What Really Happened That Night in Bedford Falls (after It’s a Wonderful Life)

by Kevin Grauke

The angel, flightless as a penguin, shows him a world where his brother died beneath skate-scored ice and his wife, a virgin married to books, desiccates in a library: a gray world with no hero to save them from their horrid fates. Standing on the snow-muffled bridge a second time, bleeding from his lip yet again, he is meant to see that life is wonderful, but wait, isn’t his uncle still a yarn-fingered old fool? And isn’t the money still gone? Yes. And yes.

Such old news, this. Yesterday’s hero: today’s failure. Why? Because this land was made for you and me and What have you done for me lately? There above the icy water, he knows nothing of the basket of money making its slow way to save the day; he knows only that Christmas brought nothing but bankruptcy with its guiding light, and prison too, not peace and joy; he knows only that he’s worth less breathing than not, and so, no, he does not run through that snow-globe town joyously screaming—no, he jumps and he drowns, freezing another tiny bell’s clapper before it can swing. Family and friends will cry and say goodbye at his funeral and then mourn into the next year’s second month, but by March they’ll return fully to their own pressing troubles—house payments, food missing from the forks of their children—all the while thinking of him less and less and still less, until one green Monday in May they’ll notice having not thought of the man in weeks, the man who has lain cold in the town cemetery since just after Christmas, the man in whose pocket his daughter’s flower petals have long since disintegrated.



Kevin Grauke is the author of Shadows of Men (Queen's Ferry Press), winner of the Steven Turner Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared (or are forthcoming) in journals such as The Threepenny Review, Bayou, The Southern Review, Fiction, Quarterly West, and Columbia Journal. He’s a Contributing Editor at Story, and he teaches at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Twitter: @kevingrauke