(This week I’ll be posting It’s Wonderful – A Christmas Short Story in five daily installments. This is Part One. You can read the whole thing in one place HERE.)
I stared at the lost solitaire game on my computer screen and considered the wreckage of my life. It was early on Christmas Eve. I sat alone in my study. Already my wife had retreated to bed after some argument or another. The only growth for us was ever farther apart. Everything I touched seemed to deteriorate through my involvement. The company that had provided my livelihood since I was a young man was shutting down after the holidays. I couldn’t pay my double-mortgaged, maxed-out credit card bills now – what was I going to do without a job? My life was a mess. And worse, my mess was contagious. I thought maybe it would have been better if I’d never been alive in the first place.
Suddenly I became aware that I was no longer alone. I was startled to be joined by an elfin older gentleman wearing an outdated dark suit with an old-fashioned, white ruffled shirt. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but he looked sort of familiar.
“Hello,” he said, his voice friendly, almost child-like.
“Who let you in?” I asked.
He smiled, a twinkle in his eye, “Nobody. Let myself in. But you sort of invited me when you were thinking it would be better if you weren’t around.”
Something about his friendly tone, about his innocence, sparked recognition. “Clarence! You’re Clarence the angel from that Jimmy Stewart movie! The Christmas movie.” I was excited to know who he was, not to mention that he was a celebrity. Almost immediately, though, I was chilled by rationality. “But . . . how, I mean . . .”
“Tut tut tut. I have some things to show you.”
“You’re going to show me how much better off people are because I’ve been alive, right? I’m going to get to see how miserable everyone would be if I hadn’t lived, just like in the movie.”
“Something like that,” was all Clarence said. He beckoned me to follow him.
I was feeling better already. Even though I couldn’t explain Clarence, I was ready to be transformed by what he was going to show me. I’d seen the movie a hundred times, after all, and now it was my turn to see how important – how wonderful – my life had been.
Our first stop was my old high school. We went into the lobby – locked doors mean nothing to an angel – and he led me over to the trophy case. Clarence didn’t say anything; he just pointed down to a trophy on the bottom shelf. I got on my knees to look. The marble foundation and silver pillar were topped by a golden baseball player frozen in a home run swing.
I read the trophy’s inscription. “It’s a mistake.”
I looked up at Clarence but he just nodded back toward the trophy. I pressed my face to the glass of the case to make sure I had read the inscription correctly, then I got back up. “It’s a county championship trophy from my senior year here in high school.”
“Yes indeed it is.”
“But . . . it’s a mistake. We lost in the semi-finals. I know. I know better than anybody. We were losing by one run in the ninth inning with two outs and two men on base. Coach put me in to pinch hit – said he had ‘a hunch.’ Then . . . ”
“You struck out. The game was over. No semi-final, no championship game. I know, I know – I was briefed before I came.”
“So you know that the trophy’s a mistake? Then why . . .”
“It’s no mistake. Remember, you don’t exist.” Somehow he was too cheerful about this for my taste. “So you weren’t there to strike out.”
“And someone else . . .”
“Hit a home run. The team went on to win the state championship in the next game.” He sounded like a real fan.
“Well, I certainly feel better now,” I said, my sarcasm covering the sting of my long-ago high school failure.
Clarence ignored me, and we moved on.
(Part Two – The Big City . . . click HERE)