By Jon Moray
“It’s Christmas Eve, George. Why are you so down?” asked Steve, friend and fellow colleague at Allerton General Hospital.
“I wish I could feel the spirit of Christmas. With all the long hours I’ve been putting in, I haven’t been able to appreciate the true meaning. It’s bothering me.”
“Midnight mass will change that. Listening to the traditional carols by the choir and orchestra, and you’ll feel like one of the three kings. It does it for me every year.”
“Perhaps…what time will you get to church?”
“11:30. I have to get a good seat, you know. My brother and I will meet you in the narthex.”
“See you there.” They parted ways at the hospital parking garage.
George Corwin and his longtime friend Steve were medical interns at the hospital for the last two years, taking up residency for their doctor licenses. George worked in the children’s wing, assisting the pediatricians on staff, while Steve supported the OBGYN physicians in the maternity wing. It was 9:30 p.m. and George’s plan was to get home, grab a quick bite, shower, and head to church, but had to make a stop at the super shopping center to pick up a few baby items for the church’s infant drive.
Along the route, George viewed many shop storefronts showcasing the signs of the season. He saw displays of faux white snow, reindeers, snowmen, and sparkling white lights festooning the glass frames. The holiday decorations did little to alter his cloud of melancholy.
He arrived at the All You Can Shop super center at 10 p.m. and the only parking available was by the auto shop on the side of the building. He pulled into one of the spots, rushed through the automatic doors, and made a mad dash toward the baby aisle, dodging a swarm of restless last-minute shoppers and a multi-colored, twinkling lighted Christmas display, featuring an inflatable, six feet tall Santa. He grabbed a pack of onesies, rattles, and diapers, as if he were on a time sensitive shopping mission. The jaunt lasted twenty-four minutes, twenty of it on a long checkout line that extended into women’s sleepwear. He exited the store, got to his vehicle, and popped the trunk when a man approached him from the woods beyond the parking lot. George quickly slammed the trunk and took a few steps back with clenched fists and an elevated heartbeat.
“I am sorry to bother you, Sir. Would you have some towels? My friend’s lady is having a baby and we need linen,” rasped the soiled face, bearded, weather-beaten man that wore a torn, hooded sweatshirt, and tattered faded jeans.
“A woman is having a baby? In the woods? Why isn’t she at the hospital?”
“We are homeless, we have no money. Please, there isn’t much time.”
George paused a moment, searched the man’s features for clues of deceit, and came up empty.
“Uh, I think I may have a few towels in the trunk,” George stammered. Please, step back, I need some space.” The man respectfully obliged. George pushed aside the shopping bags and dug in the back, behind a few cardboard boxes and retrieved two worn, but clean towels. “Here you go,” he said, skeptically handing them over.
“Thank you,” the man said softly, and scurried back into the woods. George watched him disappear between the moonlit trees and into the wild, chilly, Southern night. With curiosity peaked, George wrestled with the notion of following the man. He slowly crept over the curb and took several leaf crunching steps until he parted branches to follow the trail made by the man. He turned back to see the store lights and made a mental reference point to track his way back. The man was still visible from the glow of the parking lot lights but his silhouette was fading. George quickened his pace but remained undetected.
Suddenly, the man broke into a run. George pursued in a jog until he saw a small fire made from branches toward where the man was heading. He turned back to see a faint glow of the super center. Suddenly, he heard a woman screaming over several people trying to comfort her. He remained out of sight as the man approached the expectant mother. George pulled out his cell phone from his jeans pocket.
“Steve, a homeless woman is having a baby in the woods behind the All You Can Shop. Get down here,” he urged, in a voice just above a whisper.
“What? Are you kidding me?”
“I’m not kidding. A woman is having a baby about a quarter mile south of the store. Get down here quick. You might be able to help.”
“I just got out of the shower. It’ll be about twenty minutes before I get there. Are you sure about this?”
“I am watching it right now. I will meet you on the side by the auto shop. You’ll see my car. Hurry.” George ended the call and watched as the woman’s screams intensified. He quickly retreated to the parking lot to meet Steve. Minutes later, Steve and his brother Carl arrived in an SUV. They got out, with Steve holding his doctor’s bag, and Carl holding a box of linen and cloths.
“Through here. I hope we can help her.”
George led them into the woods when an impulse halted his progress. He ran back to his car, popped the trunk and retrieved the bag of newborn items he had bought from the store.
They rushed into the woods and within three minutes, were within earshot of the group of vagabonds. The pregnant woman was no longer pregnant as she clutched her newborn boy, now wrapped in a blood-soaked towel. The meek turned to find the trio encroaching on their area.
“We work at the hospital. Can we help?” shouted George. The man closest to the woman, whom they learned was the father, motioned them forward. They closed in to see the woman in tears, tenderly showering the baby’s head with kisses. The fire’s flicker illuminated her damp features. Carl offered her fresh linens while Steve asked to tend to the new mom. The woman handed off the baby to George for his examination.
“Our baby will give us strength to live our lives better. He is our hope,” she exclaimed, wiping her wet, glossed face.
“We will make it. I will get a job and we will find a place to live. I will be a good father to our child,” reassured the new dad, tenderly stroking her stringy, oily hair.
An aura of peaceful tranquility ruled over them until one of the homeless gently hummed “Silent Night” on his harmonica. The new dad knelt beside his mate for an extended embrace. George softly swayed the baby in his arms in rhythm with the melody, and studied the infant’s smiling, easy slumber. He returned the baby back into his mother’s arms and watched misty eyed as he felt the love between the new family. He reached for the shopping bag and laid the infant items before them.
The three men wished the homeless group good tidings and made their way back to the parking lot.
“12:30, looks like we’ve missed the midnight mass,” said George.
“But it looks like you found your spirit of Christmas, my friend. Why don’t we get together tomorrow for the Christmas morning mass?” asked Steve.
“Sounds great,” George beamed. “Merry Christmas, Steve. Merry Christmas, Carl.”
“Merry Christmas, George.”
George drove home with an opened moon roof, intermittingly stealing glances at the clear, star filled sky with the wonderful reflection of the night that smiled on his Christmas wish.
* * *
Jon Moray has been writing short fiction for over a decade and his work had appeared in several online and print markets. When not working and being a devoted family man, he enjoys sports, music, the ocean, and SCI-FI/Fantasy media.