“There’s something out there. I don’t know what it is, but it’s out there. I know it,” whispered Emma. She began to move again, back and forth in her ancient rocking chair. Her cracked hands squeezed nervously the quilt that was covering her legs from the winter’s cold.
Nicholas, a slightly overweight man with light hair, looked around the hoarded home and then to the door. “There’s nothing out there. Just a lot of snow. And beyond that, trees covered by even more snow.”
He was still a young man in his early thirties. He attended college to study psychology to become a therapist, but ended up working for a church instead. He wasn’t a pastor per say, but something in between. The church called him a “leader.” One of his jobs was to visit the sick and the elderly.
Although he fought it with all his might, apprehensiveness still appeared on his face when Pastor Brad asked him to visit Emma Huffington, the 92-year-old widow who quit coming a number of years ago. Her only son had moved away for a girl, leaving her utterly alone. Now Christmas was approaching, and Pastor Brad believed and taught that no one should be alone on Christmas.
The little tube television in the corner of the house was silently playing The Christmas Carol, the original 1938 version, but Emma didn’t seem to care. She stared at the window even though it was closed with a curtain.
“There’s something moving out there. I can hear it,” she continued.
Nicholas replied courteously, “What’s out there?”
“I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m nervous.” Emma’s fingers dug into the quilt a little more.
“When I walked up, there wasn’t anything but snow, Emma.”
“It’s dark now, and that’s when it comes out. In the end. When everything goes dark.” She coughed a deep cough that came from too many years of smoking although she had quit years back.
A gust of wind blew against the small, weathered house, and Emma’s eyes turned to Nicholas. They were wide and alarmed.
“Just wind,” Nicholas said to calm her.
She replied, “It’s just two words.”
“They scare me, those two words.”
“What two words?” He was really confused now.
“The scariest two words ever spoken.” She learned towards him and whispered, “What if,” and she froze in that position for a moment.
Nicholas mentally recalled his academic training of psychology and his few years of experience counseling people at church. “Emma, do you have regrets that are bothering you? If so, everyone has regrets. It’s okay.”
The largest smile broke through Emma’s wrinkles on her face, “Papa said Santa is coming! And I’ve been good all year, I think. I hope I have. Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. And… I’ve been nice. Jolly old Saint Nicholas, lean your ear this way. Don’t you tell a single soul what I’m going to say.” Her smile vanished and her eyes dimmed a little. “There’s something out there. Soon.”
Another gust of wind hit the house, and Nicholas quickly stood. “Emma, can I get you anything? Water, coffee? Do you have any?”
“I have coco. Would you mind getting me a cup of hot coco. It’s on the counter near the microwave. I always drink hot coco around Christmas time.”
“I would love to.” He moved into the crowded kitchen, careful not to knock anything over. As he waited on the microwave, he noticed some photos in the hall. He studied them carefully. Emma was once beautiful and her husband, strikingly handsome. Nicholas saw a framed black and white family portrait. Her Papa and mother he presumed.
The microwave dinged, and Nicholas brought Emma her hot coco.
“Here you go. I hope it’s not too hot for you.” He carefully handed her the cup and saucer.
“What’s your name?” she asked completely lost.
“Oh, Saint Nicholas! Papa said you would come. Momma said so too. If I was good. Did you get my letter?” She was giddy in excitement.
“I’m from the church.”
“Yes, yes! Okay, Santa Claus, I need to change my letter. I don’t want a doll and stroller anymore; I want something else.”
Curious, Nicholas asked, “What do you want, Emma?”
She thought for a while and was fighting who she was. She went back and forth from child to elder until settling somewhere in between. “I want Robert back.” Her head sunk into her shoulders in that stagnant rocking chair. I told him to go fight. He could have stayed. He asked me what the right thing to do was, and then I sent him off in his uniform. I know he did what was right, but what if I would have told him to stay with me? With me and Jimmy. What if? He had already served his time. What if I would have told him to spend Christmas with me and go another year, or never go? My boy would have been raised right with a father. I would have been held in the cold of night. But I told him to go. And he did. And he fought. Brave. And he never came home.”
Emma pulled out the golden heart that hung around her neck by a purple ribbon. Just then another gust of wind pushed against the house.
The tired woman forced a broken smile and said to Nicholas, “You’re from my church, right?”
“Yes, Grace Community Congregation.”
“Will Jesus give me grace?”
“Do you believe in Jesus?”
“There’s no other name to believe in.” She motioned up to the cross hanging over her doorway.
“He will give you grace, Emma. God loves you so much.”
“Enough to cover my what if’s?
“He will wipe away every what if.”
Her eyes blinked longer now as she appeared even more sunken down into her chair.
She whispered, “Every what if?”
“Emma, they are all gone. Completely wiped away. You have been forgiven of every mistake.”
Her words grew softer and weaker: “Jolly old Saint Nicholas, something’s outside.”
“It’s windy outside.”
“Santa, I want my Robert back.”
Her eyes stayed closed longer before they opened again.
Another gust of wind.
“Open the door. Robert’s here.”
“It’s just the wind, Emma. Get some rest, okay?”
“Just open the door for me.”
“It’s cold out; you’ll freeze.”
She whispered slowly, “Please, open the door.”
Nicholas apprehensively stood up and moved to the door. Emma’s weary eyes fought to stay open. As Nicholas turned the rusty doorknob, the door flung open, pushing him out of the way, and to his disbelief the snowy wind that flew in was in the faint shape of a man.
Years later Nicholas would recall that the faint shape of that snowy wind resembled a smiling man in a uniform, but he was for certain that Emma Huffington passed away that windy night with a hint of a jolly smile on her face, peacefully in a rocking chair.