La Petite Princess

(From “Snapshots at St. Arbuck’s Vol 1, ©2008 R.G. Ryan)

I sat there at my usual place in St. Arbuck’s experiencing the same empty-headed stupor that had assailed me most of the week, sipping coffee while watching busy people come and go in a kind of spontaneously synchronized rhythm.

But even they seemed dull.

Nothing was interesting.

Perhaps it was the holiday.

With Christmas a little more than one week away, the proximity seemed to have everyone rushing about under the relentless prod of “Christmas Spirit.”

Peace on earth could wait for another day. There were presents to buy!

Pies to bake.

Stockings to fill.

I had just closed my eyes and buried my face in my hands when I heard a small, almost angelic voice say, “I have a dress.”

I looked up and found that the dulcet tones belonged to a little blonde-haired girl of perhaps four or five.

She stood by my table, doing that swinging-your-torso-back- and-forth-with-hands-clasped-behind-your-back little girl thing and gazing innocently at me as if awaiting a response to her pronouncement.

“Why, yes you do,” said I as a smile crawled its way onto my previously dour countenance.

She kind of tilted her head to one side and said, “My daddy says I look like a princess.”

My smile grew broader. “Is that right?”

She nodded her head as a shy smile appeared.

She wasn’t a particularly pretty child and her handmade dress seemed poorly sewn.

Someone had made a valiant effort to tame her mane of unruly hair—painfully evident was the fact that the hair had eventually won.

And yet, there was a sweetness in her that was compelling.

Glancing past her I noticed a thirty-something man waiting in line to place his order.

By the frequent looks cast my way, I assumed that he was the little girl’s father.

The vanquished hair warrior, no doubt.

After a minute or two, he seemed to decide that I was a decent sort and presented no threat to his child.

“Is that your daddy over there?” I asked, pointing to the man.

She nodded quickly after a brief glance in his direction.

I said, “Are you two buying something to take home to your mommy?”

She stared blankly at me for what seemed like an eternity and then with her lower lip trembling slightly she said, “My mommy is in heaven.”

Dear God!

“Oh, I’m so sorry, honey,” I said.

Yes, I know my response was woefully insufficient, but what could I say, indeed, what could anyone say?

Fanning out the sides of the dress she said, “Mommy made it for me to wear in our church’s Christmas program.”

In an effort to avoid further clichéd and hackneyed drivel, I simply nodded my head in silent understanding.

“She wanted to be here for Christmas, but God took her to heaven last week.”

My heart felt ready to burst.

I wanted to pick that precious child up, cradle her in my arms and tell her whatever she needed to hear that would bring comfort and hope.

She said, “Why did God take my mommy?”

A sniveling voice somewhere inside my mind hissed, Come on, Mr. big-shot writer. You’re so clever, say something to the kid that’ll make the pain go away.

“Well, sweetheart,” I said, struggling for composure, “sometimes God gets lonely for his special children—so lonely He just can’t stand to be away from them. So, he…he brings them home.”

She nodded silently as if weighing the truth of my statement.

After a moment or two, she said softly, “Mister?”

“Yes?” said I, my voice choked with emotion.

“Do you really think I look like a princess?”

Her gaze was piercingly direct.

I blinked my eyes rapidly, hoping by doing so the river of tears pressing against its levy could be held in check.

“Honey,” I said. “You are the prettiest little princess I have ever seen.” And I meant every word.

I sensed her father’s presence before I saw him.

“Megan, come on. You don’t want to be late for your program, do you?”

Pointing my direction she said proudly, “Daddy, this man thinks I’m the prettiest little princess he’s ever seen.”

As he stood just behind her, holding a coffee in one hand and hot chocolate in the other, our eyes met, this brave father’s and mine.

And while no words were spoken, understanding passed between us.

That and something more—gratitude.

Then with his lips pressed together in a tight smile, he said, “And did you say thank-you?”

Megan looked at me and said bashfully, “Thank-you.”

They turned to go and almost made it out the door when suddenly Megan ran back and threw her arms about my neck hugging me tightly.

And then she was gone.

Me, I was left breathless with the wonder of what had just transpired.

I sat there not knowing what to do.

And then suddenly I knew exactly what to do.

I quickly threw my things into my trendy European man-purse and ran out the door.

I had a Christmas program to see, and if I hurried, I could probably catch the little princess and her father in the parking lot and get directions.

All at once, Christmas had taken on a whole new meaning.

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