nice touch on just how exhausted Russell was by adding the "next time" bit. That part truly broke my heart and sold me on the sympathy I wanted to pour out to him and I feel without that little piece, the story may have been less touching.

I am a big fan of metaphorical titles and titles that aren't completely indicative of what the story is about. That being said, LOVE the title.

Lastly, I feel like the story could've had just a little more. I felt like Lisa's random act of kindness fell a little short in comparing it to throwing the starfish back into the sea. I feel maybe if she'd given him the opportunity to completely get himself on his feet again, it would've been a little more fitting.

Overall, great little story! Would love seeing more pieces like this one. :)




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Tue Sep 24, 2019 1:15 pm
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JabberHut wrote a review...



Hey, Tuckster!

This was such a sweet story, and I really loved how it ended. The way the starfish story tied into the entire story itself -- it feels like it could make a really good short film even!

You definitely set up the atmosphere incredibly well. We really feel for Russell being homeless and having nothing else. It's a tough life, and you present that very clearly with the businessman scenario. Being homeless will also take a toll on one's mental health, and you express THAT clearly with the barista scenario, too.

This piece reads very much like a fairytale of sorts. It's a simple story that tells a lesson! And it's a story with a story inside of it! It's so much fun. STORYCEPTION.

I think it felt somewhat unfinished, though, as Lisa tells this story of a starfish who's given another chance at life. She didn't really do THAT much for Russell, and that's where it's left rather open. This could be on purpose, though! That the story is MEANT for the reader to fill in the blanks there. However, we never really get insight into Russell's hopes and dreams. He doesn't have ANY hope, so this little act of kindness probably wouldn't be enough to drive him to do something about it. So that's where the two stories kinda differ -- the starfish is happy, but is Russell happy?

So perhaps giving a little more insight into what Russell hopes for, or perhaps there's a hidden gem somewhere like he HAS hope if he just goes this route instead -- he simply needs a little support. For instance, he passes by an advertisement for a temp job or perhaps a charity that can help him, but he's too mentally depressed to do anything. Lisa would give him just the push he needs to feel like yes! he can do it!

That's all I have, though. I really enjoyed this, and it's really such a sweet story. It seems like there will be more stories like this, and I look forward to reading more!

Keep writing!

Jabber, the One and Only!




Tuckster says...


Thanks so much for the review! I found it incredibly helpful and will be sure to implement your suggestions!



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Tue Sep 24, 2019 9:51 am
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Tawsif wrote a review...



Hello, Teckster. I'm reviewing after a very long time. So I'm not really sure if this is gonna help you or not.

I liked the idea of the story very much. Random acts of kindness do matter, no matter how random or little they are. You portrayed this idea quire brilliantly in this piece. Especially the story Lisa told at the end was a great way to end the piece. Very well done on that!

There's something about your narrative, though, that didn't appeal to me. You used the word 'manage' twice in the piece, like 'managed to say....'. You even used '......all she could say' twice. I think you should get rid of these repetitions.

'Just a water please.'
Maybe a bottle of water is what you meant here.

I liked the way you presented imagery in this piece. Appreciate that! I suggest you add more emotions here, like something really brutal siad by the businessman, the agonies Russel faces for the want of food, or anything touching which could help you get your reader's attention even more powerfully.

Overall, a good read for me. Keep writing.




Tuckster says...


Thanks for the review!




Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We're just used to being the cat.
— Henry Wu, "Jurassic World"