A SHORT CHRISTMAS STORY: JESSI COSGROVE: "Just One Gift"

(12/21/2021)
Just One Gift

By Jessi Cosgrove 2014

The blinding snow swirled in the squall as he readied himself for another night of work. He laced up his thick boots, slipped into his overcoat, and shoved his knit cap over his balding head; the weatherman had said it would be the frostiest evening of the year.

He hoisted on his pack, and turning to his graying wife, gave her a hurried kiss on the cheek. She smiled, but it was a melancholy smile, with a tense apprehension simmering in her eyes. Even in the dusk, he could see a sparkle of sentiment appear behind her spectacles.

He opened the door, and immediately a maelstrom of ice pierced the cabin, lashing at his reddened cheeks and stiffening his bushy brows.

The cold stung him, but he knew there was no returning to the coziness of home until daybreak signaled quitting time. He shut the door swiftly behind him and made his way to his vehicle, the glistening ice-glazed powder crunching beneath his boots.

The pack he hauled was unreasonably weighty, and his back threatened to give under its heft; yet, he laid it in the back as gently as he could, as if putting a child to sleep.

There was no room for mistakes that night.

Grunting, he swung himself into the front seat; he was getting no younger, and the chill invited an ache into his arthritic bones. He paused - only for a second - to ponder if the voyage would be worth the effort, but he quickly shook his head, grumbling to himself. He was off.

All night, he drove, over mountains, valleys, fields. He passed normal homes with normal people inside, sitting around fireplaces and dinner tables, sharing stories, laughing - not working.

He shivered. He hadn't slept in about a week, but the frost kept his heavy eyelids from drooping. Just one more night, he thought, and then I will take some time off.

But he knew deep down that his inner dialogue was a mere pretense. He worked continually, doing his very best to stay ahead of the orders that came pouring in.

Every night he worked, it seemed there were even more hopeless requests to fulfill than before. The customers he once knew to be gracious had become selfish, impatient, non-appeasing beasts.

He frowned.

Why was he still at this job, after so many years of seeing society decline in this way? Again, he shook the thought away. Surely there are a few nice people left in this world, he told himself.

Do it for them.

The hours dragged on. Each house he passed looked just like the last. The monotony was agonizing. He slipped and fell hard on an icy patch. A dog chased him, baying, from a customer's house.

His back throbbed. His coat was filthy. His stomach was queasy. But he took an Advil and pressed on, dreaming only of his wife and snug bed waiting for him at home.

Just a few more to go, he fibbed again to himself …

She awoke just before dawn to a muffled sound. She froze, under her quilt, listening intensely. Her husband had yet to join her. Just as she was about to assume she had dream't it, the noise came again. She glanced at the clock - 5:00 AM.

He should have been home. Clicking on the light and stuffing her feet into red slippers, she tiptoed down the hall, following the faint sound.

She found him in the kitchen, his back quivering slightly with each sob. In his frostbitten hands, he cradled a snow globe; inside was a minute painted village with a sign pointing the way to Santa's Shop.

Tenderly placing a hand on his shoulder, she whispered, "What is it, Chris?"

A single silver tear dropped from a bright blue eye and nestled into a snowy beard.

Rubbing the mist from his eyes with a thumb, he sighed resignedly: "No one has ever asked what I want for Christmas."