Original Fiction: The Spirit in Christmas
Written for my fiction workshop class. It’s kind of a tearjerker. I cried as I wrote it, and I cry every time I read it. Then again, I’m an emotional basket case.
The Spirit in Christmas
Harold eased the car up to the intersection, breaks squealing. He knew they needed replacing, but he’d spent the money on Christmas gifts for the girls. He glanced over at eleven-year-old Amelia. She drummed her fingers against the door, puffing hot breath onto the window.
“So, which way do you think?”
He could hear Claire’s infectious enthusiasm urging him to the left like only his four-year-old princess could. He cranked the wheel, giving the whining engine just a little gas.
Amelia sighed. “This is so boring. Why couldn’t I stay home.”
The wipers squeaked as they fought to keep the falling snow at bay. The tiny flakes glittered in the dull light coming from a dozen modest houses decked out for the holidays, giving the street the magical feeling his father always talked about. He could see Claire pressing her freckled nose to the glass, blue eyes wide.
“Amelia, you could at least pretend to be enjoying this. It’s not like things have been that great-”
Something slammed into Harold’s window. A man in a black knit cap knocked again. He shuffled his feet, eyes darting around. Harold cracked the window.
“Can I help you?”
The business end of a revolver greeted him through the opening.
The man forced Harold into the back seat. Amelia began crying. The man slammed on the gas, fishtailing the car into the intersection. Tires finally catching, they shot onto the main street. Harold’s heart pulsed along with the rush of buildings–a dizzying blur of light and dark.
“You don’t have to do this,” Harold said. “You can have the car. I’ve got a little cash–enough for gas. At least let my girl go.”
They slid into another turn. Harold could hear Claire laughing. She laughed at everything. He squeezed Amelia’s hand as she sniffled. He wanted to cry with her.
“I take it back; I like being bored. I want to go back. Let’s go back and look at the lights. Please, Daddy.”
“It’s okay, honey.”
“I don’t wanna die.”
“It’s going to be okay.”
“I said to shut up,” the man yelled. “I need to think.” His fingers beat against the steering wheel, arms trembling.
The breaks locked at the next intersection. Harold could see Claire put her hands up like they were on a roller coaster. She squealed with delight. She found the joy in everything. His eyes watered.
The man began mumbling to himself. He smacked his forehead with the gun. Once, twice. Four police cars rocketed by. The man turned right, maneuvering carefully along the icy residential street. The bright lights, the trees in the windows, the normalcy of it all mocked Harold. Tears blurred his vision.
“Did you rob a bank?” Amelia asked with a shaky voice.
Harold hushed his daughter.
“Are you going to kill us?”
The man leaned forward, trying to see through the snow. “Not if I don’t have to.”
The engine sputtered. For once Harold willed the piece of junk to die.
“You said you had some money,” the man said once they were on the main road again. They stopped in front of a dark store. He man rubbed at his face, his whole body shaking. “I used to be okay. I had a good job. Had a nice car. A house. A wife.” He shook his head, shifting the car back into gear. “It’s all gone now. This world just beats you down. You know how that is, mister?”
Harold met the man’s eyes in the rear view. They were tired eyes. Sad eyes. Empty. They were Harold’s eyes–the same look he saw every morning in the mirror when he shaved. When the car wouldn’t start. When he heard Amelia crying in the night. When he didn’t hear Claire’s voice anymore whispering how much she loved him.
He glanced at the empty seat next to him. The ache in his chest threatened to tear him apart, and a year didn’t make it hurt any less. A box took up the space now, candy canes covering the paper. Something Claire would have loved.
“I have a little girl,” the man said, looking at Amelia. “She’s seven and lives with her momma. She deserves better than what I can give her. I don’t even have nothing for Christmas. I tried to get her something. A doll. One with black hair like her. She’d like that.”
Amelia sniffed. “I wanna go home.”
“Don’t worry,” said the man. “I’m not gonna hurt you; we’re here. She lives just down this road.” He wiped his face. His eyes focused on the gun still gripped tightly in his left hand. He laughed. “It ain’t even real. I bought it at a toy store and painted it black. Can you believe that? And I couldn’t do it. I tried to take the doll. The little girl at that house had so many, but I seen the disappointment woulda been in Sara’s eyes. She wouldn’t want nothing I stole.”
They pulled into the drive of a mobile home, the aluminum siding peeling away around the windows. Their breath hung in the air. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t call the cops just yet. I’d like a bit of time with my little girl.”
What Harold wouldn’t give for one more moment with his baby girl. “Wait,” he said, surprising even himself. “Take this.”
The man looked down at the small box. “I can’t. It ain’t right what I done to you. I don’t deserve it.”
“For your little girl.”
Harold could hear Claire’s soft voice. Dollies need to be wuved, Daddy. “Because I think you’d do the same if you could. Because the gift deserves to be opened by someone. Because… it’s Christmas.”
The man choked back tears, a thank you disappearing into the wind. As he headed for the house, the door banged open. A little girl in stocking feet darted out and threw herself at the man.
Harold could feel Claire’s arms around his neck, her soft breath tickling his skin.
Next to him, Amelia sniffled. “Let’s go look at the lights, Dad. I want to see the lights.”