A Tale of Christmas Present
The day after Christmas only Hoppin’ John and Frank were working. It was like a tomb, bleak and empty. The wind whipped sullenly across the frozen swamp. John started to talk, once again leaning on the railing, looking down into the plastics, occasionally spitting snuff juice down into the bunker. He never looked at Frank; it was almost a monologue to himself.
He said he got a call from his younger son last night, the thirty-two-year-old. He had no place to stay. His mother called the cops on him and had him kicked out.
“So I took him in. His girlfriend has a house and she had a son by him, but she’d kicked him out too; she didn’t want him either. I figure she’s going to court soon for child support, that’s all she wanted anyway. He’s already paying a hundred twenty a week in child support to another ‘one night stand’. ‘Tits or tires, they’re gonna cost you plenty’.
He had a good mechanic’s job but he f**ked up and lost it. Heroin. He’s working now as a janitor at Wings Falls High School for ten grand a year. Claims he has no money. I’d told him before to cut back, that he doesn’t need a two hundred dollar a month cell phone, that he should either quit smoking or start rolling his own. He gets pissed at me then. I’m willing to help him, but not forever, he’s got to take care of himself, he’s a man, not a kid anymore."
He continued quietly.
"The old lady’s mother called Christmas night. She fell down and couldn’t get up. Me and Tina went over there. I waited in the truck in case I was needed to lift her up. She was dead drunk. Her husband, he was a chain smoker, died last year and this was her first Christmas without him. Tina’s five hundred pound sister on SSI lives there now with her.
My other son lives with his fiance in her house. She used ta be married, and got one kid from the other guy. She wanted to re-finance, but the bank was making her jump through hoops with one thing or another before they’d give her the money: New Sheetrock all through the house, re-do the kitchen, re-roof it.
I told her the bank’s tryin ta make it hard on ya so you’ll just say ‘F**k it!’ She was gonna pay contractors ta do it all, but I told her ‘If ya did that, what was the point in re-financing? You’d pay more for the work than you’d save on the refinancing’. I told her me and my son would do it.
At first he said it wasn’t his problem, her name was on the mortgage, not his. I told him he was living there for free, and she was his fiancée; so it was his problem. So I been helping him this whole year get it done.”
Then he told him that his cousin’s daughter from Virginia showed up the day before Christmas Eve on his doorstep; jobless, homeless, and eight month’s pregnant.
“Why is that my problem?” He said was his first reaction. “But; I couldn’t turn a pregnant woman away, so me and the old lady took her in. She had gone first to her mother. She’s who sent her to see me an Tina. She’s in a bad way herself an couldn’t do anything for her; she’s got no home herself, she’s stayin on a friend’s couch. No job. Heroin. She told her ‘Go see your Uncle John.’
So she come ta our house. Guess she’s divorced, with a little girl, and is pregnant with another guy’s child, but has a boyfriend up here. At first she was only going to stay a few days until her Social Services trailer was ready, but now it’ll be longer, because SS has to have the furnace inspected. Maybe a week or more."
"So she takes her daughter to see the little girl’s halfbrother at his grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. They gave her brother forty four f**kin presents and gave the little girl f**kin nuthin. The kid was heartbroken. She said ‘Santa must hate me’.
When my son’s wife heard that, she went in to the bedroom where the old lady was wrapping gifts, and told Tina to give the gift we were gonna give their son to the little girl instead.
The old lady wanted ta know why, so she told Tina what happened. She told me and I went to CVS, the only place open that late on Christmas Eve, and me and my son and his wife bought presents for the little girl.
I was totally, completely flat broke before this. We spent everything we had on Christmas. But just before we heard about this, my other son’s fiance stopped over and gave me a couple of hundred bucks for my helping re-build her house. So; I could afford to go and buy gifts for the little girl, and she was happy.”
He paused. “I guess there are miracles.”
“You’re a good man, John.”
He just grunted.