South Granby Way by A. Elizabeth Herting

Lonely widow Gladys spots a young boy across the street, left home alone for Christmas, and wonders what to do about it; by A. Elizabeth Herting.

On the third day, Gladys began to get worried.

The boy looked just like any average kid that plagued the neighborhood. She and Earl had lived here for over thirty-five years. Long enough to be on their third or fourth set of recycled youngish, yuppie-type couples, bringing their fully packed moving vans and enormous hounds to poop in her rose bushes and roving bands of pre-pubescent offspring to roam the street from dawn until dusk, in the long summer days before school mercifully began.

Now, in December, Gladys watched from her bedroom window as they engaged in snowball fights and sledding races. It really was a safety hazard, an awful idea to let them race endlessly down the top of the hill with their dogs chasing behind them, ripping up pristine, snow-covered yards in their wake.

Gladys told them all exactly what she thought about it, on more than one occasion, at the quarterly Homeowners Association meetings, but no one ever listened. Earl warned her it was a fool's errand, they were just kids being kids.

Might as well get mad at the sun for rising, Glady Girl...

Earl was the friendly one. The resident kindly old fart of the neighborhood, handing out candy to the kids every single weekend even though he knew the constant ringing of the doorbell gave her a world-class migraine. They'd never had kids of their own, a fact that Earl lamented but Gladys never had any qualms about.

It was a quiet relief to me, if truth be told.

Gladys' philosophy was that distant neighbors made for the best neighbors.

But not Earl. No, Sir-ee, never my Earl. He became their adopted grandfather, the Santa Claus of South Granby Way.

They'd gather around him every Saturday. Grateful mothers in upscale minivans waved to him as their kids convened in Gladys' front yard, helping Earl pile up the leaves, do chores or linger while he regaled them with his latest made-up story. It went on right up until the day that Earl dropped dead of a massive heart attack while shoveling the sidewalk out in front of the Hanley house, two doors down.

From that day til this one, she'd politely accepted their casseroles and bland words of condolence, counting the seconds until they would all go back to their remodeled cookie-cutter homes and leave her in peace. Gladys knew she was no substitute for Earl, never had any inkling to try. She'd firmly locked the door on the kids and their families on the day of Earl's funeral, and that was that.

Now she watched them through her bay window with a battered old pair of Earl's bird-watching binoculars. It was her own way of keeping tabs on the neighborhood from her self-imposed exile, the only real connection Gladys still had to the outside world. Which is how she first noticed the boy, wandering around his house when Gladys knew for a fact that his family had left town for the holidays. She'd seen the Uber driver pull up and whisk them away days ago. There was no doubt about it - that boy was home all alone and Christmas was just two days away.



"Mrs. Crandall, we appreciate the information but when we sent our guy out to check for the second time, there was no one at home, no children, nothing."

"There must be some kind of mistake! I am telling you, I have seen him there for the past three days! At night, all of the lights, including Christmas lights, are turned on and I can see him in there eating at the table. Alone! He can't be more than ten years old, you have to do something!"

"Ma'am, thank you for your concern. We will try to come by once more before Christmas and promise to let you know if we find anything..."

Gladys slammed the phone down as hard as she could onto the receiver. Earl had tried his best to get her to use the cell, but the damned thing gave her a headache with its tiny print and confusing buttons. Besides, there was nothing more satisfying than the feel of righteously hanging up on someone. Simply touching a button on a screen didn't cut it. In this, as in so many other things, the younger generations were sorely lacking. That, and keeping track of their own children apparently.

She didn't know the family at all, they'd moved in last spring. Gladys thought she'd seen more than one child at their house, but really wasn't sure. All of the neighborhood kids blended together, one exactly the same as the next.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Year after year, decade after decade and so on. It never, ever changes. Except that you knew them all, Earl. Who is this boy?

The boy was cute, Gladys had to give him that. His hair was bright blond and looked almost white when the sunlight caught it at just the right angle through the windowpane. He could have been eight or eleven or any age in between, just beginning to shed the trappings of babyhood. Yesterday, Gladys watched as he danced through the empty house, spinning and laughing, jumping up and down all over the living room furniture. That was when she'd made her second call to the HOA. Gladys wondered for the hundredth time what kind of monstrous parents would leave a young boy all alone for Christmas. It truly was mind boggling.

They should be arrested for neglect!

Maybe her next call in the morning would be to the police station. It was her final, comforting thought before she donned her CPAP mask and drifted off to sleep.



The sudden absence of sound caused Gladys to shoot up in bed. The old CPAP had been giving her fits lately, shutting off without warning. Fragments of her dream conversation with Earl floated across her mind, his voice still deep and calming. His was the only voice she'd ever wanted to hear. It had always, would always be so.

God and all the Saints, how I miss you!

It's Christmas Eve, Glady Girl. Ease up just a little, my love...

Reluctantly, she lifted herself out of the bed, the creaks and pops of relentless age cutting into the silence of the room like a knife. The nightstand clock read half-past-three, a truly awful, godforsaken hour. Since it was quite a production to get out of bed these days, Gladys decided she might as well use the bathroom.

The moon was full, lighting her path through the darkened room. Out of habit, Gladys stopped at the window, grabbing Earl's binoculars off of the hook. At first, all was as it should be. A decent dusting of snow had accumulated, giving the street a glittering, immaculate aura. The house across the street was dark as pitch, except for a single candle's glow. Gladys sat in her usual spot at the bay window, transfixed, binoculars pressed up against the glass as she strained to catch any glimpse of movement in the boy's house.

A shadow detached itself from the darkness and moved directly into the front window, the moon serving as a makeshift spotlight. Gladys felt a jolt of shock, gripping the binoculars tightly in her knotted, arthritic fingers. The boy stood looking directly at her through layers of glass. She could see that his eyes were blue with just the faintest touch of gold and that he had a liberal spattering of light brown freckles on his nose. He smiled lopsidedly at her, Gladys easily finding the gap in the front of his mouth where his adult teeth would eventually be.

Her heart skipped a beat as the boy slowly raised his hand in greeting, breaching the long, cold distance between them. Gladys dropped the old binoculars and tentatively waved back at him, quite forgetting herself in the process. She had a sudden melancholy thought, wondering which of the two of them was more alone. In the end, she decided to follow Earl's advice and ease up, as the boy slowly retreated back into the dark of his house, and Gladys, back into a peaceful, winter slumber.



Her neck stuck at an impossibly painful angle, Gladys slowly picked herself up off of the bay window seat, the world slowly coming back into focus.

Where in the living hell am I?

A sharp knock at the door caused her to nearly jump out of her skin. Gladys wrapped her old, pink robe over her shoulders and hobbled down the hallway. She couldn't recall the last time she had fallen asleep anywhere other than in her bed. She reached the door, throwing it open with impatience. A little girl with bright blue eyes stood on her doorstep, holding a doll and a large poinsettia plant.

"Excuse me, Mrs. Crandall, We just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas."

Gladys stepped back, tentatively allowing the little girl into her sanctuary. A tall, blond couple stood behind, a large gift basket in their arms.

"Mrs. Crandall, you don't know us but we are your neighbors from across the street on South Granby Way. I am Willa Grayson, this is my husband Pete and our daughter Loretta."

Bleary-eyed, Gladys cautiously opened the door a little more.

"You may not know it, Mrs. Crandall, but your husband was a great gift to our son before we lost him."

"Lost who?"

"Our son, Kevin. He died last Christmas of leukemia. Earl was a good friend to him."

Gladys blinked hard, tears threatening to overwhelm her as she tried to process what the lady was saying.

"Dead? Why he can't be! He was just... I just... it's not possible..."

"The Homeowners Association contacted us last night. We were visiting family for the holidays, just got back early this morning. Mrs. Crandall, what the HOA told us seems incredible. Would you mind telling us what you saw?"

Gladys could feel Earl softly place a phantom hand on her shoulder. A gesture he had done countless times in their fifty-five years together.

Everything's alright, Glady Girl. Go ahead and let them in. What do you have to lose?

She heard the little girl behind her, skipping around the living room before settling into Earl's chair. Gladys stepped back and finally allowed the couple inside.

"Come in Mr. and Mrs. Grayson. I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Please, tell me about your Kevin."



Gladys eased into the window seat, her stomach filled to bursting. She couldn't remember the last time she'd eaten so well. The Graysons had put out quite a spread for Christmas dinner, insisting that Gladys join them for the holiday. She'd spent the entire evening in their company, roaming the house she knew so well, looking at pictures of Kevin and reminiscing about Earl. Once again, she felt humbled by her husband's gentle presence in her long life, grateful for the chance to talk about him again. Little Loretta jumped into her arms at the end, promising to come over the very next day with her doll for a tea party. She lingered awhile at the door of their house, none of them wanting to break their new found connection to each other and their departed loved ones.

The snow fell in gentle waves onto the street below, capping off the best Christmas Gladys could remember since Earl died. The Grayson's house was dark, not a light or little boy in sight. With a resigned sigh, Gladys rose from the window seat and placed the binoculars back on the hook, to prepare for bed.



At the end of the street, almost too far to see, an old man holding the hand of a young boy stood illuminated in the fading street lamp, watching Gladys as she turned away from her window. He raised his arm in a final greeting, the little blond boy smiling up at him, as they turned together and slowly walked down South Granby Way, before disappearing into the snowy Christmas night.

9 comments:

  1. A touching tale. At first I thought Gladys and her husband were respectively shaping up as clear antagonist and protagonist. I knew the boy was dead, and thought Gladys might also be. So her transformation and happy-ever-after ending came as a small surprise. I like how her italicized 1st person snippets were inserted into the narrative. Don't recall having seen that technique used before.

    "...to preparing for bed."
    prepare

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  2. A well-crafted and uplifting tale. Gladys’ ghosts/hallucinations ultimately lead her back to the land of the living. I hope she can stay there

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  3. Thanks for sharing your story...I think it's great. I love the way the character of Earl is developed without him being present (except at the very end). Little things like his fatal heart attack occurring while shoveling snow at a neighbors and his appeal to the children make it so logical that he would find a way to give Gladys such a wonderful gift.

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  4. Touching and well-told tale. Reminds me of some of Rod Serling's best.

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  5. This short story by Elizabeth Herting is a great Christmas tale. Through narrative and interior thoughts she has developed the characters of the protagonist Gladys and her deceased but charming husband Earl. Her story demonstrates insights about loneliness, isolation and love. I agree with Patrick Ritter , this would have been a good Twilight Zone episode.

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  6. A poignant story, beautifully told. By the way, wasn't Kevin the name of the boy in Home Alone?

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  7. A beautiful story, touching and surprising! I like how Gladys evolves in this tale.

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  8. Dearly departed watching over their loved ones. Beautiful.

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