I’ve had this story for awhile, probably should have posted it before Christmas rather than after, but it’s not really my best work anyway; a bit trite and sentimental…
The snow crunched beneath his feet as the old man walked from his garage to his front door. The gun weighed heavily in the pocket of his jacket.
Winters had always been hard, but they seemed a bit colder and a bit grayer since Evelyn had passed. They’d been married 42 years when she discovered a lump in her breast. By then, it was too late – within six months she was gone.
Their last Christmas together had been incredibly tough. She was in her last stages and though they’d tried everything the doctors could suggest, nothing helped. In fact, it seemed to Paul it may have hastened her death. That’s why near the end he’d refused the latest round of treatments, even when their son tried to convince otherwise. They had a bitter argument, resulting in a split between father and son, a split so deep that they were unable to give one another any solace when Evelyn passed. The last time they saw each other was at the funeral.
Paul thought about that. It was all very well for Steve, he had his own family to comfort him, a wife and a beautiful little girl, who would be about five now. It had been nearly two years since Paul had seen his grand-daughter. She’d been the apple of her Grandpa’s eye – of Grandma’s too. How they had spoiled the little princess. Now Paul had no one to give him comfort.
He had stopped going to church when Evelyn could no longer go with him, and he just never went back. So now he lived all alone in his little house on Hamilton Drive. The only distraction from his meager existence was when he’d go to the nearby park and watch the children play. He would sit on the bench and watch as the children ran back and forth while their mothers would tend their smaller siblings or just sit and read. How he yearned to take his granddaughter Sally to that park, or to the zoo, but the chasm that had opened between him and his son, he knew, was too wide to cross.
So Paul resigned himself to join Evelyn. He knew that suicide was supposed to be wrong, but wasn’t it wrong for him to be all alone without his Evelyn? Surely God would forgive him for wanting to be with her. After all, that same God had taken her from him. He simply could not take the loneliness any longer. So he had made up his mind.
It had taken him around six weeks to get the gun. He’d put the mandatory wait time to good use setting up a trust fund for his granddaughter and putting his other affairs in order. Once he’d made up his mind, a great calmness came over him. He knew the gun would be a bit messy, but he wanted a quick and relatively painless end, something that would be over in a flash. Besides, he’d taken steps to minimize the mess. He would do it in bed with extra pillows behind his head and a plastic drop cloth, like one would use for painting, beneath the sheets.
That night, as Paul was cleaning his new pistol, the doorbell rang. He could have ignored it, but habits were stubborn things and Paul was the kind of person who always answered the door and the phone. When he opened the door, a small child was standing there with a big, bright smile and a mass of curly hair. Then Paul noticed something that tugged at his heart just a bit. The poor little boy was missing his left hand.
“Excuse me sir, but we’d like to invite you to the Christmas pageant at St. Luke’s church over on Hill Street.” Then he added with a big smile, “I’m the baby Jesus!” The boy handed Paul a program for the pageant, “It’s tomorrow night.”
Paul looked down at him and smiled, “Thank you, young man, but I don’t think I’ll be around tomorrow night. Say, aren’t you a little young to be going door to door?”
“It’s okay, my Father is with me.”
“Well, you’d best run along and find him, now.”
The boy began walking away, then stopped. He turned saying, “She doesn’t want you to do it, you know.”
Paul’s heart jumped to his throat. “What….who?”
“Evelyn,” the boy said, then he was gone, running down the street and out of sight.
Paul stood on his front porch for a long minute. His first thought was that he was losing his senses. But by the time he started back into the house, he’d decided that he’d just misunderstood the boy, that was all. He wasn’t sure what he said, but he was sure it could not have been what he’d thought he’d heard. As he put the pageant program down on the kitchen table beside his gun, his eye caught the name of his granddaughter. She was listed as being Mary in the pageant. A tear formed in his eye. Perhaps he could postpone his departure. He could go to the church pageant and at least see his granddaughter one last time and, although he only begrudgingly admitted it to himself, he wanted to see his son and daughter-in-law too.
That night Paul went to sleep resigned that he would end his life tomorrow night, after seeing his family one last time. There was no hurry, it would keep another day. It didn’t mean he was losing his nerve. In fact, he was more resigned to do it now than ever. Seeing them all one last time would kind of tie up the loose ends. Yes, he would do it tomorrow night.
The next evening Paul arrived at the church hall just late enough to slip in unnoticed. He stood in the back as the tiny Christmas pageant performers recited their lines. As his granddaughter bent down to lay the doll representing the baby Jesus in the manger, she looked up and saw her Grandpa. Her face brightened and she smiled and waved. Her father, sitting up front with the video camera, turned and saw his father. Their eyes locked and for a second Paul considered walking out, but before he could, he saw Steve walking toward him, tears staining his cheeks.
As he approached Paul he said, “Dad, I’m so sorry,” and reached out to hug him. Paul was overcome and the two men stood there in the back of the church hall hugging each other tightly.
“I’m sorry too, son,” and arm in arm they walked back to the front row and enjoyed the rest of the pageant.
After the pageant was over, Paul carried his little granddaughter out of the church hall to his son’s car.
As they passed the life-sized manger scene at the front of the church, Cindy pointed saying, “Look, Grandpa, there’s the baby Jesus, like in the pageant,” but Paul couldn’t see anything but his granddaughter’s smile.
“Looks like they are going to need a new one for next year,” Steve commented.
“What do you mean, son?”
“Look at his hand, Dad.”
Paul looked at the baby Jesus, with the brown curly hair, big bright smile and…Paul gulped hard and stopped cold. The baby Jesus’ left hand was missing.