by Marc V. Ridenour
REUNION ON CHRISTMAS EVE
by Marc V. Ridenour
Story Copyright © 2011.
All Rights Reserved.
MacAllister eased his body back into the old, squeaky office chair behind the battered, scarred desk, laying the heavy round Detex watchclock in its worn leather carrycase and sling on its dented, scratched back, face-up. Another tour done, an hour to go until the next one.
Christmas music spilled from the speakers of the small Sony boom box on the desktop, the melodies bringing memories of past holidays swimming up from the depths of his mind.
But the holiday seasons were bleak now; his parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, were gone. He had no-one else; none of the women he’d encountered that he wanted had wanted him back. After the last rejection, many years ago by now, he’d just quit trying to find the right one...
His beloved pets were gone too; Nip and Tuck, Old Tuck, Dino, Siamese Sam, and the cherished furbabies of more recent times, too. SammyCat had gone out one windy night and never came back, last November.
And then his beloved Tracker, the Queensland Blue Heeler, hyper from the git-go; she had died from some unknown illness just three weeks ago. The vet had been baffled; ‘Some unknown virus,’ had been his vague diagnosis.
When she wasn’t getting any better, and the suffering had become too great, he’d taken her to Dr. Parker one last time, and held her while she slipped off into her last sleep...
There was nothing and no-one to go home to. No home, anymore, either. Just a van-cab camper RV was home, now.
The house in the northern part of the state had been sold; he’d gotten enough from the sale for a new RV a couple of years ago. Now he lived a semi-nomadic life in the Metro area; parking wherever he could for as long as he could, usually in residential neighborhoods for a night or two.
When the holding tank for the toilet, sinks and shower came close to full, he’d drive the RV to a service facility for that to be taken care of. An array of heavy-duty deep-cycle 12-volt batteries hooked to a 12-volt DC/120-volt AC inverter ran the electrical system.
Whenever he could park next to a power socket without being noticed, MacAllister would jack into the juice and top up his batteries that way.
This night was one such time; the RV was parked close to the front door of the building, a power cord connecting the battery chargers to the array of 12-volt batteries...
Hot tears spilled from his eyes as he recalled the happy seasons of the past, and he fumbled for a rag to blot them away.
A chime sounded as the timer of the microwave oven in the far corner signaled his supper was ready.
MacAllister got up and opened the small oven’s door, taking out the microwaveable lasagna and carried it back to his desk. The aroma reminded him of happier times, and he ate with some relish, after taking his prescribed medicines.
After he’d finished, he felt the gassy heartburn start up. A few antacid tablets fixed that. There were some twinges of pain in his heart, too, but those were nothing much. True, they’d been coming on again, and hurting a little more now, but they meant nothing; he was careful to take his medicines.
Suddenly a great weariness swept over him. He knew that if he were found asleep, he’d get fired. ‘So what?’ MacAllister thought, suddenly too exhausted to care any longer; leaning back in the chair and closing his eyes...
His eyes opened and he was wide-awake. Something was tugging on his right hand. MacAllister looked down and saw Tracker next to his chair; his hand in her mouth, eyes shining, ears pricked up, tail wagging frantically. A joyful bark escaped her mouth as she released his hand.
“Tracker!” he cried. “How’d you get here!?”
The dog pricked up her ears, cocked her head, danced about and barked happily. Then she ran to the doorway, stopped, whined, and barked again.
He got up and followed her, the dog running down the narrow corridor to the side-door entrance. MacAllister ran after her, the aching weariness gone, the gassy heartburn likewise, the twinges of pain in his chest also vanished; the stiffness in his body was gone, as well, now.
The door was open, the chilly December night air spilling through. When he stepped onto the pavement, brittle snow crunched beneath his shoes! He looked about him, and the familiar Southwestern urban locale had vanished, replaced by a once-familiar scene, of long ago.
Rural Iowa, wintertime. Bare trees silhouetted against the clear night sky, stars blazing, the full moon hanging high overhead. He knew instinctively that he was somewhere near his old hometown, Marshalltown, but exactly where? There was a black ribbon that he knew intuitively was US Highway #30, and he could see the blaze of lights in the distance that heralded the #14—#30 intersection, several miles down the road.
“How did we get here, Tracker!?” he exclaimed. She leaped up onto him, ears pricked up, eyes shining in the light from the stars and Moon, eager barks yipping from her throat.
As he looked around, once more, bright headlamps illuminated him as the blatting rumble of a V-8 sounded; a ragtop Corvette looking showroom-new in spite of its vintage years, pulling alongside the man and dog, the shotgun seat window rolling down.
“Hi; can I give you a ride?” called the young man sitting behind the wheel. In the bright glow from the dashboard instrument panel lights, MacAllister could see he was wearing a Class A Army uniform. Christmas music was playing on the radio.
“I—I suppose,” MacAllister replied. “But—what about my dog?” he asked, looking down at Tracker dancing joyously about him, tail wagging frantically.
“Sure. She can sit on your lap, right?”
“Yeah,” agreed MacAllister, still dazed and bemused by it all.
He climbed inside, Tracker jumping onto his lap and licking his face as her tail beat against the dashboard panel.
“Uh, thanks,” MacAllister said as the ‘66 Corvette surged forward, the powerful V-8’s rumble playing counterpoint to the bellowing of the straight-pipes only slightly muffled by the glass-packs. “I’m Ian MacAllister. Who’re you?”
“Andrew Malone,” replied the younger fellow. “Private Andrew Malone.”
“Home on leave?” MacAllister asked.
“Home,” the soldier grinned.
The car speeded up, racing along the dark highway, and then as the lights of the outskirts of Marshalltown loomed, MacAllister sucked in a deep breath as the old arrow-shaped electric sign with the legend Marshalltown outside of Van’s Cafe—gone for so many years—once again blazed, pointing north toward the heart of the city...
Turning a hard right off of Center onto Main Street, the ‘Vett rolled beneath the boughs of artificial evergreen spanning the street with the glittering star in the center of a wreath hanging in the middle of each one. Only those had never been seen again since the late ‘50’s or early 60’s...
“Starlight Lane...” MacAllister smiled, tears again stinging his eyes. “That’s what they called it during the Christmas Season.” He recognized the old signs and once-familiar appearances of the long-ago vanished storefronts as the ‘Vett rolled along the old Main Drag.
As they passed by the courthouse square, MacAllister smiled as he saw a Nativity scene beside the sturdy pine tree ablaze with red and white lights that was the yearly Salvation Army’s Tree of Lights. “I’m glad they’ve brought back the Nativity Scene,” he said aloud.
“Why shouldn’t they?” Private Andrew Malone grinned. “The ACLU can’t do anything to make them not do it anymore, now.”
Suddenly the car turned hard left again, engine blatting through the straight-pipe glass-packs as Malone downshifted, somehow again rolling north along Center Street, turning right again just after they passed the Greyhound Bus Depot; once more ablaze with outdoor lights; located where it had always been long ago, before it had been moved to the Highway #30 and #14 intersection.
Several busses had just pulled in, he saw, and crowds of people were spilling from them, to be met with hugs and kisses and cries of delight by their family and friends waiting for them.
The car drew to a stop in front of a two-story house on East Grant Street that somehow looked familiar, as if it were an amalgam of every home he’d ever lived in with his family.
Christmas lights decorated the pine trees in the yard, and wreathes decorated the front door and living-room picture windows, electric candles within glowing. From the fireplace chimney, tangy woodsmoke rose in a grey plume.
“You’re home, Ian,” said Private Andrew Malone.
He stared at the young fellow. “What do you mean!?”
“You’ll see,” the lad smiled toothily. MacAllister opened the door and got out, Tracker dancing around his feet. Behind him, the Corvette took off, pipes blatting a paean of power, vanishing around a corner.
The front door of the house swung open, and from it burst a swarm of dogs, barking joyously; running up to swarm all over him, dancing about him, leaping up to lick his hands, his face.
It was Dino, his beloved Boxer-German Shepherd doggie of sixteen years when he’d gone to Rainbow Bridge; Smoky the purebred German Shepherd, and Mike, Whitey’s puppy; and Whitey, herself; Charlie, the little mixed-breed, and Binky, his Aunt Hazel’s Chihuahua, a cocker spaniel he instinctively recognized somehow, his mother’s, that had died when he was a toddler. “Dusty!” he cried.
And then there was another little shaggy doggie, pirouetting about him on her hind legs as she whined with joy, eyes shining. “Hilda!” MacAllister cried, recognizing his Aunt Ellen’s dog, gone so many years, too.
And somehow cats were there, too; rubbing against his ankles, meowing, purring, a swarm of tails and sleek, sinuous bodies. Siamese Sam, Old Tuck, Nibblet, and Nip and Tuck, his Siamese furbabies. Several other cats had joined them; cats of his early childhood years, and yes, even SammyCat, his half-breed Siamese kitty so recently gone!
“My babies!” he wept as he knelt down to embrace them. As he stood up, he saw his mother and father standing in the doorway, beaming at him.
But not the gray-haired, age-wrinkled parents of his later years; the youthful, vigorous, vibrant people he had seen only in the old black and white photos of the albums he’d cherished...
And in back of them were his grandparents, his aunts and uncles! Yes, and his cousin, Irene, who had died in a car crash when he was a young teenager...
As he rushed toward the door, delicious aromas of roasting ham and turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes greeted him. The tall Christmas tree, a mountain of presents stacked beneath it, in the center of the living room was covered with all the ornaments he remembered from earliest childhood, including those lost down through the years. And a fireplace tucked into the far corner away from the door blazed merrily; a row of stockings hung from the mantelpiece.
He saw one stocking with his name on it, and one for each of his parents; and yet a fourth, with the name of a child that would have been his little brother had he not died before he could be born...
“Mom, Dad!” he wept as he embraced his parents.
“Hi, Big Brother!” cried a treble, piping voice as a towheaded boy of pre-teen years in pajamas and furry house slippers threw himself at MacAllister. “Sure is good to finally see you!”
“And you, too, Timmy!” MacAllister wept as he hugged the lad tightly, tears spilling down his cheeks.
Then, in the mirror across the room on the living-room wall, just above the sofa, MacAllister at last saw himself; but not the old, balding man of more years than he’d liked to remember; now he was the tall, erect, slim-waisted, broad-shouldered, muscular young man of twenty-one he’d been when he’d returned home from the Marines.
And his rent-a-cop uniform had vanished too; replaced by the Class A dress-blues of a U.S. Marine, the single gold chevron of a Private First Class gleaming on his sleeves...
“This is the best Christmas present we’ve ever had!” his mother exclaimed. “Welcome home, son! Welcome home! At last, welcome home! Forever!”
The music playing from the boombox speakers just after eight a.m. from the country-western station was Riding With Private Malone, as an EMS paramedic looked up from his perfunctory examination and shook his head. “He’s been gone for several hours; I’d say midnight.”
The security agency captain looked up from the watchclock, out of its case, back open, to expose the disc of paper in the back. The relief man stood in a corner, still somewhat shaken; having come in at zero-seven-forty-five to find the third-shift man dead in his chair.
“According to this, he clocked in at the last key station eleven minutes before.”
“Had his lunch, then dozed off; died in his sleep,” the plainclothes police detective grunted, closing his notebook. “No signs of foul play. Natural causes?” he asked the EMS paramedic.
“Classic coronary,” he nodded. “No autopsy needed; he just had a heart attack and died in his sleep.”
“Where was he from originally?” asked the uniformed Metro cop absently as he made another note in his report.
“Iowa, I believe,” the security agency captain replied.
The EMS paramedic studied the serene face of the figure slumped in the chair, the slight smile that still curved the lips. “Maybe he got home in time for Christmas, then. I hope so,” he added softly.
A scowl creased the captain’s face as he eyed the muddy splotches on the formerly immaculate linoleum floor.
“I know he didn’t have a dog anymore; it died before December. He took some time off to mourn the damned thing, just like it was a person!” he said in disgust. “So what are those damned muddy paw prints doing all over the floor? How did a dog get in here!?”
“Who knows? Nothing missing, all secure?” asked the PD dick.
“Of course. All doors and windows secure. We checked,” huffed the captain, irritated at the questioning of his competence.
“Then who gives a damn?” the relief security officer spoke for the first time. “Let the janitors clean it up.”
The morgue team then moved in, gurney and body bag in hand. Just as the country-western/oldies station began playing I’ll Be Home For Christmas.