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Sad Holiday Christmas

Dr. Frosty

The snowman stood glistening in the glow from the porch light. Eli Solomon, his breath misting in the twenty-degree air around him, watched the slow graying of the six-a.m. darkness with a growing sense of urgency. He and the snowman, Dr. Frosty, were ready for their trip, but with a six-hour drive still ahead of them, Eli just hoped that it wasn’t too late.

           Eli had backed the rented, refrigerated truck into their driveway, the cargo door open, and the liftgate lowered, ready to receive its valuable load. Eli had the hand-operated forklift prepared to move the sturdy wooden pallet upon which the snowman rested.

           He and his wife, Amy, had created Dr. Frosty the previous day. He stood almost seven feet tall, of traditional snowman countenance and garb. Charcoal from the past summer’s barbeques formed his eyes and a smiling mouth, the buttons down the front from the red decorative rocks taken from their flower beds. The snowman sported a large, plastic carrot nose and tree branches for arms. A bright red scarf circled his thick neck, and a regal, black top-hat rested upon his head. 

           Frosty had acquired the ‘Doctor’ appellation from Amy. Around his neck and resting on his scarf gleamed a stethoscope, donated by a friend of Amy’s at the Cloudcroft Hospital. An old, black doctor’s bag would soon adorn one of Dr. Frosty’s arms.

Amy came outside but stopped several feet away. She was holding the doctor’s satchel in a white, mitten-clad hand, the words ‘Dr. Frosty’ stenciled in white on both sides of the bag. A red, knit hat was pulled down over her ears, strands of her dark hair fighting their way loose around the edges. She was staring at the snowman—seemingly mesmerized—her free hand clutching the front of her heavy winter coat. 

           Amy’s luminous, brown eyes reflected the light from the porch, eyes now even brighter as they brimmed with tears. Eli didn’t know if it was from the cold or if she was on the verge of crying. He walked over to her.

           She looked at him, her expression blank. “Do you think it’s true, what we talked about yesterday?” she asked.

           “If you mean about love and inanimate objects, then, yes, I do,” he answered.

           Amy was silent, staring at Dr. Frosty.

           Eli cleared his throat and recapped the gist of their past conversation, “I honestly believe we can convey love to an inanimate object, and others can feel the love from that object without its creator being present. In this case, Dr. Frosty.”

           Eli didn’t know if Amy heard him. She graced him with a small, sad smile, wiping at a tear escaping down her cheek. “I just got off the phone with the Andersons. Their daughter, Susan, had a difficult night; they weren’t sure she would make it. She said to be careful, but to please hurry, they’ll be expecting you.”

           For the last two years, Amy had immersed herself in the blogs and Facebook pages of families with terminally ill young children. She corresponded with several families, commiserated, offered advice, and helped organize fundraisers for those so tragically stricken.   

Death, inevitably, claimed those innocent young, and Amy would move on to the next child and family in need of solace but finding no peace for herself. Eli didn’t know if this emotional commitment was therapeutic or just prolonging her pain. He could only hope and pray that her involvement with the plight of these children was helping her. 

           Amy hooked the bag’s handle over the snowman’s tree-limb arm, resting her hand on his rounded chest for a moment before continuing. “You boys better get a move on; you have a long drive ahead of you.”        

           Eli knew there was something more behind her tears but remained silent. He began loading Dr. Frosty onto the truck—managing the operation without mishap—and secured the giant snowman with restraining ropes as best he could. Eli hoped he would survive the trip.

           Once finished, he looked over at Amy. She was still standing near the front porch with her arms crossed in front of her, looking small and frail. He walked over and noticed that her eyes still glistened. “Are you sure you won’t come with me?”

           “I can’t. I don’t think I could do it.” Amy’s voice trailed off, her eyes unfocused, as her mind wandered. “Remember how much Mikaela loved playing in the snow and helping us build snowmen?” she asked quietly. “For the short time she was with us, anyway,” she added, her eyes sad, her voice almost inaudible.

           Eli wasn’t sure what to say. Much too often, Amy drifted back to the days when Mikaela was still with them. “I remember,” he finally whispered, knowing it would be unwise to pull her back to the present until she was ready. Eli’s mind churned with emotion. He knew what Amy had been thinking. It was not only the little girl in Tucson but about their daughter Mikaela, who had died over two years ago at the age of seven after a long battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Amy was devastated, never fully recovered, never managed to let go of their little girl. She refused to seek help, converse about Mikaela, or discuss the possibility of more children in their future. Eli worried that the shadow cast over Amy’s soul would defy the passage of time. 

           “Even with all her pain, there were good times for her, happy times,” Amy continued, interrupting his thoughts. “Weren’t they?” she asked.

           “Yes,” he answered, not sure if she was talking to him.

           “And the Christmas holidays. She loved decorating a freshly cut tree, unwrapping her gifts on Christmas morning, Christmas dinner…” her voice trailed off. “Except for that last Christmas when she had one of those episodes.” A tear tracked down her pale cheek. “Her time with us was so short, and she suffered so much…”

Amy squeezed her eyes shut to stem the tears, and with an almost imperceptible shake of her head, returned to the present. She stood on her toes to stretch her 5’4” frame up to his bending down 6’2. She hugged him and pressed her cold lips to his. “You’d better get going; the sun’s coming up. I’ll call once more and tell them you’re on your way.

“Okay,” he answered. “Don’t forget to have your smartphone all charged and ready to go. I’ll call you when I get to the hospital, and we can set up the video chat. That way, you’ll be able to see everything.

           Eli was walking to the truck when she called out to him, “Wait!” Amy ran up to him and gave him another kiss. “Be careful,” she added.  Now, the tears were streaming down her cheeks. She turned and ran back to the house.

           Eli’s struggles with the loss of their only child had been long and agonizing—the scars would always be with him—but eventually, he moved forward out of the shadows. But Amy did not make the journey with him. As he pulled the truck out onto the highway and headed west, Eli couldn’t help but wonder if the time had come, if the Andersons’ tragedy would be the one that would finally help her move on from their own. Eli prayed that maybe this time...

           Eli backed the truck up to the Tucson Children’s Hospital and carefully unloaded Dr. Frosty, placing him on the grassy area near the entrance without mishap. The hospital and security had previously cleared Amy’s request concerning their project. Soon, the snowman stood regally in the seventy-five-degree Arizona sunshine, an emissary from the mountains in faraway Cloudcroft, New Mexico.

Eli made one call to Amy when he had arrived in Tucson’. Now he made the second. “I’m at the hospital,” he said, once he had her on the phone. “Time to set up the video chat.”

Minutes later, the setup accomplished, Eli was staring at Amy on the small screen of his phone. She looked excited but a little scared.  “I’ll try to keep everything in the frame when things get going,” he said, smiling back. “Stay calm, be patient.”  

           Neither they nor Dr. Frosty had long to wait before the hospital’s main door opened, and a little six-year-old girl appeared in her wheelchair being pushed by her father, her mother wheeling an IV pole beside them. Several doctors, nurses, and orderlies followed close behind. Curious visitors and a few of the hospital’s more mobile patients—had joined the approaching group. The small band of stunned onlookers crowded around the tall, exotic snowman, a unique sight in the southern deserts of Arizona.

           In silence, Eli had trained his camera phone on the group to make sure Amy could see everything.

The father lifted his gravely ill daughter out of the wheelchair, a mere shadow of a child. The little girl touched the grinning snowman with wondering eyes. Her dad held her closer and higher, and she put her cheek against the coolness of Dr. Frosty’s smiling face, her dry lips forming a rare smile—a smile that grew and grew. 

           Several minutes later, the child’s mother approached Eli, who was standing apart from the group. She had been crying. “I’m Karen Anderson; you must be Mr. Solomon.”

           “Yes, ma’am, but you can call me Eli. And this is my wife, Amy.” He turned the screen towards Mrs. Anderson.

           The two women greeted each other warmly. “We should have done this video thing before now; it’s amazing,” Amy’s said.

           Eli wondered if the more personal touch would have been too much too often.

           “Eli, Amy, I don’t know how to thank you,” Mrs. Anderson said, holding back her tears. My daughter’s been sick most of her life, with endless doctors and hospitals. She’s never been outside Arizona, never seen snow or a snowman, only pictures. Dr. Frosty is all she’s talked about ever since your wife told us about the idea.” Karen wiped at her eyes. “Despite her pain and failing health, she’s been counting the days until she could meet Dr. Frosty.”

The mother held out her hand to Eli. “I think this was left in the doctor’s satchel by accident. Your daughters?”

Eli grasped the silver bracelet with his free hand and stared at its dangling eleven dangling charms: The Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. Eli swallowed several times to compose himself. “That belonged to my daughter, Mikaela—

Amy interrupted from the phone. “No, Karen, it’s for Susan. A gift from us and Dr. Frosty.”

Eli peered at the phone’s small screen. Were there tears in Amy’s eyes? Had she given away their daughter’s bracelet, a bracelet she had hoarded in her jewelry box ever since Mikaela’s death? He handed the cluster of silver trinkets back to the grieving mother and folded her hand around the charms. “This is for your daughter.”

Mrs. Anderson’s trembling hand came to her mouth, smothering a sob, her eyes overflowing. She smiled through her tears. “Bless you both. You’ve made one little girl very happy,” she managed. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” she said before turning and running back to her daughter.

Eli looked over at the ever-growing crowd milling around the smiling snowman, his eyes traveling up to a glistening white face. Eli’s eyes widened before blinking several times, not so much from the morning sunshine, but to clear his head. It had to be the angles, the shadows, which made the statuesque snowman’s grin appear to be growing. And his left eye. He hadn’t noticed that the piece of charcoal was a little smaller than the right one, now making it appear that he was giving Eli a knowing wink. And had the left arm just moved slightly, almost in a secretive half wave?

Eli squeezed his eyes shut. It couldn’t be, he was tired, and his imagination was running amok. The snow had to be melting, changing the snowman’s countenance, and causing the branch-arm to move. Or one of the onlookers had moved it… He opened his eyes; Dr. Frosty was back to normal. 

His thoughts were interrupted by Amy, smiling at him from the phone.  “Please come home now, Eli.” We have things to talk about, things I have avoided. We can try again. I’ll be waiting,” she said, not with tears, but a smile. With those cryptic words, she ended the video call.

But Eli understood. His wife wanted, no, needed, to talk to him. Amy was back.

As he pulled the truck out of the parking lot, he glanced over his shoulder at Dr. Frosty, diminishing in the distance. The shadows and the increasing distance were playing tricks again. The regal snowman appeared to be waving, and his smile seemed to have grown. Eli grinned, nodded at his disappearing friend, and swung his eyes back to the road. The big guy was a success in more ways than one. The snowman was imbued with the power to aid a dying girl and pulled his grieving wife out of her dark depression.

 Eli punched the accelerator. Dr. Frosty had done his job.

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November 26, 2020 00:30

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