CHRISTMS IN A CULVERT
Posted by glowin, Dec 24, 2008. 2339 views. ID = 2152
This post was written in 8 minutes.
|A newborn baby was found alive in a parking lot one year, right around this season, and inspired this story. Having been a maternity nurse for many years, baby stories with good endings are my favorite.|
|This post has been awarded 58 stars by 14 readers.|
CHRISTMAS IN A CULVERT
He would go to bed hungry tonight, if you could call his square of cardboard a bed. Christmas Eve already. He recalled holiday seasons gone by, when he owned a house and a car, and had a wife and family. That was so long ago. Booze had taken the good life from Henry.
"Move on, old man. You can't stay here." The policeman motioned the old fellow away from the storefront. It was the warmest place in the little town; the entrance way was protected by an awning, and the grating at the doorway offered a bit of heat.
Henry shuffled toward the road. If he could only get enough money for a coffee, it might warm his innards. He had developed a cough over the past week, and the crackling cold would not help his chest condition. Not a car stirred on the streets. No one was out walking. He would not be getting a coffee tonight either. Hungry, thirsty and cold. But alive.
Life had come down to living in a cardboard carton. He'd heard them referred to as 'cardboard mansions'. Some mansion. Half the time, he had to look for boxes to rebuild his shelter under the bridge, especially in the cold weather. He would burn as much of the cardboard as he dared to stay warm, then curl up to sleep in what was left. He had managed to get a winter jacket last year at a supper for the homeless in a church basement. The Dew Drop Inn. That place had saved his life more than once. The good people who ran the soup kitchen had given away a truckload of used clothing one Christmas, he couldn't remember when. He appreciated that jacket on the coldest nights.
Ironically, he had been one of the volunteers handing out soup to the homeless at one time. Funny how life threw out curve balls. His curve ball had been a drunk driver. Taken all of them. Everyone he loved. He had cried himself to sleep every night since.
"Henry, I'm going to prescribe something to help you out. It's not going to bring them back, but you'll be able to go back to work. Maybe a grief counselor would help."
His doctor was concerned. Henry wasn't coping. He looked as though he hadn't slept in months. And he hadn't –bits and pieces here and there. He picked up the prescription, Valium, he thought it was, and took them. All of them. They saved him in he ER. He hadn't wanted to be saved. He wanted to be with his sweet Trudy, and the girls. Nothing else mattered. It still didn't.
Home at last. No one bothered him way out here on the town line road, inside a culvert. It no longer had water going through it, and at least broke the cold winter winds. In summer, the area was cool. Henry looked at his abode, a fridge carton tipped sideways, a pile of rags in one corner. If he could just go to sleep and never wake up. But he always did, and the day would go by in his quest for food and handouts. The wind sliced at him as he made his way down the steep bank. A coughing spasm left him weak and clammy.
Traffic was scarce on the freeway above, but it would be on Christmas Eve. Families would be celebrating the Holy Babe's birth. He recalled candlelight services with his precious family. Tears coursed down his cheeks as he turned toward the culvert, and he longed for the sweet oblivion that sleep would bring for a few hours.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spied what looked like a towel. Good. Something to add to his ragged blanket heap. People threw things from cars constantly. Sometimes, he got lucky. He had fairly decent runners on that someone had pitched from a car window during the summer. Kids, he figured.
As he bent to pick up the towel, he froze. It was a bundle of towels, and to his horror, the bundle contained a baby, still warm, unmoving. He looked toward the sky, as if the answer would be there. He gathered the child to his chest, under his jacket, and headed for the top of the embankment. He prayed for traffic this night, of all nights.
He heard the transport long before he saw the headlights and the many other clearance lights. Like a madman, he clutched his jacket with one hand, the other waving at the driver. His efforts were rewarded by a blast of an air horn; the driver swerved to miss Henry and sped away. The next vehicle also swerved, horn blaring. Henry would have done the same—a wild-looking man in the middle of the highway, likely drunk, waving at traffic, long-haired and bearded, ragged jeans, dirty coat, the guy clutching his chest? Could have been hiding a gun—who knew? Yes, Henry understood why no one would stop.
He tried a different tactic. He stood well to the side of the road, and stuck out his thumb. No blaring horns, but not a soul stopped. He remembered how many hikers he had passed when he still drove. It bordered on lunacy to pick up a hitchhiker these days. You risked robbery and a slit throat in return for the kindness of offering a ride.
The coughing had worsened as he stood in the wind, and the highway became slick with freezing rain. He had felt the baby move inside his jacket, and he was curious. Sure enough, this little one was alive. One tiny arm had broken free of the towel, and waved feebly. Henry gazed at this beautiful child in the glow of the street light. He opened what he could now see as a bloody towel, and saw a perfectly-formed little girl, newly-cut umbilical cord stump glistening on her belly. Someone had tied it off with Christmas ribbon. He wept at the deed. How could anyone have left this helpless little child out in the cold!
Replacing the towel and 'bunnying' the too-quiet baby with the expertise of the parent he had once been, he vowed she would live. Henry started the long walk back to town, his precious cargo warm against his chest. The freezing rain stung his face, but he knew he must reach the town for help. No one was going to stop.
He saw the glow of the town lights in the distance. No car had passed for the last hour. Henry struggled for breath, his cough constant now. For at least five minutes, he had heard the muffled cries of the baby. He was soaked and shivering, but the baby was warm.
He had made it to the edge of town. Henry could no longer take a deep breath; something was very wrong in his chest. The years of living in the street had taken their toll, and he was not a young man anymore. He saw a park bench at the side of the street, and desperately needed a few minutes to catch his wind. The newborn now howled lustily at the indignity of being thrust into such a harsh world. Or she was simply hungry.
"Don't worry, little darling. The hospital's right around the corner. I'm going to get you there in a few minutes." The old man lovingly folded his arms about the infant, and leaned back against the bench. The rain turned to snow, and Henry welcomed the relief from the sting of frozen pellets. His breathing became shallower, the baby quieted.
They found him at daylight, covered in snow, his arms frozen around the baby. He had protected her through the night, but his soul was with Trudy and his own little girls. He would never be lonely again, or know hunger and cold. Henry was Home at last. The angels had carried him gently to Heaven.
But they had left the little baby. She was the town's Christmas miracle, and Henry was the hero. The nurses named her Holly. Copyright 2008 glowin. All rights reserved. FifteenMinutesOfFiction.com has been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work. For permission to reprint this item, please contact the author.
|This post has been awarded 58 stars by 14 readers.|
A very nicely written story. I'm glad you were able to get back into the site again! :)
I've added this to the featured gallery. Merry Christmas! ~Posted by Douglas, Dec 25, 2008
Wow. I'm crying so hard right now. I showed this to as many people as would listen. I love it! It is so heartbreaking and yet offers hope. :) Definitely one of my favorites on this site! ~Posted by Hannah, Dec 31, 2008
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