Chapter 9: The Christmas Oracle of Room 316

STORY RECAP: The Dickens family’s Christmas joy is cut short by Dad’s sudden job loss and the hospitalization of the girls’ grandmother, who keeps speaking from her coma. Esteban Flores, a construction supervisor, and his son Jaime, a mechanic who volunteers in animal-assisted therapy, find their lives intertwined with those of the Dickens family. This is the ninth installment of a 10-chapter holiday serial, which concludes Christmas Eve.
By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
After his conversation with Esteban Flores, Paul Dickens slid into his Escort and heaved a sigh of relief. Using his old masonry skills, he would have a job – an income – again. The only paycheck before Christmas would be small, but enough for a few gifts.
The promise of a few weeks’ work on building the new restaurant had been the best present Paul could imagine until the owner had come along, too. He recognized Paul from the Rio Grande restaurant, remembered his work there and offered him a job as sous chef as soon as the building was finished.
Esteban waved Paul out of the work site, locked the gate behind his own S-10, then drove onto Gloster and pointed it toward Crosstown. He had just missed the green light when the railroad signals began flashing. He knew it would be a long wait, so he put the truck in park and bowed his head.
“Gracias, Senor, por la securidad de la muchacha,” he prayed. Thank you, Lord, for the little girl’s safety. “Permiso, Jaime y su familia – aqui, todos juntos,” he added. Please, Jaime and his family – here, all together.
Just then, something hit Esteban’s truck, shoving it forward by its own length – onto the tracks. The back window was spiderwebbed, with a bit of blood in the circle of broken glass. Horns and flashing lights added to his disorientation.
A voice he’d heard before said, urgently yet reassuringly, “A la izquierda” – to the left. He flung the door open, dashing across the two clear lanes to his left. Seconds later, a locomotive pulling 115 cars of coal smashed the little Chevy beyond recognition. When bystanders called an ambulance, he didn’t argue.
On the ride to the hospital, Esteban heard the voice again: “Dios proporciona.” God provides.


Dr. Lynn was on the phone with Jaime Flores.
“Paz’s cancer is one of the most treatable kinds,” she said.
Jaime reached down and patted Paz’s head, remembering the words from the unconscious woman in Room 316: “Take care of Paz, Jaime. Paz is important.”
“Dios tiene trabajo para ti, perrita,” he said. God has work for you yet, pup.


Ginny Dickens was glad she had left the girls at home with Paul. As she pushed open the door to her mother’s room, her worst dread hit her square in the eyes.
The bed was empty. Her mother’s personal effects were stuffed into a clear plastic bag.
Ginny braced herself against the doorframe. Why hadn’t anyone called and told her, she wondered.
But then the bathroom door opened, and Helen St. Cloud walked out in front-and-back hospital gowns.
“Mama – you’re alive!” Ginny gasped.
“And ready to go home,” the older woman added. “Just let me get my clothes on.”
Several astounded physicians would insist on several more tests before they released Helen, but they could find nothing to refute her assertion that she was perfectly healthy.
“Never better,” she assured Ginny after the last exam. “Let’s go shopping. I’ve got a few months’ butter-and-egg money saved up, and I want to ask Santa Claus if he needs it for anything.”
She stopped abruptly.
“We have to go out through the ER,” she said.
Downstairs, Esteban’s head was sore from hitting the window, but otherwise he had checked out just fine.
Jaime was helping him put on his jacket when Helen St. Cloud walked in, not knowing either man.
“Dios proporciona,” she said, and marched out as deliberately as she’d come in.
Both men’s jaws were still agape when a man in a charcoal suit and teal tie sat down.
“My client owns the truck that was in the accident with you. He’d like to avoid protracted legal proceedings,” he said. “He’s authorized me to write you a six-figure check to settle out of court.”
Esteban looked as stunned as he had back at Crosstown. He turned to Jaime.
“We could finally bring Estrella and Ernesto and Pablo here to live,” he said. “And take care of Paz.”
“Gracias, Papa,” Jaime said softly. Lifting his teary eyes heavenward, he repeated, “Gracias, Papa.”

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio