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Authors: Darryl Nyznyk

Mary’s Son (8 page)

BOOK: Mary’s Son
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From the street corner, Jared and his friends looked with equal disdain at Sarah’s car.

The Mercedes continued through the main streets of the slum; the signs of poverty were everywhere, and Sarah’s disgust was heightened. From children clad in what looked to her to be rags the maids in her home wouldn’t consider using to wash the floors to barely standing structures that served as homes her father would not even consider for his dog, squalor
was everywhere. She was so stunned by the terrible sights she couldn’t even speak. Stevens turned the vehicle past two pitted brick columns, which at one time had served as guard gate columns but now served only as ancient sentinels to the battered grounds beyond. Past a tarnished monument sign that read “Penford Children’s Home” in chipped and broken lettering, they drove on a pitted brick driveway to the front steps of an ancient edifice blackened and battered from years of neglect.

“What is this?” Sarah pushed back from the car door, hoping to distance herself from the sight outside her window.

“I’ve been asked to help with a Christmas party for the children here.” Nicholas looked at Sarah in hopes of seeing some sense of sympathy.

“I don’t want to come here. I thought we were going to do something fun.”

“This will be fun, Sarah. There are children here who don’t.…”

“I don’t care,” Sarah interrupted. “I don’t want to be here. I want to leave.”

“I’m sorry, Sarah, we can’t leave now,” he said firmly. “I promised a man yesterday that I would be their Santa Claus. They’re counting on me.”

“I thought you understood! I want you to stay with me. Let them get someone else,” the girl pleaded.

“They have no one else. I gave my word. Mr. Stevens has already agreed to assist me.” Nicholas again looked at Sarah and tried once more to reach her. “Please come with us. We need your help.”

“I don’t want to,” Sarah turned her disappointment to anger. “You lied to me. I want to go home.”

“I’m sorry, Sarah, I have an obligation here.” Nicholas opened the door and stepped out of the car before turning back to the girl.

“You can wait in the car if you’d like. We’ll be back when we’re finished. If you need anything, just come inside.”

Nicholas and Stevens walked away from the vehicle with Sarah’s muffled shout of “No!” following them up the dilapidated wood steps to the chipped and battered front door.

“Maybe I should stay with her?” whispered Stevens.

Nicholas shook his head slowly, realizing he was still a long way from reaching Sarah’s heart. He believed he’d made some progress the previous evening, particularly after she’d bounced into his room this morning, excited at the prospect of his staying on. What he hadn’t fully realized until this moment was the impact Sarah’s father’s rejection had on her. She had reverted fully to the disconsolate, haughty child he had first met. Her defenses were back up, and any chance of finding the loving, compassionate girl inside was on the verge of being lost completely. Nicholas’s choice now was critical.
Should he back off from his promise to the home’s head administrator and work at lifting young Sarah’s spirits, or should he take a hard line and hope it would force Sarah to make her own choice? Her decision could ultimately lead her further into a shell or out into the light of love and compassion. To compound matters, Nicholas’s time was short, and he had an even greater task ahead of him. His choice was critical, and it was now.

“No…I believe this is best. She knows where we’ll be,” he said.

 

SARAH kicked at the front seat, slammed her hands on her own seat, and began to cry and pout as if someone might see her discomfort and come to her aid. When she looked up with tears staining her cheeks, she realized that Nicholas and Stevens were already in the house and that they weren’t coming back. She sobbed for several seconds and then stiffened. She wiped the tears away.

 

“I’ll show them!” she mumbled angrily.

She grabbed her umbrella before sliding from the car. She glanced at the house, at the sound of wild cheering emanating from within. She then turned and looked across the weed-splotched dirt front grounds and finally down the potholed
driveway. Although her emotions surged from anger to fear to strength and uncertainty, she again looked to the house and then turned and strode down the driveway. Midway to the brick sentinels and the sidewalk beyond, she realized her hand was in the pocket clutching the Nativity globe Nicholas had given her the night before. As a final act of defiance, she withdrew the beautiful gift and dropped it in the dirt by the driveway. With a new determination, she walked past the sentinels, turned left on the broken sidewalk, and marched away.

Within seconds, Sarah began to change her mind. With every step, the gray, decaying suffering of the poor of the Sink became more apparent to her. The bright, freshly painted colors of Penford Heights’ homes and the rich smell of moist soil and grass after a cleansing rain were nowhere in evidence. To compound matters, as she tried to avoid tripping over the uneven surfaces, she glanced up to see four hooded figures approaching her. She slowed her pace; her eyes darted furtively in search of an escape route. When one of the figures stepped ahead of the other three and turned toward her, Sarah stopped.

“Hey, rich girl,” the figure shouted and strutted up to her. “What’re you doing in the badlands?”

Sarah immediately recognized the boy as one of the young toughs she’d seen out of the car window a short time before.

Burner stepped out in front of Jared and M.J. to join Hammer in mocking Sarah.

“Leave me alone,” Sarah whispered.

“Whatsa’ matter, rich girl? Too good for us?” Burner rejoined before pushing her on the shoulder and laughing at her growing fear.

“Back off, guys,” ordered Jared. He glared at Hammer and Burner before he turned to Sarah. “What’re you doin’ here?”

Sarah stared back at him, trying to act indignant but clearly unsure of herself in the face of such overwhelming odds.

“Don’t give me your high-and-mighty look,” Jared said. “You’re on my turf now, and your money don’t mean nothin’ on these streets, girl. Your fancy clothes won’t get you nothin’ down here…except maybe dead.”

Sarah backed away, trying hard not to fall into complete panic. The other boys moved closer and surrounded her with leering smiles.

“Go home to your daddy’s money before you get hurt,” Jared spoke again. “Or don’t he want you?”

The boys again laughed and jeered at her. She dropped her head slowly. Jared recognized her discomfort and realized he had struck a chord.

“Maybe he don’t care, huh?” Jared chuckled. “Well, neither do we.”

Sarah stood transfixed, head down submissively. Her mind worked feverishly between panic and fear, until she realized there was nothing she could do. She was trapped. She looked up, straight into Jared’s eyes as if daring him to act. He smiled, motioned his friends to let her go, and said, “Beat it, girl, before you run into someone who takes a liking to you.”

Sarah didn’t hesitate once an opening appeared between the boys. She ran through it and barely heard the catcalls and jeers behind her.

“We coulda really gotten her, Jared. Why’d you let her go?” asked Burner.

“That’s Jonas Stone’s kid. We don’t need the cops down here now,” Jared said. He shook his head at his friend’s stupidity. “You gotta think. All of you gotta think. Let’s go.”

As the others walked away, Jared stood perplexed, staring after the running girl who had just turned up the driveway to the children’s home.

- 7 -
 

Sarah didn’t stop running until she was well within the grounds. She was so terrified of her brush with certain death that she could not even appreciate her escape. She ran until she reached the midway point of the driveway before she finally stopped. Breathing heavily, she turned to make sure no one was following. She then broke down and cried. After a few minutes of trying to compose herself, she spied the Nativity globe lying in the mud next to the driveway. She reached for it slowly, picked it up, and gently cleaned it off. Then, after a moment of indecision, she hugged it close.

 

 

INSIDE the great room of the Penford Children’s Home, Nicholas had changed into a traditional Santa Claus outfit and looked every bit the part. He was surrounded by nearly
one hundred children, some of whom were sick, others crippled, and all of whom were hungry for the attention and love of Santa.

 

Stevens stood next to Nicholas, smiling broadly at the expectation he sensed from the children. He held a large cloth sack, which looked very much like it had nothing inside. He wore an elf cap and tunic awkwardly on his gaunt frame. Nicholas placed his hands on his knees and addressed the children.

“Have you all been very good this year?”

“Yeah!” they shouted.

Nicholas’s smile faded suddenly and was replaced by a cockeyed, quizzical look.

“Well, I guess some of you haven’t been so good, have you?”

Several young, rebellious looking boys and girls put their heads down as if to hide because they’d been discovered.

“You know, I was young like all of you once,” Nicholas continued. “I always found it hard to be good all the time. You know what I mean?”

The rebels perked up and nodded slowly, hopefully.

“I learned a secret about being good, though. Do you want to hear it?”

All heads bobbed in anticipation.

“I learned it’s really not possible to be perfectly good all the time. It’s hard work.” Nicholas watched the knowing nods from his audience. “What’s really important is trying your best to be good. If you try your best, then you’ll be good most of the time. And those times you’re not so good, if you really are sorry…deep down inside… then you really are trying, and that’s what matters.”

All the children smiled. None had ever heard that there was an alternative to “being good.” They figured if they weren’t good, they had no hope of a happy Christmas visit. How great it was to now know about the “trying” thing.

“Now, have you all tried real hard to be good this year?” Nicholas asked.

“Yeah!” they all shouted happily.

Nicholas smiled and looked to a beaming Stevens, who handed him the nearly empty sack. Nicholas reached inside and looked down. When he saw nothing in the tangled interior folds, he reached down farther until he found the bottom and saw a large frozen turkey. He glanced up at Stevens, who frowned and shrugged. Nicholas scratched the back of his neck, deep in thought, and then looked at the children, who stared at him expectantly.

“Before we see what Santa has in his sack,” Nicholas started, “why don’t we have Jonathan lead us in a Christmas song? How about ‘Jingle Bells’?”

The children shouted their approval, and Nicholas leaned toward a perplexed Stevens. “Please lead them. I’ve got to think of something.”

Stevens nodded and took control. This enabled Nicholas to walk over to Mr. David Johnson, the head administrator who had approached Nicholas at the mall the previous day. He took his elbow and walked him into the foyer, out of earshot of the children.

“What’s going on, Mr. Johnson?” Nicholas asked. “Why are there no gifts?”

Nicholas hadn’t noticed that Sarah was hiding in the shadows to the side of the foyer. She had slipped in just a few moments earlier and was trying hard to compose herself in the hopes that no one would see the fear in her face. Upon Nicholas’s approach to Mr. Johnson, she pressed deeper into the shadows and listened intently.

“We didn’t get enough donations this year,” said Johnson sadly. “There weren’t enough gifts for even half the children.… We decided to show the children a real whole turkey.” He hesitated a second and shrugged, “The turkey is a true treat for them.”

“But that won’t feed all of them,” Nicholas said.

“We know that, of course. We have three others.” Johnson was flustered. “Each child will get a little. What choice do we have?”

Nicholas stared for a moment. He knew Mr. Johnson was trying to do his best with the meager finances available to him. He also knew these children—although they didn’t need gifts—did need hope and a belief that the world into which they’d eventually be thrown was a good world, worthy of their youthful love and trust. He glanced heavenward, hesitated for several seconds, and then turned back to his chair. Sarah stepped closer and joined several nurses and orderlies, who were curious about what Nicholas would do.

BOOK: Mary’s Son
12.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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