A Slice of Life

A Slice of Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Book of Christmas Virtues

A Slice of Life

Jean heaved another world-weary sigh. Tucking a strand of shiny black hair behind her ear, she frowned at the teetering tower of Christmas cards waiting to be signed. What was the point? How could she sign only one name? That was half a couple, not a whole.

The legal separation from Don left her feeling vacant and incomplete. Maybe she could skip the cards this year. And the holiday decorating. Truthfully, even a tree felt like more than she could manage. She had cancelled out of the caroling party and the church nativity pageant. After all, Christmas was supposed to be shared, and she had no one to share it with.

The doorbell’s insistent ring startled her. Padding across the floor in her thick socks, Jean cracked the door open against the frigid December night. She peered into empty darkness. Instead of a friendly face—something she could use about now—she found only a jaunty green gift bag perched on the porch railing. From whom, she wondered, and why?

Under the bright kitchen light, she pulled out handfuls of shredded gold tinsel, feeling for a gift. Instead, her fingers plucked an envelope from the bottom. Tucked inside was a typed letter. No, it was a . . . story?

The little boy was new to the overpopulated orphanage, and Christmas was drawing near, Jean read. Caught up in the tale, she settled into a kitchen chair.

From the other children, he heard tales of a wondrous tree to appear in the hall on Christmas Eve. Of scores of candles that would light its branches. Of the mysterious benefactor who made it possible each year.

The little boy’s eyes opened wide at the mere thought. The only Christmas trees he’d seen were through the fogged windows of other people’s homes. There was even more, the children insisted. More? Oh, yes! Instead of the orphanage’s regular fare of gruel, they would be served fragrant stew and crusty hot bread that special night.

Last and best of all, the little boy learned, each of them would receive a holiday treat. He would join the line of children to get his very own . . .

Jean turned the page. Instead of a continuation, she was startled to read: “Everyone needs to celebrate Christmas, wouldn’t you agree? Watch for Part II.” She refolded the paper while a faint smile teased the corner of her mouth.

The next evening, Jean rushed home from work. If she hurried there was probably enough time to decorate the mantle. She pulled out the box of garland but dropped it to race for the door when the bell rang. This time, she opened a red bag.

. . . to get his very own orange, Jean read. An orange? That’s a treat?

An orange! Of his very own? Yes, the others assured him. One for each child. The boy closed his eyes against the wonder of it all. A tree. Candles. A filling meal. And—last and best of all—an orange of his very own.

He knew the smell, tangy sweet, but only the smell. He’d sniffed them at the merchant’s stall in the marketplace. Once he’d even dared to rub a single finger over the brilliant, pocked skin. He fancied for days that his hand still smelled of orange. But taste one, eat one?

The story ended abruptly, yet Jean didn’t mind. She knew more would follow.

The next evening, her pile of unaddressed Christmas cards was shrinking when the doorbell rang. Jean wasn’t disappointed. However, the embossed gold bag was heavier than the others had been. She tore into the envelope resting on top of the tissue paper.

Christmas Eve was all—and more—than the children had promised. The piney scent of fir competed with the aroma of lamb stew and homey yeast bread. Scores of candles diffused the room with golden haloes. The timid boy, at the very back of the line, watched in amazement as each child in turn eagerly claimed an orange and politely said, “Thank you.”

The line moved quickly, and he found himself in front of the towering tree and the equally imposing headmaster. “Too bad, young man, too bad. The head count was in before you arrived. It seems there are nomore oranges. Next year. Yes, next year you will receive an orange.” Brokenhearted, the empty-handed orphan raced up the stairs to bury both his face and his tears beneath his pillow.

Wait! This wasn’t how she wanted the story to go. Jean felt the boy’s pain, his aloneness.

The boy felt a gentle tap on his back. He tried to still his sobs. The tap was more insistent until, at last, he pulled his head from under the pillow. He smelled it before he saw it. A cloth napkin rested on the mattress. Tucked inside was a peeled orange, tangy sweet. It was made of segments saved—last and best of all—from the others. A slice donated from each of his new friends. Together the pieces made one whole, complete fruit.

An orange of his very own.

Jean swiped at the tears trickling down her cheeks. From the bottom of the gift bag she pulled out an orange— a foil-covered, chocolate orange—already separated into segments. And, for the first time in weeks, she smiled. Really smiled.

She set about making copies of the story, segmenting and wrapping individual slices of the chocolate orange. After all, she had visits to make. There was Mrs. Potter across the street, spending her first Christmas alone in fifty-eight years. There was Melanie down the block, facing her second round of radiation. Her running partner, Jan, single-parenting a difficult teen. Lonely Mr. Bradford losing his eyesight, and Sue, sole caregiver to an aging mother . . .

Perhaps, just perhaps, a piece from her might help make one whole.

Carol McAdoo Rehme

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