A Christmas Story

By Anne Azel

"And the angel said unto them, Fear
not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings
of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day, in the
city of David, a Saviour, which is
Christ the Lord."

(S. Luke 2, v.10-11)

It is strange that words of faith will often come to you when all else fails. The blows now didn't hurt. Anna saw them as in a film, grainy and hard to see, in slow motion, but without physical pain, just emotional anguish. She knew she was going to die here in the snow, with her Christmas shopping, shattered around her, mixed with her own blood. The only thing left was trying to protect what was most important to her. Her eyes caught the twinkle of a broken tree ornament reflected in a street light. It looked like a single star in the cold blackness that was closing around her.

"When they saw the star, they

rejoiced with exceeding great joy."

"And when they were come into the

house, they saw the young child with

Mary his mother, and fell down, and

worshipped him:

"An being warned of God in a dream

that they should not return to Herod,

they departed into their own country

another way.

(S. Matthew 2, v. 10,11,12)

Charlie watched from the shadows of an alley. The gang were kicking the shit out of her. Her only crime was she was wearing the same coat as Charlie. Hood up against the snow, they hadn't realized that for the last few minutes they had been tailing the wrong person. Charlie had thought herself out of options until she had seen the woman in the same coat come out of a store and start down the street. All Charlie had to do was pull her own hood up, get close to woman, and then disappear into an alley. The street rats had fallen for the switch like the dumb asses they were.

A police siren wailed in the distance, and like rats from a ship, the dark figures ran, leaving a trodden scar in the snow. Charlie waited to see if they would come back. Snow formed a new layer of skin over the scar. Nothing. Charlie moved from the alleyway and crossed the nearly empty parking lot. It wouldn't hurt to go through her purse to see if she had any cash.

Charlie looked around, picked up the purse and turned to go. A muffled wail froze her to the spot. She looked at the beaten woman, her blood frozen to the side of her mouth. She looked dead. The faint wail came again. Charlie frowned, looked around once more, and then knelt by the body. She used her hands as a shovel to roll the woman over. Beneath her was a baby. The damn woman hadn't fought back because she was protecting her baby beneath her.

"And when ye stand praying, forgive,

if ye have ought against any; that your

Father also which is in heaven may

forgive you your trespasses."

( S. Mark 11, v. 25)

Charlie poked the small bundle, and the faint wail came again. When the woman moved slightly, her hand tightening around her baby, Charlie jumped in surprise, and looked into a battered face. "P...Please, save her. You can. Please," the woman whispered, through lips cracked and bleeding.

Charlie stared. There was nothing to say. She'd saved her own hide by going another way. She hadn't known about the baby. Bad things happen. "Please," the woman begged again.

"That your car?" Charlie asked.

"Y...Yes, t...the Ford," the woman managed to say through chattering teeth.

"Gimme the keys," Charlie demanded.

The woman tried to move, but pain lanced her face. "C...Can't move my arm. T...There in my pocket. Please, please help. D...Don't let her die! Her names C...Chelsey. C...Chelsey Hilman."

"Shut up," Charlie responded, digging in the woman's pocket. She pulled out a small bible and tossed it aside, reached her hand in again, and came out with the car keys. She picked up the purse and unlocked the car, tossing the bag in on the passenger's seat.

Then she went back and bent to take the kid. The woman held on. "Let go."

"W...Where are you t...taking her?" the woman asked, her voice wobbly with the cold and shock. The figure leaning over her was blurred into three. The street light, a yellow ball behind, cast the stranger's features into darkness.

"I'll leave her at the hospital," Charlie snapped, pulling the child from the battered woman, and carrying her at arms length to the car. She placed her on the floor on the passenger's side so she didn't fall off the seat. Charlie had a vague idea that kids could be squirmy. She didn't want to be caught with no dead kid.

Charlie didn't have a license, but she had driven vehicles since she was a teen, hot-wiring them, and driving them around to the nearest chop shop to sell for parts. She got in, closed the door and turned the key. The engine started right away. Cold air blasted from the heater. The baby gave a little wail again. Charlie looked out the window. The woman was lying still, her eyes open and staring back, tears now frozen on her face. Charlie's breath frosted the window over, and she turned away to put the car in gear. The car had barely moved forward, when Charlie braked, put the car in park, and got out to walk back to the figure in the snow.

"This is my commandment, 

That ye love one another, as I have

loved you."

(S. John 15, v.12)

"Don't you fucking well die on me. You got that," Charlie ordered, grabbing the woman under the shoulders and dragging her to the car. The woman didn't answer, her scream of pain muffled by the bloodied hood that had fallen over her face.

Charlie read about her in the paper the next day. How she and the baby were found in a car outside the Emergency door. Charlie had painstakingly read the words one by one, moving her finger along and sounding the words with her lips, as she sat over a coffee in a cafe. The two of them were in bad shape, but they were going to make it. Good. Charlie turned to the racing results.

"Ye are they which justify

yourselves before men; but

God knoweth your hearts;"

(S. Luke 17, v. 15)

It was several days later, when Charlie showed up at the hospital. She had bought some cut flowers and carried them carefully on the subway to the hospital. Charlie didn't like hospitals, and she wasn't sure why she had come other than she hadn't known the woman had a baby. That bothered her. Adults took their chances in life. Sometimes bad things happen, but she didn't pick on kids. She went over to the old woman who was a volunteer at the information desk. "What room is Anna Hilman in?

"Reverend Hilman? Wasn't that awful what happened to her? Room 486, dear," the woman said, after consulting her computer screen for sometime.

"Yeah, a real shame," Charlie responded, without any emotion. She took the elevator up, nervously swaying back and forth on her heels. She didn't like to feel closed in. Once on the right floor, Charlie worked her way down the hall until she found the room. There were four beds inside, but only two were occupied. The first held an old woman sleeping. Her head was back and her mouth open, and Charlie could see she didn't have any teeth in. Her cheeks flapped each time she exhaled in a gruff snore.

The next bed seemed to be wired for sound. Bottles hung from poles and monitors bleeped. Charlie went over and stood at the foot of the bed, surprised to see dark green eyes fixed on her through swollen slits of eyes. "Don't that snoring bother you?" Charlie asked.

"It would bother me a lot more if she suddenly stopped," Anna responded, her words not too clear for her jaw was stiff and swollen. "You are the woman who saved Chelsey and me."

Charlie frowned. "Brought you some flowers," she answered, tossing the boutique on the bed.

"Thanks. Thanks for everything. You saved..."

"I set you up. They were after me," Charlie cut in abruptly. "We got the same coat, you and me.

I watched them kick the shit out of you. The paper said you are only alive 'cause the coat protected you. I just wanted you to know, I didn't see that you had that kid with you." That said, and off her conscience, Charlie turned to leave.

"Wait!" Anna called.

Charlie turned.

"You owe me. That was a really rotten thing you did," Anna managed to get out with as much of a growl as she could muster.

"Bad things happen, lady. Get used to it," Charlie shot back.

"You owe me," Anna repeated stubbornly.

Charlie came back and stood by the bed. "So what do you want from me?" she asked angrily.

Anna had no idea what she wanted. She just knew that there was something about this woman that was important to her life. It was a feeling. She looked at the lean, tall figure standing by her bed. She was not so much beautiful as she was handsome, with strong classic bones, and a well toned body. She was also trouble. That was written all over her.

"Then said Jesus unto him,

Except ye see signs and wonders,

ye will not believe."

(S. John 4, v. 48)

"I'm new in this city and don't know anyone. I've been in Africa working. I came back last month because my brother and his wife had been killed in a car crash, and there was no one to take care of my niece." Anna explained, fighting to keep her emotions under control. "This is going to be Chelsey's first Christmas, and you are going to help me make it special."

"Are you crazy? She's a baby! She's not going to remember!" Charlie snorted in anger.

"I'll remember!" Anna responded stubbornly. "You owe me."

"I owe you shit!" Charlie snarled, but she didn't storm out like she knew she should have. This Anna was alright. She hadn't judged or got angry, she had just stood her ground, and demanded compensation for a wrong. The lady had guts.

"I haven't got no place for you two. Besides I'm bad news. You don't know me," Charlie stated, honestly, but mostly in the hopes of getting the woman to change her mind.

"I have my sister and husband's house until Chelsey turns twenty-one. You can stay with us, and help me make it a good Christmas for her," Anna argued.

"I'm bad news, lady!" Charlie explained again, slowly so the woman would get it.

"You're a gang leader, I imagine. While you are staying at our house , you will not break any laws or see your gang members."

"What?! You're nuts! And I wouldn't be helping you, I'd have to take care of both of you!"



"Yes. You owe me," Anna stated, drawing the line in the sand. Her eyes closed for a second against the pain. Give me strength, Father.

"For the son of man is come to seek and

to save that which was lost."

(S. Luke 19, v.10)

"Just 'til Christmas is over, and no trying to change me or nothin'!" Charlie argued, a bit confused as to just how she had ended up accepting this arrangement.

Anna smiled, too tired now, to answer or even keep her eyes open. She opened her hand and the dark stranger hesitated, then took the smaller hand in her own. It was a new beginning.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on

earth peace, good will towards all."

(S. Luke 2, v. 14)

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