Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Christmas Carols/Carolling (10/02/08)
TITLE: The Question
By Marita Vandertogt
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They sit at the top of the stairs. The dog’s body leans into the man next to him. His coat black, with no interruptions of other markings, like a charcoal drawing, dark against the grey light of the glass door behind him.
The man is young, his body shaking with the cold, his eyes glassy, filmy. They are both thin, too thin. They surprise me and scare me a little. I nod my head in a type of hello without saying anything and clutch my laundry basket a little tighter as I make my way to the laundry room. The key to the door sticks in my hand that shakes a little. I open it, pulling it closed behind me till I hear the snap lock before I feel safe.
He doesn’t live in our building. In fact, by the look of him, he doesn’t live anywhere, at least not anywhere he could call home. Christmas carols come from the unit above the laundry room. They are bouncy, cheerful and I toss my sheets into the washer to the tune of Here Comes Santa Claus.
I wait a little before leaving the laundry room hoping they’ll be gone. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” comes now through the pipes. I listen to the song. I’ll wait till the end of it, then go out. Why am I so afraid. I pull the door open quietly as if my being silent would prevent them from seeing me. But they were still there. In the same position, even the dog, still leaning, watching.
“Oh,” I say, to myself as much as to them. I want to give them food, a warm coat, a warm place to sleep. But I can’t. Besides, I am afraid of them, at least of the man, who nods his head toward me. “Sorry” he says, his voice a whisper, almost a plea for me to understand that he needs to be out of the cold air for a little while. I nod my head. “No problem” I say and make my way up the stairs. Now I hear “Joy to the World” coming through the door of the apartment. The smell of baking, a warm cinnamon smell, hits my nose on the way up the next flight of stairs. He must smell it too. My own mouth waters despite my stomach full of beef stew and chocolate pudding for desert.
Once inside my door, I make sure the lock is flipped over. It’s dark outside now. I worry about them. Yet I’m afraid of the man. I think of packing a bag full of food and bringing it down to where he’s sitting, but then, he may come every day. Then what would I do. The face of the dog pulls at my heart. I cannot stand that they have nowhere to go. And I cannot stand that I do nothing.
I head back out my apartment door, back down to the laundry room to change machines, to flip my warm, clean smelling sheets and towels into the dryer now. The cinnamon of cookies is still in the air. My mouth waters. On my way down the stairs, I think of what to say, what to do if they’re still there. Now the muffled tune of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” fills the hallway. What must he think of the words, “let nothing you dismay”. I keep walking, expecting to see the pair, sitting apologetically in the same place. But they aren’t. They are gone. I make my way to the laundry room, opening the door with a little less anxiety. I feel relieved. I can’t do anything now. They are gone. Why don’t I feel that they are gone. I stand by the main door and look out, expecting to see them. All I see are a set of fresh footprints in the snow, moving away from the building. Small pawprints line up beside the imprint of warn boots. The sound of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” plays in the background now. I walk back up the stairs.
Christmas isn’t that far away. I wonder if he cares.
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