If this keeps up, you’ll be able to build a snow man, Charlie.”
His red curls sparked as he ducked back from the brightness of the window, leaving a smudge from where his face pressed against the glass. Charlie turned and threw me a quick grin. That grin of his could light up a room, and it certainly lit up my heart.
I dreaded the Christmas holidays. Charlie and I were facing them alone. His father was in Afghanistan, his mother on the run from an abusive man, so Charlie and I had only each other. But with the wonderland those tiny flakes promised hope surged from deep within, and I gratefully accepted it.
Snow was rare in the South, but a white Christmas had been predicted by all the weather stations. Folks celebrate snow in Georgia! They even name it—Snow jam! Snow Jam ends all traffic, all work, and all residents are expected to engage exclusively in activities such as sledding, snowball fights, and lumpy snowmen competitions. All of this must be followed by cups of foamy, hot chocolate.
Charlie’s fascination with the falling snow gave me hope. This sad little boy facing the holidays without his parents needed a distraction. Six years old and adorable with his fiery curls and brown eyes that could cut glass or turn a little girl starry-eyed, my grandson had become my Christmas project.
Craig, my son and Charlie’s father, was deployed with the U.S. Army. His letters had arrived from both Afghanistan and Iraq over the past two years. A month before Craig’s letters had stopped coming from anywhere, so in addition to Charlie, I had that to worry about.
But my immediate concern was Charlie’s attitude. Charlie didn’t believe in Santa Claus. Not to mention the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.
“They’re lies, Grandma!” he had screamed this at me, earlier in the month after I’d asked him what he wanted Santa to bring him for Christmas.
“Why do you say that?” His little tirade had shocked me. Didn’t every child look forward to Santa Claus and gifts? I had to get to the bottom of this. In spite of Charlie’s problems, and he had a lot of them for his tender age, I thought the Christmas season would bring him into a happier place.
“Because Jack said so, and last year he showed me the toys I was supposed to get from Santa Claus!” Charlie plopped down in the middle of the living room and glared at me. “Jack didn’t want to wrap them, said it was a waste of time and he wasn’t my daddy, so he didn’t have to pretend he was an old fat man in a red suit. Then
Mama cried and Jack called her bad names.”
Charlie’s parents divorced two years ago, and until this past September Charlie lived in Memphis with Delia, his mother, and her boyfriend Jack, a thin, wiry type with his eyes set too close, and who never looked clean. That’s a feature I’ve always considered untrustworthy, and Jack certainly couldn’t be trusted.
Trying to still my anger at Charlie’s revelation, I said, “Let’s have grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, Charlie.” Cheese is a happy food.
While I prepared our lunch I sent all manner of silent curses on a beeline to Memphis and directly targeted to Jack and his weasel eyes. For a long time I’d suspected things were wrong in Charlie’s life, but my visits with him had been few. Because I was a sixty-three year old widow who worked part-time and had a modest income, I’d made very few trips from Stone Mountain, Georgia to Memphis to see him. Then one night in July a scared and tearful Delia knocked on my door. Tiny Charlie stood beside her, a frown on his face and an ugly, dark bruise on his right arm. Delia had a huge suitcase. The pitiful child dragged a bulging duffel bag.
I made a late dinner for them, and while we were having our dessert Charlie fell asleep in his chair. “He’s so tired,” Delia said. “He’s been so scared.” She twisted in her chair and stared directly into my eyes. “You have to take care of Charlie now,” she said. “Jack isn’t safe to be around anymore.” Delia had her own bruises, but she refused to talk about them.
She leaned down and wrapped her arms around her son, gently shaking him awake. “Baby, you have to stay with Grandma until we can live together again,” she told him. A tearful Charlie and I watched her get into a cab.
“I’m going to a shelter,” she told us. “and then wherever I’ll be safe.”
I was thrilled to have Charlie under my care. I’d spent restless nights worrying about that little boy and what he might be going through. Now that I had him I’d make his life so interesting and full of joy he would lose that frown and smile the beautiful smile I knew he owned.
Living with Jack had left its imprint on the little boy. While I looked forward to restoring a normal childhood to him, I had no clue of the obstacles I would face.
C. C. has a short story, ” End of the World Bar”, in Haunting Tales of Spirit Lake, http://Amzn.to/1oYOmF8
Shaman Woman, a novel by C. C. Ansardi, is available at Amazon.com http://amzn.to/1yzk8K4