EDITOR’S NOTE: In keeping with The Picayune and DailyTrib.com tradition, we offer a Christmas fictional short story by editor Daniel Clifton. We hope you and your family enjoy this tale.
This story is Part 2 of a tale started last year. Click here to read Part 1.
DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
At Room 124, Brad knocked.
“C’mon in,” a voice called from within. Brad opened the door and stepped in.
Brad met Edward last Christmas when he and his family came to visit Mammy, the teen’s great-grandmother at the assisted living center. Eventually, the boy and the World War II veteran hit it off, sharing stories and laughs. Now, Brad tried to make it back once or twice a month to see Edward.
Edward was sitting in a dark blue chair looking out the window.
“Hey Edward,” Brad said as he walked in. “Sorry it’s been a few weeks. Are you ready for Christmas?”
Edward’s shoulders rose and lowered in a sigh, but he just kept staring out the window.
“You OK?” Brad asked. “You need me to get you something?”
“My youth,” came the almost whispered replied. Brad hesitated. Though Edward had to be about 90, the teen never knew him to complain or even mention his age. The room sat quiet for a few moments before Brad tried to break the mood.
“I hear your son and his family are coming in for Christmas,” he said. “That’ll be cool.”
“Naw, they’re not coming,” Edward said. “John says he has to work. Work. On Christmas.You know, I haven’t seen my grandkids and great-grandkids in, I don’t know, four years maybe. Nobody has time for me.”
Edward finally turned his attention to Brad. He looked the teenager up and down and smiled a bit at the skateboard tucked under his arm.
“You ride that thing all the way here?” Edward asked. “In this weather? What, it’s got to be 30 or 40 degrees out there.”
Brad nodded. “Yeah, I froze a bit coming down Baker Hill. Think I hit a patch of ice. Somebody watered their lawn last night. But I made it.
“You wanna go to lunch? My treat,” Brad said, knowing full well that Edward’s meals were all part of living at the center.
Edward shook his head. “No, I don’t feel much like eating. I’m not much good company right now. I was really hoping the kids would make it out this Christmas. Can’t know how many I have left — can’t be many.”
Brad paused, searching for something to say.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll have a bunch more,” he said, wondering if those were the right words.
“I don’t know,” Edward replied. “Even if I do, how fun can it be? I’m just a dust collector here in this room. Can’t even get out on my own without the nurses and staff throwing a fit. Dang. This isn’t how it should be.”
A heaviness settled in the room. Brad tried to smile, tried to think of something reassuring, something that would boost Edward’s spirits, but he couldn’t.
Edward turned back to the window.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to leave that all on you,” he said. “Why don’t you get going? Go have some fun. Christmas is coming. Don’t fret yourself over some old man like me. Go live. Go do something crazy.”
With that, Brad felt dismissed. He turned and walked toward the door. Before stepping out in the hall, he looked back one more time at Edward.
“It will be all right. You’ll see, Edward,” Brad said. “I’ll be back. Have a Merry Christmas.”
Edward just continued to stare out the window without a response.
As Brad shuffled through the hall, he thought of Edward’s parting words: “Go do something crazy.” He smiled a bit, recalling Edward’s stories about his younger years helping build the skiing business in the Aspen, Colorado, area. A couple of times, Edward and some friends skied naked through town, on a dare.
Brad laughed thinking about Edward skiing through town in nothing but his hat, gloves, goggles and a pair of skis.
“Do something crazy,” Brad said to himself. Then, an idea began germinating in Brad’s brain, small at first, but picking up speed and rolling downhill. As it did, it gathered momentum and size, like a snowball. Soon, Brad was grinning and chanting under his breath, “Do something crazy,” as he headed out the retirement center’s door into the cold winter day.
Edward closed the door behind him, flicked on a light and looked around his small room. The Christmas Eve service helped lift his spirit, a little. But as he sat on the side of his bed, the loneliness settled in around him.
A sound at the window caught Edward’s attention. A bird flying into the window at this time of night, he thought. That’s not likely. Then the bird called out his name, “Edward. Hey, Edward.”
“What?” Edward said. A talking bird, at night. What was going on?
“Edward, c’mon open the window, it’s cold out here,” the voice said. “It’s me, Brad.”
Edward pulled back the curtains and made out Brad’s face pressed against the glass. He slipped open the window locks and pushed open the window. A screen separated the teenager and the man.
“What are you doing?” Edward scolded. “Do you know what time it is? What if somebody sees you?”
“Hey, pop the screen out,” Brad said. “We’ve got to go before somebody sees me.”
“Whoa, wait one second there private,” Edward said. “Go where? I’m not going anywhere. Do you know what time it is?”
“You’ve already asked that, and the answer is ‘Yes, I know what time it is.’ Now hurry up and pop the screen,” Brad said. “Oh, whatever.”
Brad didn’t wait for Edward, he pinched his fingers along the screen, pressed down and pulled out.
The screen came free.
“I’m springing’ ya,” Brad said. “Get changed and let’s go.”
Edward stared at the teen. “I’m not going anywhere,” and began to pull the window down. Before he could, Brad stuck his head in.
“Hey, I’m going to stand out here until you get changed and get out here,” he said. “Tomorrow morning, they’ll find me frozen, leaning up against the wall with bird crap all over me. Now, let’s go.”
Brad’s tone revealed his determination. Edward pushed the window back up, turned, grabbed some other clothes and headed into the bathroom. He returned few minutes later in a woolen shirt, a pair of duck canvas pants and hiking-style boots. He grabbed a winter jacket, some gloves and a hat.
“OK, how are we going to get you out of there?” Brad asked as he looked around the large window.
Edward lifted his left leg over the windowsill, placed it out on the ground and followed with his right foot. He was standing next to Brad.
“They built the building so it would be easy to get people out in case of a fire,” Edward said. “Now what? You going to have me ride one of those skateboards through town?”
“Not quite,” Brad said. “Follow me.”
Brad led Edward off behind the center and down a small hill to a waiting car. Brad hurried around the car, climbed in and motioned Edward into the passenger side.
“How old are you?” Edward asked. “Can you drive?”
“I have my permit,” Brad said. “As long as we don’t get pulled over and my parents don’t find out, we should be all right.”
Edward pulled the seat belt across him and snapped it in tight.
Brad stopped the car near a gate just on the outskirts of town. He climbed out and motioned Edward to follow.
“Should we be doing this?” Edward asked, but only in passing. Part of him wanted to know where they were going.
A short trail guided the two up to a concrete structure as far as Edward could tell. Brad went over to a small panel, opened it and flipped a few switches.
The lights reflected off some of the concrete, but what made Edward stop was something covering several of the concrete hills and structures.
“What in the world?”
“It’s a skate park,” Brad said, heading for a shed just to the side of the park. “When I left the other day, you said, ‘Go do something crazy.’ Remember?”
Edward didn’t, but he nodded his head a bit, still staring at the snow.
“So, my dad’s friend owns this ice company. They can make snow with some of the stuff,” Brad said. “So I talked to him, and he set up one of the machines here today, and we made it ‘snow.’”
Edward didn’t move. He couldn’t say a word.
The snow covered the main structures, a series of undulating concrete waves, a long wall lining one side of the park and a few other spots.
Brad emerged from the shed pulling a plastic circle sled and a short toboggan.
“I wasn’t sure about skiing, so I found these sleds,” he said.
At the top of the wall, Brad put down the toboggan, set the other sled to the side and sat in the front of the wooden ride. He motioned Edward to climb on back. The veteran hesitated, looked around and then settled in.
Edward just had time to grab a hold of Brad when the teen leaned the toboggan over the edge.
“Whooo!” the teen hollered. The sled raced down the wall, then up one of the rolling waves, down and up the other before its speed petered out. The toboggan slid to a stop, halfway up the third wave before easing back.
Edward sat for a second, trying to take in what was happening. Then, he started laughing. Laughing like he hadn’t laughed in months, maybe years.
The two rolled off the toboggan and headed back to the drop-in wall. For the next hour, they sledded their way around the park — sometimes on the toboggan, sometimes on the circular sled. But they laughed with every hill, roll and spill.
Finally, Edward sat down on one of the park benches, a smile engraved across his face.
“I don’t know the last time I’ve had so much fun,” he said. “I don’t know what to say.”
Brad sat down next to him, pushed his hat back a bit. He looked at Edward for a moment.
“I know what to say,” he said to Edward. “Same time, same place next Christmas.”
Edward sat silently for a moment. He sighed and smiled again.
“Yeah,” he said. “Same time, same place next Christmas. Merry Christmas, Brad. And thank you.”
“Merry Christmas to you, Edward.”
The old man started to laugh again. He looked at Brad sitting next to him.
“You know, there’s one thing that would make this night even more memorable,” he said. Brad looked over at him and smiled.
“You said go do something crazy.”
At 6 a.m. on Christmas Day, Officer Jacob Glazer looked over the call slips from the night before.
“Hmmm,” he murmured. “What in the world?”
Between 12:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. several people called and reported what they thought was a grandfather and grandson streaking through town wearing underwear, ski caps, gloves and goggles.
And a scarf, one witness said.
Glazer shook his head as he walked through the office.
“Somebody had a good Christmas,” he said.