The LEast of These (Christmas in MAY short story)

Hi all,
I was inspired by a recent law passed in my home state of Michigan, that outlaws what they call, “Aggressive Panhandling.”
And instead of writing a blog about how outraged I am, and pointing out that it was passed on party lines, from people who claim to love God the most, I figured I’d address it in a short story.
So, here you go.
The Least of These.
“The meeting of the city council of Corpus Christi will now come to order. Today’s meeting is to hear from the general public over City Council resolution 777, concerning the fining of aggressive panhandlers. The ordinance proposed by council member Melissa Hatfield would impose a one hundred dollar fine in the event that a complaint is made against the above mentioned by someone in the public or witnessed by a law enforcement officer. Soon we will hear conflicts concerning this bill before we vote on the matter. But first, I turn the floor over to Melissa who will explain the rationale for this bill, so, Melissa if you will, “Mayor Peabody finished speaking and sat back in his chair as he gazed out over the crowd of faces that were in the meeting hall this evening. It was six thirty and as his stomach rumbled angrily, reminding him that he had skipped breakfast and lunch today and knew his wife would have dinner waiting for him when he got home. Thankfully, none of the people here seemed to be moved by this proposed bill, and he was sure that he’d be able to get this meeting over. That is, of course, if Melissa didn’t take her sweet ass time explaining away her rational. She did so love the spotlight and as the public access camera turned toward her, he saw her sit up straighter in her chair and quickly brush aside her styled hair with her manicured fingernails, and grinned sweetly.
“Thank you, your honor, “Melissa said to the camera. “I am not only a member of Corpus Christi’s city council but, as I am sure you are all aware, I am also a business owner of a small bridal boutique on Staples Street here in our GORGEOUS city of Corpus Christi. And as such, I propose this bill in an attempt to remove a certain blight on our fair city. Now, I am a Christian woman, and I do not doubt that these poor souls who are seen on the corners of our city streets are in need of some help. But I also know, that some of these people are scam artists. Or are addicted to drugs and alcohol. And like so many of you out there, I’ve given to the poor countless times. But not with money. If they’re hungry, I offer to buy them food. And I did so the other day to one particular homeless woman. And do you know what she did. She refused me. She wanted money. “
Sweet Jesus, this is going to take all day, Mayor Peabody thought as he patted his ample belly. He hoped the growling in his gut wasn’t being caught on tape. But no one in the audience turned their head away from Melissa thankfully.
“So, CC 777, I believe would free people from the unsightly and often criminal element that is plaguing our streets. Panhandling is not only bad for our business, it’s bad for the people who engage in it. Everyone knows, hard work, is the only key to success in life. And these people, are trying to bypass that truth with handouts. Thank you.”
Through the hall there was a smattering of applause, the people who were there must not have come to hear about this issue, alone. Some of their faces were blank, some of them looked like they’d just sucked on a lemon, however, the majority of those gathered nodded their head in agreement with what Melissa had said.
She’ll be reelected that’s for sure, Mayor Peabody thought as he leaned forward and picked up his gavel.
“Does anyone want to address this issue before we take it to a vote?”
Please, can we just get through this? I’m starving!
Mayor Peabody raised his gavel and was about to announce the vote when a voice from the back spoke up, “I do Your Honor.”
A murmur rippled through the crowd as onlookers turned to see him standing there.
Mayor Peabody raised his head to see a man standing in the back of the room dressed head to toe in well-manicured fashion. His suit was finely cut and hugged his tall frame well, his face was clean shaven, and his hair combed back off his brow. He looked as if he’d come off the pages of a fashion magazine and walked forward with a certain self-assuredness that meant prestige. As hard as he tried, Mayor Peabody couldn’t for the life of him figure out who this man was as he approached the podium to speak. Surely, he would have crossed paths with a figure like that in the city during his election campaigns, fundraisers, debutant balls, or the ballet. However, he couldn’t figure it out.
He even turned his head toward various members of the board who all looked as blank as his mind was. Melissa even shrugged her shoulders when Peabody’s eyes met hers. As the mayor turned his head toward the people in the audience, he found all of their eyes glued to the figure who now stood at the head of the room awaiting, probably, the mayor’s permission to speak.
“Uh, uh, please state your name for the record, sir.”
Melissa looks nervous. Is this guy a lawyer? Probably some fag from the ACLU? That’s all we need. Jesus, I’m not going to make it home for supper.
Mayor Peabody turned his attention back to the man and when their eyes met, he felt himself shrivel inside. The man’s brown eyes were staring at him so intently, and a fire burned inside of them, the mayor feared that he may have spoken aloud. There was something about this man. Something Peabody couldn’t place…. but a hush had taken the crowd of onlookers.
“Before I introduce myself, your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the city council, ladies and gentlemen of the city of Corpus Christi, I want to make clear that I am here on behalf of several interested parties. I have been pulled from my place of work, my industry, to come and speak to you. My time is limited, given the current state of the world, I am working overtime. We all are. So, please, I intend to be succinct.
“Excuse me, Mr…but who are these interested parties you represent,” Melissa asked sitting forward. A smile had slid upon her face. Amusement. The rest of the board shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
“I represent the interests of humanity, Madam. Mercy, Charity, Benevolence, compassion, empathy, Forbearance. “
Melissa grinned and smiled sitting back in her chair. “Is that right? Well, sir, would you please state your name for the record.”
The man turned in the podium and addressed her, “I am the Ghost of Christmas past.”
Although Mayor Peabody heard some laughter in the audience, he noticed that most people had remained silent. Exchanging glances, some of them rolled their eyes, but others kept their eyes on the figure in front of them. The man’s face didn’t color, his eyes didn’t betray his statement, he didn’t smirk, he stood there in his statement as if he believed every word.
He’s nuts, Mayor Peabody thought. Once more the man turned his head to look at him, and once more his gaze was so intense that Peabody swallowed with a clicking noise in his throat. His stomach, once grumbling with hunger, squeezed itself with unease. He looked over to his right, passed the rest of the council to the police officer who stood watching the man with the same curiosity as the rest of the room. When Melissa spoke again, Peabody winced at her tone.
“Well, fortunately for us, Spirit. This is the end of May. It seems you are little early. Or late, depending on how you see it.”
The man turned his gaze once more to Melissa, “No ma’am. I believe I am right on time. As a matter of fact, I am here not only in my capacity as the ghost of Christmas past, but I am also here as a representative of The ghosts of present, as well as future. You see, like I said, we are being made really busy these days. So I promise not to delay much of your time. But I am here to address this council and to make a plea to the city’s people. You see, we don’t normally do this. We don’t interact with you.”
He’s off his rocker, his cheese has slid right off his cracker, Peabody thought as he started to motion for Officer Martinez to have him removed. But the man, spoke up, and his words chilled him to the bone. Without looking back at the mayor, but keeping his eyes on Melissa, he said, “I assure you, Mr. Mayor that I am not, in fact, nuts. My cheese – as it were- is safe and I am well sat upon my rocker. I also not a faggot from the ACLU nor any other outrageous and patently offensive things you may be thinking.”
Peabody felt like the floor had fallen out from underneath him as his jaw fell open. The council as well as the audience all muttered. Melissa was taken aback at his language, and her face had drained of color as she started to rise in her chair.
“Please sit, Melissa. “
The chair beneath her seemed to shift forward quickly and caught her behind her knees. She went down with a squeal that quickly was cut off with the raise of a finger of the man’s right hand. He now had everyone’s attention.
“Mr. Mayor, if I may continue?”
Peabody nodded.
“Corpus Christi is translated from The Latin for Body of Christ. And it is the irony of this certain bill that has brought me forward this evening to address you all. See, there’s more to a name, than just a name. When you name something, you invoke something. And this bill, from what I understand from these interested parties, flies right in the face of the name that you have bestowed upon yourselves. “
The spirit pulled out a single sheet of paper from his pocket and unfolded it and began to read, “The word aggressive written herein on the bill to be fined a maximum fine of one hundred dollars should they be found non-compliant in this ordinance.”
He raised his head, “The term aggressive can be widely interpreted. To include everyone. And these wide interpretations of ordinances and laws is what is keeping myself and my colleagues extraordinarily busy these days. You see, the irony of a bill like this, in a city like Corpus, in a state like Texas, and in a nation that so proclaims its love for Christ – write and enforce laws that are so morally abhorrent to humanity for whom Christ served. Now,” the man said turning to look around the audience, “…some of you are thinking that some of these people are drug addicts, are scammers, and some of them are alcoholics.”
A murmur rippled across the audience as some of the people sat up straighter in their chairs. But the man continued. “And it’s true. But ladies and gentlemen, one doesn’t have to be a spirit to understand that statistically there are alcoholics, drug addicts, and far worse in the midst of us right now who agree with this legislation. Although they shouldn’t as they themselves, given the nature of the current legal system, are one DWI, DUI, injury, or legal conundrum from being in the exact position as the least of these – find themselves.”
He continued, “But this bill has nothing to do with their situation, nor the state of their circumstances – although you don’t hesitate to cast judgement on them for it – this bill, is for you. Because seeing people like that, bothers you. It upsets you. It makes you uncomfortable. And despite the popular belief system that says rich people are somehow blessed by God and poor people must be sinners – that has allowed for this explosion in the creation of the category of ‘other’ something about all of that, doesn’t ring true when you see people like this. And you’re right. There is something about their state, that offends your conscience. And it should. That’s your humanity trying to speak to you. So your response? Remove them from your sight. Problem solved.”
“Sir, I find that offensive. We are Christian …,” Melissa started but stopped when the man held up his hand.
“No. The interested parties I represent; say no you aren’t. They also want to make it very clear, that when you put people into that category of other due to circumstances, you are moving yourself into the category of other as far as these parties are concerned. And the problem is far from solved. ‘That which you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven,’ and the chains that you forge in life, will be carried with you into death. You’ve been led to believe, that people are poor because they are lazy and refuse to work, and people are fat, because they are lazy and eat too much, or people are gay because of a choice they made. That they deserve to be castigated and cast out of society and deserve whatever chance has in store for them.”
Mr Peabody leaned forward, “So what you’re saying to me, is that we have to solve all the homelessness here in Corpus otherwise we’re damned?”
The man shook his head, “No. That is impractical. There has always been and will always be poor. What you’ve done was forgot that Christ was once homeless. And poor. And because you forgot that, you’ve abandoned your conscience and you stop trying to make homelessness go away. Now you just want the people to go away and pretend homelessness and other parts of humanity that are unlike your circumstances– don’t’ exist, due in large part to junk gospel of snake oil salesmen.”
“I’m sorry, your calling yourself the ghost of Christmas past. Taken from a book written by Charles Dickens but your pontificating like an angel from heaven.” Peabody said.
“Why am I not one and the same? Where do you think Charles got his influence? You read your Bible and yet you know God himself did not write it. Man did. Now, Mr. Mayor – Melissa- members of the city council, ladies and gentleman of the citizenry of the Body of Christ, I am going to leave you. You will not be visited by anyone else. No one else is coming. This was a last ditch effort to change your minds. No one else cares for the situations you’ve put yourselves in. We’re too busy intercepting your ‘others’. There are a lot of them now, more than ever. Remember what I said about the chains. Thank you for your time.”
Melissa was about to say something when the man raised his right hand and snapped his fingers….
“The meeting of the city council of Corpus Christi will now come to order. Today’s meeting is to hear from the general public over City Council resolution 777, concerning the fining of aggressive panhandlers. The fine proposed by council member Melissa Hatfield would impose a one hundred dollar fine for the above mentioned in the event that a complaint is made against the above mentioned by someone in the public or witnessed by a law enforcement officer. We will now hear from the public concerning this matter. Afterward, the council will adjourn for a vote. But first, I turn the floor over to Melissa who will explain the rational for this bill, so, Melissa if you will, “Mayor Peabody finished speaking and sat back in his chair as he gazed out over the crowd of faces that were in the meeting hall this evening. It was six thirty and as his stomach rumbled angrily, reminding him that he had skipped breakfast and lunch today and knew his wife would have dinner waiting for him when he got home. Thankfully, none of the people here seemed to be moved by this proposed bill, and he was sure that he’d be able to get this meeting over. That is, of course, if Melissa didn’t take her sweet ass time explaining away her rational. She did so love the spotlight and as the public access camera turned toward her, he saw her sit up straighter in her chair and quickly brush aside her manicured hair, with her manicured fingernails, and grin.
“Thank you, your honor, “Melissa said to the camera. “I am not only a member of Corpus Christi’s city council but, as I am sure you are all aware, I am also a business owner of a small bridal boutique on Staples Street here in our GORGEOUS city of Corpus Christi. And as such, I propose this bill in an attempt to remove a certain blight on our fair city. Now, I am a Christian woman, and I do not doubt that these poor souls who are seen on the corners of our city streets are in need of some help. But I also know, that some of these people are scam artists. Or are addicted to drugs and alcohol. And like so many of you out there, I’ve given to the poor countless times. But not with money. If they’re hungry, I offer to buy them food. And I did so the other day to one particular homeless woman. And do you know what she did. She refused me. She wanted money. “
Sweet Jesus, this is going to take all day, Mayor Peabody thought as he patted his ample belly. He hoped the growling in his gut wasn’t being caught on tape. But no one in the audience turned their head away from Melissa thankfully.
“So, CC 777, I believe would free people from the unsightly and often criminal element that is plaguing our streets. Panhandling is not only bad for our business, it’s bad for the people who engage in it. Everyone knows, hard work, is the only key to success in life. And these people, are trying to bypass that truth with handouts. Thank you.”
Through the hall there was a smattering of applause, the people who were there must not have come to hear about this issue, alone. Some of their faces were blank, some of them looked like they’d just sucked on a lemon, however, the majority of those gathered nodded their head in agreement with what Melissa had said.
She’ll be reelected that’s for sure, Mayor Peabody thought as he leaned forward and picked up his gavel.
“Does anyone want to address this issue before we take it to a vote?”
Please, can we just get through this? I’m starving!
No one in the crowd moved to approach the podium.
Thank God.
Mr. Peabody sat forward to speak again in the microphone and stopped himself. He swore he could hear the rattling of chains. The police officer moved from where he was standing to check the side door.
Other members of the council noticed as well and looked among themselves. Melissa’s face had gone white as a sheet.
“Mrs. Hatfield, are you okay? You look like you just saw a ghost.”
She raised her head to look at him and leaned forward to speak, “I uh…. I…uh…. maybe we should table this for another day.”
“Why? It’s perfectly reasonable? No one thinks there’s a problem with it.” Mr. Peabody said as they turned their attention to the people before them. The ones who had looked content with the bill were now murmuring angrily with each other.
Maybe she won’t be reelected.
Peabody watched as a fine sweat had broken out on her face as she surveyed the room and then back to the council. One of the other members sat forward in their chair, a representative of a poorer district asked “Did you just have a stroke of conscience?”
Peabody watched as she jumped at the question “What? Yes! Yes. This bill is wrong. This isn’t right. I’m sorry for even writing the damn thing. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Peabody rolled his eyes, She’s nuts. Her cheese has slid right of her cracker.
“Can we just get this over with, I’m starving. Let’s bring it to a voice vote. All those in favor say aye.”
Five people on the council said Aye.
“All those opposed?”
Six said Nay.
“Very well. The ordinance doesn’t pass.”
And even though there was an angry murmur from those gathered, Melissa looked as if she’d dodged a bullet or been saved from perdition itself. She rested her hand over her heart and was breathing deeply.
She’ll lose her election, someone else will snatch that bill up, and use it against her. She knows that! What was she thinking?! She’s off her rocker.
“Very well, on to other business…….”
The End

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