Thursday, December 24, 2009

This Guy Named George

A dead thermostat has taken Deke’s oven out of service. He calls around for replacement parts and finds they’re not cheap. For what they're asking, he may as well go ahead and fork it out for a whole new oven.

But Christmas is coming, and Deke has priorities. Mira’s list has “a telescope” right there at the top. "It doesn’t have to be fancy, Santa," she writes. "Just so I can see craters on the moon."

Deke finds one at Wal-Mart. A big lens and an aluminum barrel. Not a toy and definitely a solid piece of gear. Into his shopping cart goes the box: blue and black and the size of a dollhouse, with “Meade Telestar” stamped on the side. Deke will need to put this one on the Visa.

At the checkout, he unloads his cart. This is his weekend with Mira and he stocks up on Kid Food: mac and cheese, blueberry Pop-Tarts, and those turkey hot dogs that Mira likes to eat cold, right out of the package. She calls them “meat-sicles.”

Deke tosses another bag of ramen onto the belt and looks to the young girl clerking the register. The red and blue Wal-Mart nametag identifies this associate as “Najia.” Above the nametag, Deke sees a tight and furrowed mask of a face. Leathery and mottled and without eyebrows, Najia’s is a face that has been through fire. Deke tries not to stare.

"How you doing tonight?" Deke says.

"Ready to go home," Najia sighs as she scans his coffee and his apples and his Cap’n Crunch.

"Almost time, then. Long day?" Deke makes conversation.

"Yeah, since noon."

Najia looks to the shopping cart and that Meade Telestar box. It’s too big for her to pull from the cart so she punches some numbers into her register. "Item Not Found." She tries again. "Item Not Found."

"Here," Deke says. "I’ll bring it up."

He lays the box against the scanner. The register beeps in recognition and blue LEDs show the price.

Najia’s eyes widen and she leans back, as if being caught too close, she'd have to pay for it out of her own pocket.

"Whoo-EEE! Is that for you?"

"Christmas present… for my daughter."

"You must live way out."

"We live pretty close. I've been saving for it all year," Deke lies as he palms his credit card.

“I would give a present like that,” Najia says, “if I could.”

Deke signs his receipt and says thanks and starts to shove off. He looks over and sees Najia’s gaze still on that telescope box and he sees her hand start toward her cheek. She catches herself and pulls her hand back.

Deke pauses. He reaches into his cart to pull out a movie he’d just paid for.

"Have you ever seen this one?" Deke holds up "It's a Wonderful Life."

"No. I ain’t,” Najia says. “What is it?"

"There's this guy named George,” Deke says. “Life gets hard, so he makes a wish that he'd never been born. This angel named Clarence comes down and grants his wish. Clarence says, ‘Okay, you asked
for it.’ Then he takes George around to show him what the world would have been like if George was never in it. And it's all bad. Real bad.”

“But then George gets another chance,” Deke says. “He gets to come back and see that even though he’d had lots of trouble, he’d also done good for other people even when he didn’t know he was doing it.”

Najia straightens. She brightens. "I'll have to get me that movie. We get us a em-ployee discount."

Deke gives her a nod and turns to go. He glances over his shoulder to an elderly woman who’d been in line behind him. Heavy-waisted and dark skinned, silver and black hair, wearing thick eyeglasses, she leans on her shopping cart for support.

"The world needs more fathers like you," she says.

Deke pushes his cart out of the store with his hot dogs and his telescope and his movie. He figures the oven can wait until January.


Anonymous said...

Joe, obviously it has been a long time since I looked at your blog, since I missed this. Really nice story. Deke is well-drawn, and the pacing is smooth.

I have to admit that I have always hated "It's a wonderful Life" -- even though I love Jimmy Steward. I think it's because when I first saw it, I was a nerdy friendless middle schooler. The moral 'no one is a failure who has friends' was salt in the wound for me. Even now when I watch it, I don't feel any connection to George Bailey. I have never saved anyone's life or prevented a business and town from collapsing.


Jill said...

Glad I'm seeing this on your blog. Very well done!