So it was that time of year again- the murk of weather, the rain trying to be snow- we sensed enough coldness to hide ourselves under thick outerwear. On the night of the solstice I forced myself out into the bitter cold drizzle to buy some milk before the corner store closed. That's when it all became a bizarre Christmas story, of sorts.
Outside Sam's Bottle House stood a little girl, maybe seven or eight years old, in jeans and torn T-shirt, with a raggedy jean jacket, waving hands at strangers, wordless, frantically trying to get the attention of passers-by. Her kinky hair was lifeless, wet, matted down, sliding long her neck like ivy along brick. Despite where she was, and the late hour, she was full of life- that desperate sort of life that pleads for acceptance. Adults shuffling by, wrapped up in their own sense of warmth, seemed able to ignore her completely. But I could not.
"Are you all right?" I asked as soon as I was near enough.
She looked at me as if I'd asked the dumbest question in the world.
"Help me. Please." She had a look in her eyes sharper than carbon steel blades fresh from the grindstone. I knew only one response, though it seemed inadequate.
Her eyes widened. She stared deeply into me. My response- its mere existence- seemed to send her flying, internally. Maybe she'd been ignored for hours, for days. I felt incidentally heroic.
"Um, my mom..." She began to cry.
She'd say the words and then she'd be engulfed by emotion, convulsing, unable to communicate, or look me in the eye.
"Where is she?" I asked.
The girl tugged at me and ran off. I followed. Not running, though maybe I should have. I guess I sort of skipped along, a little better than walking, I suppose, but I'm certain it disappointed her. I followed her for several blocks. Whenever she looked back at me, I could tell that she was hoping I'd simply run- give up the inhibition of walking, and run, Dammit, run.
We eventually reached an alleyway, lit only dimly by the water-washed light of a full solstice moon, and there I saw the body. A woman, laid out in fetal position, soaked, so ready to rot, so clearly dead, lying on the ground.
I had nothing but a heart beating inside me. I had nothing but eyes, watching the girl, devastated again by the confirmation of a truth she already had been forced to understand. I had nothing to offer her in words, nor in gifts. But I had an instinct, and I followed it. I rushed to her. We had perhaps only a few feet between us but I made that gap nothing. I pressed her against me. I whispered
"C'mon, let's cry..."
..And we cried together. We became the rain, and the sky itself gave up competing with us. The sound of droplets on the pavement stopped. The girl's breath, so close to my ear, sang a riotous song of freedom that spoke clearly of the heart and lungs guiding it.
I pulled away for a moment. She hovered beside me, but seemed not able to lift her head. I could tell she would have preferred just to lean into me and forget the world.
"Uh, I don't know how to help you..." I knew she didn't want to hear about cops and everything that I, as an adult, would have to deal with, later.
Somehow, a voice as old as sunlight shone from her lips.
"Then don't try. Just hold me now. Be my Santa Claus."
"Be my Santa Claus."
And so, for the sake of sincerity, sanity, love and peace, I gave her my arms. I ceased DOING. I simply was.
The bright moon hovered silent, and dried our souls.
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