A Christmas Eve Story!
It was Christmas Eve, nearing noon on this snowy afternoon when I looked toward the display window and saw her. I saw the face of the saddest little girl that one would ever want to see this time of year. She was looking at a Christmas Barbie doll display, the one every child her age hopes Santa will put under the tree. The palm of her tiny hand was pressed against the glass as if she was trying to reach through and hold the doll if only for a moment.
She looked to me about nine years old but a little bit on the thin side for a child her age I thought. She had the prettiest blue eyes surrounded by long blonde hair. Then I noticed something else. Something that was tugging at my heart. It was lightly snowing outside, well below freezing and the little girl wasn’t wearing a coat. What on earth was her mother thinking I thought, to myself to let her daughter go out into the cold without so much as a sweater let alone a coat?
I rushed out from behind the register and as I opened the door and stepped out to bring her inside to get warm, I felt the icy wind biting at my neck. To my shock and disappointment, I couldn’t see the little girl I had seen at my window. There were no cars parked for a hundred feet. More disturbing to me was the fact that I saw no one on the sidewalk either. How could a small child run away so fast in those precious seconds that I couldn't see her?
Before I went back inside the warmth of my small shop, I walked over to where I had seen her standing. Perhaps, I had only imagined that I had seen a child I thought. But there in front of the Christmas Barbie doll on the frosted window was a small hand print of a child. I could feel tears flowing down my cheeks as I took one last look around, hoping with all my heart that I would see her, but I did not. The image of her sadness bothered me for hours.
I couldn't get her out of my mind. Sales were slow today, but then, who comes to a small shop like mine anymore? They all head for the big box stores where one-stop shopping is the way of life it seems. But still loyalty of friends and long time customers seemed to keep me holding on just a little bit longer. By 4:15 I decided to close for the day. It just was a slow day for the entire street and many other shop keepers were closing up too.
The winter winds had died and it was just a sunny crisp and clear day now. As I shut the door and turned the key, I could have sworn I heard a softly whispered sigh of a child. I turned around so quickly with my heart racing that I almost slipped and fell. But there was no child, no one. Once more I felt a tear wanting to fall and I fought to hold it back. Suddenly to the left of my store I saw her. I knew it was the same child that had stood in front of my shop, even from behind I recognized her.
I called out for her to wait but she didn’t hear me. So like any other concerned mother, I followed her, trying to catch up to her. But no matter how fast I walked and slipped awkwardly on the slippery sidewalk, she managed to stay ahead of me. The best I could do was to follow and hope she stopped or went home. I had a few choice words to give such an irresponsible mother. After walking nearly four blocks the little girl cut across a large vacant lot next to a cemetery, no doubt a short cut home.
So I continued to follow her. But once she made her way through the cemetery, the headstones blocked my seeing her clearly and in a few moments she was out of my sight. All I could do now was follow her small foot prints in the 4 or 5 inches of snow on the ground. Then something began to puzzle me. The trail I was following wasn’t in a direct line like she had a destination. Her path was more like she was wandering, looking for something.
Suddenly, her foot prints ended abruptly beside a small three foot tall headstone of a white angel looking down at the ground. The angel had been ivory white at one time but now it was aged a dirty white with green fungus growing on it. I knelt down and brushed away the small plaque on the ground to read the words inscribed. I swear my jaw could have fallen to the ground when I discovered it was the headstone of a ten year old girl named Emily Woods.
She had died 12 years ago on this very day. By now tears were falling like a river from my eyes. How cruel it was for a child to pass away, but to pass away on Christmas Eve, just seemed so unfair. That was when I realized for the very first time that the child at the window had been a ghost. I had seen and followed Emily's ghost. That was why the foot prints in the snow stopped here beside this grave. I had never been able to have a child of my own and it hurt me beyond words to know Emily was here all alone.
I cried at that moment like I had never cried before as I knelt down and kissed Emily's headstone. Just as I stood up and brushed the snow off my knees I heard the softest of whisper, "Please don’t cry!" I looked down at the angel and whispered, "Protect her angel, keep her safe please." I left the cemetery that afternoon just as darkness began to make the day light retreat. I tried to busy myself around the house but the more I hurried around, the more I felt sad.
This would be no joyous holiday for me. I ate a small meal and went to bed early, but even sleep was hard to find that night. I tossed and turned and the more I tried to close my eyes the more I saw the little girl's face at my store window. It was early, very early on Christmas morning that I made my way out of bed. I just couldn't eat anything so I settled for just a cup of hot chocolate. Then an idea hit me like a tree falling in a snowstorm.
I raced toward the front door to leave, barely able to grab my long coat. I made my way down to my shop empty of all cars and people, slipping many times on the sidewalk until I reached my store. I threw the door open and it banged against the wall but I did not care. The glass could have broken out and I wouldn't have cared. Anxiously, I removed the Christmas Barbie from the front window and I locked the door behind me.
I made my way back to Emily's headstone as fast as I could with the doll inside my coat. Tears were falling so fast at that moment, but they were tears of joy. Finally, I stood beside the angel once more and I kicked the snow away so I would have a place to sit down. I looked up at the angel and whispered, "Emily, I came back and I brought you a present for Christmas!" I took the doll from inside my coat and held it toward the angel and waited, but Emily never appeared.
I never heard her voice even though I sat there for nearly an hour, telling her about myself and how I missed being a mother. I was just about to set the doll beside the angel and leave when I saw something out of the right corner of my eye and when I looked closely there was Emily. I saw shyness in her eyes as she looked down at me and then I saw excitement in her eyes as she saw my gift.
"Now Emily," I whispered lovingly, "You're never gonna wrap your arms around Barbie standing way over there." and she began to giggle. In that split second, she was rushing to me as I held open my jacket and she fell into my arms. I wrapped my coat around her and hugged her as she hugged the doll. "Thank you so much for Christmas Barbie! I’ve wished and wished for the doll in your window!” she told me excitedly. The feeling of happiness was mutual and to this very day I’m at a loss to describe the joy I felt on Christmas Eve day.
"I'm so sorry you died Emily, but you have a friend now. You’ll always be welcome at my shop. I want you to come by anytime and play with the toys all you want!" I said in a loving voice. Emily looked up into my eyes and looked like she couldn't believe what she'd heard. "Really, you really mean I can play with all the toys?" she asked innocently. “Well.” and then my voice hesitated, "When the store is closed if that’s ok?" Together we began to laugh as she nodded her head as she smiled.
That was a time for quietness between us with no words being spoken. She just hugged her Barbie tight and I held Emily tight as I cried. Finally she lifted her head and brushed back her long blonde hair from her eyes and spoke. “I don’t want to leave, but they’re calling me to come back. I can only be gone for a little while.” she told me. I didn’t want to let her go, Oh God how I wanted to hold her and never let her go.
As she waved her tiny hand goodbye, I felt her body disappear from my arms until I was all alone. I can't recall how long I sat on that cold, cold ground that morning. I can't even tell you what time I got home. All I know is that for that special moment, Emily had a mother and I had a daughter. Six Christmases have come and gone since that miracle of seeing Emily at my store window happened. I’ve told no one all these years.
It is our secret. Though I keep the blinds pulled each afternoon I close up, I make sure I leave one light on so Emily can find her favorite toys to play with. Yes, it's always a bit of a shock to see Emily played with everything a little bit too much, but I just smile, wipe a tear or two away and clean up after her before I open my front door for business.
©2006 Raymond Cook (All rights reserved)
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