This is a CAW9 entry. I don't want you to be angry with me so I'm telling you up front that this story has no erotic content. If you are looking to read something sexy please chose another story.. Also, I didn't have a chace to have it proofread so it probably has some errors. Sorry.
A HEAVEN FOR NINA
Four-eighty-four was an old house in a neighborhood of old houses. It stood at the corner of Chestnut and fourteenth like an old prostitute working her same old location long past her prime. Her worn out shingles hung like an old dress, torn and tattered exposing bar portions of a decaying wood. Once she stood tall and proud; a stylish town house in the very center of the towns fashionable east side, but now her faded décor only paid homage to a bygone day.
It was a midwinter night and a pale full moon raced across a sea of gray clouds that covered a cold urban sky. Slowly flowing south in the shallow valley called Chestnut street, Roberto Cassini wearily made his way home after a long and fruitless day at the shop. He worked late that evening, or rather stayed open late in the hopes of catching some extra trade, but business had been exceptionally poor for this time of year and the extension of his working day didn’t yield him a single customer.
It was the busy holiday season for most merchants, but Christmas was a slow time for the shoe repair business. The bitter cold kept people home, preferring to be in the warmth and security of their four-walled trenches than face the northern invader that occupied the city streets. Huddled together in familial comfort, they rested and waited for the dawn; when their alarm clocks would send them forth to barter away their lives for a days ration and a fist full of coins.
Actually, not much could be said about this year’s invasion. The city had not yet been stormed, a fact for which the city department of traffic and sanitation was most grateful. The prediction was for clear skies. There would be no snow for Christmas so outside of an occasional skirmish with sub artic winds; this year’s winter was expected to be comparatively mild. However, the people still stayed off the streets, not on their feet and therefore didn’t need to have their shoes repaired.
Roberto turned the corner at Fourteenth Street and made his way through the old rusty gate that lead to the door of his apartment building. Shoving his gloved hand into the pocket of his tattered winter coat, the cobbler fumbled for his keys. “Damn Keys,” he grumbled in annoyance, a stream of moisture rushing from his lips to form a small white cloud in the cold dry air. “Ah, there,” he said and proceeded to the inner corridor.
The old man looked at the long flight of stairs that led to his third floor apartment with dreaded anticipation. The idea of having to endure the hard climb to his apartment made his muscles feel limp and his old bones jelly, but the thought of his wife Anna, and little Nina awaiting his arrival gave him sufficient motivation to begin his accent. After a lifetime of suffering, his family and his faith were the only things left for him. The only reason he had for holding on to his ….. life.
At the top of the stairs Roberto leaned against the railing after his long climb. He was slightly dizzy from the effort and his lips trembled in prayer for a quick recovery. Life had been hard for him. As a child he know few pleasures. His family was poor; not so poor that they faced starvation but certainly not comfortable enough so that little Roberto could have new clothing, shoes, toys or any of the other things the children of parents who spoke English enjoyed. All the Cassini’s had were dreams. Dreams their mother told them were defiant of God’s will. Yes, God’s will, the thought lingered in Roberto’s mind, and the promise that at the end of this dreary life there would be the rewards of heaven. Those where the things he lived for. God’s promise and the sure knowledge that someday soon his little girl would call him Papa.
“This is ridiculous,” he grumbled to himself as he made his way through the dark corridor. It had been over a year since he complained to the landlord about the lack of heat and electricity in the building. Nothing seemed to be going right with his life and for a minute he allowed himself to wallow in self pity. Then he stopped and looked up at heaven and asked for forgiveness. He had to focus on all the good things he had. After all, God had provided him with so many good things. He and his family had four walls, sweaters and a good space heater to keep them warm in the winter. He made enough money to buy food and the local church supplied fuel for the heater and gave him enough candles to light the apartment. Candles that he also used to light the little make-shift shrine he built for the Virgin Mary. Mary, the mother of Jesus, to whom he offered daily prayers for the health and well being of his family.
Remembering his own mother Roberto though, how true it was what his mother told him. In this world of pain and suffering, God never takes away anything without giving something back. So what if he didn’t have any electricity or heat. He also didn’t have any utility bills. And because there was no light or heat, the land lord hadn’t come to collect his rent for about a year. Yes, God had been good to him in many ways and he was grateful for all the good things he had, especially the wonderful family that awaited his return.
Opening the door to his apartment, Roberto lit a half melted candle that sat on the kitchen table. It was quite inside; as well it should be at this time of night. The room was as neat and clean as when he left it this morning so he knew his wife was doing a good job taking care of the house and their baby. Eager to see them, he made his way to the door that lead to their bedroom. He knew little Nina would be asleep in her crib so he was careful not to open the door too quickly for fear that he might awaken her. The door lay heavily on its old rusty hinges and it was with great pains that he managed to quietly open a crevice wide enough for him to slip his head through without causing the door to groan and squeak. All was quiet inside so he softly whispered Anna’s name and waited for a reply. When none came, he decided that she was asleep and he continued pushing the door with as much caution as his old trembling hands would permit. A thin grey beam of light shown through the crack and stretched across the room like a broken gray ribbon that cut across the rugs, tables and chairs until it came to rest on the opposite side wall.
Peering into the darken room, Mr. Cassini could see his bed and Nina’s crib beside it. As he continued pushing the door, the beam of light grew in direct proportion to the aperture of the slowly opening door and it grew wider and wider until he could see a pair of little white socks through the bars of the crib. Roberto smiled and continued pushing as the dim light exposed more and more of the little figure he loved so well.
“Nina,” Roberto whispered, imagining he saw some movement in the crib, but there was no reply so he continued his cautious pressure on the slowly opening door. The beam grew wider, expanding to reveal two tiny dimpled knees and then a pretty blue dress that was trimmed with white lace all along its boarder. Once again Roberto detected a slight movement and again he called out her name. Nina, Nina, but as before, the same silence beset the room. Growing impatient, the old man pushed the door completely open and the hinges gave out a great groan as the pale light filled the room. Sure that Nina had been awakened and frightened by the noise, Roberto moved quickly into the room and stepped towards the crib, all the while offering a flood of apologies to his little girl.
“I’m so sorry baby,” Roberto begged as he reached into the crib for the love of his life. “I tried so hard to open the door quietly, but that silly old door made such a big noise and I didn’t want you to be afraid.” As he picked her up, Nina’s blue eyes opened wide as if startled, and a sharp cry escaped her breast. “Ma-ma,” she said.
“No, no it’s not Mama, it’s me Papa. Don’t cry baby, please don’t cry.” Roberto pleaded over and over again. “Papa didn’t mean to scare you.” He said as he walked back and forth across the room while he cradled her in his embrace and stroked her curly blond hair. “Papa’s so very sorry.” Then he held her at arms length and saw her pretty little smile. “That’s my brave girl,” he said with an obvious demonstration of pride. “We Cassini’s fear nothing. Especially our own father’s coming home from work,”
“Mama,” little Nina said, disappointing her father. He had hoped that this would be the day when she finally started saying his name. Up to now, mama was all she said. If only she would start calling him Papa, that could be his Christmas gift, but Nina just smiled and looked at him with her big blue eyes.
Putting Nina back in her crib, Roberto’s attention was drawn to his wife who had not said a word since he arrived. “I’m sorry Anna,” he said as he approached their bed, “I should have greeted you first and I hope you’re not offended, but little Nina was crying and I had to see to her needs first. After all it was my fault that she was frightened…” That’s when he noticed that Anna was still asleep. Looking at her peaceful face he realized that she was probably exhausted. That was to be expected. After all, she had been sick for some time now and taking care of the baby all day was not easy. It would be best not to disturb her so he pulled the covers up to her neck and kissed her gently on the forehead before walking back to Nina’s crib.
“Well Nina, I guess it’s just you and me on Christmas eve.” But when he looked down on her rosy cheeked face, Nina’s eyes were closed and she too was fast asleep. Shaking his head he thought to himself, how unfair it was that he would have to spend this Christmas Eve by himself. But it was his own fault they were asleep. If he had come home earlier like a normal man, maybe his family would have been awake and ready to celebrate with him. But what was the point of complaining. What’s done is done and tomorrow is another day. Maybe tomorrow his wife would feel better and maybe little Nina would finally call him Papa for the first time.
Slowly walking across the room, Roberto allowed his tired body to flop down on an old upholstered chair and soon he too was falling asleep. It had been a long day but tomorrow was Christmas and he would have plenty of time to rest. It was the lord’s birthday and as he had done, for as many years as he could remember, the family would pray at the table, giving thanks for all they had, eat their lunch and exchange gifts. This year he brought his wife a fancy barrette for her long beautiful hair. And for his sweet little Nina, he brought an assortment of brightly colored candies. Nina loved candy and he could imagine how happy she would be. She’s probably jump for joy, fall into his arms and kiss him as she call him papa over and over again. With those last thoughts, the old man fell asleep, a contented smile on his face.
The next morning Roberto was wakened by some load noises that were coming from the front of his house. Looking out the window he saw a crew of men, all wearing bright orange helmets. They were tearing out the old metal gate that lead to his front stoop. “What do you think you’re doing?” he yelled down at them from his window. The men stopped working and one of them looked at him with a puzzled expression.
‘What the hell are you doing in this building.” The man wanted to know.
Roberto answered back angrily, “What the hell do you think I’m doing… I live here.”
The workman put a walky-talky to his face and turned around so Roberto couldn’t hear. A few seconds later an excited electronic voice answered through the walky-talky but Roberto Couldn’t understand what it was saying. Then the first man told Roberto that he wasn’t suppose to be living in this building because the building had been condemned and they were there to tare it down.
“Tear it down? Like hell you are.” Roberto answered. “I’ve got a sick wife and a little baby girl up here so you guys get the hell off my property.”
The first worker used the walky-talky again and a few minutes later another man in a white helmet, wearing a white shirt and tie under a long black coat came to the front gate. Using a Bull Horn he called up to Roberto saying, “Listen Mr. who-ever-you are, all the buildings in this neighborhood have been condemned and I’ve got a contract to tear them all down before the end of the year. Now, I’m paying these men triple time for working during the holidays so I don’t have any time for your non-sense. The cops are on their way so if I were you I’d get my things together and get the hell down right now.”
Roberto turned back into his apartment; a look of fear clearly written on his face. Men dressed in white shirts and ties always scared him. Especially this one. He had a bull horn and said he said he called the cops. This probably had something to do with all those notices he found tacked to the front door. He couldn’t read them so he tore them up and threw them away. Now they were going to throw him out of his apartment and his wife was too sick to be moved. Surly they’d listen to reason, he thought to himself. All he had to do was talk to the cops and they’d understand.
Putting on his coat, as he descended the stairs, Roberto arrived at the front door just as the police were pulling up in their squad car. One of the cops was officer Campbell. Roberto knew him from the old days when the young officer patrolled the neighborhood. He was one of the good guys. Roberto had him over for dinner a couple of times and he fixed the young cops shoes for free. Surly his old friend would help him out. “Hey Campbell,” the old man greeted the middle aged detective. “These here guys want to kick me out of my apartment. I told them I can’t go cause we don’t have no place to go. Besides, the wife is too sick to walk and little Nina is too young to be out in the cold.” The detective looked up from the documents he was reading and without taking his eyes off the old man he told one of his men to call for an ambulance. Then he added, “and get a social worker down her too.”
Campbell gave the old man the bad news. There was nothing he could do to help. These people had papers and he couldn’t stop them from kicking Roberto and his family out of the apartment. No, no, this couldn’t be happening, the old man kept saying but no one was listening to him. His friend the cop walked away and when he tried to talk to the construction workers in the orange helmets, they just ignored him and went about their business as if he wasn’t there. They even asked him to move away while a big machine tore out the iron gate at the front of his stoop. Then he watched them load it on a truck along with all the other iron gates they took from the adjacent town houses.
The old man felt dizzy and stumbled around for a while before he fell to his knees and gripped his chest with both hands. Just about that time, an ambulance drove up and the paramedics were directed to Roberto. They laid him on a stretcher and began to work on him right there on the street. As he tried to sit up the paramedics laid him back down and told him he was having a heart attack and needed to lay still.
“But my wife…” the old man said as he pointed to the third floor window. “Please, she’s up there alone with Nina. Roberto stopped to gasp for breath. “Nina is only a baby.” He managed to say before they put an oxygen mask to his face.”
Don’t worry Mr. Cassini, we have a crew getting them right now.” That was the last thing Roberto heard before he passed out. When he came to he was in the ambulance and there were two EMT’s talking just outside the open doors. Officer Campbell was talking to them and he was telling them about Anna so Roberto listened carefully. That’s when he overheard Campbell tell the others something that made his blood run cold. Campbell told the other that Anna was dead.
Roberto sat up and pushed the oxygen mask off his face. “Oh no, please God don’t let it be true. My wife can’t be dead,” he kept screaming over and over again, “she can’t be dead.” The paramedics quickly replaced the oxygen mask and forced him back down on the stretcher.
“Calm down Mr. Cassini.” One of them said as he injected something into Roberto’s arm. “It’s a sedative.” The EMT told him. “You can’t keep jumping up like that and getting all excited. Your heart’s in a very delicate condition.” Just then Roberto felt a sharp pain in his chest and he heard a loud prolonged beeping sound coming from his heart monitor. That was the last thing he remembered before passing out. When he came to, the ambulance was moving and detective Campbell was sitting by his side.
“Mr. Cassini, I know this is a bad time for you but I have a few questions I have to ask.” Roberto looked at the officer and shook his head yes. “How long has your wife been dead?”
Roberto looked puzzled but answered the office. “The last time I talked to Anna was last night before I went to bed.”
“You talked to her last night?” The officer asked with an incredulous tone.
“Yes,” Roberto answered, “and I still can’t believe my darling wife is dead.”
“You can’t believe it?” The officer asked with the same tone. Then he went on. “Mr. Cassini, you’re wife has been dead for at least twenty five years. She died in childbirth and so did the child.”
“No, no that’s impossible. Anna has been taking care of Nina and they were both fine last night when I went to bed.” Then Roberto added, with concern in his voice, “Where’s Nina?”
The detective looked at Roberto for a long time. Then he reached down to the floor and produced a small blond figure in a blue dress. When he held her up for Roberto to see, her bright blue eyes popped open and from deep within her chest a mechanical voice called out… “Ma-maaaa.”
“There you are Nina.” The old man said as he sat up to take the doll from the detective’s hand. Clutching the porcelain figure to his chest, the old man spoke to it as if it were a real child and he told her in a voice that trembled with deeply felt emotion, “Mama has gone to heaven.” Then with tears running down his face he added, “but don’t worry baby, you still have your Papa to take care of you.”
That last display of emotion was too much for the old man’s heart and the detective could clearly see the pained expression spread across the old man’s face just before he fell back onto the stretcher and clenched his heart.
The paramedics responded immediately. They ripped the doll from Roberto’s hands and threw it into a corner of the ambulance. For several minutes they fought hard to save the old man’s life. They defibrillated him twice, pounded on his chest and gave him CPR. After several minutes the old man came to again but Detective Campbell knew Roberto didn’t have much time though he could see that he was still fighting to hang on. He looked at the detective and begged to see Nina again. Campbell looked around the ambulance and saw the broken doll lying in a heap in the corner. The detective carefully picked it up and put the cracked head back together before showing her to Roberto.
“I can’t see her.” The old man said as he groped for his beloved Nina. “Please give her to me. I want to hold her one more time.”
The officer put the doll into the dying man’s arms and hoped the fractured head would hold together for just another minute or two. Roberto pulled the doll to his chest and held it close. The broken portion of the doll’s head rolled across Roberto’s chest and fell to the ground but Roberto didn’t notice. Then from within the mechanism in the dolls chest he heard a click followed by a garbled sound and then the doll said “Perrrr-a-paaapaaa” and Roberto smiled, a big broad smile that lit up his whole face with a celestial joy.
Then looking over the detective’s head he said, “Did you hear that Anna? Did you hear what Nina called me?” Then he laughed and announced in a big proud voice, “My baby has given me the best Christmas gift ever. She called me Papa… After all these years she finally called me Papa.” Then he looked up again and said, “What are you saying Anna, it’s time for us to go? Yes, yes I’m ready. I can see the heavens open for me, and there are millions of dancing angels all dressed in white. Look, they are coming down from the blue to celebrate His birth.”
The old man sighed one last long sigh and the detective witnessed the light fade from his eyes as Roberto’s body fell back onto the stretcher; the big smile still on his face. A paramedic quickly moved in, put a stethoscope on Roberto’s chest and shook his head ‘no.’ A few seconds later the ambulance pulled into the emergency room parking and the EMT and the driver quickly pulled the stretcher out of the ambulance and rushed the body into the emergency ward.
Detective Campbell got out of the ambulance and stood outside in the parking lot. He waited a long time before pulling out his note book. Looking at his watch he wrote down the date and time but then stopped not knowing how to proceed. As he stood there, two workers walked into the ambulance and began to clean. He watched them pick up the trash, replenish the supplies and put in a new stretcher. When they were done one of them threw the broken doll into the trash as he walked past the officer.
“Wait a minute.” he called out to them. The detective wanted to know if they knew anything about the doll they threw away.
“Yea,” one of the man said. “My little sister had one just like it. She played with it all the time back when we were kids.”
Campbell’s follow up question seemed strange. “Can these dolls say ‘Papa?”
The man looked askance at the officer and answered, “No way, the mechanism can only mimic the word mama. These old dolls can’t do very much. They can open and close their eyes and say mama. That’s about it, that’s all they can do.” Then, wishing the officer a Merry Christmas, he walked away while singing an old Christmas song. Campbell recognized it. It was called the Drummer Boy. “Our gifts we bring to him pa-ra-pa-pum-pum.” The worker voiced the words as he walked away.
Campbell repeated the familiar refrain, “Our gifts we bring to him pa-ra-pa-pum-pum.” Then he looked at the broken doll. Its head was cracked and only one eye was open, making it look as if it was winking at him. That’s when it hit him. The doll never said “Papa” it said Pa-ra-pa or something like that. Campbell was relieved that he remembered that because he had almost convinced himself that he had just witnessed a miracle and there was no way he could put that in his report.
The old man had been mistaken. He thought the doll called him Papa, which was the old man’s dying wish, but it wasn’t a miracle at all. It was a freak circumstance that caused the dolls malfunctioning mechanism to make a noise that sounded like “Papa.” Yes, that was the logical explanation…. Still, he had to admit, the malfunction happened at just the right time and it did give the old man the Christmas gift he wanted.
Then there was the conversation Roberto had with his dead wife. That could be attributed to the delusional state of his dying brain. Everything he said came from his delusional mind, even that last thing he said… what was it? Oh yes, ‘I see millions of angels dressed in white coming from the blue to celebrate His birth.’ “What was that?” he asked himself, “More delusional gibberish I guess.”
Just then Campbell felt something cold on his cheek, so he looked up at the clear blue sky and saw a flurry of fluffy white snow-flacks sweeping by and falling all around him. That made Campbell smile, a knowing smile. “I see millions of angles dressed in white.” He repeated to himself. “Well, it looks like we’re going to have a white Christmas after all.”
The detective closed his note book and put it back in his pocket. Maybe it was better if he didn’t write anything at all. The chief would have him locked up in a padded cell if he turned in a report that included wish-granting dolls, dying men talking to their dead wives and then predicting the weather. That sounded so crazy even he couldn’t believe it and he was there when it happened.
Then he looked at the broken doll again and thought for a moment… I’ve never believed in anything. I don’t believe in god and I don’t think there is a heaven, but if there was, I’m sure that somewhere in God’s vast kingdom there must be a special place for wish-granting dolls. Some where, some place… there must be a heaven for Nina.”
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