This copy right story Christmas Story I wrote of Four Characters should be read sequentially in order and comes as four posting on my blog. Stay alert and have a blessed Christmas. Ted
Second Character - Hank
I don’t recall anyone ever calling me beautiful before. At least not for a long time, if ever. For that matter, I don’t give them much chance even if they wanted to because I keep pretty much to myself. More so since I’ve been homeless. Well, I have started hanging around with a few other homeless people, mainly for what little protection we give each other, but even so, I don’t get close to them. Even being together for protection is a chancy trade-off since when people get desperate they aren’t above stealing whatever’s handy.
Well, actually, people don’t even have to be desperate to steal. I found that out years ago when I was in the Bed and Breakfast business and customers would rip off towels, ash trays, even lamps and pictures sometimes.
Anyway, one damp, cold morning just before Christmas, Maude told me about waking up the night before and seeing my face in the light of the cigarette I was smoking. She said my face looked beautiful and she’d never noticed before. I just smiled. When I did, she said that’s how I’d looked in the night, sort of “smilely and dreamy” is how she put it. Maude didn’t ask me what I was dreaming of, and I didn’t tell her.
But later, the next night, I did tell her. I felt I owed it to her. I told her I was dreaming of my daughter. She said, “I didn’t know you had no daughter, Hank. Where is she? Why don’t you go live with her?” What could I do then but tell her? I think I wanted to tell someone anyway. So the story came out. At that moment, I didn’t see Lil’ and Daryl off in the shadows, but it turned out they heard it, too.
Years ago, I was an executive in brokerage firm in New York. Lots of pressure, lots of hours, lots of money. My wife and I fought a lot. I got fed up and decided to change things. I left the firm and started a Bed and Breakfast in another city.
My wife wasn’t ecstatic but she was willing to give the B&B, and us, a chance. She stayed in New York with Maggie, our daughter, so Maggie could finish the year in her high school while I went to historic Philly to get the B&B up and running.
Maggie started doing badly in high school and dropped out. I was angry and scared and demanded Maggie shape up and go back to school. I offered to pay for a good private school. She refused and started staying out later and later at night. She dyed her hair, wore grungy clothes, got a tattoo on her arm. I don’t know all the crazy things she was doing, and really didn’t want to. I blamed her mother, she blamed me. Maggie? I don’t know what she thought. I was busy with the B&B.
Then suddenly Maggie disappeared. The police said she’d probably run away. They said thousands of kids do and they either turn up again, or they don’t. A year went by. No word from Maggie. My heart was broken. My wife started divorce proceedings. I agreed to it.
Another spring, summer, fall blurred by. Then it was close to Christmas, a busy season for the B&B.. One night, someone knocked on the door. Standing on the step is a young man in those jeans without knees, a sweater, thin summer jacket, cap in hand. He asks if we have a vacancy. I tell him I’m sorry, we don’t, even though I know there is one room that’s been reserved for a 6 o’clock arrival and it’s now 9.
“Anything,” he asks. “Maybe in the basement, you might have a little space. My friend has a bad fever.”
I look past the man. Standing down on the sidewalk is a woman with her head bent forward, her scarf casting a shadow over her face,. She was holding a too large, ragged coat together with her gloveless hands and wearing summer sandals on her bare feet. Obviously, these two had no money for a room. I told them to try a nearby shelter for street people and told them how to get there.
The man nodded and started down the steps. As he did, the woman glanced up at him, then turned and walked away with the man. I closed the door and went back to the kitchen to clean up the supper dishes and get breakfast things laid out.
Then it hit me. The face of that woman I’d glimpsed, it looked like Maggie. Or like Maggie might have looked all these months after she’d run away.
I ran back, out the door and down the street in the direction they’d gone. They were nowhere in sight. I ran back, locked the door and hurried to the shelter I’d told them about. They weren’t there. The man at the door told me no one of that description had come there that night. I thought I’d missed my chance. Or maybe it wasn’t Maggie at all. I didn’t sleep much thinking about it.
The next morning, I went out to the shed in back to get wood for the fireplace. A log was standing on end in the middle of the floor and on it was a tiny sea shell. I knew then it had been Maggie. She loved sea shells. She and her friend, if that’s what he was, had stayed the night in the shed and left.
Why hadn’t I thought to look in the shed? Why hadn’t she let me know she was there? The connection with the Christmas story and there being no room in the inn was almost too obvious. It was a terrible irony. I couldn’t leave it at that. I had to find Maggie.
I gave the B&B to my wife in the divorce settlement. She sold it and I heard it’s doing well. I scraped together everything I had and went looking for Maggie. All over the country. It didn’t take long to run out of money.
So I started living in the streets. I became homeless. I didn’t care about that and I decided if I was ever to find Maggie it would probably be among the homeless anyway.
That was five years ago. I haven’t found her yet. Maybe she doesn’t want to be found. But I think she does. Why else would she leave the sea shell behind in the woodshed? Every night I dream about Maggie. She is the beautiful one, not me. I pray that one day I’ll find her. Like a prodigal father.
After I told my story to Maude and Lil and Daryl that night, Lil’s voice came out of the shadows: “Why don’t we go and hang out around the Bed and Breakfast where Maggie came that time? I’ll bet she’ll come there again, you know, looking for you.”
“I didn’t think of that,” I said.
“Where is the B&B?” Lil asked.
“It happens to be in the other side of this city,” I said
“Tomorrow we’ll all go there,” Lil said.
“Yeah,” other two agreed.
I didn’t know what to say. “We’ll all go there.” Without a second thought, that’s what they decided. I had a few cigarettes and offered them around. Lil didn’t take one, but Maude and Daryl did. We call Daryl “Wisey” now. Anyway, we sat there smoking as the twilight deepened, Maude, Lil, Wisey, and I.
Then I felt tears trickling down my face. Maude said, “Hey, Hank, don’t let me sayin’ you’re beautiful go to your head. No room for it there.” We all laughed.
But it hadn’t gone to my head. It had gone to my heart which did have room. Because it had been empty since the night I told that man with Maggie that the B&B was full. Probably even long before that in whatever made me turn them away. Now, here were these people, these homeless friends, caring about me. Imagine them going back to the inn with me to try to find my daughter. My heart isn’t so empty now. Now we wait at night outside the shed behind the B&B. Waiting for ... Maggie. Or maybe Christmas ... or Jesus?