I slam the car door. “Beep!” It locks.
I slosh my way through icy slush,
Across the parking lot,
To the building paved in signs.
“Sale!” I read.
“Fresh Produce! Milk $1.99!”
Words in neon colors,
Orange, lime, and pink.
And there, by the door, small and plain,
A red board with white lettering,
A sign that reads,
Dangling, rocking, under the sign,
Hangs a red plastic kettle.
Beside it, a man swathed in a gray coat,
Gloves, boots, scarf, hat,
With a red apron ‘round his waist.
He stands straight, tall,
His proud arm ringing the bell,
Majestically playing the Christmas song,
Give change! Give now!
Lives change! Give now!
As I draw close, his face lights up.
“Are you next in line?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say, “I’m your replacement.”
He shakes my hand, tugs the apron off,
And helps me tie it behind my back.
“Here, take the bell. Make sure you keep it ringing.
Never let it stop.
You’re last in line, but someone will come,
To collect the kettle.
Just keep ringing,
Just keep waiting,
Until you see him come.”
He walks away. I set to work.
A few small pennies, a handful of coins,
A dollar bill! I shove it through the hole.
Watching the faces, I wait … wondering …
Who will collect the kettle?
A woman in a fur-lined coat?
A lanky teen, hands shoved deep into pockets?
A retired soldier?
A slick-tongued lawyer?
No, probably not.
It’s getting dark. The store lights shine.
Where is he? Will he come?
My arm feels numb. I must keep ringing!
Cold feet. I stomp them up and down.
Cold hands. I flap them to and fro.
Cold nose. I rub it warm.
Where is he?
Or she … or it … or whatever. Please, come!
Isn’t it time yet? Has my watch stopped?
Two dimes, one nickel, a quarter.
From out of the dark, a voice speaks,
“Are you having fun?”
Startled, I nearly drop the bell,
But it’s only a man in a wheelchair,
Small, gray hair, thin eyes and mouth.
“I’m here to collect the kettle,” he says.
I stare at him, not comprehending.
I waited for you?
I kept ringing for you?
Maybe the cold has gone to my head.
Is this the one I was waiting for?
He sees my eyes fixed on his wheelchair,
On his unmoving legs,
I see a man,
Filled with sorrows,
Filled with joy.
The perfect contradiction.
My bell falls silent.
Slowly, I untie the apron,
And wrap the folds around the bell.
“Do you need … help?” I stutter. “I’ll … carry something.”
“No need,” he says. “I’ll be just fine.”
So I walk away, back to my car,
Under a dark sky, and one silver star.
I open the door, and start the engine.
Wait for it … Ahhh … heat.
Shifting gears, I reverse, and take one last look back.
Though a car’s in the way, I still see that small sign.
Only one word is visible.
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