Inspired by The Little Matchgirl, by Hans Christian Andersen
William Robinson woke up on a bench partly covered in white. He could barely recall the bells of the church that had stirred him from his sleep as he straightened his legs. One of his hands grabbed almost automatically the empty bottle of Bourbon, shook it twice and then dropped it while he muttered unintelligible curse words. He stood up, and his stained Santa Claus costume made him stand out from the whiteness that surrounded him.
All of his joints screamed at him as he started moving.
The falling snow muffled the sounds of the city, making the night seem almost magical. Even though the air felt less cold, Bill knew he needed to start moving. His feet left behind a trail of shadowy footprints on the carpet of snow as he walked towards the statue of Andersen in the middle of the small park.
Bill looked up to the stars, and like so many times, prayed to his departed wife and daughter. Five years had passed since the car accident, since his heart broke and never recovered. Five years of part-time jobs that paid less and less, five years of hitting the bottle to ease the pain of absence.
As he cleared his eyes, his gaze switched from the stars to the ever-falling snowflakes. They seemed to appear out of nowhere until the light of the street lamps hit them, and only then did they became tangible only to disappear again once the darkness engulfed them once more.
Bill put his hands in the pockets of his red coat to warm them up, and in one of them he found an old box of matches. He grabbed it and pulled it out as he felt the texture of the cardboard with his numbed fingers.
Almost by inertia he lit one of the matches. He knew it would not be enough to warm him up, but still his fingers helped the match scratch the side of the box.
The warm light of the fire captivated him immediately and he got lost within the flame. He could almost see the smile of Heather and hear the laughter of Suzie, but a gust of wind blew the fire away and Bill found himself staring at a burned down stick.
“What in–” Bill left the unasked question linger in the air. The cloud of his breath flew away like a lost memory.
With trembling fingers he took another match out.
He could feel the warmth spreading through his body as the flickering light of the match changed the scenery. The small park covered in snow was gone, and in its place Bill found himself standing in the middle of the living room of the house he lived in so many years ago.
“There you are, William!” he heard, as his wife gave him a hug.
His eyes began to water up as the beating of his heart increased. Could this be real, he wondered. He smiled for the first time in ages, but his happiness was short-lived: scorching pain in his fingers made him drop the match into the snow. And with it, Bill found himself again in the shadow of the old church.
Bill looked back to the bench where he slept and to the empty bottle of Bourbon now partly covered in snow.
He knew what to do. He grabbed the rest of the matches, put them together and as he lighted one the others responded by igniting as well in a chorus of light.
He found himself back in the living room, and as he looked around he saw Suzy playing with the doll they got her that last Christmas. He smiled at her, but she was too caught up in her game to notice her father’s gaze. Heather grabbed his arm tenderly and rested her head on his shoulder and he felt like everything was right in the world, that things made sense. In short: he was happy.
“Come on now, and close your eyes darling” Heather told him, and he complied.
People returning from their New Year’s parties passed by the body of William Robinson, frozen in time. He had a smile showing between his grey beard and his eyes were forever closed in peace.
©2012 Santiago Casares