It was Saturday morning. Christmas Day, 2010. George and Peggy were leaving a trail of broken toys behind them. Only to find more on their way to Key West, FL.
The two were doing their best to mend the new broken toy they found by the side of the highway outside of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. He was sixteen years old. His name was Jay. And he was sitting in the back seat.
Jay was the kind of kid brought into this world on a lark.
“Hey, wouldn’t it be a fun to have a baby!”
Then the lark began to spread its wings and squawk.
“Feed me! Nurture me!"
Suddenly it wasn’t much fun anymore.
Since that first day in the cradle he tried to make sense of the two stormy shadows raging above him.
“Make it shut the fuck up!” they thundered.
“Make it go the fuck away!” they roared.
Weather like that can really get under a kids’ skin.
“You hungry?” said George.
“Yeah, a bit,” said Jay.
“Oh, boy!” said Peggy. “Then you’re in for a treat!”
“We got a shit load of grits and a mess o’ sausage,” said George. “And a Thermos full of something that may be coffee --”
“Or it may be road tar,” interrupted Peggy. “We’re not quite sure.”
“But I’m sure we ordered coffee,” said George.
“We just never experienced chewable coffee before,” said Peggy. “Must be a southern thing, like chewing tobacco or moonshine.”
“Maybe just some sausage,” said Jay.
“Good choice," said Peggy.
Peggy laid the leftover bag on her lap and went about the business of making a sandwich of leftover sausage and soggy toast. She even cut off the crust with the plastic knife, like she used to do for her kid brother when she was a teenager and he was eight.
Her brother Martin is now twenty one and serving in the US Army Reserve.
She doubted anyone in Afghanistan was cutting the crust off Martin’s bread.
The thought made her laugh so hard that she started to cry. Then she couldn’t stop. She tried to speak but the words weren’t there. Then George noticed that she wasn’t breathing.
George pulled the van over to the side of the road and ran around to the passenger side.
From the back seat Jay followed with his eyes in stunned silence.
“How old are you, kid?” George had said earlier that morning.
“Eighteen,” said Jay. He had learned form experience that being honest wasn’t always in his best interest. Saying he was sixteen would have gotten him dropped off at the nearest police barracks or homeless shelter. Saying he was sixteen brought on too many questions.
By the time George got around to the passenger side, Jay had grabbed an ice pack from the Styrofoam cooler and held it fast to Peggy’s bare neck. The ensuing shock forced her brain to search its files for the most popular word in Peggy’s vocabulary. When it got to the F file, it was no surprise to George when what came out was, “FUUUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!”
After Peggy found her voice and Jay had been fed, George thought it might be a good idea if they hit the beach for Christmas. Get into the spirit of the thing. Celebrate the birth of Christ with a refreshing baptismal swim in the Atlantic Ocean. Start the new life off right.
”Maybe even wash away a few sins,” said George.
“You game, Jay?”
“Yeah, I’m in,” said Jay.
“Do any one of us even own a bathing suit?” said Peggy.
“I do,” said Jay. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a swimsuit printed with a dizzying array of blue and yellow daffodils.
“Sweet,” said Peggy.
“You pick those out yourself,” said George.
“My Gramma did,” said Jay. “Last Christmas.”
“Appropriate enough, then,” said Peggy. ”But I don‘t own a swimsuit. Me and swimsuits don’t get along. Too many bulgy things I’d prefer to keep to myself.”
“I have a pair of cutoffs that should fit you,” said George. “There’s bulgy thing friendly. You don’t need to be spending any money.”
“Done deal,” said Peggy.
At the beach parking lot George opened the back lid of his van and scrounged around for the drinks he had picked up in North Carolina.
Peggy found a proper blanket and a couple of towels.
“Grab that cooler, Jay,” said George. "I'll fill it with soda."
“Maybe a couple of beers?” said Peggy.
“I like your style, Peg,” said George.
“I don’t think we’re going to find any ice on Christmas Day," said George. “But at least its wet. I’ll grab the guitar as well."
On their walk to the beach, Peggy noticed a street vendor selling Santa hats.
“Let’s go check it out,” said Peggy.
The vendor looked up from his cell phone and greeted the trio liked he’d been expecting them all day and now they were finally here.
“Welcome!” he said. “So good to see you! You folks look like you’re ready for a day at the beach!”
“Hello,” said Peggy. “We didn’t expect to find anything open on Christmas Day.”
“As long as the tourists keep coming," said the vendor, “I‘m always be open.”
“How much for the Santa hats?” said George.
“On sale for $9.95. A bargain,” he said.
“A little steep” said George. “Since it’s Christmas Day, how about three for ten.”
“Then I’d be giving them away,” said the vendor.
“That’s not good business.”
“How about a trade?” said Jay.
“I’m listening,” said the vendor.
Jay reached into his pocket and handed the man a coin.
“An Indian head nickel?” said the vendor. “You don’t see too many of these now a days.”
“It’s a 1914-D worth $38.00 dollars in the current market,” said Jay. “One nickel for three hats. I’m over paying, but keep the change.”
“I should Google this," said the vendor. "But you've got an honest face. Consider the deal done, Kid,”
George and Peggy just looked at each other and smiled.
“I might just have me a partner on the boat,” said George. “The kids a born negotiator.”
The trio donned their Santa hats and headed to the beach where they spread out the blanket and set up shop for a Christmas Day at the beach.
A ramshackle family standing waist deep in the Atlantic looking for possible redemption in its waters.
Three Wise Men in Santa hats seeking the savior.