Anne Caryl

Page sixty-two

A Christmas Poem
Merry Christmas. Are you kidding me?
About Me
The Gold Train Connection
Back to Reason
Virtual Art Gallery



            Maxine Keller clicked down the hospital hall, her yellow wide-brimmed hat flopping with the energy of her steps. She passed the mirror by the elevators and stopped to admire herself for the fourth time that morning. Abraham said the brown pant suit was flattering. She thought it took ten years off her looks. At least.

            She turned at the gift shop and went inside, grabbing the huge pink teddy bear from the display window.

            “You came back for it.” The lady in the striped volunteer uniform smiled at her,though Maxine thought her smile a bit wan.

            She’s jealous, Maxine reasoned. But she’s an older lady. Maybe her bursitis is acting up today. Actually, she’s not bad for an elderly woman. I hope when I’m her age I look that good. She has to be at least sixty five.

            Maxine thought about telling the woman how good she looked...for her age. But she decided, instead, to reciprocate and let the woman  be envious of her radiant smile. Love does that to a person, she thought. Makes them radiant and mellow and...generous of spirit. Yes. That’s what Maxine was today. Generous.

             It wasn’t every day she’d fork out forty-five dollars for a teddy bear. But it wasn’t every day you celebrated a new life coming into the world. Macie and Phil’s little girl, all four pounds, sixteen inches of her, lay in the nursery. She was wrapped in a pink blanket with one of those silly caps, that look like the cut-off toe of a sock, hiding her soft brown wisps of hair.

            Maxine couldn’t have been happier if the child was hers. Hers and Abraham’s.There she went again. She was too old to be daydreaming like that. Then again, who was to say what old was? This is the twenty-first century, she reminded herself. And I can’t help it if I look good...really good...for my age. The stuffed bear lay on the counter and Maxine pointed to a bouquet of helium balloons waving at her from a glass case.

            “Are those for sale?”

            “They were for another lady, but she hasn’t shown up. Yes, You can have them. I can always do another one for her.”    

            She pulled her wallet from the recesses of her leopard tote, and put the straps back over her shoulder, adjusting the bag so she could carry the stuffed animal and balloons.

            “For a grandchild?” the lady asked as Maxine handed her the cash.

            “My niece.” There was no harm in the deception. A white lie. Maybe not  a lie at all. Maxine considered Macie family ever since last Easter. They’d been through so much together. Even took turns sitting with Abraham , all three recovering from the effects of that nightmare.

            It was wonderful the way the baby came through, considering what her mommy endured.. Now it was Thanksgiving, and they had so much to be thankful for. Frederick was dead. Austin and Doman disappeared and Maxine didn’t think the police were really looking for them. Leads had pretty much dried up, the detective had told them. And there was Abraham.

            The doctor sat in the hospital lobby, looking annoyed. He glanced at his watch as Maxine approached, juggling the stuffed animal, balloons, her tote and wallet. As she reached him, she lost the battle and the wallet hit the tiled floor sending coins rolling in every direction.

            “It didn’t occur to you I might need some help?” Maxine put the teddy bear in a chair, looped the balloon strings over the chair back and knelt to retrieve the change.

            Abraham knelt beside her, scooping up nickels and pennies. “Gelvaldikeh zach. Such a goyeh you are.”

            “What did you say, Old Man?”

            “I said what a calamity.”

            “I don’t care about that. What did you call me?” Maxine scowled at Sorkin.

            “I called you a Gentile lady. That’s all. Not so bad as what I might have said.”

            “Yes, well just maybe I’ll start learning Yiddish.”

            “And maybe I’ll become a nun.”

            “That’s not funny. I just want to share more with you. After all this time I don’t even know if you like Elvis.” Maxine watched as Abraham stood and poured the coins into her open coin purse. “Well?”

            “Well what? Abraham dusted off his knees and brushed at a loose hair in the fringe over his ear.

            “Do you like Elvis?”

            “Elvis, the singer?”

            “No. Elvis, the milk man. Of course, Elvis, the singer.” Maxine snapped the coins into their place and put the wallet back in the tote.

            “You are beginning to sound like a Jewish woman.”

            “Thank you, Abraham.”

            He wrinkled his nose at her. “That wasn’t a compliment.”

            Maxine sat in the blue-upholstered , chrome chair. He struggled too hard against his faith, this man. “I’ve been thinking about converting, Abraham.”

            “To what?”

            “To Judaism. What do you think?”

            Sorkin looked across the lobby, obviously searching for something. At last, he tapped Maxine’s arm and nodded toward a man standing, absorbed in a newspaper. “Do you see that man?”

            “The one dressed in black, with the black hat?”

            “The same. That is a Jew. Do you see the locks of hair curling down into his beard?”  Maxine nodded.

            “When you can grow a beard like his, and long sideburns that curl down into it, like his, then you can be a Jew.” Abraham sat in the chair next to hers.”

            “I only want...”

            He put a finger to Maxine’s lips. “I’m not a religious man. I am Jew only by birth. I’ve seen religious men who care more for a sliver of candle than the life of a brother. Macie seems different, but there aren’t many like her. I spit on most religious men. I avoid them like a plague.” Abraham stood, his eyes fixed on her face. “Biteh, Gelibteh.” Maxine looked at him, confused. “Please, Beloved,” he said.

            “Say it again, Abraham.”

            Sorkin smiled, lifting the pink bear in one arm, with the other reaching for Maxine,  Urging her to stand. “Gelibteh”




            “I’m serious, Phil. I want you to bring me some clothes. I want to go home.” Macie flopped back on the pillow, her arms folded on her chest. “You just march out there and tell the doctor he has to release me.”

            “What about Weslie? He won’t let her go home yet. Do you want to leave her here alone?”

            “There’s no reason that baby can’t go home with us. She’s perfect.”

            “ She’s small, though. They just want to make sure she’s doing all right before they release her.” Karen Whitehall, Macie’s mother, leaned over the bed rail and patted Macie’s hand.

            “She’s fine. She has an angel watching over her.” Macie looked to Phil for support.

            “The angel again.” Mrs. Whitehall turned to her husband. He shrugged in response.

            “Actually, Karen, I believe Mace’s story. There isn’t another explanation for what happened to her last spring.” Phil sounded so...intense.

            “I prayed, Mom, and words came into my mind that gave me the strangest peace. My friend, Mary, says they’re from the Bible, but I’d never read them. And I felt a...a Presence with me in the darkness in the church basement. I think it was the same being I saw at the clinic. The man made of light. My angel.”

            “ Your drug-induced hallucinations.”

            “I saw the man before they gave me any drugs, Mom. And the sense of peace I felt, you can’t explain that away. Oh, and the other thing. Doctor Sorkin. They’d given him the gas, but I saw him pick Maxine up off the floor and carry her to safety. Why didn’t the gas effect him? How was he able to lift like that at his age?”

            “Adrenaline. That’s what I believe. But you think it was angels.” Karen Whitehall was condescending.

            Macie was readying for a battle. Maybe her mother would be a doting grandma, but she was still insufferable.

            “I believe it was Someone who loved me before I was born. Someone who let me go my own  way until I got into trouble and then invited me to come back home to Him. I know that sounds trite, but I believe it was God, Mom.”

            At that moment, six bright balloons floated into the room above brown

pant-suited legs. A huge, pink bear followed.

            Mazel tov,” said the bear.

            Macie’s mother’s thin lips curled into a tight smile. “Never mind, Dear. We’ll talk about this some other time. Right now, let’s talk baby.”

            Phil took Macie’s hand, the one not taped ,bruised from the IV needle and smiled at the arrivals. “Who would have known, seven months ago….You two.”

The  teddy bear sat at the foot of the bed, the balloons tied to it. Abraham Sorkin and Maxine Keller were arm in arm, smiling at Macie.

            “Who could have predicted I would have a box inside my chest ? But, I tell you it’s not the defibrillator that keeps my heart beating. It’s this meshugena. This crazy old lady.” Sorkin squeezed Maxine’s arm.

            Macie giggled, then her face creased in a frown. “ The new clinic is set to open in aweek. Who’ll take my place until I get back to work? Maxine can’t handle it by herself. You need someone with you in the patient room and someone out front.”

            “You can’t be thinking of going back to work with a baby at home..” Karen Whitehall pushed through the couple standing at Macie’s bedside. “You certainly can’t be thinking of leaving my grandchild in daycare. Besides, you need time to rest. You’re still too emotionally fragile.

            “Macie’s mother turned to Abraham Sorkin. “ She’s still delusional. That episode last spring affected her more than you know. She’s talking nonsense about angels and miracles, like a fanatic. That’s certainly not my Macie. You have to tell her to stay home.”

            “Mother, go home.”

            Conversation hushed. Karen Whitehall’s face blanched and her eyes widened.

            “Well...I just...”

            “I mean it, Mom. Go home. Go back to the house and fix some popcorn and watch TV or something. Phil will be there after a while.”

            “Are you throwing me out of your room, Macie?”

            Macie sat, smoothing out the wrinkles in the pink hospital blanket. Under the covers, her feet worked furiously. Then she took a huge breath and let it out slowly.

            “Yes, Mother. I think I am.”

            “But, why?”

            “Because these are my friends, and I want to work at the clinic and...” She stopped and gulped a breath. The decision was made; there was no retreat now. “ and I want to sew a cover for my little girl’s bassinette and I want to wear jeans when I go shopping and I want to let Weslie wear jeans and get dirty and...and I want to go to church like Grandma Whitehall.”

            Macie’s father slipped quickly between Maxine and Abraham. “We’ll be getting out of your hair, now.” He grabbed his wife’s sleeve and steered her toward the door. When she was out of the room, he turned back to Macie, grinning. “She’ll be fine by the time you’re released. Keep your gloves up...Champ.”

            Maxine grinned ear-to-ear. “Not to worry about the clinic, Sweetie Pie. Since we’re not handling abortions anymore, just a women’s clinic, Mary Conley has agreed to work for us part time, and Bethany Crowder will be coming in after school. I hear that kid is a whiz at the computer. But aren’t all kids these days...maybe she’ll even teach a trick or two to an

old dog like...”

            “ Don’t give it another thought, Macie. Mrs. Conley is being gracious enough to fill in for us until you come back. You take your time. But don’t take too long.” Abraham patted Maxine’s arm. “I may have a little trip in mind for the spring.”

            “Maybe a honeymoon?” Phil prodded.

            “Maybe later. I’m thinking about taking a trip back to Poland, to put some ghosts to rest.”




            “This place is huge.”

            Ron Mckenzie felt lost in the forest of granite stones and grassy mounds. He stood, with Pete and Mary Conley, looking at the tiny brass plaque that marked Paige’s grave.

            “I need to get a headstone for her. It’s just...every time I go to that place, the monument company, I get ...It seems so final. I can’t do it.”

            “Yeah, but that little marker looks so lonely.” Pete Conley  pulled his collar up against the late afternoon breeze.

            “ Paige Ann McKenzie, Nov. 28, 1973March 24, 2002.,” Ron read. “Twenty-eight years. That’s not enough.”

            “No, you’re right. She didn’t really have a chance at life, did she? She still had mistakes to correct, and some to make.” Pete handed Ron the small nosegay he held and the young husband knelt to lay it on the grave.

            “Next week, she’d turn twenty nine. She always said when she reached twenty nine she’d stay there. She didn’t want to be thirty.” Ron dabbed at tears in the corners of his eyes. “ I guess she got her wish.”

            With his index finger, he traced Paige’s name on the marker. Overhead, two geese honked their arrival to the flock already wandering over the still-green lawns. They were permanent residents of the cemetery. Like Paige, Ron thought. Their cries, so lonely. Did Paige feel alone, deserted? The air had taken on a chill, and Ron stifled the urge to remove his jacket, to spread it over the mound, already starting to sink.

            “Don’t be an idiot,” he snapped at himself swiping at the tears again, she’s not even there.”

            “No, Paige is not there.” Mary knelt beside the young man. “Try to remember that, Ron. She’s in Heaven .She’s completely happy and, I believe, she’s talked to her little girl.”

            “If I could just be sure of that, that she’s in Heaven, I think I could handle it better. I know Christians aren’t supposed to grieve. But sometimes it feels I’ve been kicked in the stomach, and I can’t breathe. I know Paige did some awful things. I know she tried to make up for them, but...”

            “Macie told you she’d made peace. And her being in Heaven doesn’t depend on what she did. It depends on her faith in the Lord; in His ability to save her. Something Macie remembers hearing Paige say...did she tell you about the Prodigal?”

            Ron shook his head. “Not that I remember. But so much is a blur.”

            “Well, it’s a parable from Matthew. I told the story to Bethany, and then Macie asked about it. Anyway, I’m sure Paige knew the story...about God’s love. Like the father who welcomed back his prodigal son. Macie must have reminded her about it; they had quite a while to talk. Before she escaped the clinic that night, she heard Paige say something to her about it being okay, about that prodigal thing. I think you can take comfort in that, Ron. And in God’s judgment.”

            Ron heard a snap and turned to see Pete holding the pieces of a broken twig. His eyes were red and his lip quivering. “Who told you Christians aren’t supposed to grieve? I miss Paige. I can’t imagine how you feel. If I lost Mary...Christians just aren’t supposed to be hopeless. We’ll see Paige again, Ron. I’m sure of that. But in the meantime, it sure gets lonely.”

            “Did I tell you Macie said Paige talked about adopting? She told Macie she thought we’d make good parents. We would have, too. Why would God take that away from me?”

            Mary put her hand on Ron’s arm. Oh, honey, if I had those kinds of answers…”

            Ron McKenzie leaned to the marker, his face against the cold metal, and kissed Paige’s name.

            “See you next week, baby. I love you.”




            With Macie’s parents banished to the Stones’ living room and everyone else gone home to attend to their evenings, Phil and Macie were finally alone.

            “You managed really well with your mother.” Phil gave her a thumbs-up.

            “She can get to me like nobody else. I guess it’s a mother-daughter thing.”

            “I’ll let you in on a secret. She pushes my buttons, too. But we don’t see them often. We can force ourselves to stay calm while they’re here.”

            “That’s why God, in His wisdom, put Florida so far away from Colorado. But they’ll go home after Thanksgiving and we won’t see them again until Spring. Remember, this Christmas we spend in the mountains with your parents.”

            “ Oh yes. That’s much better.”

            “Come on, your mom’s a dream. And she puts up with my mom.”

            Phil sat, staring at the speckled tile floor. Mace watched him in silence. She  thought he’d grayed at the temples, and at the places, just over his ears, where his hair curled . He looked tired. She was glad she hadn’t insisted he be in the delivery room. He was still dealing with that guilt thing: that he and Ron McKenzie didn’t show up like the US cavalry the night the clinic was destroyed.

            “ So, how many specks are there ?”

            “What?” Phil jumped.

            “You are counting the specks in the floor, aren’t you?”

            “ Sorry. I was just thinking. I  have you, the baby and our parents. What does Ron McKenzie have?” Phil looked at her and Mace was surprised to realize he was waiting for an answer.

            “I don’t know, honey. I could give you a lot of clichés, but ...I know how you feel. Even in that basement, and in the clinic, listening to Frederick and the others talking about killing us, I thought about you. I talked to Weslie. I felt connected.” Macie held out  her hand and Phil took it. His fingers were cold.

            “ See? And he doesn’t have that any more. How do you survive when that’s been taken away from you? What’s left for him?”

            “ All that time, Phil, I was scared, but I was never alone. There was a Presence. You said you believed that.”

            “ I do believe it, Mace.”

            “Well... I think, eventually, Ron will sense that too. I’ve heard other people,  who’ve lost wives, husbands, even kids, say the pain never goes away. But you learn to live with it and ,with time, it gets better.”

            Phil sighed. “I guess.”

            “Hey, you know what?” Mace began. “You’re pretty sexy for an old married man with a kid. You want to...what’s the expression...suck face?”

            Her husband leaned over the lowered bed rail and kissed her for a long time.

            “That’s better. Now let’s talk about our future. Our beautiful future. Do you know why I wanted to give Weslie the middle name  ‘Ciel’ ?”

            “ To quote you, because it’s French for  ‘Heaven’ and she’s Heaven come down to us.”

            “Do you remember what I told you Steve Voight’s wife said when she called the clinic after he died? Why he killed himself?” Macie didn’t wait for his answer. “It was because he saw hell. I feel like I saw it too. I feel like I was there. And it plays over and over in my mind  like it does in yours. Phil, I gave our child that name... Heaven... because I was sick of the sights of hell.”

            Phil pulled his wife close and they stayed that way until a soft knock brought them back to the world.

            “Visitor,” said the nurse, placing tiny Weslie Ciel Stone in her mother’s arms.













































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Anne Caryl
504 East Furry St.
Holyoke, Co. 80734