XxX Christmas Dinner

“Hey Jack, how ya doin’ t’day?”

“I’m hot, I’m sweaty, my feet hurt, and I need a shower something
terrible,” replied Trevor McDaniels. “In a word, awful.” He smiled
and winked at the old man as he scooped up some turkey stuffing and
plopped it onto the old man’s tray.

‘Seagull’ Dan, dressed in at least a dozen layers of old, patched
clothing, smiled back. “Glad ta see yer havin’ a good time. Grub
looks pretty good this year, too. Better’n last year, even.” With
another quick grin, Dan moved on down the line, holding out his
plate for a dollop of gravy. When another tray got shoved under his
nose, Trevor reached into the tub for more stuffing.

Trevor McDaniels, or Jack, as everyone there believed his name to
be, was hot, sweaty, in need of a shower, and his feet did hurt. He
had been working his station in the food line for two hours, and
would likely be there for another hour at least, by the looks of the
lineup stretching out the church hall doors. This was after
spending eight hours labouring in a kitchen to help prepare enough
food to feed an army. Literally. With the vicious cold snap that
had come down from the north, they fully expected to serve a
thousand turkey dinners that day.

Volunteers from all over came in at Christmas time for this one big
day. Businessmen opened up their pocketbooks. Restaurants donated
their facilities and their employees’ labour. Housewives,
television and radio personalities, and local politicians all
pitched in to help. It was the one time of year when mixing with
the unwashed dregs of society was not only permissible, it was
looked upon as a truly virtuous act of kindness. Thus, the great
Christmas Day Feast was almost always a great success.

Two young women, girls, really, were next. They kept their eyes
down, staring at the food, obviously too nervous to look up at
whomever was serving them, huddling together for security. Their
nervous gestures, the gauntness of their features, and their
deep-set purple-rimmed eyes told him everything he needed to know.
Without looking, he could almost guarantee that there would be
needle tracks running up their arms. A bulge under the younger
one’s coat almost made him weep.

Both of the girls were strangers to him. They were probably passing
through, heading south to warmer climes, trying to escape this
particularly vicious winter. He doubted he would ever see them
again. Directly after them came Granny Smith.

Nobody knew the old lady’s real name. Trevor doubted that she even
knew. She answered to Granny Smith, and that was that. For the
twenty-odd years he had been working this kitchen, she had been
coming in; old, grey-haired, and senile.

He gave her a scoop of stuffing, and she gave him a semi-toothless
smile in return. They knew each other well. Three strangers
shuffled along behind her, each more anxious than the last to get
theirs before the food ran out. In twenty-odd years it never had,
but they probably didn’t know that. Even if they had, they probably
would still have been edgy. Constant hunger tended to keep people
slightly paranoid.

He gave them their scoops of turkey stuffing, and they moved on.
More followed, an almost endless stream of unwashed bodies and
patched clothes mixing in with those who were more recent hard luck
victims. On this day, everyone who came through the doors would be
fed.

In his other life, as he called it, Trevor was a successful
businessman. He owned a half-dozen dry cleaning stores, a men’s
clothing shop, and a drapery company. He had two daughters, three
grandkids and seven great-grandkids, a paid-for house, two cars, and
a cottage in the country. He, personally, hadn’t been out to his
cottage for twenty-odd years, but his relatives used it regularly.
At sixty-four years of age, many of his friends and relatives were
now urging him to retire, but retirement wasn’t something he was
prepared to succumb to. In his opinion, he still had the energy and
the will for doing what he had been doing all his life, so he was
damned well going to keep right on going until the day they buried
him. Besides, he usually continued, what the hell would I retire
to?

Several hours later, Trevor was sitting in his favourite armchair,
in front of a roaring fire, with a hot rum toddy warming his hands.
Memories carried him back to the first time he had ever helped out
on a Christmas Day Dinner For The Homeless. It wasn’t his idea, it
was his wife’s. For weeks, she had hinted, then asked, then
cajoled, until he finally agreed. “It’s not like we’re going to
miss out on anything special,” she had argued. “Both girls are away
at college. We’d be spending the day alone together anyway. Why
not spend it helping those less fortunate than ourselves?”

That had been an eye-opening experience for him. Despite the
newspaper reports, he had never actually believed how many people
were in need. The numbers simply overwhelmed him. After the first
few, they became nothing but blank faces; bodies to be served; trays
upon which food was to be placed. The reality scared him, enough so
he swore to himself he would never volunteer again.

Over the course of the following months, his wife began to spend
some of her time at a local soup kitchen, usually one day a week.
While Trevor didn’t begrudge her the time, since he was working six
days a week at his various businesses, he did feel uncomfortable
with it, and frequently hinted that he would rather she spend her
time doing something more worthwhile.

“You saw all the people there on Christmas day. Where do you think
they go the other 364 days a year? What do you think they eat? Do
you think they came into town, just for that one day, because you
happened to be there? No, husband, those people are still out there,
hidden from your sight, but real, none the less. I can’t turn my
back on them.”

It became something she did that he no longer really thought about.
Every Tuesday, she did her thing, and every Tuesday, he cooked
dinner instead of her. He listened politely to all her gossip about
the day, but didn’t pay any real attention to the meaning behind the
words.

All that changed about a year later. One word, delivered by a man
in a white lab coat, who had a pitying look in his eyes for both of
them.

Naturally, they tried everything. They exhausted every faint hope.
They took turns going through periods of denial. Hysterical crying
fits interspersed themselves with times of f****d gaiety and
maniacal bursts of energy. Sometimes they made love with a
fierceness never before shown, losing themselves in the moment,
denying reality entry into their own private world. Other times,
they simply lay in bed, holding each other, touching, trying to keep
their tears at bay, knowing they only had a limited time left
together.

Through it all, they also tried to maintain some semblance of a
normal life. Trevor kept up with his businesses, but hired and
trained a manager to look after the bulk of the work. His wife
slowed down in her activities as well, although she steadfastly
refused to give up her Tuesdays. Even when she was too weak to do
any actual work, she would go down there to spend the day with her
friends, as she called the regulars. It was something special for
her, something she treasured.

It all ended one bitterly cold winter morning. Trevor almost
ended his own life that same day. If his c******n hadn’t been
there, he might have. Even so, he shut down for close to two
years.

A newspaper article sparked his slow re-emergence into the land of
the living. It was a small article, near the back page, taking up
only a few paragraphs of space. A soup kitchen was appealing for
donations to help keep them from having to close down. Her soup
kitchen. The one she had been working at for years. The one she
had called her other home, where her other friends were at. Trevor
cried, reliving the pain he had tried to bury.

An anonymous donation helped keep the charitable organization who
operated the service afloat. The following month, another donation
arrived. And, the month following, another. One day, Trevor
dressed up in his grubbiest clothes and went down to the place to
see what it was like. The food was plain, but filling, and nobody
questioned his right to a free meal. There weren’t the crowds that
he had remembered from that one Christmas meal he had helped with,
but there were still over a hundred people sitting around, eating.
Some were talking, some were silent. It was a Tuesday, of course.

The following Tuesday, he returned. A few faces he recognized.
Most, he didn’t. What startled him was the fact that one of the
people dishing out the food recognized him. Not as Trevor, but as
a man who had been there the previous week. When asked, he made up
a fictitious name. Jack was the first one to spring to mind. That
was also the first day he met ‘Seagull’ Dan.

Dan talked to, or rather at, Trevor, for hours, about his life in
the army as a general, in politics as a mayor, in college as a
teacher, and just about every other profession imaginable.

“I done it all,” Dan said, “so I don’t need to do nothin’ no more.”

Trevor didn’t argue.

Two weeks later, Trevor was asked to help in the kitchen, peeling
vegetables. That’s how his other life got started. Nobody in the
kitchen knew who he really was. They simply accepted him as another
person in need. There were no questions, no inquiries. No
government officials were there to pry into his past. The only
question he was asked each week was “Are you hungry today?”

Trevor put down his glass, then got up out of his chair. It was
after midnight. Another Christmas had come and gone. He made his
way up the stairs to his bedroom. In the morning, he would drive
to the cemetery to visit his wife. There would be fresh flowers of
course, left there the day before. Their c******n always left
flowers on the anniversary of her death. He would add some of his
own. In the afternoon, he would drive to his older daughter’s house
for a boxing day dinner, hand out presents to his grandchildren and
great-grandchildren, and submerge himself in the warmth of his
family’s love.

Thus it had been for twenty three years.

Thus it would be until he and his wife were once again together.