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The Lady in the Park

Updated: May 1

My Inspiration for Writing A Bright Light

There’s a park in my hometown where I love to take a daily walk. When my boys, Jalan and Devan, were actual boys (and not grown men whom their Mama still refers to as her boys), my husband and I would take them to the park to play and ride bikes. Biking trails snaked throughout the wooded areas, some threaded through and around a winding and expansive disc golf course.

On one particular visit, during an exploration of trails many years ago, we happened upon a clearing nestled into the wood line at the top of a steep hill. The area couldn’t be seen from the park’s main road, from the picnic area on the other side of the hill, or from the biking trails. You had to know the clearing was there to find it.

The weather was cold, the daylight thinning, and I remember Jalan and Devan pointing and gasping, “Look, Mama! A car!”

An old car—a nineties model Grand Prix—had been driven up the hill and parked in the clearing beside a tree. Although cars drove through the park all the time, this particular car was out of place because it didn’t seem possible for someone to have made it up the steep hill and through the trees. But someone had. At the front end of the car, an older, petite Asian lady squatted low to the ground. She poked a stick at a fire she had built around a cinderblock on top of which a kettle steamed. A clothesline had been strung from the car’s antenna to the tree where two pieces of clothing swayed in the winter cold. The car’s windows were covered from the inside with quilted blankets. I remember seeing the woman’s breath as she looked up and spotted us walking by; she moved swiftly around her car and eased inside. The car’s windows shook as she shut her door.

Although my first inclination was to report the woman as homeless so she could get some help, my husband stopped me. “Leave her alone. There’s a reason she’s up here. And she’s clearly scared. We don’t want to cause her harm or make her situation even worse.” I did as he recommended, but every time we returned to that park and I saw her hidden car, I worried about her. I wanted to do something to help. I should have helped. I should have brought her pajamas or food or something, but I was afraid of interfering, of being meddlesome and worsening her situation.

During that time, I saw the lady on a few occasions outside of the park. She was walking down the road, pushing a stroller packed with yellow Dollar General bags. “See?” my husband said the first time we saw her. “She has money. She’s making a way for herself. We might make things even worse for her if we interfere.”

Yet and still, to this very day, I feel like I should have done something. Left money, clothing, food, something, anything. But I did not. Instead, I did nothing.

A year or so later, we moved to Florida. Several years after that, upon our return to Georgia, I made a special trip to that park, trekking through the bike trails and up the hill to that clearing. The lady’s car was gone, the grass high where her camp had once been. Instead of relief that perhaps she had gotten some help and was better off anywhere else other than living at a park, I felt ashamed. I could have done something.

I don’t know what I should have done, but I do know that both good intentions and not doing anything at all can be harmful. And so, the situation haunts me to this day.

Photos taken at the park, one of which features the uphill trail that leads to where the lady's car was parked.

In my shame and remorse, I wrote a novella, A Bright Light. While the story didn’t do anything to help that homeless lady, writing it made me feel like the only thing I had control of during that time. A Bright Light is a story that takes place around the holidays and one of the characters is an Asian woman who lives in a park. Because I had done nothing to help the lady in real life, I wrote a story about how I wished I had helped, and I gave her the happy and magical ending I so desperately prayed—and still pray—she received.

Wherever she is, I hope the lady from the park has a warm home and that she’s happy and loved.

If you are reading this from December 21 through Christmas Day 2022, you can get a copy of A Bright Light absolutely free. Simply click the button below.

In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of literary, Southern Gothic, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.

Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative®, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, and she has worked as an instructional designer for nearly twenty years.

When she’s not writing fiction, Mandy enjoys the movies, theater, music, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, and binging The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to enhance creativity and foster wellness. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four sons, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.

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