he was young, Rafferty had always scorned suicide. So things didnít work out
... big deal! Take off! Go to the
... those were a young manís thoughts. In oneís twenties, with few regrets
and at the peak of oneís powers, anything seemed possible. At 63, dead broke
and out of gas, nothing seemed possible.
frightened eyes he looked around the drab bungalow he had called home for the
past three years. It really was little more than a shack. He looked down the
barrel of the snub-nosed revolver and thought that McAllister had made a pretty
good deal. Three years ago Rafferty had blown into town with severance pay in
his pocket, and had taken a room at the inn. McAllister owned the place and
tended bar. The two had gotten on well. When Rafferty inquired what longer term
lodging arrangements existed in the area, McAllisterís ears had pricked up. He
had taken Rafferty out back and showed him the shack. If Rafferty had $600 down
and could come up with $600 every June 1st, then the place was his
for as long as he wanted it.
had looked around. Like himself, the place was old and worn out. But, there was
a working toilet and a kitchenette. Almost no furniture, but that could be
remedied. What the hell, he made the deal.
had been slow going after that. He had to hustle and find some source of income.
The best he could manage was bagging groceries. But the meager pay and
occasional items he pilfered from the supermarket put food on the table.
he turned 62 he had opted for early Social Security and "retired." It
was then that the serious depression set in. With no money to spend on
diversions, he had sat alone in the small living room, staring blankly at the
black and white TV, and taking stock of his life. It was a daunting experience.
first the old defense mechanisms, that had protected him from the truth when he
was young, had tried to kick in. But they no longer seemed to work. Gradually,
over a period of weeks and months, it became clear that he had always been a
screw up ... a certifiable sociopath. Why? Why had he never really clicked ---
never effectively meshed with life? It seemed he had destroyed every good thing
that fate had ever served up to him.
painful of all were the memories of Anne and Maria. He had met Anne at a singles
bar in the days when he had a good job. He forced himself on her after their
third night of partying. He could tell he was her first. Marrying her was
probably one of the few decent things he ever did. He doubted that even she knew
she was pregnant the night he popped the question.
was born seven months after their marriage. He wasnít ready for fatherhood.
For that matter he wasnít ready for marriage. He never committed to Anne. And
he never made his little girl feel wanted. As she grew up his coldness obviously
drained her of all self-esteem, but he refused to care. And now, too late, the
enormity of his sins of omission tormented him exquisitely.
had taken ill when Maria was 17. It was cancer, and it was untreatable. Even
then he had been indifferent ... distant ... even resentful that she had to be
hospitalized. He had still been young enough to hold a job with benefits, so
there was no financial strain. It was just that it seemed, in his selfish mind,
that she was trying to dump everything on him.
remembered now, as he eyed the brass-cased bullets in the pistol, the last night
in the hospital. He had been especially cynical about Anneís sad eyes, having
decided that she was playing for pity. Maria had been speechless. He could only
smirk when Anne had beckoned to her daughter with frail, open arms. He had
looked away with mild disgust when Anne wrapped her arms around Maria and
stroked her hair.
then it was his turn.
me, Tommy," Anne had whispered, holding her arms out to him. Peevishly he
had complied, bending over to kiss her on the cheek.
me on the mouth!" she had demanded hoarsely, fixing him with stern eyes. It
had caught him off guard. She had never ordered him to do anything. So he had
pressed his lips against hers, dispassionately. At first she placed her hand on
the back of his head, holding his mouth against her own. But then, as if sensing
his lack of interest, her hand had slipped away.
had straightened up and she turned her face away, toward the roomís wall.
you tomorrow," he had said, implying in tone that it was a chore, but that
heíd do it anyway. She didnít answer.
come on," heíd said brusquely to Maria. He opened the roomís door to
usher her out. The sound of Anneís voice stopped them.
baby," she called in a frail voice. Maria had turned and looked at her
mother. Only now, with the revolver heavy in his hand, did Rafferty realize how
real the sadness in Anneís eyes was. For a moment Maria had hesitated,
uncertain of what to do. But Rafferty had pushed her through the door.
died alone in the hospital that night. When the call came, Rafferty went into
total denial, stubbornly remaining cynical. He never did grieve. Somehow Anne
got buried. Maria went silent from the moment Rafferty told her that her mother
had died. She was gone the morning after the funeral.
never saw her again. At first he had scoffed at the disappearance. Sheíd be
back in a day or two! But the days came and went. At last, with the first hints
of misgivings creeping into his mind, he had notified the authorities. But they
found no trace of her. When he indignantly complained after three weeks, the
desk sergeant pulled out a long list of names. They were all teens who had run
away and were officially missing. So many, Rafferty had marveled ... and all of
them just from this one city!
professional career went down the tubes after that. He had always been a job
jumper --- no long-term commitments for him! But somehow there had always been a
better paying position. Now the trend reversed. In time he had to sell the house
and move into an apartment. It was only dumb luck that he was laid off with
hundreds of others, and received a modest severance check.
years after Mariaís disappearance, Rafferty had convinced himself that she was
dead. So he had left town and traveled halfway across the state to this place.
And this, he now realized, was the end of the line.
had been raised in a moderately religious family. But Maria had never received
like treatment. By the time she was born, organized religion had joined the long
list of institutions which he held suspect. And so, for Maria, there had been no
Sunday schools. On the few occasions that Anne had wondered aloud if they should
join a church, he had silenced her with looks of hate and derision.
now, after a year of sitting alone in this seedy shack --- when the awful truth
about himself began to actually sink in --- he had unabashedly turned to God,
beseeching His help.
me why I shouldnít put a bullet through my head," he had begged.
"Show me one reason why I should go on living!"
there was no answer. There was only the sound of a fresh snowfall sifting
against the windowpane. Twenty years ago heíd have exulted that God was a myth
invented by cowards. Of course there was no answer! God didnít exist! But now
... now he felt that it was he who had failed God, like he had failed every
earthly supervisor heíd ever worked under.
is a job," he ruefully concluded. "And like every job youíve ever
had, you blew it."
so he decided to end it. It seemed like the decent thing to do. This would be
the final job jump, straight out of life and into Hell. The Boss wasnít
answering his calls. No one was stopping him from walking out the door.
Rafferty stared down the gun barrel. He carefully pulled the trigger. The
cylinder began to turn. He studied the round slug that would rotate into the
chamber next. That was the one with his name on it. Would McAllister hear the
shot? Or would he lie here on the floor until his rotting carcass alerted
he relaxed the trigger.
lifetime of bad calls ... of wrong turns," he thought. "A totally
fucked up mess. Letís do it, asshole."
he placed the gun barrel against his temple and again pulled on the trigger. But
before the flash of light there was a knock on the door. What the hell was this?
No one had ever once knocked on this rat holeís door!
is it?" he barked angrily.
me, Maria," a timid feminine voice answered.
Maria alive? For an instant he was paralyzed.
a minute!" Rafferty cried, jumping up and hiding his pistol in a kitchen
crossed the living room and opened the door. At first he barely recognized her.
Her hair was dyed and she looked like twenty years or more had passed. Under her
ragged jacket a worn maternity dress couldnít disguise her pregnancy.
sorry to bother you," she said in a dead voice, "but Iím broke and I
need some help."
had been out in the falling snow long enough for it to begin piling up in her
hair. She was wet and obviously cold. For an instant Rafferty thought about
admonishing her for leaving without a word, so long ago, and now showing up on
his doorstep knocked up. He couldnít believe the thought had even occurred to
in, come in," he said softly, holding his hand out to her.
stepped into the shack. She was ill at ease ... even a little defiant.
I could just stay until after ..." she said in a tired voice, placing her
hand over her swollen tummy.
nodded, at a loss for words. He led her to his easy chair and helped her out of
her wet jacket.
can stay as long as you like," he finally stammered, reaching to turn the
you leave it on?" Maria asked. "Itís a Christmas show ... I love
pulled a kitchen chair over next to her and sat on it backward.
itís Christmas Eve, isnít it?" he murmured. "I havenít
celebrated Christmas since ... since your Mom died."
looked at his face in disbelief. The warmth of the room was clearly sinking in
and her own face was beginning to relax. It seemed that she felt safe for the
first time in a very long while.
didnít know it was Christmas?" she asked, her voice filled with wonder.
shook his head, smiling wanly, guilt tugging at the corners of his eyes.
Dad, Christmas is when prayers get answered," she added, laying a hand on
stung Raffertyís eyes. And then, like a storm surge, sadness exploded in his
chest and his body was wracked with sobs.
is it, Dad?" she cried in alarm.
love you, baby," he sobbed. "Iím so sorry ... Iím just so happy to
see you again."
face took on the radiance that only a full term motherís can.
donít have a present for you ... for the two of you," Rafferty laughed
through his tears, nodding at Mariaís tummy.
own eyes brimmed.
not true, Dad," she answered. "Thatís not true at all."