The Christmas Child, story by Darrell Case at Spillwords.com

The Christmas Child

written by: Darrell Case

@DarrellCase1

 

The lamplighter paused, lighting the street lamp in front of Lowe’s Bookshop. The man smiled and waved. Replacing the books in the display window, forcing a smile, Matthew returned the greeting. He felt tired far beyond his 60 years. All day long, he had greeted joyous shoppers with a dull heart. A pleasure he didn’t feel. Five days until Christmas. His wife Kathryn, how he missed her, had died right after Christmas last year.
Locking the front door, he carried the lamp up the stairs. The chill of the apartment penetrated his very being. With downcast eyes, he glanced at the clock. 6:30. She would have had dinner waiting for him by this time. Tears graced his eyes. Placing the lamp on the table, he set down heavily on the overstuffed chair. Quietly, he wept. When the tears stopped, he started a fire in the franklin stove and warmed a bowl of stew. He spooned the food into his mouth, though he had no appetite to eat. He might as well have been eating sawdust. Her love and laughter always made the simplest meal taste better.
Kathryn loved Christmas and romance. She read every new book on romance. Matthew read mysteries and thrillers.
“Don’t you get enough romance with me?” He often joked with her.
“I’m always searching for new ways to make you happy.” She would say, smiling.
“Just being with you makes me happy.” He said, taking her in his arms. How much he loved her.
Then, right after Christmas last year, she became ill. Worried, he tended to the bookstore by himself. Every hour, he ran upstairs to check on her.
While stacking shelves, he found a book which combined Christmas and romance. Hoping it would cheer her, he locked the door to the store and rushed upstairs. At first, he thought she slept. He touched her arm. The coolness of her skin frightened him. Then he noticed her chest no longer rose. He fell to his knees at her bedside. Laying his head on her body, he wept. She had gone to sleep to wake no more on this earth.
Two weeks later, he reopened the shop. He and Kathryn had purchased the store, a former bake shop on their 10th anniversary. He at 31 and she at 28. Together they labored side by side. For six months, they worked the store during the day and built the living quarters at night.
That first year and all the years thereafter, Kathryn started the Christmas celebration early. Word soon spread if you wanted to get in the Christmas spirit to go to Lowe’s bookstore. Inapt at wrapping gifts, Matthew left the task to his dear wife. She carefully and cheerfully wrapped each book to be given for Christmas, birthday, or other occasions. The profits from November and December were more than the other ten months combined.
Despite his tears, he smiled. What a celebration they had that first Christmas in the new store. She woke him on that Christmas morning with a kiss. Seated on the edge of the bed, she gave Matthew a beautifully wrapped gift. Smiling, she watched him carefully unwrap it. Laying the paper wrapping aside, Matthew opened a small white box to reveal a gold pocket watch and chain.
Tonight, he withdrew that same watch from the pocket of his vest. Opening it, he read the words as he had that Christmas so many years ago.

To my darling Matthew,
who gives me all the romance I’ll ever need.
I love you
Kathryn

What a wonderful day that was and every other Christmas because of his beautiful Kathryn. Now she was gone.
Customers still came to Lowes Bookshop but found their joy elsewhere. These days, Matthew labored alone. He fell asleep in his chair only to dream his wife lived again.
At midnight, Matthew woke to stumble to bed. Undressing, he blew out the lamp. He lay awake thinking of their last Christmas together. At about 1 AM he drifted off into a troubled sleep.
The next morning, he felt as if he hadn’t slept a wink. He stumbled downstairs to the bookshop. Through the window, he saw the children lined up on the sidewalk chatting among themselves. He knew what they were looking for. Each year, Kathryn ordered the latest children’s book. This year the salesman sent the books to the shop as he had for the last twenty years. Four days before Christmas, she gave a free book to every child who entered the shop. He didn’t have the heart to tell the children there would be no book to give away this year.
Going to the storage room, Matthew stared at the two boxes of children’s books. He sighed and carried the boxes into the shop. Breaking them open, he placed several books on the counter. Hearing a noise, he looked up. Two little boys were gazing at him through the plate-glass window. They waved at him. Forcing a smile, his heart tearing apart, he returned their wave. He couldn’t refuse the children’s pleading eyes.
He opened the store at 9 AM. For the next few hours, he gave a book to every child. Finally, there was only one left. He glanced at the title.

The Christmas Child

No author? How could there be no author?
“Must be an oversight.” He said to himself. Other customers came into the shop. Busy, he didn’t stop for lunch.
That evening at 6 o’clock, he closed the store. As he started up the stairs, the children’s book seemed to beckon him. Picking it up, he carried the book to his living quarters. After a meal of stew, the only thing he could cook properly, he settled in his easy chair. His fingers touch the novel he had been reading, then wandered to the children’s book. To him, the cover felt warm, alive. Thinking that this was a book about The Christ child, he opened it.
The first line intrigued him.

My mommy is dead, and my father doesn’t want me.

Matthew lay the book aside. What kind of book did he give the children? The noel held no joy for him. But what of the children?
He picked up the children’s book again. Opening the book, he began reading.

My daddy left last week on Saturday; I think. He said he was going away, that no one wanted a little boy like me and that no one loved me. I told him that’s not true. My mommy loved me, but she’s in heaven. He left without saying goodbye. I cried and when I was done crying; I went to sleep in my mommy’s bed.

On the page was the drawing of a big bed with a little boy huddled in its middle.
Matthew wiped his eyes. The pain in his heart knew no bounds. He turned the page. His fingers trembled; his breath labored. He stared at a drawing of his own bookshop. It couldn’t be. But there was no mistaking the name above the door: Lowe’s Books.
“It can’t be.” He whispered. But it was. Shaking his head, he read the narrative under the drawing.

I saw the nice man in the bookshop. He gave me a book. He smiled at me, but he was so sad. The other boys said it was because his wife went to heaven.

He turned the page and dropped the book. There, staring up at him, was a drawing of himself. He ran a hand over his face.
“This can’t be happening.” He said, his heart beating faster. “Something is very wrong here.” He braced himself to rise from the chair. But then reached for the book. He read on.

The nice man gave me a book and didn’t even ask for money. He smiled, but his eyes were sad. I wish he was my grandfather.

Matthew’s fingers shook so much he rattled the page. He wanted to stop, but couldn’t. There, on the page staring up at him, was a little boy in ragged clothes. In the drawing, the child set on Matthew’s lap, their arms around each other.

I would hug him and make all his sadness go away.
He could be my grandfather and I would love him forever and ever.

Hurriedly, Matthew turned to the last page. It was a double drawing. On one side was a shack he recognized at the edge of the Village. The other half of the page held a drawing of the same little boy huddled on a bed. Under the drawing, Matthew read.

My daddy is gone, my mommy is dead. Nobody loves me, nobody loves me.

It was the back cover that galvanized Matthew into action. On the page was a drawing of the graveyard behind the village church. On the tombstone were the words:

The Christmas Child

Grabbing his coat and hat, Matthew rushed down the stairs. Not stopping to lock the door to the shop, he ran past the other stores and along the deserted streets. At the edge of the village, he came to the bridge over the creek. Breathing heavily, his heart pounding, he stared at the small dilapidated shack in the grove of trees. A gentle snow fell, turning the world into a fairyland.
Reason returned to him. He had not bothered to put on his boots. Standing in the snow, his shoes wet, his feet freezing, he felt very foolish. The falling snow covered him. What was he doing out here in the middle of the night? He had run here all because of a drawing on the back of a book?
Cold alone, he turned back toward the village. Then he stopped. To his ears came a sound. The crying of a child? Could it be? He must be mistaken. Turning, he walked onto the run-down porch.
Approaching the door, he hesitated. What if he was wrong? What if he walked in on a sleeping family? The cry came again. This time, there was no mistaking the words.
“Momma oh momma.”
Opening the door, he saw the child from the story. Clutched in the boy’s hands was the book Matthew gave him that day. Gathering the freezing little boy in his arms, he hugged him to his chest. In the corner of the room, a pinpoint of light grew into an unearthly glow. Kathryn smiled at her husband, then she was gone and the house grew dark. Great comfort and love swelled in Matthew’s heart. Grasping the child, he ran through the streets back to his shop.
In his living quarters, he stoked the stove until the rooms were warmed. Laying the little boy on his bed, he stripped him down to his underwear. Tears in his eyes, Matthew heaped covers on the child. Warming water on the stove, he bathed the little boy’s face, arms, and feet. About midnight, the child stirred. Matthew bent over him.
Opening his eyes, the boy said. “Grandpa?”
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Matthew said. “Yes, child.”
“Oh, grandpa I knew you would come.” The little boy said. Closing his eyes, he drifted into a peaceful sleep, a smile curving his lips.
His heart full, Matthew stepped back into the parlor. What a wonderful book he must thank the salesman. Reaching for the book he had been reading, his fingers hung in the air. He was sure this was where he laid it. In its place, however, was another book entitled.

The Christmas Gift

Under the title was the author’s name, Andrew Noble
He searched everywhere but could not find the book he had been reading. Exhausted, he checked on the child. The boy seemed to be sleeping soundly, a smile on his face. Leaning over until his mouth was an inch from boy’s ear, Matthew whispered. “I love you.” The little boy stirred in his sleep without waking.
Matthew sat in the chair by the side of the bed and closed his eyes. For the first time in years, he dreamed of children. The children he and Kathryn never had.
Waking, he glanced at the little boy. The child smiled. “Good morning grandpa.”
“Good morning, child.” Matthew said, smiling. “What did your mother call you?”
The small boy hugged the bed covers to himself. “My mommy named me Chris.”
He said, his smile widening. “Because I was born on Christmas Day. She called me her Christmas Child.”
And so, it was Mathew who became a grandfather without ever being a father.

Series Navigation<< The Knight Before ChristmasOne Still Night >>
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This publication is part 76 of 93 in the series 12 Days of Christmas