The Christmas Coat

Maggie’s father had named her after the song Maggie May right before he died. He’d left her with her mom, who was nineteen and now a widow. She did alright, at least as far as Maggie could tell. At least, until she took a whole bottle of sleeping pills one night.

Maggie found herself in the system, which wasn’t a good place for a fifteen-year-old girl. After a month in a foster home that cared more about the check they got from the state than they did about taking care of her she’d headed out on her own. As far as she knew, they were still getting the checks. They must be thrilled.

It was Christmas Eve, and a growth spurt in the months since she’d headed out on her own meant that her jacket no longer fit. She was long past the point where she could just force it on and make it work; she needed a new one.

She’d heard from one of the other kids, because the streets were always full of lost children, that there was a mission that handed out clothes and food this time of year. He wasn’t sure if they’d have anything left, but it didn’t hurt to check. So, Maggie found her way there, hoping that she might get some dinner out of it, too.

The mission was busy, with sisters going in and out of the dining hall. When one saw Maggie, she ushered her over. “Come on, Honey. We’ve still got some room left.”

“Thanks,” Maggie said, “Um, I didn’t know if you guys had anything left, but someone told me you had coats?”

The sister gave her a soft smile. “I think we might have run out. But we can go see. Come with me?”

“Um, sure, yeah,” Maggie said, feeling wary. She followed the woman, ready to dart if she needed to.

The sister led her to a room full of clothing donations. Old shirts, pants, tattered shoes and other things filled the tables.

“Help yourself to anything else you need, while you’re here,” the sister said. She was bustling towards a table at the back of the room.

“I’m good, thanks,” Maggie said, looking around. Most of the stuff here looked to be in worse shape than what she already had. She lifted a sweater and found a collection of cigarette burns on the sleeve.

“Well,” the sister said, “looks like we do have one left, but it might be a little too big. What do you think?”

Maggie looked up at the coat. It was a man’s coat, brown canvas with a hood. It looked like whoever had owned it before was prone to spilling things on the sleeves. It would almost certainly be too big.

But it would be warm, and that’s all she needed.

“It looks perfect, thanks,” Maggie said, taking the coat when the sister offered it.

“Of course,” she said. “Make sure you get something to eat before you leave, alright?”

“I will, thanks,” Maggie said, shaking her hand gently.

True to her word, Maggie headed right to the dining hall. She stopped a moment at the door, sniffing. It smelled like the school cafeteria, the day before Thanksgiving vacation when they’d served a turkey dinner.

She’d nearly run into the room when she spotted Candie sitting at one of the tables. She’d managed to avoid Candie, ever since she’d accidentally made her drop her wallet down the sewer grate. Candie swore that there were over one hundred dollars in there, and she’d gut Maggie for making her drop it. Maggie believed her. And so, with a last wistful look at the room, she headed the other direction.

Back out on the streets, Maggie headed towards the bridge where she’d spend the night. After a few blocks, Craig joined her. “Hey,” he said, “You got your coat?”

“Yeah,” Maggie said, giving him a smile.

“Well,” he said, reaching into his pocket. “I got these!” He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and took one out. “You want one?”

“No thanks,” Maggie said, shaking her head. “You shouldn’t smoke those.”

“Why, they’re bad for me?” Craig chuckled. He was digging through his pockets, the cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

“No, they’re expensive and addictive,” Maggie said. She couldn’t see spending money, so hard to come by, on a cigarette. That wasn’t going to help her when she was hungry.

“Eh,” he said, “I found these anyway, so it don’t matter. Do you have a light?”

“I don’t think-,” Maggie said, shoving her hands in her pockets, but stopped. There was something in her pocket. She pulled it out, finding that it was a small, black lighter.

“Huh, guess I do,” she said, offering the lighter to him.

“Thanks,” he said, taking from her to light his cigarette.

“Weird, I swear that wasn’t there before,” she said.

“Second-hand clothes,” Craig said, giving her the lighter back. “People are always leaving shit in the pockets.”

“Yeah,” Maggie said. But she had been sure that the pocket had been empty before.

The streets were clearing, as the night grew later. Craig went on his way, presumably to find somewhere to squat for the night. Maggie figured she should try to find some food, and headed for a strip of stores and restaurants.

The scents from a diner made her stomach growl. They served real food, at all hours of the day. And they didn’t shoo away the kids in the area, either.

Something scratchy was rubbing her hand in her pocket. Wondering what it might be, as there hadn’t seemed to be a tag or anything in the pocket before, she pulled at it. It came out of her pocket easily. Maggie glanced down, surprised to see that she was holding a $20.

“Wow,” Maggie said. She wasted no time in hurrying into the diner and ordering a large burger and fries. With a slice of pumpkin pie for dessert.

She was just tucking into the pie when a man ran into the diner. The waitress looked up, surprised, as he glanced around frantically. “Lookin’ for something?” she asked.

“Yes, um, well, no,” the man said, “Not really, but-.”

He looked over and saw Maggie. He made a beeline for her.

“You have my coat,” he said, pointing at her.

“I didn’t steal it,” Maggie said quickly. “I got it at the mission.”

“I know,” the man said, “It got thrown in with a bag of donations. I didn’t mean to get rid of it.”

He stopped and gave her a puzzled look. “You, how long have you had it?”

“Just a couple hours,” Maggie said. She could feel tears welling up, and willed herself to not let them fall. He’d given the coat up, after all. Why should she be cold because of his mistake?

The man sat down at the booth. “Has anything weird happened to you, since you had it?”

“No,” she said quickly.

“Don’t lie,” he said, “I can tell, and I don’t like it.”

“Okay, fine,” Maggie said, “I found some stuff in the pockets, too. But it was weird. Like it wasn’t there until I needed it.”

“Found some stuff,” the man said. “But it shouldn’t have worked for you unless you’re-.” He stopped, looking around the diner.

“Unless I’m what?” Maggie asked.

“Not here,” he said quietly. “Listen, keep the coat. I think we might have a lot of things to talk about.”

“Like what?” Maggie asked.

The man smiled and pulled something from his pocket. It was a small amethyst. He sat it on the table between them, and it began to glow. Maggie, named for the song Maggie May, whose father hadn’t lived long enough to tell her many things, reached for it. It started to hum.

“Many things,” the man said, “Many good and wonderful things.”

Copyright © 2017 by Nicole C. Luttrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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