CHRISTMAS FOR BUMMERS

By John Thomas Tuft

The yellow taxicab pulled up to the curb, the cold rain making the streets glimmer with false hope. Midtown Manhattan appears to be on a permanent quest for relevance in a world that cherishes irrelevance and bestows deep meaning on the shallowest of quests. Tall buildings filled with people wondering what went wrong with their dreams and plans to conquer a place, a profession, or a populace that cherishes celebrity more than common cause would give Don Quixote himself an excuse to call it quits. The tall man in a black cowboy hat slid into the back seat. “Rockefeller Center. I promised my little girl I’d get a picture of the big tree.” The driver, an older woman with gray and white hair to her shoulders, smiled, turned on the meter while saying, “Tis the season for squeezin’! The sacred and profane, the pleasure and the pain.”

“Excuse me…” he checked the driver’s id card, “…Veronica?” He stared at the card again. “Wait, that’s your whole name? No last name? Just Veronica?” She smiled in that way that only women of a certain experience can, and said, “Wherever you are, that’s where I’ll be.” The man looked around as they pulled out into traffic but, too late, now he was along for the ride. “Why don’t you have a last name?” he finally asked. “Got rid of it,” said Veronica. “I was the bummer lamb of the family. You’ve heard of black sheep? Well, I was the bummer.” The man sighed. “I don’t know what that is.” She smiled again in that way. “A bummer is left alone by the mother, ignored and abandoned. You have to find a surrogate or commit to bottle feeding a bummer.” She shrugged. “I’m on my own. No family, so no need for a last name.”

The man in the cowboy hat pondered that carefully. “I can’t imagine abandoning my little girl. Who would do such a terrible thing?”  Veronica got a far off look in her eyes. “We all tell ourselves stories about who we are, and stories to try to tell the world who we are. I got in the way of the story my mother wanted to tell herself. So, she left me. I’m a bummer.” She said this last with a small gasp that did not go unnoticed by the man.  She studied him in the rearview mirror. “What story are you telling yourself about being here instead of with your little girl?” She turned into Central Park as the rain changed over to snow. The taxi slid past a horse drawn carriage carrying a laughing couple out for a romantic night, as the man said, slowly as though hearing it for the first time, “Maybe I’m the lost lamb.”

Veronica chewed on one nail, a habit she just could not seem to break. “Love her like a river. You know, you can’t hold back a river. It always finds a way. Maybe you aren’t lost, just looking for a way home.” The man leaned back and closed his eyes because being tired was a habit he just could not seem to break. “You’re my last customer,” Veronica’s voice broke in. “My last shift on my last day.” “Then what?” asked the man. “My health is not so good,” Veronica said, running a hand through the gray and white hair. “Into some home for bummers. First thing Christmas morning.” The taxi pulled up close to Rockefeller Center, filled with lights and laughter. The man in the black cowboy hat studied the id card for a long moment before saying, “Veronica, show me the city.”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Let’s spend Christmas Eve together with you showing me the sights, okay?” said the man. “I’ll get my daughter something different for Christmas.” And they did. The bummer sheep and the lost one rode around in the taxi the entire night. What they talked about, the stories they told each other, are for them to share if they ever so desire. All I know is that as Christmas morning dawned, with a fresh layer of snow coating the top of the sign outside the Brooklyn Rest and Care Center, the two sat in the yellow taxicab. The tall man with the black cowboy hat and the woman with gray and white hair and only one name. “Well, this is it,” said Veronica. “Oh, but wait, what are you going to take your daughter?”

The man reached in his wallet and took out a photograph. He handed it across to Veronica. “Your daughter? She’s beautiful,” said Veronica, chewing just a little on one nail. “What are you going to give her?” The man took off the black cowboy hat, looking almost shy. He bent close and put it on Veronica’s head. “Tis the season for squeezin’. The sacred and profane, the pleasure and the pain. Christmas is for bummers. I would be honored to give her a Grandma Veronica.” And it came to pass…that in that same country shepherds abiding in the fields, watching over their sheep by night…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.