Bill's Best ChristmasA Story by T. L. O'Neal
Fiction piece, for the Christmas holiday.
Bill’s Best Christmas
Written by: T. L. O’Neal
Bill Anderson grew up poor, so he always had an appreciation for everything he had in life. He never really knew his father; he skipped out a long time ago when Bill was still very small. So his mother and he struggled all through his life growing up. In spite of their early troubles, his mother taught him right from wrong and the golden rule.
“Just because you’re poor is not an excuse for never being a good person.” She always told little Bill.
She also taught him to respect everyone, no matter how different they were and he always followed his mother’s advice. So he grew up to be a decent man with a good heart and a loving soul. He was also a good father and husband with a nice family, job, and everything seemed to be going his way. Bill worked hard as a stockbroker and was doing exceptionally well with the Internet stocks and provided very well for his wife and children, he also made a lot of money for his clients too.
Bill always volunteered at the homeless shelter on the holidays and gave to his church and charities too, because he knew what it was like to be hungry. He didn’t give till it hurt; he always gave till it felt good because he never forgot where he had come from either, or the lessons that his mother had taught him growing up. Bill’s wife grew up even poorer than him, but it affected her differently. Instead of be grateful for what she had, she always worried about losing it and always wanted more. That’s the reason Bill worked so hard and pushed the envelope when it came to investing. Bill’s wife never did love him, she just wanted security and saw him as such, that’s why she married him. Bill knew this, but was OK with it because he loved her more than life itself and just wanted her to be happy.
“Everything was perfect,” he thought one night as he sat in his easy chair watching his kids play on the floor, but he never realized how fragile life could really be. Then when the bottom fell out of the NASDAQ stocks, Bill’s and his clients’ investments fell with them. He and a lot of other people lost their jobs over this and Bill lost all of his investments too. Bill then fell into a deep depression, which was normal under the circumstances but most just didn’t seem to understand, then his wife, friends, and country club started to put some distant between themselves and him. Even those he worked with deserted him and avoided him as if he had the plague. In the world of high finance and big money it’s a dog eat dog world and only the strong survive. So they cut him out of their world like a pack of dogs would cut out an unworthy dog. Whether it was because he lost his job or the fact that his mood had changed, who could say?
Bill couldn’t find another job after his mistakes at work; no one would hire him. A lot of people lost their jobs over that, he wasn’t the only one but at the moment he felt like he was alone in the vastness of the world. Everyone had invested in the Internet stocks heavily, but no one ever saw the bottom falling out and they all fell with Bill. His marriage started to suffer and then his wife kicked him out because he couldn’t provide for her the way she was accustomed to living and she wasn’t going to be poor again, no matter what. She refused to have to struggle anymore in life to survive and Bill knew and understood that he could no longer give her the security she so desperately needed anymore. So he left and let her and the kids have it all. What hurt him the most was that to her he was just a dollar sign. He seemed not to have any worth anymore as a person to her or anyone else for that matter, and now he had lost it all with one big sweep. It all went; his wife, kids, job, friends and home; now he had absolutely nothing. Everyone abandoned him it seemed; as far as they were concerned he was as obsolete and useless as a horse and carriage. As everyone that he knew turned their backs on him, he left to go back to the city that was once his making and then his demise to try to start over again.
He went to the big city to find some kind of work and get his life back on track the best way that he could. It seemed he was always overqualified or under qualified, or the simple fact that no one wanted him because of his bungle. What little money he had soon ran out and he sold off his extra clothes and other belongings for he could afford a place to sleep and to eat once a day. He kept his watch though, because it was his grandfather’s and it meant the world to him. Bill had to do something before long; it was already November and was starting to get cold.
With what little money he had gone, it wasn’t long before he found himself living alone in a back alley behind an Italian restaurant with not a dime to his name. Bill wasn’t bitter about it, he knew that sometimes life works out that way and that God never puts anything in one’s path that they can’t handle. So he just took it all in stride; well, as best as he could under the circumstances. He knew that he could have gone to the homeless shelter and they would have gladly taken him in after all that he had done for them over the years, but he didn’t. It wasn’t because he was proud, he just knew that if he went there would be one last bed for someone else to use.
He took some old crates, boxes, and a piece of tin and made himself a little home out back in the corner of that lonely, dead-end alley. “It wasn’t anything fancy,” he thought, but it was his home for now and he was going to make the most of it. “Nothing’s forever.” he mused. Even though he was at the lowest point in his life, he could still find some humor in about anything. He was always the guy at the office with a joke or two and the one to cheer those up around when it was needed. Bill knew he would be OK; he would just have to take it one day at a time. He also knew that sometimes, bad things happened to good people, it’s just how the world is.
“If they could see me now, I bet they would get a good laugh!” Bill said out loud.
With that he chuckled and then heard something in a trashcan nearby; it was an old tomcat.
“Come here fellow, you look as homeless as I do. I think I’ll call you Rusty, because you’re the same color as that old rusty trashcan that you’re living in.”
The old cat came over and with his ratty fur and disheveled look, rubbed his body against poor Bill’s legs and purred loudly in contentment.
“It doesn’t take much to make you happy does it boy, me either I guess? Nice to meet you, my name is Bill by the way.” He said as he rubbed the old cat on its head.
Rusty and Bill were a good match; they were both homeless and hungry; seemingly thrown away from the world and society, and they needed each other too. It was clear that the cat’s days were numbered and that the old fellow was in the twilight years of his life, and he had outlived his usefulness too. All that either one had to give anymore was just to be a friend to each other. It didn’t matter to the old cat if Bill had money or not, or that he lived in a box in an alley. All that mattered was that he knew that Bill loved him and that he was a compassionate man. In a lot of ways animals are smarter than people… and nicer too.
That first night a cold rain came to the city. The beating of the rain on his little tin roof lulled Bill to sleep and he dreamt of his life when things where better, like playing with his children and being with his wife. He awoke with a tear in his eye but didn’t stay in that moment for long. “A man can’t afford to feel sorry for himself in this day and time.” he thought, and then dismissed the idea out of his head and went back to sleep.
Several days later Bill met a man that worked at the restaurant when he came out in the alley on a smoke break. He was a dishwasher named Sergio; he was a nice guy and an immigrant. Sergio knew what it was like to be poor, so he helped Bill as best he could by giving him some extra food at closing when he could and brought him a blanket from home. He also would give him yesterday’s newspaper when he took out the trash. It helped Bill feel like he was still part of the world, when he knew that his world had shrunk to the size of a back alley. Everyone else saw Bill as a bum but Sergio could see through the dirt and grime and his unshaven face. There was something about how he talked and held his head that was different than the others that he had met. Bill was grateful for Sergio and for the old cat, it was nice to have someone or something to talk to that didn’t judge him like those in his old life.
Bill would also go to the soup kitchen for lunch sometimes, for a good hot bowl of soup and to get out of the weather for a little while. He thought about all the money he wasted at fancy restaurants when he had money. Buying Sushi and fancy French food, but it wasn’t nearly as good as this soup was. He had to laugh about the whole thing and then remembered an old adage, “The simple things in life are the best.” He had to agree wholeheartedly with that, while having a rare smile on his face.
When Thanksgiving came around, Bill wanted a big turkey dinner because he loved the holidays. And the truth be told, he just wanted a little normalcy back in his life after his world had been turned upside down. He thought about going to the shelter that he had always volunteered at to eat Thanksgiving dinner, but was unsure on how he would be accepted now that he was broke and living on the street.
So he bit the bullet anyway, swallowed his pride and got in line to eat with the other homeless people. The once manicured nails were now dirty and unkempt, and his hands were calloused from living on the street. “What a big difference a year makes” he thought as he looked at his now lived-in hands. Even though Bill didn’t look like he used to with his tattered suit and unshaven face, the people still there recognized him and welcomed him in with open arms. Not just the homeless people but the workers there too. They all greeted him and offered their help in anyway. This was so touching to Bill; these people had as little as he but where willing to share with him and it gave him back his faith in mankind. Bill was so grateful for their love and compassion that he thought, “These people accept me with all my flaws, and those that I thought were my friends just abandoned me at the first hint of me being in trouble.” He learned a valuable lesson that day and to tell you the truth, it was probably the best Thanksgiving he ever had.
When Bill got back to his little corner of the world, he decided that he was going to celebrate Christmas. It wasn’t going to be like it had been, but he was going to make the most of it and try to enjoy it. He needed a tree first he thought and set out to find himself something that would make a good substitute for one.
Bill went looking through all the dumpsters in the area to see what he could find to make a Christmas tree out of. First he found some packing peanuts that he thought he could string together to make a garland out of. Then he found some old cans that he could cut the bottoms out and make ornaments, and then he found what he was really looking for. “It was perfect.” he thought, it was a dead Fichus tree that someone had thrown out. It didn’t have any leaves on it but it did have nice branches and by the time it’s decorated it would be perfect. “What luck!” he thought and took his new found treasures back to the alley.
“This is going to be the best Christmas ever!” Bill told Rusty, as the cat sat on his trashcan watching Bill’s every move.
In the dumpster behind the restaurant he found some wine corks and old birthday candles that someone used in a birthday celebration at the eatery. With these he fashioned the corks with wires to the branches and stuck the candles into holes that he made into the corks. He then took an old needle and thread and strung the packing peanuts on the string like his mother and him used to do years ago with popcorn. After that he took a nail and punched designs in the can lids and strung them up on the tree too.
“It was starting to look like a real Christmas tree.” He said to Rusty.
As Bill finished decorating the makeshift tree and the cat looked on, it was obvious that both of their moods where starting to get better and into the holiday spirit. Bill couldn’t wait till nightfall for he could light the candles and get the full effect of it. The candles were small and wouldn’t last long, so he was going to light them once and then save them for Christmas Eve.
When night finally came, he lit them and he admired the tree as if he were a child.
“I do believe it’s about the prettiest Christmas tree that I ever saw. What do you think Rusty?”
With that Rusty gave out a sounding cry of approval.
As November turned into December and Christmas was drawing nearer, Bill developed a cough and a fever. He wasn’t used to staying out in the cold and his living conditions weren’t the best in the world either. He went to the free clinic where people such as him can go and they gave him some medicine but it didn’t seem to be helping that much.
As the month progressed and moved it’s way closer to Christmas; the weather became colder and Bill’s health seem to start to deteriorate along with his hope for the future or ever seeing his children again. He would sit and watch as the families walked down the sidewalk together and they were all happy and full of Christmas cheer. It was only a year ago that it was he and his little family that was that happy. He always gave money to the poor misfortunate bums on the street and always wondered how they got to that place in their lives. His wife always complained to him about giving them money, but it always felt right to him to do it. But now it was his fortunes reversed and he found himself on the other side of the situation. Now he knew how some of them at least had gotten to their bottom and wound up on the streets.
Bill was starting to have a harder time getting around now, his arthritis was flaring up again and he didn’t have any money for his arthritis medicine anymore. The clinic didn’t have that medicine, so he had to do without. The cold was really aggravating it more than he ever realized it would and his cough was getting worse too. One of his follow homeless friends gave him a bottle of cheap brandy for Christmas to help warm him up and to ease his aching joints. This was going to be the first Christmas that he had ever spent alone and he wasn’t relishing the idea of it either. He could tell that his depression was coming back or maybe it was just sadness. Whatever the case, it didn’t feel good as he let out a sigh. He could of said, “Why me God?” but he didn’t. Even though his life was going steadily down the toilet, he still held onto that there was always hope.
On Christmas Eve Bill went down the alley to the street to people watch a little. As he watched the hustle and bustle of the Christmas Eve rush, he remembered what fun it was to do with his kids and he had to smile and say “Merry Christmas” to everyone. Then some of the people started staring at him or pointing their fingers and laughing, while others turned away or clutched their purses. Some even said mean things to Bill for no reason at all other than him being homeless. He always thought that everyone was equal in God’s eyes, the rich and the poor, and from the strong to the weak. But now he began to realize that others didn’t think that way at all. They felt their superiority over those less fortunate it seemed, and during this season of love and hope of all times. “But only by the grace of God are they not were I am today,” he thought to himself with a tear in his eye. Bill slowly walked off back to his little corner of the world, not to get out of the cold but to hide from the world that had shunned him again.
Bill felt totally rejected from the world now and he finally hit his bottom, but it was Christmas Eve and he was going to have his tree lit if nothing else. When it became dark that evening, all the crowds on the streets where gone and all the shops were closed. Everyone was at home with their families and Bill was alone in his alley, even the old cat came up missing. So Bill lit his tree and watched it in all it’s glory light up the alley. It was majestic looking and warmed his heart for a moment, as he watched it all alone till the candles burnt themselves out.
He said, “Merry Christmas world.” and let out a sigh.
Then he returned to his little home to spend Christmas Eve all alone. It all felt so hollow this time around, but he did as he always did. He bowed his head and prayed for those less fortunate than he.
Later that Christmas Eve night it was colder than usual. As the snow began to fall, poor old Bill huddled in his box all alone wondering what his kids were doing at that moment and how it came to pass that he wound up like this. He had always tried to do the right thing and to be good to his fellow man. But now on this day of peace and joy, he just wanted someone to spend it with. A person to talk to or maybe share a drink with to lessen the cold, after all it was Christmas Eve, wasn’t it? “The alley never felt as lonely as it did till this moment,” Bill thought.
Bill heard something in the alleyway, and he hoped to himself that maybe it was Rusty, that old stray Tabby that stayed with him a lot. They were almost roommates if the truth were known. He was always welcome and Bill thought that he would be some good company for the night; after all it was Christmas Eve. He always did keep a little food on hand for when he stopped by, but this time he had a can of sardines for him. He got them for the old cat for Christmas because even animals know that it’s Christmas in their own special way. Then he heard a voice, it said,
“Bill, are you in there?”
“Yes.” Bill said. “Who’s there?”
With that Bill poked his head out of the box and saw a man that he didn’t know. He looked very familiar in a way but different in the fact that he never met him before.
“I thought it might be my cat?”
“ Rusty’s alright, he’s safe and warm now.” The stranger said.
“Do I know you friend?” Bill asked.
“No, not personally but I know you.”
This perplexed Bill but he was glad to have the company and to have someone to share Christmas Eve with.
“Would you like a drink to help with the cold friend?” Bill asked the stranger.
“No thank you; I’m not cold, I just came to visit.”
“Well, I sure appreciate that, no one should be alone on Christmas Eve.”
“I can’t believe you’re not cold? But you sure look familiar to me; I just can’t put my finger on it. You sure I don’t know you, I feel that I do?” Bill said in amazement.
Bill took a drink to warm his bones and offered it to his new friend again, and he refused it politely. So they sat and talked about various things, nothing in particular. They just talked like two old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. Then the bells at the church that was down the block started to ring, Bill knew it was midnight by the number of chimes that it made. He had finally sold his Grandfather’s watch a month earlier to buy gloves for his homeless friends, so now he used the bells to tell the time by.
“Merry Christmas friend. Hey, it’s not cold anymore.” Bill said with a smile on his face.
“Thanks for that Bill, you could even say Happy Birthday too if you like.”
“You were a Christmas baby? Wow, this is a special day for you.”
“It is, and it’s a special day for you too Bill.” The stranger said.
“You see Bill, you have seen me before. You saw me every time you helped one of those homeless people, every time you hugged your children and when you gave to your church. You even saw me when you gave that stray cat a morsel of food and a home, but today I’m here to do something for you. You see, today is my birthday and I’m taking you home with me, because today it’s I that’s going to honor you.”
© 2011 T. L. O'Neal
Added on February 21, 2008
Last Updated on December 20, 2011
T. L. O'Neal
In the sticks, NC
AboutI started writing as a way to work out my feelings and found that I enjoyed it very much. I enjoy humor and feel that you can find it in most things, even though it may be hard to find at the moment. .. more..