The Gift
The Journey Home By Benjamin F. Kaye
He really hated being woken up by the garbage truck, especially 15 minutes before the alarm went off. Nolan groggily shuffled to the bathroom and grabbed his toothbrush. The floor above him creaked; there was a distant padding noise. His upstairs neighbor was also awake. Nolan quickly finished brushing his teeth and jumped in the shower – hopefully he had timed it just right. However, halfway through he heard a flush come from upstairs. He quickly moved out of the stream of water – which was now very, very hot. He sighed as he carefully turned the hot water knob to bring the water down to a bearable temperature. As he got dressed, he eyed the pile of laundry in the closet. Hopefully he would get home before anyone else grabbed the washer and dryer. He was always amazed that, with five other people in the building, the washer and dryer were usually free. He ate a quick breakfast in silence; not total silence mind you. He could just hear the morning news coming from the apartment next door. Then it was out the door. As he threw his trash in the dumpster and made his way to the bus stop across the street, he heard a siren a few blocks away. That was the second one this week – or was it the third? It seems like he heard sirens more and more often. He looked behind him and wondered if the bad part of town really was creeping up on him. So, he waited for the bus, while cars and trucks whistled by, on their way to destinations unknown. The only things keeping him company that dark morning were a Styrofoam cup and a wrapper from the nearby burger joint. When he got into the office, everyone was in full swing. The buzz of chit-chat combined with the ringing phones to make a symphony he knew all too well. This morning, the security system was going haywire and beeping every ten minutes. The printer across from him beeped, demanding paper like a fussy newborn. He sat down at his desk and turned on his computer. The computer screen displayed a picture of the office he had just transferred from. Nolan frowned briefly; he should have been promoted there. He worked hard in that office, he really deserved it that time. He looked around him and realized that he was stuck. This was his fourth transfer; he was just too tired to move again. This was his last chance to earn a better position. “Maybe my luck will be better here.” He thought to himself. And the day trudged on, with its endless demands and countless distractions. When he got a chance to breathe, Nolan would look out the window. In the far distance, he could see the gentle hills,

crested with bare trees. He wished he was there. Then, the next supervisor would come by with an urgent problem. At least he wasn’t bored. Before he knew it, the day was over. He looked up at the clock; it was 4 PM. As he put on his hat and coat, snow gently drifted down outside. He made his way to the bus shelter, past the twinkling lights and the pigeons. There was a notice taped to the glass. “Schedule for December 24th…..wait a minute…the last bus leaves at 3:30 PM?!” He was exasperated. The winter wind tugged at his coat. “Just my dumb luck.” He knew the way home. It was only three miles. However, he would have to cross the worst part of the city. He shuddered at he remembered the news stories about the shootings there just last week. It was a no man’s land packed with drug dealers, prostitutes, and three rival gangs; and they didn’t really care for white people that much. “C’mon – time to go home.” An unshaven stranger, unseen by Nolan, started walking down the street. “You comin’?” He turned around and looked at the unhappy man. Nolan peered into the winter gloom. He saw a swirl of snow glide down the street in the direction of home. He weighed his options; he pulled his coat around him and started walking. With every step, he left the predictable world he had known so well behind. Ahead of him, uncertainty and danger loomed. The buildings became more dilapidated with every block. Sidewalks were cracked and uneven. The houses became smaller and huddled together for comfort. The litter became more prevalent. He had already crossed Jarvis St. and Ketcham Ave. – two streets regularly mentioned on the crime report of the local news. The worst street was Atlantic Road. This was where most of the murders occurred. It was just a few blocks away. But it was quiet. He didn’t see anyone ahead of him or behind him. He hadn’t been passed by a single car or truck. The houses and buildings were all dark. Nolan thought that perhaps there was a blackout, but the streetlights still shone in the frosty night. He started carefully looking down all the side streets he crossed; they too were abandoned. In fact, he didn’t see any stray cats or dogs. He didn’t even see squirrels. It was like all the people and animals had been sucked out of the area. However, he didn’t stop to find out why. Just three more blocks and he would be home. His heart became heavy when he also realized that he was just three blocks away from all the crime, despair, and chaos. He quickened his pace when he saw Di Vinci Ave. up ahead. Just a little more and he would be safe – at least for now. He knew that one day he would have to move. “What a life, always trying to keep one step ahead of Dumpsterville.” He muttered to himself. A young woman approached him before he could reach his front steps. “Excuse me, are you Nolan Smith?”

“Who wants to know?” He froze in his tracks. “I’m Jenny. I’m a lawyer-“ “Hey, hey, hey…wait a minute. All that stuff is over. I mean, Lucille got everything she wanted. Look, that was the world’s nastiest divorce; can’t we just put it behind us?” “I’m handling your Uncle Devin’s estate.” Jenny held out her hand. “Uncle who?” “Your father had a brother, Devin. He just never talked about him. I didn’t think you’d believe me, so I brought some proof. See?” Jenny showed him his father’s birth certificate and Uncle Devin’s. Both men had the same mother and father. “Well I’ll be. How can I help my dear departed Uncle Devin?” “That’s why I’m here. He wanted to help you. C’mon – I’ll show you.” The young lawyer opened the passenger door to her car. Nolan wanted to say no – it was safer to say no – but there was something almost angelic about the young woman. The car stopped outside a house on the outskirts of Little Pines, a quaint town 15 miles away from the city. It was spaced fifty yards from its nearest neighbor and set well back from the quiet street. That’s what hit him first as they stood in the pristine countryside; it was more than quiet – it was peaceful. The only noise he could hear was the wind rushing through the pine forest that protected the back of the home. There were two pine trees in front decorated with beautiful lights. A fox strolled through the snow, stopped to admire the decorations, and then went on his way. Up above, the moon and the stars shone in the clear night sky. “He left you his home.” Jenny’s voice was nothing more than a reverent whisper. “It’s beautiful…I don’t deserve this…I mean…..I…” “Look. It’s not about earning it, working for it, deserving it, or being good enough for it.” Nate walked up from behind. “Your uncle loved you – simple as that. It’s yours if you want it.” “Really….I mean…” “Do you want it?” Nate looked him in the eye. “Yes, yes, I’ll take it! This is wonderful.” “Good.” Jenny smiled. “This is just the most incredible night I’ve ever had. First, walking all alone through the worst part of the city, and now this.” “You were never alone.” Nate replied. “Take a look behind you.”

Behind him were medieval knights, each one on a strong, milk white steed. There were so many that the brigade stretched out to the horizon. The leader of this vast, uncountable host approached him. “It was an honor and a pleasure escorting you home, good sir.” The cavalier saluted him. Then he and his fellows simply vanished. Nate pulled a cookie from behind Nolan’s ear. “God loves you too. He pulled out all the stops to make sure you got home.”

© 2012 Benjamin F. Kaye

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