by Emily Ann Putzke
Fabian gave the men beside him a shove as he worked his way to the front of the horde. A sergeant tossed him a parcel, then proceeded to call up another soldier. Fabian glanced at the address. It came all the way from Mississippi, postmarked December — nearly four months ago. He tucked it under his arm as he hiked through the muddy gravel.
“Avery, what’s that?” Private Rivers ran up to him, inspecting the parcel with intense interest.
“Christmas package from my parents and the girls.”
“Woah, gotta a lot of pretty girls back home, do ya?”
“My sisters,” he shoved his shoulder into Rivers.
“What they send ya?"
“How should I know, stupid? Haven’t opened the thing up yet.”
Fabian strolled away from the pack of soldiers and headed for a pile of rubble. No one would disturb him there. Glass crunched under his heavy boots and bone chilling breeze caused him to hunch over as he gained the last few paces to the heap. Billows of thick smoke still arose from the piles of debris. He slumped down onto a mountain of stones. Fabian flipped the parcel over in his stiff fingers. He was ready to tear into it until he caught Rivers circling him a hawk. “Get lost, would ya?” Fabian tossed handful of rubble at Rivers.
Rivers leaped back. “Ok, ok! Just thought you might be the kinda fella to share with his best friend who never gets letters or packages, and who’s practically starving to death. But never mind, I was wrong.”
“Best friend?” Fabian laughed. “I just met you last month and you’ve been driving me insane asking for my cigarettes and rations. You get the same amount of food and supplies as I get, so don’t expect any sympathy from me.”
Rivers shrugged his shoulders and proceeded to plead another soldier to share his Christmas parcel.
Fabian dug his fingers into the thick packaging tape and ripped it back in one quick motion. Before he lifted the cardboard flaps, he happened to glance up, feeling the sensation of being watched. His eyes scanned the area until they fell on a little boy standing a few feet ahead. He was small and slight with tousled dark hair, a ruddy complexion, and brown eyes three times too big for his face. His body was layered in dust and grime, and his clothes were disheveled mess. The boy was staring at his parcel.
Why does everyone want my Christmas package? Geez!
Fabian glanced down at his package, then slowly lifted his gaze to the boy once more.
Ah, well. Ma would probably want me to share it with this kid. I suppose it would be the right thing to do.
“Come on over, kid.”
The boy took tentative steps at first, holding his hands together tightly. Fabian tore off his army helmet and raked his fingers through his thick brown hair. He wasn’t sure if he looked more intimidating with or without the helmet. He must have looked ok, for the boy was approaching him, his eyes seeming even bigger now.
“Can you understand English?” Fabian asked. “Specifically southern English? I’m from Mississippi.”
The boy nodded.
“Can you speak it?”
The boy shook his head.
“Well, looks like I’ll be doing all the talking then. Sit a spell, boy.”
The boy sat on the rubble, leaning his body into Fabian’s shoulder and peering down into the parcel.
“This here is my Christmas present. Little late. It’s what—” he held up his wrist and checked his watch. “March 30th. Ah, who cares, as long as it gets to me sometime. Christmas in March ain’t so bad. Folks from up North say it feels more like Christmas right now anyway, what with the cold spell. Mississippi ain’t cold like this, even in December.” The boy glanced at him, then pointed at the package.
Fabian laughed in spite of himself. “Ok, I get it. Enough talking, you want what’s in this package.” He reached inside and found a folded letter lying on the top. He pocketed, figuring the kid wouldn’t care to hear about his family back home. Fabian heard shuffling and his eyes lifted, landing on a group of children. Four little girls and four small boys were staring at him, shivering in the brisk wind.
“Aww, heck. Get over here,” he waved his arm to them.
Smiles crept across their forlorn faces as they perched around him. Another boy leaned on his shoulder for a look, and the others stood close by, watching his every move.
Fabian now reached into the parcel. His hand landed on a small, firm bundle. He tore the wrapping and grinned as four bars of Baby Ruth met his eyes.
The kids will love this.
He opened the first candy bar, ripped off a small piece for himself, then passed the rest around for the children to enjoy. He popped a piece into his mouth and relished the sweet, nutty flavor with a content sigh. He watched as the children took a bite, then handed the candy bars down to be sure everyone had a taste. The children’s faces were beaming and the younger ones had remnants of the candy lingering on their lips.
All eyes were on him, wondering what perfection he would pull from his box now. Next was a pile of comic books. Sure, he was twenty four but he still liked reading them. He tossed them one by one to the children. Their eyes lit up as they studied the bright pictures and funny looking characters. While they were preoccupied, he studied the remaining contents of his parcel. A pack of gum, some socks, slightly hard cookies, a bar of chocolate, and a pocket Bible. He allowed the children to take their pick of the food, feeling a warmth grow inside him at their happy chatter and joy in their eyes.
A loud, stern voice brought Fabian’s nerves to stand on end. He glanced up. A woman was motioning for the children to get away from him, worry etched on her face. They dropped the comic books and candy wrappers, running toward what was left of their neighborhood where the woman was waiting. The little boy whom he first saw suddenly turned around. He cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted, “Grazie!”
Fabian waved a hand with a grin on his face. “Anytime, kid.”