Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Coming Home for Christmas
Ramsey Wallace slouched against the wall behind the community center, smoking his first joint since college. Frigid December air gusted around him, lifting the edges of his cashmere sweater, but he hardly noticed. Raking a hand through his thick, dark hair, he closed his eyes and sighed.
This was supposed to be a festive, joyous time of year, filled with friendship, family, caroling, and such. Instead, Ramsey was stressed to the breaking point. He'd just been informed his hours were being cut at work. With a stay-at-home wife and three hungry mouths to feed, not to mention the pile of Christmas presents hidden in the attic that would now take twice as long to pay off, he was feeling the burn. Tricia had no idea his hours were being cut, and he didn't have the heart to tell her before the holidays. That was a colossal mistake, too, because Trish had invited twenty people over for Christmas dinner with all the trimmings—and he meant <i>all</i> the trimmings!
“Hey, Mister, whatcha smokin'?”
Ramsey glanced up. A thin girl with short, spiky blonde hair regarded him with serious blue eyes. She was bundled in a puffy green coat with lady bug boots and held a rag doll in her arms that had seen better days.
“Looks like a joint to me.”
Ramsey choked out a laugh. “What do you know about joints, young lady?”
The little girl shrugged then proceeded to plop down next to him. “I know lotsa stuff I shouldn't.”
“What are you . . . eight?”
“Something like that. You should never ask a lady her age. I'm Sammy, by the way.”
“Oh, no!” Sammy looked around frantically, lifting her doll in the air and searching the ground. “Madeline's eye!”
“What's wrong, kid?”
“Madeline's eye is missing!” Sammy turned the weathered doll to face Ramsey.
Indeed one black button eye was missing.
Sammy started whimpering, which quickly turned to loud wailing. Ramsey took another pull off the joint and prayed she'd shut up soon. He came out here to be alone, to mellow out, to stop himself from going postal.
The wailing continued.
“Kid! It's just a button. I'm sure you can get another one.”
Sammy stopped her caterwauling and looked up at Ramsey, her lower lip trembling. “It would never match this one.” She pointed to the other eye.
It looked like an average black button to Ramsey. “I wish I had your problems, kid.”
“Madeline is special because Mommy gave her to me. I was supposed to take care of her, and I didn't.”
“I'm sure your mommy can sew on another button for you.”
The click-clack of high heels interrupted Sammy. A harried looking woman in a beige trench rushed up the alley. “Sammy! There you are! What have I told you about running off that way?”
Ramsey stubbed the joint out quickly.
“Sorry, Mrs. H. Is it time to go now?”
“Yes, but there's been a change in plans. You'll come home with me for Christmas, okay?” Mrs. H. attempted a bright tone.
Sammy hung her head. “Oh. Okay.”
“Come on now.” Mrs. H's gaze landed on Ramsey, and she sniffed the air. “Really, sir?”
“Hey, lady, I was out here trying to find a moment of peace at Christmas. You should keep an eye on your kid.”
The woman and Sammy started walking away, but Sammy stopped and ran back to Ramsey, holding out Madeline. “Here.”
“I want you to have her.”
“But you said she was important because your mom gave her to you.”
“Yeah, but I'm going to see my mom soon, so I don't need Madeline anymore. I think you need her more than I do. She's a great listener.”
“Oh, she is, huh?”
“Yup. See you! Merry Christmas, sir.” Sammy skipped away, leaving Ramsey holding the worn out doll.
Mrs. H. started to follow, then turned back hesitantly. Ramsey saw tears fill her eyes as she stood in front of him for a moment, staring up at the sky. “You treasure that doll.”
“This?” Ramsey held Madeline up in all her raggedy glory.
“Sammy's parents died in a car accident three years ago. She's been lost in the system ever since. It's gotten harder and harder to place her in foster care.”
“She seems like a nice enough kid. Wait—she told me she was going to see her mom soon.”
“Sammy's dying.” A tear slid down Mrs. H's cheek. “The fact she gave up Madeline . . . I think she knows it's almost time. Like I said—treasure that doll.”
“I can't do that, lady.”
With a new sense of perspective, Ramsey rushed home to his family. After having a long talk with his wife, he gathered the children around the tree and announced there would be one more guest for Christmas dinner—one who would stay with them until she was reunited with her mom.
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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook