Every year I watch the
story of a desperate man and an inept angel with the faith of a child
and wonder -- what comes next. So I got tired of wondering
wrote my own next chapter.
The house was quiet, with that preternatural stillness that comes after a party. The guests had all gone home, singing carols as they drifted out. The children were in bed, if not asleep at least trying to be in hopes of hastening Christmas morning. Mary had insisted that she could see to the tidying up without his help. George once again patted Zuzu's petals and thought of this singular night. Already it seemed in danger of fading, just as a dream fades in the morning. Did it truly happen? Perhaps it was just a dream or a delusion as he had first thought.
No one else remembered anything of it.
"Well, Clarence," he said wryly, "Are you enjoying those wings?"
Then he remembered the book. Where had he laid it? He could find it tomorrow. That was proof -- at least that there was a Clarence whoever or whatever he was.
Mary came out of the kitchen. "Coming up, dear?" she said tenderly.
"You go ahead. I'll be up soon. I just want to sit here a while longer."
"Alright," she answered, bending to kiss the top of his head. "Don't go and fall asleep in that chair."
He held her hand for a moment. There was so much to say, but for now no words were necessary or possible. Perhaps one day he would tell her all. Would Mary believe, not having lived it as he had? He was having trouble holding on to belief; how could he expect Mary to believe? What would she think if he did tell her? It was simply too fantastic. This probably would have to remain his secret alone.
He thought of telling one other -- Potter -- and chuckled. Potter would be sure that he had gone off his rocker. The old skinflint would probably try to have George committed if he recounted this night to him.
Potter. Still there. Still a thorn in his flesh. The man would never give up trying to crush the Building and Loan, never give up trying to crush George. And he had almost succeeded.
No, George had to be honest with himself. Not Potter. George hadn't needed Potter to crush him. He'd done a pretty good job of it himself. George's mind went back to that moment when he stood on the bridge, determined to take the only solution he could see. His suicide would look like a tragic accident. Dazed from the wreck he had stumbled out into the snowstorm, slipped and fell from the icy bridge. That's what people would say. The insurance would cover the missing funds and there would be something leftover for his family. Disgrace and scandal would be averted.
Not his mistake, but he would have paid for it with his life. That's how it had always been -- George deferring his plans, his dreams, his life for others. "The richest man in Bedford Falls" sat in his worn easy chair and was hit by the grim realization that nothing had really changed in spite of the miracle of this night. There would still be Potter -- a one man pack of braying hounds nipping at his feet, waiting for him to stumble. George would go on setting aside his life for others. So many people needed him. He wouldn't ever build those bridges or skyscrapers or hospitals. He wasn't going to travel. He wasn't going to college.
His children would go. He'd see to it that they had that opportunity. He'd work long extra hours, take a second job, pinch pennies, wear himself out. He'd have his shoes resoled over and over when new ones were really needed. He'd wear the same overcoat year after year until it was disgracefully threadbare about the cuffs. He'd die before his time. He tombstone would read something like
Beloved Husband and Father
The Richest Man in Bedford Falls.
He looked over at the model of the bridge. Someone had picked up the debris.
After he died one of the children might say "Remember those models Pop used to make? They were pretty good. He had talent. I wonder why he never did anything with it."
Another might reply "Oh, Pop was happy enough working at the Building and Loan and designing houses for Bailey Park. He was a small town fellow. A good guy even if he was a bit of a stick in the mud."
His legacy would be those children -- fine and true, the homes he designed and the Building and Loan serving his neighbors and friends. Few men had as much. Yet . . . . George reached up to touch his face. It was damp. He had not realized he had been crying.
"Ingrate!" he chastised himself. "You want the moon!"
Hadn't he once promised the moon to Mary? He was going to lasso it for her. Well that rope was pretty frayed. He smiled at the memory of Mary in the rhododendrons, then sobered thinking of how his teasing was interrupted. He missed his father so terribly much. Over the years George had often wondered if Dad had some kind of presentiment about death. Looking back on their conversation it seemed as if that gentle man had been trying to prepare George for the task of running the building and loan. Somebody had to do it and of course it fell to George. He was born older.
He felt old. Too old for a man of his years.
"I know I can't have the moon, but a piece of it -- can't I just have a piece of it?"
He did not bother praying. He figured one miraculous answer to prayer was all one could expect in a single night, even if that night was Christmas Eve.
He stood up, turned out the Christmas lights and went to check the front door to be sure it was locked. An envelope lay on the table beside the door. He picked it up. "To George Bailey From His Friends" was printed across the front. He opened it, gasping at what he saw inside. He pulled out the piece notepaper.
This money was left over after the shortage was covered. We want you to have it. We figure you are owed this much and a lot more for giving up your wedding trip and for everything else over the years. God bless you.
George took the stairs two at a time, suddenly a young man again.
He showed her the note and the bills. "Mary, there's over a thousand dollars here!"
"What good friends! she said, her eyes glimmering. "What are you going to do with it?"
He thought of all the practical things that could -- should be done. Save for a rainy day, put it in a college fund for the children, fix up this wonderful, drafty old house, put aside for their old age -- all good, sensible uses.
He thought and wondered if he dared speak his thoughts. Looking at him Mary saw the naked longing of his soul.
He took a deep breath and plunged, just as he had almost plunged into icy waters. "I'm going to start with taking some night extension courses at the university over in Raleigh. I'm going to be an architect." He held his breath waiting for her response.
"It's about time," said his wife, yawning. "Now come to bed."
Outside in the thickly falling snow George Bailey could have sworn he heard the thrum of wings.
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