The snowfalls softly as I walk to my car and start it. The night sky grey, lit up briefly by the few houses on the street that put lights up. Our house is one of them, red and green lights spiral around the four trees on both sides of the yard, Santa in his sleigh on the roof. Every year I like to put up as many decorations as I can, my two kids love the little wonderland it creates. The snow crunches beneath my feet as I get close to my car. I open the door and as soon as I turn it over the sound of the local Christmas station playing “Baby it’s cold outside” for the tenth time today fills the silence. My breath a mist as I sing along and turn the heat up. The song ends and next is, “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas.” That’s my cue to head back inside, I check my watch for the time, I still have plenty of time before I need to get to the station.
My wife and kids are waiting at the dinner table, I kiss each of them on the forehead before taking my seat, the youngest, William, just a few weeks over 4, squeals with delight and his sister Zo, turned 6 over the summer, screams “Ew daddy!” They both start eating, my wife made steak and eggs for everyone except me, I have my usual baked chicken, sweet potato, and a large salad. I take my time eating, and watching everyone else enjoying their Christmas Eve.
“Dad, why do you have to work tonight?” William asks between forkfuls of egg. His eyes droop like a puppy, but return to normal every bite.
Zo, sitting across from her brother, answers for me, “You know someone has to make sure Santa can get to all the boys and girls!” The answer didn’t quite stick like she’d hoped though.
William takes his eyes off me, and they dart to his sister, “That’s what the reindeer are for dummy!” He shouts, “Dad’s not a reindeer!” Then he looks back at me, down at my legs, and stares at my slightly red nose. He goes from shouting at his sister to shouting at me, “Dad! Are you going to turn into Rudolph? Your nose is looking extra red tonight!”
My wife has a large smile on her face as she sits in peace. I reach over and rub Williams hair, “What would you do if I told you I am the famous,” I take a dramatic pause as his eyes slowly widen, and I lower my voice to a whisper and he leans in, “Rudolph the red nose reindeer.” I try very hard to keep my face as straight as possible.
William looks me deep in my eyes, thinks for a moment, his fork searching for a piece of steak on his plate, as soon as he gets one he shoves it in his mouth. Never losing eye contact or blinking, slowly chews on the meat. I try not to lose the game, but my eyes are older than his and requires more blinking, or so I tell him as I lose. I look over to my daughter, her plate is almost empty, spitting image of her mother, long brown curly hair covering a small face. My son is also very similar to my wife, dark brown eyes hiding behind a pair of round metal glasses. I glance forward to my wife, she gives me a wink and I wink back. I’ve known that woman 10 years in February, she was a bartender at the time and I couldn’t quit going and buying drinks just to talk to her.
As the dinner comes to an end I grab everyone’s plate and take them to the sink, quickly wash them off, my wife is sitting at the table talking to the kids. I reach into the cabinet and grab her a wine glass, walk over to the fridge grab the bottle and the plate of fudge. I take everything to the dinner table and set the fudge in front of the kids and pour my wife a small glass of red wine. She’s a wine snob, I like whatever tastes good. I walk around to each kid and give them a big kiss and tell them I’ll see them in the morning. I walk back to my wife, she looks up and readies a kiss, I quickly reach into my pocket and pull out a small wrapped Christmas present and give her a kiss while sticking the present in front of her. I step back and she sees the present and her face lights up, “Can I open it now?” She asks. I nod my head, and we all walk over to the fireplace, the Christmas tree standing next to it, lit up from bottom to the angel at the top, presents surrounding it. “Everyone can open one present tonight as is tradition.” My wife says to the group.
The kids run to the gift they’ve been eyeing since we put the presents under there, I grab the one my wife tells me to grab, and we all sit in front of the fireplace, my wife has her phone on a stand and ready to take a video of our gift opening. The kids tear open their gifts first, my son throws the paper over his shoulder into the fire which turns the color of the paper for a moment then wilts into ash, my daughter does the exact same thing. Both of their faces light up with joy, an RC car for William and Zo wanted a skateboard, so when she opened a helmet she knew what one of the other presents would be. They run over and give us hugs and go back to the tree to start excitedly picking the first for tomorrow. My wife and I open our presents, mine is a bottle of Glenfiddich 30 year scotch, which was the drink I ordered from her most the night I met her causing me to laugh a little as she opens the small box which contains a diamond and emerald necklace, she stands and gives me a hug and kiss saying she loves it and tell her the same. “Hey guys I’m leaving!” I shout to the kids as I grab my bag, the words ‘Cleveland Department if Fire’ written on the front, and set it in front of the door.
I hug and kiss everyone one final time before I depart, my wife sets the necklace on the top of the piano and walks to open the door for me, I get on my knees and hug the two small children, stand back up and grab my bag as I walk out into the snow, walking down the path to the car, looking back as the door closes, the wreath shaking. I get back into the car, grab the snow brush and brush off some of the accumulated snow and get back into the warm vehicle.
The drive to the station was thankfully uneventful, no accidents or slides. It took an extra 20 minutes to get there, but I am still 10 minutes early. “Merry Christmas fellas,” I say to the group of 4 guys sitting on the couch in the lounge playing Call of Duty, “Slow day?”
They all turn their heads, “Hey Merry Christmas, Chief!” They say in unison and one of them quickly tries to hide the fact that they were playing Xbox while the other three chastised him for not paying attention to the door.
“I didn’t know you were coming in tonight sir,” James Richardson says to me, a newer member but very motivated for a man older than me. Isaac Donaldson comes up behind him, and shares the same curiosity, followed by the other two, Olivier Jacques, Louis Penny.
I start acting like I’m going to scold them, but start giving them a hard time for thinking I’d mind if they were playing Xbox on Christmas Eve, “I’m covering for Josh, and you guys know I’m not a hard ass during holidays. I’m going to do some paperwork, you guys have fun.” The chorus of footsteps running is reminiscent of when I was a young fireman working Christmas and getting caught by my chief at that time. I walk to the lockers and put my work shorts and shirt on, then put my bag in my locker and made my way to my office, my desk has a small stack of paperwork, either I need to sign or file away. I don’t turn on the main light, but I pull the string on the lamp that’s in the shape of a firetruck on my desk. Zo gave it to me for my birthday a few years ago, the light on it is dim enough to not strain my eyes while reading. I sit down in my armchair when my cell phone rings, the name “Fire Center” pops up and I answer.
“Hey Chief, I hear you're covering for Josh tonight, tough call.” The voice on the other end is the emergency call center, a young woman name Jenny, I haven’t met her but she seems to know about me. “Merry Christmas, by the way!”
“Merry Christmas Jenny, hope they don’t have you in the call center by yourself tonight.” I say making small talk.
“Actually I’m working from home these days, someone at the center caught Covid, and now everyone here will be working from home until we all get cleared.” She takes a moment for dramatic effect. In that moment of silence I remember the one thing I have to do today, and stand up and start heading out of my office. She continues, “After another week or two someone else will get sick and we’ll have to do it all over again,” an audible sigh comes from the other side, “if I were in charge I’d make working from home a permanent fixture, until this pandemic ends anyway.” I walk down the stairs, pass the locker room that’s at the bottom of the stairs and towards the offices at the civilian entrance, which hasn’t been open at our station in several months except for by delivery drivers. On the desk usually reserved for a receptionist is a stack of mail, I shift through it and barely listen to Jenny talking about her dog, the envelope I’m looking for is from a quick testing lab in Chicago.
I say “Viola!” Out loud, and Jenny stops talking for a moment, “I’m sorry for going on about non-work matters Chief. The reason I called is because there’s been a car accident in downtown, but the police say you don’t have to go out.”
I clear my throat a little embarrassed, for a few seconds I forgot I was on the phone, “Thank you Jenny, and I didn’t mean to cut you off. Any how, I’ll write up the report and get it turned in. Merry Christmas, and I hope I don’t hear from you anymore tonight.” I laugh as does Jenny, she says goodbye and I hang up. There’s a message from my wife, ‘Have a goodnight at work, me and the kids love you! See you in the morning honey.’ I shoot her a text back saying ‘Goodnight, sweet dreams. Give the kids a kiss for me, I’ll see you in the morning.’ I put the phone in my pocket and open the envelope. On the paper is a note saying everyone who took a test is negative for Covid. I sigh a little and go out to tell the guys. They’re still playing Xbox when I walk in, all four heads turn and for a second I thought I saw Louis reaching for the TV remote. “Guys I know you all are doing a great job about wearing your masks, and I thank you for that as do everyone you may come into contact during a day.” I hand each of them a separate letter, and I watch as they all open them and see their eyes start to get a little tearful. They each have a hand written note from the Mayor, and a bonus check from the city. I pat them all on the shoulders, “Keep up the good work, I imagine it’ll be a quiet evening.” I head back up to my office.
I attempt to write a non-response report quickly, but I walk over to the window facing outside. I sit on the edge of my work bed and look up at the sky, the snow is still falling and there’s no cars on the road. I lay on the small bed, and soon I’m sleeping.
The dream is very cloudy, just my family and snow falling. It seems like we’re all outside, playing with toys that they got for Christmas. It’s quickly interrupted by my cell phone ringing, “Hello?” I say, grogginess still has it’s hold on me.
“Chief your crew is needed at a fire, Garfield Heights is at the scene but they could use assistance.” Jenny says urgently.
I quickly get myself together, “Can you text the information to Olivier?” I hear some tapping sounds and she confirms she has done so. “Do I need to call for Emergency Services ?”
“They are already on the scene, that’s all the information I have so far.” She pauses and then finishes, “Stay safe out there Chief.”
“I will, thank you Jenny.” I hang up and run out, the guys are already getting dressed and getting the engine started. “Olivier, you run point, James and Isaac, you guys help Garfield crew however you can and Louis,” I look at Louis who’s almost in full garb, “You are staying and taking any calls that come through.”
Louis’ face turns grim, “If that’s what you want Chief, I’ll hang back.” He is usually the one being left behind, I tell him it’s because I can trust him to get things ready for an emergency if there’s one while we’re out.
I turn to the other three, they are waiting for me to change, “I’ll meet you outside in five minutes.” I run off to the locker room, and the three run into the truck to their respective seats. My gear is always ready, I put on the pants, straps over shoulders, jacket, boots, gloves, oxygen tank and mask, finally the hat. I check everything, and when it’s satisfactory I run out the door and the truck is waiting for me. I get into my seat and everyone is staring at me, almost like I had stolen their Christmas. “Why aren’t we going?” I ask to Olivier.
He looks over, I think I see a tear, but now is not the time for whatever this is. “Chief… I.” He chokes, I hit his shoulder.
“Now is not the time, we have a job to do.” I say to him, he gives me one more look and shakes his head. I point my finger to get going, and he does. I don’t know what his deal is, same with everyone in the truck, no one is talking, but that’s sometimes normal in these situations.
The truck plows through the built up snow, slipping slightly at a wide turn, but not enough for it to throw Olivier off course. He doesn’t have the GPS pulled up for directions, and I stare at him. He probably feels my gaze, but doesn’t take his eyes off the road. The route looks familiar in an eerie way, lights and stop signs, cars on the side of the road. “Where are we going?” I say out loud, almost grasping the full situation. Olivier doesn’t say anything and neither do the guys in the back. I turn to James and Issac in the back, they look outside without a glance in my direction. My face starts to get hot. “Where are we going?” My voice, usually strong and steady, suddenly became a whimper. “Please, please tell me it’s not where I think it is.”
It is exactly where I think it is.
The same road I drive down every day, the very house my family was supposed to be sleeping, came rushing into view. It looks like a completely different house from the one I had seen not even four hours previously. Flames covered the entire structure, or what is left of it. The second floor where the bedrooms would be is crashing to the first floor, the tree in the living room is no longer a tree, just a pile of ash. Everything that I know is now ash and dust, I can’t think of anything else. As soon as the truck pulls up, I jump out and run over to the Garfield firefighter in charge, “Where are the people?” I ask frantically, hoping for a ray of sunshine in the cloud of dark. The woman in charge looks up from a clipboard, she looks at me, and up at the house. Her face is red when she looks back at me.
“Is this your house?” She already knows the answer, everyone knows where I live, I host a Fourth of July party every year for all the fire departments in the local area including Garfield. She shakes her head, “Of course it’s your house, your wife and kids were transported to the closest hospital. I can’t tell you at this time how they are doing.” She scans my face. I have a tear rolling down my cheek, Issac walks up behind me and puts his arm around my shoulder.
“We’ll finish up here Chief, I’m sure one of the police officers will gladly take you to see your family.” He calls over for one of the officers, they run over. “This man would like to be taken to his family.” The officer nods his head and holds his hand out for me to follow. I start following, my body is on autopilot, mind is numb. Olivier runs up.
“Hey Chief, you don’t need your hat and mask where you're going,” he reaches up and pulls off my oxygen and hat. “Now, get going.” I see him run and put my things in the truck and giving orders. I walk to where the police officer has his car, he opens the back and I get in. I’m not in handcuffs but it feels like I am. The sound of the siren momentarily brings me back to the Earth.
“My house is burning down,” I say to the cop. “Did my family make it out? How did I get here?” I look around the squad car, my heart pounding, and tears start to fill my eyes, “You don’t think I started it?”
The cop stares back at me, my despair flooding my thinking processes, he realizes this. “It’s going to be alright Chief, I’m taking you to see your family now.” That sentence sent my head spinning, thoughts of love and desperation came and were replaced by dread.
The drive to the hospital took five minutes but felt like a lifetime, memories of my kids running around the backyard, my daughter taking her first steps, my son saying “Dadda,” for the first time. The moment my wife and I walked through the door for the very first time, her pregnant with Zo. All these memories played in my head during that five minute drive. We stop in the emergency section, and the officer gets out and opens my door, I stare up at him blankly, I’m a statue in the back of that vehicle. He gets down on a knee, “Look, I don’t know what will happen when you walk through those doors, but the longer you wait the worse it’s going to be.” I look over at the entrance, through those doors I’ll know; how my wife, the woman I called the very next day I got her number, my daughter, the little girl who loves ponies and playing soccer, and my son, the day we took him home we knew he was going to be a special little man. I was going to find out, good or bad, how they are. My brain is telling me to run in there and grab the kids and beautiful wife and never let them go, but my heart is telling me to stay in the car where I’ll never get any bad news. As soon as I walk through those doors my life is forever changed, because it’ll make the fire real, even though I saw it, I saw the entire house collapse, it doesn’t feel real until I know what happened to my family. I feel my face fall, and I weep like I did when I got married, held my wife’s hand while we said our vows tears streaming down my face.
“I c-c-can’t-t-t,” the officer sits there and grabs my hand pulling me out of the squad car.
“Yes you can, you’ll go into that hospital and see that family of yours.” He puts my arm around his shoulder and we walk through those doors. The bright light of the emergency entrance blinds me as I enter.
The fire happened a year ago, my time as a fire Chief was long over. In its place I’m sitting in a leather chair in a small office. It smells of a weird cologne, there’s a bookshelf in the corner by the desk. Psychology books and texts line the shelves, pictures of a small family sit on the desk, it was reminding me of my small family. The door swings open and a fresh faced college kid walks through, I stand up immediately. “Who are you? Where’s Dr. James?”
The young man gently pushes down on my shoulders, I sit back down and watch him walk behind the desk throwing a backpack on the floor beside it. He swivels in the chair, making sure it’s going to work for him. My knee starts to shake and I put my left hand on it to calm myself down. “Is there a significance for using your left hand to stop your right knee from shaking?” I look down, obviously the significance is the wedding band on my finger makes me feel at ease somehow. “I’ll get right to the point, I’m a Psych student at the University, which you can obviously deduce from the backpack.” I nod my head. “My name is Gus, not doctor Gus, just Gus.”
I hold out my hand to shake his, “It’s good to meet you Gus.”
He gives my hand a firm shake, “I know you were expecting your usual doctor, but as you know it’s Christmas Eve and he’s with his family.” I wince ever so slightly. “I’m…. Sorry, Dr. James hasn’t told me anything about you besides your name and what had happened a year ago.”
I look down at the ring, “It’s been a rough year, to say the least.”
He grabs a notepad and a pen out from his bag, “Let’s start from the beginning, something easy. What do you remember from the night of the fire?”
I play with the ring nervously, “I try not to remember that night, the sound of the crackling wood as fire devoured my life.”
“How about something else, how was your first time back at the house after the events?”
“I first went to the house, two days after the fact. There was nothing left. Except for the fireplace, which is brick so obviously it won’t burn in a fire.” I let out a chuckle. “It was hard going back there, I haven’t been back since.”
He looks around the room and stands up, my eyes following him as he walks to the door behind me. A look of confusion crosses my face. “Would you like some water?” I nod my head, and he walks to the water cooler. He comes back holding to large cups and hands me one. “I apologize, I wanted to get some water before we get too far.” I take a drink and the cold water feels good. “So you didn’t find anything?”
“I did find a couple burnt pictures, but I didn’t keep them.”
He looks me in the eyes, “Why are you lying to me already? We literally just started the session, just because I’m not Dr. James doesn’t mean you can just fill my head with half truths and be on your merry way to go drink yourself to sleep for the umpteenth time.” I pinch my arm, I must be dreaming, only I know I drink that much, also my parents, but I live with them so of course they know. “Look I’m not here to patronize you or tell you to go to rehab, you’ve been through something terrible it’s only normal to self soothe.”
I look at him deadly serious, “How do you know I drink every night?” He sniffs the air, and I instinctively give myself a sniff and pull back in horror. I smell like a bar and it’s not even four at night.
“Like I said, I’m not here to patronize, just to get some answers.” He takes a drink from his cup. “So you took the pictures and probably keep them hidden.” I nod. “Is it because they’re the only copies you have of those picture? Or is there more to that.”
“Of course there’s more to it.” I hold the cup with both hands. “I’ll tell you how I remember that night:
After I walk through the doors I make my way to the reception and tell the young lady who I am. The lady takes my temperature and leads me to a small room next to her desk and she goes to talk to a doctor. I can see her outside, talking to the doctor and the police officer that brought me there. They all stare at me and I feel like a zoo animal trapped in a cage. The doctor tells the lady something and she gets on the phone next to her desk and hands it to the doctor. I turn away not wanting to see. A few minutes pass, I sit in that room, my mind is a blank. I don’t want imagine what the doctor will say. A different doctor walks through the door, obviously distraught, and my stomach sinks to the floor, and I loose my cool. He wouldn’t look distraught if he had good news, I think to myself this is the worst person in the world. Even though I know he doesn’t want to have this conversation as much as I do.
“Sir, I-I,” he sighs and sits at a chair next to the door. “I can’t do this to you. I’m doing everything in my power to not break down too.” I gather myself for a brief moment, and let the doctor crush my soul. “Your wife, son and daughter all passed. It was a very short time ago, as much as you would have liked to see them before they… passed…I can honestly tell you their injuries were far too terrible and you wouldn’t have been able to handle that.”
My heart breaks, “I’m having a hard time handling it now.” I start weeping again and fall to the floor, the doctor stands and puts his hand on my shoulder. He quietly leaves the room.
“I lost my family that night, my reason for breathing.” I reach into my coat pocket and pull out a small bottle, “Do you know how many times I’ve considered pouring all this into my mouth?”
Gus looks at me, “Every night I can imagine.”
I put the bottle back in my coat, “Almost every waking second. It’s been a year and I still can’t believe it’s real. I almost couldn’t go to their funeral. It was too hard to go, but I did and to this day I wish I hadn’t.”
“Why is that?”
I take another drink of the water.
The trees outside are bright and swaying. Sunglasses cover my eyes, they’re red and swollen, if I had to see light it wouldn’t be from the sun. I asked Olivier to do a eulogy for my family, he didn’t hesitate, him and his wife wrote a beautiful letter for my family. I didn’t want to hear it, it was another nail in my heart. He’s standing there talking about my family, I’m in the front row watching three caskets get lowered into the ground. I stand up as he’s finishing the letter, he doesn’t stop and I walk around to him. I give him a hug, and he hugs me back. “Thank you my friend.” I watch him walk to his seat and look at all the people sitting. Black is all I can see, everyone was somehow able to find black face masks. “Nice masks you guys,” a few people laugh, it kind of felt good to have someone laugh at something I say instead of feel sorry for me. “I just want to thank you all for coming out today. I know a lot of you knew my family, and you know how much they meant to me. My wife, I will never meet another woman as loving and smart as her. My daughter, she was the light of my life, the only woman that I could love as much as my wife. Finally my son,” my voice starts to quiver, “he was so smart, he got it from his mom, he always told me he wanted to be a scientist when he grew up.” I step down to his casket. I never saw them after the fire, I bring myself to. I couldn’t have the images of burns cloud my memories. “They didn’t deserve to go out like this,” I put my hand on my wife’s casket, she’s gone for good now. “I should have been there that night.” Finally I push down on Zo’s. The wooden box slowly lowers, and I fall to my knees. “I don’t know if I can go on you guys.” Issac and Olivier stand up quickly as I fall face first into my daughter’s grave.
I wake up in a hospital, no one is allowed to visit. I don’t know how we got away with having so many people at the funeral. “Hello?” A nurse runs into my room, and look of relief is on her face.
“We weren’t sure how long you’d be out. Most of us said by tomorrow you’d be back, and one nurse even said you were in a coma.” She laughs as she takes my vitals.
“How long was I out then?” I ask.
She checks her watch, “Oh, about five hours is all. We had to give you an I.V. of fluids, you were dangerously dehydrated.”
“So you’re saying if you hadn’t gone to the funeral, you wouldn’t have had anyone discover you passing out.” Gus writes a few notes.
“I would have been with my family right now.” I never used to believe in an afterlife, now I yearn for it desperately. A way to be whole again, with the three people I love most.
He gives me an odd look, “Just because you don’t have them with you, don’t you think they’d want you to live your life?”
I shrugged my shoulders, “They probably would, but I don’t think there is a life for me anymore. This life I’m living now is, a shell.” I put my hands into a shape of a ball. “I’m this ball, and the ball is full of nothing. I know it sounds pathetic, but it was filled with my family and work and love and life.”
“Why not go back to work?” Gus asks.
I scoff, “I could say work was a means to provide for my family, and that would be mostly right. It was also my way of being a hero, saving people from burning buildings. I can’t be that hero anymore Gus. The people that needed a hero the most, my kids, the hero wasn’t there. I have nightmares every night. It’s the same one. I play a movie in my head of my wife and children, crying in the corner of a room. Crying for me to help them. I see them, but I’m being blocked by an imaginary forcefield. I pound and pound, but it’s no use! Every single night I see my family get swallowed by an inferno.”
Gus had stopped writing awhile ago. “I know this won’t make you feel better, but my grandma passed away last year from Covid.”
I stop him before he continues, “You can’t compare this to your grandma dying Gus,” I stand up. “My grandma died when I was 16, this isn’t that.” I storm out of the room. I parked my car in the parking lot next to the building, I hop in and drive. Rain covers my windshield as I drive down the freeway. I take an exit and drive down a familiar road, lights and stop signs all in the places they should be. The cars on the side of the road, haven’t changed save for a few. I pull up next to an empty lot, the only thing in it is a few trees.
A year ago a house stood where I stand now it’s an empty plot of land, scorch marks paint the grass in places, and a large patch of dirt turning into mud. It should be snowing right now, I think to myself. Instead of snow I’m getting drenched by rain. “I don’t care anymore!” I shout up to the sky. I get no answer only a face covered in water. I reach into my coat pocket and pull out the small bottle of anti-depressants. I sit in the spot where the Christmas tree would be. I let myself go there, to a Christmas Eve with a fire going in the fireplace, a tree wrapped in lights, with a mountain of presents underneath. A small family sitting down for a dinner.
I lay my head in the mud, the image of the happy family making me smile. I pop open the bottle and pour it’s contents into my hand. “I don’t think you want to do that.” I sit up suddenly, there’s no one around.
“Hello?” I say to no one. I stand up and look around, I see no one. I pinch myself on the arm, it hurts and come to the conclusion that I must’ve imagined hearing that.
“It’s been a long time since you’ve come around,” the voice is familiar, so are the words, but I can’t quite remember. “I’ve missed seeing you every weekend,” it’s all coming back to me.
I smile a wicked smile, “It’s I that’s missed you.” I said those same words eleven years ago to a beautiful bartender. “I was always afraid of seeming like a creep for asking for your number.”
A young curly haired woman appears in front of me, I wave my hand in the space where she stands and I don’t touch anything solid, but she’s here. The rain pours on my head, I have to wipe my face every couple seconds and my clothes are starting to get drenched. “Am I hallucinating? Did I take the pills already?” I look down into my hand, about 10 pills sit there slowly dissolving, “How?” A finger raises to my lips.
“Shh,” she starts to lean in, I want to hug her and kiss her, but she’s only a spirit. “Lay down and throw those pills away.”
I sit down, mud instantly spreads over my clothes when I lay down. I open my hand and watch the pills fall to the ground. I look up at the dark sky above, rain dropping in my eyes, it doesn’t bother me any longer. “How are the kids?” I ask, and my mouth shakes as I smile thinking about them. There would be tears if not for the rain.
I no longer feel mud on my hair, and I see my wife, my head in her lap. It’s warm. “Hush, now my love. Close your weary eyes and everything will be alright.” I believe every word she says, my eyes droop. I hear a song, “Hush little baby don’t you cry. Mommy’s gonna sing you a lullaby.” I feel a hand brush through my hair. I see my wife in a rocking chair, holding our daughter who was just crying. “When the stars shine so bright, you will be sleeping. When the moon gives us light, there will be no weeping.” I walk into the room and my wife puts her finger to her lips. I kiss her and Zo on the forehead and turn around. I see my wife in the same rocking chair with a two year old little girl standing next to her. In her arms she’s holding our son. When he was a baby the only way to get him back to sleep was to sing ‘Silent Night.’
“Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright….” I sing along, moving closer to the three of them. The girls look up at me and smile, and I smile back.
My face in my wife’s lap, she starts singing ‘Silent Night.’ I feel warm, the rain is gone, it’s just her and I in this moment.
I wake up to the sound of two kids jumping on my bed, I open my eyes and see Zo and William standing over me, my wife holding a tray of pancakes. “Good morning, daddy! Merry Christmas!” I reach over to the nightstand and look at the date on my cell phone: December 25, 2020. I throw off my covers and give the kids hugs, I then grab the tray of pancakes from my wife and put them on the nightstand and give her the biggest hug and kiss. I look at the three of them and know what a Christmas miracle looks like.