A Thanksgiving Story - a fiction short story
Connie warmed her hands over the open fire in the dumpster. Winter was setting in and snowflakes were falling all around. It was getting more difficult to find shelter from the cold and snow.
Her "home," staked out under the inner belt overpass, was not going to keep out the frigid weather or wet snow. She had layered her clothing and it was some protection from the cold, but her fingertips were freezing out in the elements from her half gloves.
"Hey, Con," said Paulie as he shuffled up to the dumpster. "It sure is a mite cold. Let me warm my hands, too."
Connie shifted sideways to give Paulie some room. The orange flames lit up Paulie's forlorn face, dirty and smudged.
"Because it's so cold, the left over food and scraps in garbage cans are frozen stiff. But, here's some crust of bread and a few pizza pieces."
Paulie shoved around in his pockets and pulled out the morsals of food. "Here, Con, I have some for you, too.
Connie grabbed them out of Paulie's hand. "Thanks Paulie, I haven't had anything to eat since yesterday."
They defrosted and warmed their pieces over the open flame. Connie hungrily stuffed the crusts and pizza pieces in her mouth and gulped them down. Hardly sustenance she thought.
"I'm going to try to get into the Tenth Street Shelter tonight. This weather is just too cold and it's going below zero tonight. What about you, Con?"
"Not me," said Connie. "The woman who runs the women's shelter is always on my back. I can't have my bottle with me. I have to turn it in if I want shelter. I'm not about to do that. I need my bottle - it helps to ward of the blues and the cold."
"Con, you'll freeze to death tonight," said Paulie in consternation. "It's dipping below zero," he added again. No bottle will ward off below zero."
"I'll take my chances," said Connie. "I don't like people telling me what to do and making me live by their rules."
"Well, good night, then Connie. I hope to find some shelter and food tonight. Won't you change your mind?"
"No, Paulie, it's been cold before and I've survived. I'll make it through the night tonight.
"All right, Con. I'll look for you tomorrow."
"Nite, Paulie," said Connie. She watched Paulie as he walked into the dark night and vanished into the snowy banks and dark, cold wind.
The Main Line, Philadelphia
Mitchell Rosswell slowly pulled his Lexus onto his heated driveway and into his heated garage. It was after eleven p.m. and he knew Molly, his wife, would be furious again because of the late hour he was returning home.
He had been driving around the city for hours in the snow and cold, desperately trying to find his homeless mother. The temperature was plummeting below zero tonight and he feared she would freeze to death over night.
Molly just didn't get it, Mitchell thought sadly. She was embarrassed and shamed because of her mother-in-law, an alcoholic, homeless woman and she considered her a menace to their family and lives on the social register on the Main Line in Philadelphia.
As Mitchell reached the door, Molly met him demanding, "Where have you been? I called your office, and there has been no answer for hours. We were suppose to meet the Parker's for drinks tonight - I had to cancel because you weren't here and I couldn't get a hold of you!"
Mitchell looked sadly at Molly and sighed. He could care less about drinks with the Parker's. He saw Howard Parker all day at the office, he didn't need to have drinks with him in the evening, too. This was all Molly's party, not his.
"You've been out looking for that rotten, no good mother of yours, haven't you?" Molly demanded.
"Mol, don't say that. And, would you please let me in the house."
Molly stood her ground and refused to move. "When are you going to forget about that woman? She is a no good alcoholic and obviously she doesn't care about you. She is an albatross around our necks and she's better off dead. It would be better for all of us if she were to die - it would be better for her to freeze to death in tonight's cold!"
"Molly, don't ever say that again!" hissed Mitchell and he shoved her to the side of the door so he could enter the house. "I won't stand for you saying that about my mother.
"When are you going to wake-up about your mother, Mitch? She's an embarrassment to our lives and especially to Peter and Carly.
"Molly, shut-up right now! And, don't drag the kids into this. Lower your voice or you'll wake the kids and it's not good for them to hear us arguing. She's my mother, Mol, good, bad or otherwise, she's my mother. She can't help herself."
"Can't help herself?" exclaimed Molly. No kidding, Mitch. We've held several interventions and tried to get her into re-hab. She refuses our help. She went through how many tens of thousands of dollars after your Dad died to the point where she is penniless. She's so irresponsible. She deserves her fate."
Mitchell pounded the counter top so hard the buttered and stuffed turkey went flying across the kitchen and landed in a broken heap on the floor.
"Now look at what you've done," said Molly as she scooped up the turkey mess trying to put it back together again.
"That's enough, Molly. You know she feels responsible for my Dad's death. She was driving the car that night and ran the red light that resulted in the crash that killed him. You know that's why she turned to drinking. Without my Dad, she felt alone, lonely, guilty, devastated, and responsible for his death. Now, she's homeless and she refuses help. It is my responsibility to find her. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, for Christ's sake, Mol, and you have not one wit of compassion in you or thanks in you for what you have in life. I've worked my tail off for all this," Mitchell swept his arms, "and still it's not good enough for you. All, I hear is the Parker's have this and the Parker's have that and why don't we? I'm outta here," said Mitchell picking up his car keys and heading for the door. "I'm driving around all night if I have to until I find my mother, and then I'm bringing her home for Thanksgiving."
"Mitch, if you do that and ruin our Thanksgiving with the Parker's and with the kids, I'll never forgive you," Molly steely said.
Mitchell slammed the door on the way out, jumped into the Lexus, started the engine and pulled out of the garage.
On the Philadelphia Streets
I have to get back "home," thought Connie. She jammed her hands in her pocket and there she felt her best friend. She pulled out her bottle of cheap wine and took a swig. It warmed her down to the pit of her empty stomach.
I better get back to my sleeping bag and cardboard box, she thought sadly. By now the snow was coming down harder and the wind was picking up. She tied the rags tighter across her ankles as she had no boots to wear. She walked the block to the underpass, found her sleeping bag, unzipped it and wrapped it around her body the best she could. She tried to zip it up, but the zipper just wouldn't go up in the cold.
Well, the easier to get to her bottle, thought Connie as she pulled it out and took one more swig of wine. She needed something in her empty stomach. She began to feel drowsy and fished around her neck for the locket she held in her hand every night as she slept.
* * * * *
Mitchell looked at his watch - four a.m. He rubbed his tired eyes. He had driven down street after Philadelphia street. He was exhausted. He decided to take the long way home - he wasn't exactly looking forward to more of Molly's venom.
Instead of taking the inner belt, Mitchell turned down the street that took him under the inner belt and onto the streets near the docks. He realized he had not looked for his mother here. As he slowly drove along, he noticed several of the homeless lying under the overpass.
Mitchell parked the car, got out and started checking the homeless lying around. One by one he looked them over. Not his mother. He finally came to a snow covered cardboard box, nearly disintegrated from the wet snow. He brushed some of the snow away and looked at the inhabitant. It was a woman, but he wasn't sure it was his mother. As he looked at the craggy, lined and wrinkled face, Mitchell wasn't sure it was his mother or not.
An empty wine bottle fell from her arms and rolled toward Mitchell. Well, yes, the wine bottle was his mother's choice of cheap wine. He rolled the woman over and saw she clutched a locket in her near frozen hands.
Yes, it was just like the locket his father had given his mother years and years ago and that she had worn everyday of her life since. After several tries, Mitchell was able to open the locket in this cold. He saw inside that there were small photos of his Dad and Mitchell.
"Oh, Mom," said Mitchell sadly. He picked her up and carried her to the car. He rubbed her hands, legs and feet warming her with the heat blasting from the car. He found some blankets in the trunk and wrapped her in them.
Finally, she opened her eyes a bit. They were two watery slits looking at Mitchell.
"Mom, it's me, Mitchell," he said.
"Mitchell?" she queried
"Your son, Mitchell," he said softly. She just stared at him saying nothing.
"We're going for some hot coffee right now," he said.
Mitchell pulled the Lexus into the nearest place for coffee, a 24 hour open McDonald's. He helped his mother out of the car and guided her into the McDonald's. He bought two cups of coffee and then helped his mother drink the coffee through her bleary eyes and shaking hands.
The cashier watched wide-eyed at them both trying to take in the dichotomy of a well-dressed professional man with a stinky old, dirty and obviously homeless woman. No one else was in the McDonald's to capture his attention as this motley duo.
"Mom, it's me, Mitchell," he said, opening the locket and pointing to his photo.
"Mitchell? Ah, Mitchell," Connie said and began to cry.
"I'm taking you home with me, Mom. You'll see Molly, Peter and Carly again. The kids were infants that last time you saw them. We all miss you so much," said Mitchell.
All Connie could do was cry. She cried from embarrassment, from love for her son and the monumental feeling of it all.
When they had finished their coffee, Mitchell helped his mother into the car, wrapped her in the blankets again and drove home.
Once more, Mitchell pulled slowly onto the heated drive and into the heated garage. He helped his mother out of the car, still wrapped in the blankets, and walked her to the door and helped her inside. He opened the door to the breakfast room to hear the clock chiming seven a.m.. There sat Peter and Carly eating breakfast. Molly suddenly walked into the breakfast room, stopped with a start, and glared at Mitchell and Connie.
"Peter, Carly, this is your grandmother, my mother," said Mitchell quietly as he introduced his mother to them. "Mom, these are your grandchildren, Peter and Carly."
Peter and Carly looked at one another and then looked back at their grandmother. Four-year-old Carly, wide-eyed slipped off her chair, walked over to Connie, slipped her tiny hand in her grandmother's large hand, looked up at her with her big open eyes and said,
"Hi Grandma, Happy Thanksgiving! I'm glad you're here."
Happy Thanksgiving to All!
© 2014 Suzette Walker