By Mirian Bethancourt
The small, dilapidated house sat in a web of trees far from the main road. I walked up the path, up three wooden steps to the porch, and set down the basket of food I brought. The doorbell turned out to be a rusted cow bell hanging from a rope. I pulled it twice and waited for the sound of footsteps.
Earlier that day, despite the falling snow, I had managed to make all six deliveries on the list the volunteer group I belonged to had given me. But as I approached the last house to deliver the seventh basket of food, cold and weary, I just wanted to finish my mission and head for home.
The clanging sound the cow bell made brought two toddlers to the front window; a curly haired boy, and dark skinned girl. Their bright eyes darted about curiously as they flattened their faces against the window pane to peer outside. I was smiling back at them when the door flew open and a young woman, dressed in a faded robe and mud-stained slippers, appeared. “What do you want?” she asked. Her gaze shifted from me to the basket I had placed on the floor.
“What’s this? What are you selling?”
“I’ve come with the basket of food you requested. I’m from the Community Food Bank,” I said.
“But I didn’t call any charity for help.” She pulled nervously at the sash of her robe. “Those charities are for poor people, not me. You’ve made a mistake.”
I glanced at the address on my list and saw it matched the numbers on the door. “Maybe someone, a friend or relative, called in for you? Perhaps they wanted to send the basket of food to you as a gift.”
“I don’t have those kinds of friends, lady. Never got a penny from anyone, including my ex-husband who left us last year. I work for a living each day, down at the pillow factory. Take care of myself, two kids, and my ma.”
She waved her hand and started to close the door but it was too late. The children burst from inside, rushed past her to the basket, and began to pull out shiny red apples. Squealing with delight, they each grabbed a favorite one and took a bite.
“Stop that! Put those back!” their mother called, but the sad looks on their faces were more than she could bear. With a deep sigh she turned to me and said, “Well I suppose if it’s a gift, then it’s not really charity, is it?”
“No. I don’t think it is,” I left the basket and walked to the car, feeling much warmer than before.
Back at my car, I dug in my purse for my phone and called the Community Food Bank. A volunteer at the desk told me what I already suspected: the address they had given me was typed in error. The correct one for the seventh basket was Pinewood, not Pineville.
To make matters worse, I learned there were no baskets left. All had been delivered earlier by volunteers like myself. Anxious over what to do next, I decided to dial Ben, my husband, who had come home early that evening from work. Maybe he could help me with a last minute idea, I thought, but all he said when I phoned was, “Come home. Let’s talk about it.”
Not long afterwards, over coffee in our kitchen, we had a plan. With nowhere else to turn, since the only market in town was closed, we agreed to bring the festive dinner we had planned for our own table, to the eighth family who were waiting for the basket that didn’t come.
And so it happened that year. Our holiday dinner came from a fast food restaurant in town. It may not have been the kind of big, fancy meal we hoped for, but looking back, we agreed it was the best Christmas we ever had.
This is a winning story from the midlife collage true, short story contest.