Rejected and alone, he continues to pace. Everybody else has somewhere to be, it seems. Even Helga, from under the box down by the river, had somewhere to go.
He’s lonely. Not even the rats are around. Obviously they’re with their families, too. On any other day of the year it might not be so bad, but on the evening of Christmas Day, he feels unusually alone.
His once-black, now grey, tattered overshirt and ripped pants give no relief from the winter chill. Without shoes, his toes begin to freeze. There wasn’t enough heat from the fire to keep his whole body warm, only his hands and face.
A gust of wind blows frostbite through his veins, chilling him to the bone. He is like a ghost — not even the wind notices him standing there: it just blows right through with places to go and no specific ultimate destination in mind.
Curling up beside the barrel, with nothing but an old cardboard box for warmth, he drifts off to sleep.
He wakes up some hours later from his typical dream. It was the one with the white picket fence and children out in the yard playing with the dogs; and a beautiful wife, in her summer dress, resting against him on the porch swing as they rock back and forth.
The once handsome young man used to have it all.
There was a time when he had a job. It barely paid the bills, but he was happy because he had a beautiful wife who loved him and twins on the way.
His wife’s coppery curls would glow in the summer’s afternoon sunlight; and her slender, yet athletic frame would move elegantly about the house and yard. Now and then she got the notion to go riding. She’d saddle up her auburn stallion, with his black main and tail flowing freely, and they would gallop off into the horizon together — horse and rider — in their own world. Often times they wouldn’t come back until after dark. Then she would get supper ready and …
Bringing himself back to reality, as it is now, the lonely man reaches into his pocket and pulls out his invalid driver’s licence. He looks at his once-handsome self. Reading aloud, he reminds himself of his name, age, the colour his hair is supposed to be, his weight, eye colour, everything he buries every day.
“Name: Jason Fields. Age: twenty-eight. Eyes: blue. Height: six feet, four inches. Hair: black. Weight: 175 pounds. Ya right,” he mutters to himself.
Thinking back again, he remembers the day everything took place …
She had taken her stud, Crimson Fire, out for a ride. He didn’t expect her back until around supper, but when Fire came home without a rider, Jason knew something was wrong. He jumped on Fire and off they went. He gave the stallion his head and they went straight to her.
She was lying on the ground among a bunch of rocks. Fire had stumbled, causing her to fall out of her daydream and out of the saddle. She hit her head on a rock and never came out of the coma. She miscarried, and that was the end of Jason’s happy family.
Too miserable to work, Jason sold Fire; and the bank foreclosed on Jason’s white picket fence and broken family.
He tried to move on, but ended up living under a bridge, with rats for neighbours and a piece of cardboard for a blanket; essentially giving up on everything he ever had because the only woman he ever really loved died only 10 months ago.
He had never been able to move on.
Now, on the night of Christmas Day, he’s lonelier than ever. The twins would have been two months old now. Rolling over, he rests his head on his outstretched arm. He sighs and stands up, trying to warm up beside the dying fire. Without success, he sighs again.
“Someday soon,” he promises himself, “I’ll have it all again. I just have to get out there and put my mind to it.”