Latest Forum Posts:

Categories

HomeDrama Stories Though the Frost Was Cruel

Though the Frost Was Cruel

Old Lucy wanders the streets of central Manhattan

Central Manhattan late afternoon, two weeks out from Christmas, was no place for a frail old lady, one whose entire possessions barely half-filled the rusted shopping trolley she trundled before her on the sidewalk. Not immediately obvious to the occasional on-looker, but her wheeled companion served its purpose as much for support these days, as for its meager storage capacity.

Cataracts had eroded Lucy’s vision to the point she had to squint hard to make-out objects in shop windows. Crossing Madison Avenue at 59th Street was a risky prospect at the best of times, conferring the onus of road safety on the driver rather than the elderly pedestrian, as she made inevitably slow progress towards 5th Avenue, where she turned the corner and headed south.

She looked up as a few flakes of snow drifted onto the already cold handle of her trusty old cart. She stopped under a nearby shop entrance and withdrew a pair of threadbare woolen gloves from one of the supermarket bags in the cart, that she slowly wriggled her old weather-beaten hands into.

More than a foot of snow had been forecast by the bureau to fall that night and she knew she had to find shelter somewhere soon. Most likely her old standby – a subway station, always assuming some kindly disposed citizen would help her down the stairs with the cart. She was a fixture at many such locations and more often than not, ticket collectors who knew Lucy, would allow her through the gate and on to the platform area to rest-up for the night.

Shuffling then, slowly along 5th Avenue, she was crossing 53rd Street and saw the entrance to Paley Park nearby. She decided to make a brief detour and take a rest on one of the seats near the waterfall there. It was a peaceful oasis in a vast metropolis of little peace. There were few people about and the skies overhead were darkening as the snow clouds moved in. She felt the onset of hunger, but tiredness overcame her.

*

“Wake up, wake up Lucy.” She opened her eyes, her mother was shaking her.

“Better get moving girl,” she said. “It’s almost 8 o’clock and you have to be at school in forty minutes.”

Amazing how fast a fifteen-year-old girl can move when she has to. Her older sister Kathleen, was in the kitchen clearing away her breakfast plates and looked up as Lucy flew in the doorway.

“Looks like you might need a lift to 31st Lucy, right?” she giggled. “Grab some cereal, there’s some toast here already. I’ve just got to go put on some make-up for work. You’ve got six or seven minutes.”

Lucy mumbled a “Thanks sis,” and reached up for the cereal box over the sink. She could hear the Everly Brothers singing “Bye Bye Love” in the background.

Exiting the house that their Grandfather had purchased new in Woodside, Queens, back in 1902 on 57th Street, the girls climbed into Kathleen’s ’54 Buick Skylark – now three years old but in exemplary condition still. In less than eight minutes they arrived at William Cullen Bryant High School and even as her sister called out through the open window “See you tonight Lucy,” she caught the strains of Paul Anka extolling the virtues of his “Diana” on the car radio. Currently number one on Billboard.

*

Lucy opened her eyes, the images and sounds faded into the ether. Tears stung her eyes now at the memories. Kathleen would be what, eighty-three this year, had not she been taken from them at just twenty-two years of age by a drunk driver on 49th Street.

With the temperature dropping rapidly, and her old coat losing the battle to keep its owner warm for much longer, she got up and steered the cart back to 5th Avenue where she once again navigated the corner right at the 53rd street subway station. She paused, wondering whether or not to make this her night’s stopover, but was dissuaded from the notion by the presence of so many people tramping down the subway entrance – the tail-end of rush hour she realized.

Continuing south along Fifth Avenue, she was in sight of 51st Street when the wheel of her cart struck a small uplifted portion of the sidewalk, the inertia from which caused Lucy to stumble heavily, pretty much in front of the entry to Longchamp Leather Goods store. For a few moments she was stunned, then she felt arms gently lifting her to her feet.

“Are you alright Mother?” enquired her rescuer. She turned to look at the man who had evidently just exited the leather store as she fell. A kindly face, whose owner was a man in his fifties and who right at that moment was obviously concerned for the old lady’s well-being.

“Yes, I’m fine sir,” she answered. “Thank you very much for helping me up – they should do something about that pavement.” She glanced downward at the offending ridge. Though her eyes were capable of seeing little detail.

“Indeed they should Madam,” replied the man. “Are you alright to continue?”

“Yes, I’m good to go thank you,” she replied and turned towards her cart. He smiled at her obvious humor.

“Look, I do not mean to offend in any way dear lady, but are you hungry by any chance? I would be honored if you would let me buy you something to eat. I’m sure you are still a little shaken up by the fall and I just thought maybe some takeaway and a drink might hit the spot?”

She looked back at him and was silent for a moment. His mention of food recalled to mind her empty stomach and even emptier purse.

“That is extremely kind of you Sir,” she replied, “and I hope you take no offense, but yes, I would love something to eat.”

He pointed towards 51st Street. “I have my car parked just over there. Allow me to get you seated out of the cold and I can just drop into Bill’s Bar and Burger the other side of the street, and get us both something to eat. A burger, some fries, and a drink sound OK?”

“Sounds more than OK to me,” she smiled – something she hadn’t had any reason to do for a long time.

He then escorted her just around the corner of 51st Street, assisted her into his recent model Lincoln Town Car and parked her shopping cart under a nearby awning where she could see it.

The warmth of the car was luxury and the leather seat just so comfortable.

*

A cacophony of sound gradually assailed her ears.

“C’mon Lucy, “D” section is right in front of us.” Jenny, her best friend from work, was dragging her by the hand. Looking up, she saw a turbulent river of young girls flowing to all points of the huge building. Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadow – opened just sixteen months earlier and what was to be the home of the New York Mets for forty-five consecutive seasons. Today though, Sunday, August 15th, 1965, it was something else. A day that no-one who was there would ever forget – long into the twenty-first century. As they took their seats in row twelve, the decibel level rose and the sense of anticipation in the stadium took on an awesome aspect. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marvin Gaye, and a host of other celebrities were there – so were 55,600 other people.

“There they are,” someone screamed, as the four culture-defining British lads – kids really - ran on to the field. Up in the stands, famed TV host Ed Sullivan had a hold of his microphone and intoned into it, “Now, Ladies and Gentleman, honored by their country, decorated by their Queen and loved here in America, here are The Beatles”

That was the last anyone heard of anything that day. The Beatles themselves could hear neither their instruments or their own singing as the screaming of multiple thousands of young girls obliterated literally all else. The words of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Feel Fine,”Ticket to Ride,” “Help” and “She’s a Woman,” may as well have been sung in Hindu for all anybody could have known.

*

The ringing in her ears gradually faded, someone was knocking on the car window. Lucy opened her eyes and saw her companion standing there with several bags. She let down the window. “Sorry," she said, "I must have drifted off,”

“Not to worry,” he said cheerfully, handing the deliciously aromatic food inside the car. He then walked around the other side and opened the driver’s door.

“So, er, I never asked your name I’m sorry. I’m Richard,” he said.

“Lucy,” she replied. “Nice to meet you, Richard. You’ve been a life-saver.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” he chuckled, “More a man on the spot, I’d say. You took a nasty fall back there Lucy – you sure you’re OK?”

“A little bruised on my arm maybe,” she said, “But nothing broken or damaged – luckily. At my age, it doesn’t take much to fracture something.”

He nodded his assent before adding, “Well let’s eat this while it’s hot. I bought you one of Bill’s excellent cheeseburgers with mushrooms and onions – one for myself too….and fries of course. Wasn’t sure what your preference in drinks was, so I got us some coke, old-style lemonade, and a bottle of orange juice – which would you like Lucy?”

She thought about it for a second.

“Mm... The OJ I think Richard.” He handed it across.

For a while, they didn’t speak. It having been many hours since Lucy had eaten anything, the hot burger was much to her liking, and to Richard, it was obvious the poor woman had little sustenance on a regular basis. By the time they had finished, which included him handing over the residue of his fries, that he diplomatically mentioned he ‘just couldn’t finish,’ she was feeling a whole lot better.

“I must be getting along now Richard,” she said. “You have shown me a kindness I wasn’t expecting and have rarely been shown. I won’t forget it.”

She started to open the car door.

“Can I give you a lift anywhere Lucy?” he asked, aware that her circumstances probably did not include any fixed destination. The homeless, he knew lived hand to foot, and could no more predict their immediate future than nominate the source of their next meal. He hoped she would be lucky.

“No, but thank you for the kind offer Richard,” she answered. “You have done more than enough for one night.”

Exiting the car was not that easy for her and he hurried round to help her to her feet. He thought he could see a tear or two at the corner of her old eyes, but had the sensitivity not to make mention of it.

“Goodbye Lucy,” he said, “I hope things look up for you.” As she looked back at him, he could clearly see a few tears now, and hastily got back in the car before she saw his.

*

The snow started as she crossed Fifth Avenue with her cart and commenced treading the path she had chosen earlier. The coldness intensified. Snow was beginning to build upon the sidewalk already and though not yet a blizzard, was hard enough to make pushing a shopping trolley difficult at least.

Immediately on her left was St Patrick’s Cathedral, perhaps the most visible symbol of the Catholic Church in America today. She knew it would be far warmer inside and having taken refuge there so many times over the years, recalled the comforting atmosphere of the great church.

The snow was sleeting down now and she herself was near frozen, so trundling her cart beneath some overhanging masonry near the main entrance, she assured herself no-one would take anything on a night like this and especially in such a hallowed location.

Glancing down at the cart momentarily, she noticed something folded beneath one of her worn old store bags. It was a plain brown envelope with the words “Happy Christmas” written on it. Curious beyond measure, she opened it and withdrew the contents. She could but gasp. Just moments before tears flooded her eyes. In her gloved hand, she held now two crisp new $100 bills.

“Oh, Richard. My dearest Richard,” she sobbed. “Thank you and bless you wherever you are.”

Pausing to wipe away her tears with the back of her gloved hand, she folded the money and slipped it inside her old purse that she kept in her coat’s inner pocket. She then trudged to the Cathedral’s entrance. Just inside the doorway where stand the huge bronze doors like mute sentinels, she saw a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, whose lights imparted a seasonal cheer to all who entered that iconic neo-gothic edifice. Inside, one is humbled by the sheer size and beauty of the interior, the statue of the Pietà, the 9000 pipe organ and the overall grandeur of the Cathedral, now heightened, following the 177 million dollar restoration carried out between 2012 and 2015 and which included the exterior marble cladding.

Lucy walked slowly towards the altar and took a seat at one end of the carved pew. She felt her age and her utter desolation. How had her station in life sunk to this level? She looked across at the beautiful stained glass windows. Although unable to see now with any clarity, she remembered which one was “Christ with the Little Children.”

Where had he been when Kathleen died? Where was the spiritual help she so needed when her Father fell from scaffolding and died a week later in Elmhurst Hospital – the same hospital she had been born in, way back in 1942. Was he otherwise engaged when her mother could no longer repel the cancer that invaded her lungs? Surely he could have provided some solace when her best friend Jenny was diagnosed with Leukemia and passed away, even as Lucy held her tightly on her own bed. What was it she’d said just hours earlier? “I’ll always be with you, Lucy.” Many were the time it seemed to her she actually was, and she had taken great comfort in that notion.

Perhaps the beginning of the end was the day her husband left her for another woman – younger and prettier than herself. “Sorry Lucy,” he had said, “These things happen!” Financially destitute and emotionally defeated by circumstances, she had lost the house they shared, being unable to maintain the crippling mortgage payments. Her ex-husband moved to California with her ‘replacement’ and was now fully untraceable.

Maybe with a different mind-set she could have overcome these adversities but scarred as she was inside – it just never happened and consequently she slipped into a life of homeless wandering, unable, and probably unwilling to better her circumstances.

With no warning, she felt a dreadful pain in her chest, breathing became difficult and she gasped for breath.

“Help me,” she called out weakly, raising her eyes in the direction of the stained glass window, “ I need you to be here for once.”

“You never needed him, Lucy,” whispered a soft voice. “All you ever needed was yourself.”

Turning her head painfully she saw a shimmering outline – one she knew so well.

“Jenny,” she cried, clutching her chest, “I’m dying.” She raised a hand to her friend beseechingly.

“No Lucy, you’re not dying,” responded the image, solidifying now as she spoke. “You’re just moving on. Didn’t I tell you I would always be with you?” she smiled and Lucy’s pain became a thing of the past – a distant memory.

“You look so beautiful Jenny, just like you always did,” Lucy replied. “But look at me - I’m so old, I must look awful to you.”

“Maybe you should look again Lucy, you might be surprised.” A wonderful smile crossed the spirit’s face.

Lucy looked down at herself and stared. Unable to see her own face, of course, she could nevertheless see plainly the body and clothing of a young girl – her hands were no more than those of a twenty-year-old. She could feel her youth. Glancing around St. Patrick’s for the last time, she could see every detail with the utmost clarity.

“Come with me Lucy,” Jenny said, holding out her hand.

Lucy took a hold of the outstretched fingers. She knew she would enjoy wherever it was they were going.

*
Several people, visitors, and a few of the Cathedral’s staff saw the old lady fall from the pew. They rushed over. One of the group said, “I’m a doctor, let me through please.” He checked for a pulse and any vital signs. Shaking his head, he stood up. “Probable heart attack. I can’t confirm that without tests but either way I’m afraid she’s dead.”

“Looks like something in her hand,” said one of the Cathedral’s staff, pointing down at the prostrate form.

“The Doctor kneeled once again and removed something that was clasped in the old lady’s right hand.

A small and very old ticket stub. He read the print:

Seat 18, Row 12. Section D SHEA STADIUM August 15th, 1965. “The Beatles in Concert.”

 

© Peter_Pan 2021

 

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

To link to this story from your site - please use the following code:

<a href="https://www.storiesspace.com/stories/drama/-though-the-frost-was-cruel-.aspx"> Though the Frost Was Cruel </a>

You may also like...

Comments (3)

Tell us why

Please tell us why you think this story should be removed.

Reason