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His face glowed white in the cold winter evening. He stared hungrily into a window at a family eating dinner. Christmas. Such a lonely holiday for somebody with no family. He stood with his back to the street wondering how he got here. How did he end up an old man on Christmas evening with no where to go? No family to go home to, no place to even call his home. He stuck his hands deeper into his heavy winter coat. It was his most valuable possession. The only thing that proved to stay by his side during the worst of times.
His old worn, green coat was so dependable. Even with its few holes and its many dirt stains. This coat was what kept death from claiming his bones. This coat was what held his memories securely in its pockets. It was this very coat that he used as a bed in the summertime and a blanket in the winter.
But no matter how great his coat was, it still didn't give him a home to go to on Christmas evening, it still didn't give him someone to talk with, laugh with or cry with. It was just a coat, just a piece of fabric. This made the old man want to laugh and cry at himself. How pathetic, his coat being his most important possession.
Again he wondered how he ended up this way. He had a family at one point. A wife and a daughter. But he failed them. It was him who did this to himself. If only he hadn't been so selfish...
“Excuse me sir!” The old man turned slowly around. A young woman looked at him with a sorry smile on her face. “I've seen you around town a lot. My name is Sylvia Witherton. I work for the soup kitchen down town. I was just wondering if you wanted to come with me. I could get you a nice hot meal.” The old man looked at her and scowled. For twenty years he'd been wandering from town to town, state to state. Every place he went was the same. Every place was always full of sad people with sad stories to tell. Sylvia's smile, it was fake. She too would be engulfed by the sadness of it all. The old man turned his back on the woman.
“No thank you,” he answered and slowly walked down the icy sidewalk.
“But... Merry Christmas!” The old man didn't show any sign that he'd heard the woman. For too many years Victor Gambinni had taken, had indulged in the things life had to offer him, but now he would let somebody else eat that free Christmas dinner. There were always people trying to help Victor, and what had he done to deserve anyone's help? Absolutely nothing. He never even thanked the people who offered him food or shelter. He never did anything good in this world. Now he was punishing himself. He needed to give back. But he had nothing to give, all he had was his old green coat.
Victor turned the corner walking down the street he called his home. This was the street that he came back to most nights. He walked slowly behind a young man and woman holding hands, toward a man with a metal cup. The man wore a thin coat with ripped gloves on his scarred hands, which were purple from the cold. The couple looked at the poor young man and turned up their noses in disgust. Ignoring his rattling cup, they walked on by without a second glance.
Victor had never seen the young man before. He must have been new to the neighborhood, or else he would have known that people here take, they rarely ever give. Victor dug in his pockets and found a few quarters and a crumpled dollar bill, it was the very last of his money. He dropped it in the outstretched cup of the man. The man looked up at him with weary thankful eyes.
“Thank you,” he whispered in a rough voice.
“Use the money to get outta here. Take the word of an old homeless fella, you are beggin' in the wrong place. That money you've got there is all you'll see from this part of town.” With that Victor continued his slow walk down the lonely road. Victor never turned back to see if the man had heeded his words. He just kept on walking. Maybe it was finally time for Victor to move on again.
As he strode through town he noticed a young woman, she wore a short tight skirt with black fishnet stalkings. She wore a tight shirt and she had too much make-up on her face. As the old man walked passed, she hurried toward him. She was shaking, that was obvious to Victor. She was about to say something but she stopped suddenly. She stepped in front of Victor staring at him.
“Miss, I've gotta get goin', it's damn cold if you haven't realized that yet,” Victor grumbled. He looked at the woman's face. There was a fading bruise surrounding her eye that she tried to cover with make-up. “You shouldn't be outside lookin' like that in this type of weather,” Victor added as stepped around her.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “you look like someone I used to know.” Victor looked once more at the child's shivering figure. He noticed then, her alarmingly green eyes and froze. He pulled his heavy jacket from his hulking body, ripping his memories from the deep pockets.
“Here.” Victor tucked the girl into the warm over sized coat.
“What the...” she began, but the old man was already walking away. She hurried after him, wanting to give him his coat back. But he was faster than she'd expected.
“Alice, what were you doing? Where'd you get that disgusting coat?” Alice's friend asked. Alice looked down at the coat. It was warm. It was the best Christmas gift she could have asked for. What luck! But why did that old man give it to her? Alice stared after him, she was going to find that man and thank him. Tomorrow, she decided. She would find him tomorrow.
“Alice, lets go,” her friend took hold of her arm. They weren't going to get much business that night anyway. It was much too cold to stand and wait. Her friend pulled her the whole way back to the shelter. “What's wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” Alice answered.
The next morning Alice hurried from the shelter in search of the old man, she had to find him. But where would she look? She didn't know him, she didn't know where he slept at night. But she was going to find him, that much she knew.
And she did. She found him in a park sitting beneath a tree, leaning against its massive trunk. His skin was a purplish, red color. His hat was dusted with snow and his clothes were soaking wet. Alice rushed toward him.
“Thank you,” she said as she approached him. The old man looked up at her. “But why did you give me your coat?” She demanded as she took it off and tried to give it back to him. The old man stood up, holding the coat in his fists.
“No,” the old man began. He started coughing violently and it was a minute before he could speak once more. “Take this coat. I don't need it anymore.” Alice was horrified.
“Yes you do. You'll freeze to death without it.” The old man coughed again and looked at her with pained eyes.
“Please my dear, it's the last thing I have to give,” Victor whispered sadly. “Please take it and learn. Learn what I never did. Take it and be happy.” Victor put the coat on Alice once more and zipped her inside. He hesitated a moment before slipping his memories back into the pocket. “Go,” he commanded. Slowly, Alice did as she was told, leaving Victor to rest in peace. She slipped her hands into the coat's massive pockets and found an envelope. There was a single piece of paper. It was a child's drawing. The drawing was of a house, in front of the house was a family. A dad, a mom and a little girl. My Best Memory, was written on top of the page in a child's large, messy handwriting. Below it was a name, Alice Gambinni, age five.
Alice slipped the paper back into her coat, which would forever be her most valuable possession.