*inspired in part by the Boston song of the same name

Jimmy pushed the door of his house open and stood in the doorway, listening carefully, a large, but gaunt yellow dog standing quietly next to him.  He smiled when he heard nothing but silence.  None of the usual angry words spilling forth from his father’s mouth, as they so often did after dinner.  It was after dinner his father drank.  He would sit at the table, holding court and  drinking from his flask, while Jimmy’s sisters, Lydia and Celinda cleared the dinner dishes.  His mother always tried to send him outside while simultaneously trying to placate his father, agreeing with every foolish thing that came out of his mouth.  But no one was here now.

Jimmy smiled to himself, “c’mon boy,” he said, opening the door wider, allowing the dog to come inside.  He ran up the stairs to the loft he slept in, the dog nipping at his heels.  His father would be gone early in the morning and it was then he would ask his mother if the dog could stay.  Jimmy was sure his mother would say yes, she almost always said yes to anything he asked of her.  She would think of some way to allow him to keep the dog as a pet and his father would never find out.  His mother, Polly, was very good at that by now; keeping the numerous things that would set his father off carefully hidden, shielding her children from William Hickok’s wrath while absorbing the worst of his temper herself. 

His foot had just hit the last step when he heard it, his voice.  The front door blew open and just as quickly slammed shut.  His father stumbled inside, cursing his son for leaving his boots lying about. 

“Dammit Jimmy!” William bellowed.  He glanced up the stairs and saw his son frozen there, an ugly, mangy mutt standing protectively next to him.  “Get that dog out of here!” he shouted.

Polly hurried from the bedroom, tightening her shawl about her shoulders.  She placed her arm around her husband’s waist, sighing softly as she smelled the liquor on his breath.  “Hush William, you’ll wake the children.”

“Children,” William slurred the word.  “Tell him to get that mutt out of here.  What did I tell him about dogs?”  That boy never minded him.  Jimmy was nothing but a mama’s boy, no wonder the other boys picked on him.  It was a rare occasion when his son didn’t come home with a black eye or swollen jaw. 

“We’ll deal with it in the morning,” Polly said soothingly.  They would deal with it after the worst effects of the alcohol had passed.  “It’s freezing out there.  Let it pass for now.”

“Morning?!” William roared.  “I want that dog out of here.  Now!”  He shoved his smothering wife away from him.  He wasn’t in the mood for her patronizing attitude right now.  He felt a glimmer of guilt through the whiskey as he saw her stumble and fall to the floor.

“You get away from her!” Jimmy yelled, rushing down the stairs.  He pushed his father away from his mother. 
As William raised his hand, the yellow cur leapt off the stairs, placing himself directly between father and son, his teeth bared. 

Polly jumped to her feet, catching her husband’s arm, “William,” she gasped.  Her husband had never raised his hand against his children. 

“Get that dog out of here,” William hissed.  Disrespect, that’s what he was given at home. 

“Do it, Jimmy,” his mother said wearily.

“But-” Jimmy protested.

“Please,” Polly said, a hint of fear in her voice.

“Alright,” Jimmy muttered, grasping the dog by the scruff and leading him towards the door.  Both his parents stood, silently watching as he opened the door and pushed the dog outside, ignoring the brown eyes which looked at him, pleading.  He shut the door in the dog’s face and stood, arms crossed, staring at his parents. 

“He best learn to mind me,” William grumbled as his wife began to lead him to their bedroom.

Jimmy heard his mother murmur words of comfort as they walked out of earshot.  It was then he flung the door open and let the dog, which was waiting patiently by the door, back in.  “Sorry, boy,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around the dog’s neck.  “Let’s go.”  Then the two of them padded as quietly as they could up the stairs. 

William Hickok stepped out of the church.  He took a deep breath and blew it out, enjoying as he had as a child, the white mist that hung in the air before it rapidly disappeared.  As he took another step down, his feet hitting the crunchy white snow that blanketed the ground, he decided that he really should be here tomorrow.  Tomorrow was Christmas eve.  But it was seeing that old, yellow dog earlier that did it.  That mongrel had somehow taken up residence in his barn and he was powerless to stop him.  The beast followed his son everywhere, looking at him as if he was the one who belonged outside instead of the dog. 

He glanced upwards at the ice covered trees as he tightened his scarf about his neck.  It had rained a bit last night, before it snowed and the ice had hardened on the trees, making them appear as though they were made of glass as they glittered in the moonlight.  He began to walk back to his home, carefully putting one foot in front of the other, precariously maintaining his balance on the icy surface. 

Who was he now? he wondered.   He certainly wasn’t the man he expected to be.  Not the man doe-eyed Polly Butler had fallen in love with and married.  A man full of hopes and dreams.  He had been so sure he was going to change the world.  Slavery was an abomination and he was going to put an end to it. 

But he hadn’t changed anything.  His fiery speeches and assistance to runaway slaves had done nothing.  All that had happened to him was that he had become his father.  The first time it had happened, he had broken down, promising Polly that it would never occur again.  He would never raise his hand to her again.  But he had. 

So he had come here tonight, maybe to try to find out who he was. To the rest of the world, he was William Alonzo Hickok, abolitionist.  But at home...

He had hoped that his pain would be assuaged once more, as it always was in that place, that he would find the forgiveness he so craved.  There had to be some way to become the man his wife believed he was.  A man who didn’t hide his sorrows inside a whiskey bottle.  When Polly looked look up at him, she still saw a man he’d never be.   If only he could find a way to feel like the man she believed he was.  But it got harder every day for him to hide behind the dream she saw, a man he’d never be. **

As he reached his home, he nearly ran into his son, who was running pell mell to the house,  carrying a basket in his arms, the yellow dog not two steps behind him.  “Where you going?” he asked loudly. 

“No place,” Jimmy answered, skidding to a stop as the dog slid into his legs, almost knocking him off balance. 

“You just coming home?”

Jimmy nodded.  “Ma asked me to deliver this to the Barkleys’,” he said, lifting the now empty basket a little higher.                               

William opened the door of his house, feeling the blast of warm air rushing from the fireplace, the scent of fresh baked pie filling his nostrils.  Maybe now was as good a time as any to start becoming the man he should be, not the man he was.  The man his wife believed he was. 

William turned to his son, “the dog stays in the barn,” he said sternly.

“Yes sir,” Jimmy whispered.  He waited until his father went inside the house and then threw his arms around the dog, laughing as the dog began to lick his face.     

“Merry Christmas, Jimmy,” William called from the doorway.

** lyrics by  Tom Scholz, modified by me.

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