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Ronald W. Hull

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The Present
By Ronald W. Hull
Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rated "G" by the Author.

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One of fifteen stories in my book of short stories, It's in the Water and Other Stories, a POD paperback

A Story for the Season

My Present to You


It was late in the afternoon and the wind turned colder, turning the pelting rain into wet, fluffy snow. Jeremy felt warmer though, because it was so miserable in the rain with his old coat nearly soaked through to his sweaters and underwear. Still, he couldn't feel his hands and his feet were numb nearly to his knees, making his shins hurt as he pulled his hood down tighter around his ears, shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets, and trudged on his rounds through the nearly vacant streets of the poor side of the city. At least the gangs weren't out to harass him. Jeremy had nothing in his pockets for his day of trudging. Usually by this time, he'd found some vegetables thrown out by the grocery stores, and, if he was lucky, expired canned goods, dry goods, and even, old meat. He'd even stoop to taking someone else's partially ate meal, still in the bag from one fast food or another. Had to feed his family. In this neighborhood there usually weren't any easy pickings like aluminum cans -- most people saved 'em. But whenever Jeremy would find metal of any kind he would take it to the dealers for some cash. Tried every payphone that he found. Heard that you could catch awful diseases that way. But, every once in a while, picked up loose change that people forgot. There were some vending machines on his route that his small hands could reach up into and get some chips or a candy bar for free. Jeremy hated doing that because it was just like stealing from the deli's or from some of the winos or druggies sleeping in the street. Never did that. But the streets were empty. With his hands frozen like they were, there was no hope of getting any vending machine food today. And daylight was running out... Jeremy's mother's last words still ringing in his ears, "Don't you dare come home with nothin', ya hear?" as he went out the door hours before. "I won't!" Jeremy had responded in his youthful, cheerful way. He meant what he said. And that's why those words began to taunt him now, as time grew short and he was still empty-handed. He'd get a whipping coming home empty. It had happened a few times before. Mom was desperate. She used to be pretty. But he was to blame. Jeremy had come along in her 16th year when things were going great for her in high school, and she decided to go out with this guy, still nameless, who raped her. Mom's parents were so upset when they heard she was pregnant, they threw her out of the house. She had to quit school, eke out a living with odd jobs and had Jeremy in the emergency room of the city's welfare hospital. Jeremy , with no last name was given one by his mother because she wanted to erase the rape and her parent's scorn from him. To make it more legitimate, she assumed the same name, cutting ties from her family forever. His Mom always chose the wrong man to take up with. Jeremy remembered fights with yelling and screaming and slamming doors with Mom ending up crying and bleeding. All he could do to help at those times was hug and hold her and feel her shaking and sobbing while he cried. Jeremy had two younger sisters, Sunny and Flower, both by different nameless men. The last man, who she called Johnny Red, left just when Jeremy was getting out of school in the spring. Jeremy loved school, was good at math and loved to read. He wrote stories about the wonderful places you read about in books and showed them to his teachers. It was about a week before school was over and they were going to have a picnic at the zoo, when his mother pulled him aside and told him. "Jeremy, you are my young man. You are the man of the family now. I need to have you go out, every day, and see what you can find or earn for us, for your sisters. You know I've got to stay and take care of them. I'd work if I could, but I can't earn enough to pay somebody to take care of you. And besides, nobody would hire me the way I look. So it's up to you. Jeremy, You've gotta find a way to keep us alive until you grow up and provide for us with a real job." After that, they moved from the dingy little apartment they were living in to a garage apartment with a concrete floor that was getting colder every day. Jeremy found dirty old rugs to put down on that cold hard floor. There was no bathroom and the only heat they had was from the oven of the old gas stove. Sometimes, after the girls went to sleep, Jeremy would see his mother dress up and go out for the night. She always returned before dawn. Sometimes smelling of liquor and cigarettes smoke. Sometimes stumbling and cursing. Sometimes with money she hid, but not from Jeremy's sleepy eyes. It was getting dark and all the streets and alleys were bare now. The regular garbage pickup had occurred that morning and with the storm there was no activity to add to the dumpsters. Days like this and the onset of winter had made Jeremy's job hell. In the summer, in sneakers and jeans, he could cover the territory quickly. There was a lot of trash to scan. Once in a while he would find bills or coins on the street. And he could always pick up a few bucks helping people clean up their yards, pull weeds, paint a fence, or sweep in front of a store. Jeremy was always watchful of gangs who would swoop down to beat him up and take his hard-earned findings. In the fall, after the kids went back to school, Jeremy often longed to be with his classmates, but enjoyed the freedom of raking leaves and finding treasures in the warm afternoons. This was the last alley before heading home with his mother's words screaming in his head. As Jeremy turned the corner, he spotted it right away--gleaming gold--under a streetlight next to a familiar dumpster. Jeremy rushed to it, hardly believing his eyes. Before him was a large box, covered with gold wrapping and a velvety red bow on top. Jeremy had never seen anything so beautiful in all his life. What was it doing here, in this dingy neighborhood? Somebody must've lost it. Maybe it fell off a car or truck? Jeremy couldn't find any car or boot tracks near the box. Snow had gathered up around it, and, the box made the alley glow like the decorations downtown. Why hadn't anyone found it before? He didn't know. And then he saw the card, covered in snow, tucked up under the bow. With numb fingers that made it feel like he was opening the card with his wrists, Jeremy pried the card open. In bold red letters, in the streetlight, the card read, "This is for you. Take it home. Use it well." Jeremy looked around to see if anyone was watching. All he saw was blowing snow in the streetlights. He went to pick up the box, but it was too heavy to carry. Luckily, inside the dumpster was a large cardboard box with holes in it for carrying that was just the right size. Jeremy slid the package inside the cardboard box, and, with the new snow, was able to pull the box along behind him. He had two or three blocks to go, but the closer Jeremy got to home, the lighter the load got and he was singing to himself as he kept up his rhythm all the way to the side door of the garage. By that time, both his hands and feet were warm from his exertion. Jeremy's mother and sister huddled in the dark close to the oven to keep warm, were startled by his joyous entrance. But when they saw the box, the girls were jumping up and down for joy. "Let's open it up! Yes, let's open it! Let's get it inside!" They had to unlock and open the heavy old wooden garage door to get the box inside. It creaked and groaned and the snow blew in, but together they got that big box inside and the door closed behind. As if it were a precious heirloom, Jeremy's mother carefully removed the velvet ribbon from the box, remarking, "I could make a scarf from this," as she folded the ribbon carefully and placed it aside. It turned out to be one of those trick packages with a top that was easy to remove so they did not have to unwrap the box, just lift the cover off. In the candlelight that was all they had at night, the glory of what was in the box emerged. There were dolls, books, and winter coats, and boots for the girls. In containers there was sliced turkey, ham and roast beef, potatoes and gravy, stuffing, and vegetables -- fresh fruit, all the makings of several holiday dinners for a small family. The girls cheered, Mom cried, and Jeremy wondered what was next. A small jeweled box with a hair brush, makeup, and other things that a woman would need caught Mom's eye and her tears turned to glee. The quality of these items was like that of the finest department store. "I ain't never seen anything like this. "She cried. The only thing left in the box was a knapsack. Jeremy thought it would be very useful for his daily rounds rather than carrying an old pillowcase like he usually did. When he lifted the knapsack it was quite heavy. When Jeremy reached inside, he felt something hard and rectangular. A laptop computer emerged from the knapsack. Jeremy's Mom lit up. "Hey, that's sure looks nice. I bet ya could get a lot for it at the pawn shop." She had already sealed the laptop's fate. Undaunted by his mother's crass remark, Jeremy open the laptop up and found the button to turn it on. "It's a computer, Mom. Here, let me show you how it works." When the screen lit up, it lit up the whole room like a lightbulb. As Mom took the food out of the box and began heating some of it on the stove, Jeremy ran through some of the tutorials on the computer with his sisters watching in utter amazement at his skill with the machine. "Now now, put that thing down and have some hot food. You can play with it tonight, but tomorrow you must take it to Shapiro's and see what you can get for it. You're a man now and you have to leave toys behind." Jeremy could see the tear in his mother's eye, matching his, as he bravely held out his plate to get some of the best tasting food he'd had in a long time. After a hot meal had warmed their bellies, Jeremy and his sisters crawled under the covers and played games on the computer until the battery died. Jeremy slept well that night even though his mother, once again, used the fine things she had to make up and sneak out into the cold night. Early the next morning, after eating some of that good food and drinking hot tea his mother made, Jeremy dutifully put the laptop in the backpack and headed out into the bitter cold morning. One of his first stops was Shapiro's. Jamie, old man Shapiro's son, was at the counter, peering intently as Jeremy removed his pack and brought the laptop to the countertop. "How much can I get for this." Jeremy asked shyly. Jamie Shapiro picked the laptop up, turned it around, opened it up and pushed the power button. Nothing happened. "This here looks to be a used computer--doesn't work. Where did ya get it, kid, steal it? Not much call for these things in this neighborhood. If ya stole it, it'll fall on my head. Tell ya what. I'll give you 20 bucks for it. Keep it in the back so if the police come in they won't see it. Deal?" Jeremy could taste the money. Twenty bucks would go a long way--feed them for the best of a week. Still, he knew that computers were worth a lot more than that. He held out his hand to take the computer back. "Twenty-five dollars, and that's my last offer." Jaime croaked as he struggled in a little tug of war over the laptop, with Jeremy. Finally, Jeremy had it back in his hands and put it back into the backpack. As he was going out the door he could hear Jamie screeching, "Thirty bucks?" And the door closed behind him. An hour walking in the cold found him at the public library. He stopped there regularly to warm up, drink some water, go to the bathroom, and read a book before heading back out into the cold these days. Going straight for the children's section like he usually did, Jeremy put his backpack on the table and started browsing for a good book to read. Mrs. Clancy, the morning librarian, came over to see how he was doing like she usually did. The motherly type, she sometimes gave him hot milk or cocoa on cold mornings like this when there were no other children because they were all in school. Mrs. Clancy was supposed to report truants, but she knew Jeremy's circumstance. Besides, it was awfully lonely in the library otherwise that time of the morning. "What's that you've got, a new backpack?" Mrs. Clancy was the last one to ever suspect that Jeremy would steal anything. "I found it last night in a big gold gift box, right on the street! A note said that I should keep it. We got food and everything. You should see what else was in the backpack." Jeremy replied excitedly. He quickly pulled the laptop computer out of the backpack to show it to her. He wanted to be happy for her, but his eyes gave him away. "What's wrong. This is a mighty fine gift. From the looks of it, I'd say this computer is worth over $1000, maybe much more. Its top-of-the-line. There is nothing to cry for." "My Mom says that I have to sell it. I took it to Shapiro's and they said they would only give me $30 for it. That's a lot of money, but I really want that computer and don't want to sell it for any money." Jeremy was openly crying by then. "Now now, Jeremy. There must be a way we can deal with this. I tell you what. I just happen to have a $20 bill in my purse that was just burning a hole in it anyway. What would you say if I gave you that twenty so that you would have money to take home to your mother, and I put your computer away for you in the closet where I think there's a plug for you to charge it." "The $20 isn't a gift, Jeremy. It's just that this old lady has got to learn these newfangled things. And you kids just pick them up out of thin air. I'll pay you $20 a week if you will spend a half-hour every day teaching me how to use that word thing and other stuff they say is so fantastic on these computers. Deal?" Jeremy 's tears disappeared as quickly as they'd come. "That's a deal, Mrs. Clancy!" And he gave her a high five. Thirteen years later, as the young CEO of an online phenomenon, Jeremy looked out of his 40th floor office to see the gray skies of the late afternoon and the new snow falling. He and his staff had been working feverishly all day to fill over 100 gold boxes with goodies, topped with a red velvet bow. As night fell and everyone working in the city went home, his rented vans spread out over the poor parts of the city to find the places to drop their boxes. Jeremy himself, placed the last box, next to a beat up old dumpster beneath that same old streetlight where he had found his present thirteen years before. He shed a tear in remembrance and raced off to join his family in the suburbs. Copyright 2008 © Ronald W. Hull 12/24/08  

       Web Site: The Gift of Time

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Reviewed by Joyce Scarbrough 12/12/2013
What a wonderful, uplifting story. I love the way Jeremy never feels sorry for himself despite his dire circumstances. And libraries are indeed magical places. How appropriate that the librarian is the hero! Librarians and teachers are priceless treasures, just like Jeremy's gift!
Reviewed by Mary Lacey, Desertrat 12/30/2008

I can't say enough about this beautiful story. From poverty to riches because of one kind person and a computer. Amazing. What goes around comes around, I guess that's why he wanted to for someone else what was done for him. Had me in tears.

Reviewed by Jon Willey 12/25/2008
Ron, the spirit of Christmas, love, peace and giving are so wonderfully woven into your story -- the essence of your story is a marvelous gift to all who read it -- peace and love to you on this Christmas day -- JMW
Reviewed by J'nia Fowler 12/25/2008
What a terrific story. I could see with my minds eye the very places you speak of. Having worked with those persons who for one reason or another find themselves living on the streets affords me the luxury of having a heart for each person's story. Well done. The gift of hope, for a future bright is a treasure indeed.
Blessings J'nia
Reviewed by Ed Matlack 12/25/2008
Nice story, Ron...twould be nice to find one myself, especially this year...take care and have a great day today...Ed
Reviewed by Cynthia Buhain-Baello 12/25/2008
Hello Ronald,

This is very creative and inspiring, a moving story of a young boy's
encounter with an unusual "gift". In reality, it is a great improbability to find such a gift in the dumps in these times, and so the story becomes a little fairy tale, except for the transition of the boy into a man of success. "The Present" here is actually the gift of "hope" that each one of us need to open in our hearts...and use.

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