Note: “Wanderers” can also be found in my book “My Best Christmas and other stories of the season” at Amazon.com.
Her car wasn’t great. A minivan, actually. Not the latest model. Actually quite old. Dark brown originally. Mostly rust covered now. The driver’s door hardly stayed shut anymore without anchoring it to the concrete block on the passenger side floor. But it was all she had and home was home. And to make it worse, Betty had just skated off the slippery street up onto a snow bank. It was after midnight. She pounded on the steering wheel and cried.
How did she get here, she wondered. When did the downward spiral begin? When did she go from employed artist to struggling artist to artist-without-a-job? Was it when the city downsized to save taxpayer money and eliminated her position? Was it when she no longer had been able to pick up enough part time jobs to keep food on the table and pay the rent? Perhaps it was her decision to pursue an art major at Ripley College, rather than following in the family business? How did she get here? Alone. All her worldly possessions packed in her junker of a van, piled into a snowbank. And why? So close to Christmas no less.
That Friday, a week before Christmas, found Thomas in a similar world of despair. The place was empty at that time of night. He looked around. Then decided. Something told him to stop. He was close to the edge. He knew it. His despair drove him to this point. He struggled with that voice in the back of his head, yet he felt that what he was about to do was the right thing.
It was the self-loathing that drove Thomas Start to walk from home to the neighborhood Corner Bar that night. It pushed him to try to erase his pain in whatever way he could. Time to end it? He argued with the voice, back and forth, one drink after the other.
Sure. Sure. There was nothing he could have done. The house was fully engaged, engulfed in flames. Nobody could go back in there. He couldn’t go back, at least that’s what they all said. But wasn’t it his own selfishness that held him back? Thomas was so, so sorry that the little three year old boy had died in the fire. He was so, so sorry he couldn’t save him. When Thomas had heard the awful report about the child it had crushed him again. Another child lost. A child he couldn’t take in his arms and save. Like the ones he and Ruth had so desperately begged God to save for them during her pregnancies, this one too was now lost.
The voice was winning. Somewhere from the depths of his being, he was being pushed. Pushed to put one foot in front of the other and go. Pushed to go somewhere unknown. Pushed, but led to do the right thing, whatever it was. So, it was time to go, before… well, just before. Thomas stumbled to the door, opened it to the clanging of the hanging metal beer mugs wishing him a dismal ‘merry Christmas.’ He shrugged on his Ripley Fire Department coat, tugged at his Cubs hat and staggered out into the wintry blast, soon to find his way.