Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Christmas Stockings

The Christmas Stockings
by Joseph L. Puente
Based on the short story by Maria Alvarez

This screenplay was based on a short story written by my late mother and was made into a short film in time for Christmas 2004. It was my Mom's last Christmas and after she saw the film, she called me to say that it was the best Christmas present she ever received.

1     EXT - CITY STREET - NIGHT                                     1

               Carol of the Bells is heard OS as people are walking the
               streets of a medium sized city in winter. They are window
               shopping, picking out Christmas presents and enjoying the
               holiday season.

         2     INT - CITY MALL - NIGHT                                       2

               More people are touring the shops and buying gifts. A child
               is laughing as she picks up her new puppy at a pet store. A
               group of teenagers are eating and joking at the food court. A
               woman is sitting quietly by herself reading in a bookstore.

         3     EXT - CITY PARK - NIGHT                                       3

               Couples and families are walking through the city park,
               decorated with lights and holiday decorations. Tourists are
               having their pictures taken in front of a life size nativity
               scene. A homeless man asks a pedestrian for some money but is
               turned down.

         4     EXT - CITY STREET - NIGHT                                     4

               Deeper into the city streets, the decorations and Christmas
               lights are more sparse. There are fewer people walking the
               streets and more destitute individuals making it their home.

         5     EXT - OFFICE BUILDING ALLEY - NIGHT                           5

               A man named JOE, unshaven and dressed in ragged clothes, is
               standing outside of a dumpster by an office building. He's
               looking around cautiously as rustling is heard coming from
               the dumpster. After a few moments, the head of a six-year-old
               girl, Joe's daughter, MISSY, pops up from the dumpster.

                              Daddy, please get me out.

               Missy puts up her arms for her dad to take. She is holding a
               collection of paper and cardboard in her hands. Joe reaches
               into the dumpster and picks his daughter up, raising her over
               his head, and gently placing her on the ground next to

         6     EXT - CITY STREET - NIGHT                                     6

               As Joe and Missy walk along the dark street, their breaths
               come out in little puffs of steam.
               Missy is holding her findings close to her chest with one
               hand and holding onto her dad's hand with the other. Joe
               looks to his daughter and tries to smile but then looks
               straight ahead and realizes what little he has to smile

         7     INT - HOSPITAL CORRIDOR - NIGHT                               7

               Joe, clean shaven, dressed in slacks and a sweater, is
               walking down the corridor holding his daughter's hand. He
               looks down to Missy with a concerned smile on his face. Missy
               pulls her father's hand closer to her and holds it with both
               her hands, leaning her head against his arm.

               They arrive to a nurses' station where they are already known
               to the nurses on duty by their first names.

                                  (Speaking quietly)
                              Hi, Joe. Would you like to see her

                              Yes, please.

               The nurse comes around the station and kneels in front of

                              Missy, would you like to wait in
                              the playroom?

                              But I want to see my mommy.

                              You'll be able to see Mommy in a
                              few minutes, sweetheart. For now,
                              why not go with the nurse.

                              But I wantÐ

                              I'll take you in to see your mommy
                              in a few minutes, alright?

               Missy looks up to her dad then to the nurse. She then takes
               the nurse's arm and follows her to the unseen playroom. Joe
               walks across the corridor to his wife's hospital room

         8     INT - HOSPITAL ROOM - NIGHT                                   8

               Joe's wife, MARY, is lying in a hospital bed, an IV tube in
               her arm, miscellaneous hospital equipment by her side
               measuring her vital statistics. Joe walks into the room and
               quietly moves a chair next to the bed so he can sit by her
               side. He takes her hand into his and she awakes. She looks
               into her husbands eyes and smiles.

                              Hey, stranger.

                                  (holding back tears and
                                   struggling to smile)
                              Hi. We came as soon as the doctor

                              So, you know already.


                              What about Missy?

                              I couldn't bring myself to... I
                              just couldn't, Mary.

                              Joe, we're going to have to tell

               There's a knock at the door. Joe and Mary look to the door to
               see the nurse and Missy waiting quietly just inside the room.

                                        MARY (cont'd)
                                  (seeing Missy and smiling)
                              Hi, baby.

               Missy runs to the side of Mary's bed and holds her mother's
               arm. She looks to her mother longingly.

                              Mommy, when are you coming home?

               Mary looks to Joe, then to Missy and smiles.

                              Sweety, give Mommy a hug.

               Joe lifts his daughter onto the bed so she can hug her mother
               one last time.

         9     EXT - APARTMENT BUILDING ALLEY - NIGHT                        9

               Joe and Missy arrived at their makeshift home under the
               stairwell of the condemned building which had once been their
               home. Missy hurried along, eager to get out of the cold wind.

               Their shelter was not much more than a lean-to -- a refuge
               against wind, rain, and  snow constructed of  cardboard boxes
               and plastic bags stacked in such a way as to camouflage the
               entrance and deter the dregs of humanity from prying too
               closely.  But Missy and her dad had managed to furnish it
               with a modicum of comfort if one is to stretch the meaning of
               the word almost to the breaking point.  The curtains they had
               salvaged from their old apartment had been carefully hung to
               line the cold, damp walls and create partitions.  The area
               furthest back had been turned into a sleeping alcove.  A
               couple of wooden pallets raised the old mattress above the
               level of the floor, and an apple box from Mr. Balthazar's
               store held a civilizing set of sheets and a couple of towels
               while another box held the few pieces of clothing they owned. 
               An old lidded chamber pot found in the refuse pile of another
               condemned building supplied the relief for those needs which
               could not wait for the opening of Mr. Balthazar's little
               shop.  The front  "room"  contained some makeshift furniture. 
               An old carpet folded in fours gave the floor a bit of  spring
               as well
                      as keeping out some of the cold that seeped up from
               the cement.   An egg crate full of books (Missy's only ticket
               to knowledge) was topped with a piece of foam rubber and
               served as the  chair.  An old TV tray was their table, and a
               twisted set  of metal shelves which Joe had pounded into
               submission held a sterno burner, a kerosene lamp, a small
               saucepan, a few meager staples, two cups, and a mess kit. 
               Everything else they had owned had been hocked, sold,
               bartered, or stolen.

               Joe looks down at his daughter carrying her newfound wealth
               from one dump to another, and could not help a rueful smile.   
               Missy grows increasingly impatient to get to work on her
               Christmas "treasures" as Joe walks in. (He always went first,
               just in case there was an uninvited guest who needed

        10     INT - ALLEY SHELTER - NIGHT                                  10

               Joe crawls into the shelter. After he turns on the kerosene
               lamp Missy walks in stomping her little feet against the
               cold.  While Joe warms up a melange of soup and beans for
               their supper Missy bustles about setting out her work table.
               She has no glue, just some paste made from a bit of flour she
               mixed with water and set aside.  Missy spreads out the
               goodies she has fetched out of the dumpster behind the office
                         There are several sheets of colored paper, some
               crumpled giftwrap from somebody's office party, a large sheet
               of cardboard, ribbons, bows, a box, and a couple of magazines
               which she has managed to hide from Joe.  These were going to
               be his Christmas present.

               Missy gets a pair of scissors with a broken tip from their
               hiding place. She draws a Christmas tree on the piece of
               cardboard and cuts out its outline as she softly hums
               Christmas carols to herself.

               She then cuts some of the green paper she has found into
               strips and fringes it, gluing the strips on to simulate
               branches.  Next, she cuts out circles from the crumpled
               giftwrapping and glues them onto the tree.  A bow on top,
               some of the ribbon as garland, and she has a very commendable
               tree which she leaned against the corner of the room.

               Joe makes it a point not to look at what his child is doing
               because he doesn't want to encourage her dreams.

               The little girl looks about her decorations and knows that
               something is missing. After a moment of quiet contemplation,
               she realizes what it is. She takes off her sock and lays it
               atop a folded piece of red paper. With a black marker she
               draws its outline and cuts it out. Now she has two socks
               which she labels with her and Joe's names and trims with
               colored bows. She displays them next to the ersatz tree and
               admires her handywork while thinking of a Christmas two years

        15     INT - LIVINGROOM - NIGHT                                     15

               Missy, still sitting in front of the Christmas tree, is
               holding the baby Jesus from the nativity scene, examining it
               by the lights of the tree. Mrs. Balthazar enters the
               livingroom and Missy places the baby Jesus back in his place
               in the scene.

                                        MRS. BALTHAZAR
                              Missy, come here. I have a gift for

               Mrs. Balthazar sits down on a rocking chair and beckons Missy
               to sit on her lap. Missy sits with her and Mrs. Balthazar
               brings up the stocking.

                                        MRS. BALTHAZAR (cont'd)
                              This Christmas stocking is for you,

               Missy reaches for the stocking but Mrs. Balthazar holds it
               just out of reach for the briefest of moments then gives it
               to her.

                                        MRS. BALTHAZAR (cont'd)
                              Now, I told your mother that I
                              wouldn't let you spoil your dinner.
                              Of course, if you have just one
                              piece of candy, I don't think that
                              will spoil your dinner.

               Mrs. Balthazar laughs and Missy laughs with her as she takes
               a piece of candy from Mrs. Balthazar's hand. As she chews on
               the piece of chocolate, she rests her head on Mrs.
               Balthazar's shoulder, content to remain there for the rest of
               the night.

        16     INT - ALLEY SHELTER - NIGHT                                  16

               The rest of the colored paper has been cut into strips and
               glued into interconnected loops which Missy festooned around
               the room.  Next came her dad's present.  Joe is just about
               finished preparing their supper, so Missy decides to wait for
               a more opportune moment.

               Joe serves himself and Missy some soup and starts to eat.
               Between bites, Missy tries to bring some Christmas cheer to
               her father.

                              Do you like the tree I made, Daddy?

               Joe nods in agreement, turning his attention to his dinner.

                                        MISSY (cont'd)
                              I also made stockings for us. Like
                              Mrs. Balthazar used to do before
                              she died. Do you remember?

                                  (struggling to smile)
                              Yes, Missy, I remember.

               Missy smiles and points to the trimming she has placed around
               their shelter.

                              Do you like the paper chain I made?
                              Mr. Balthazar gave me some paste
                              for it. Do you think Santa will
                              like it? Oh, Daddy, do we have any
                              cookies for Santa?

               Joe stops eating. He feels he has to be blunt with his

                              No, Missy. There are no cookies.
                              All we have is what's for dinner

                              Then can I leave Santa what's left
                              of my soup?

               Joe is getting frustrated. He doesn't want to crush his
               little girl's dreams, but he doesn't want to set her up for
               disappointment either.

                              MissyÐWe have no permanent address;
                              how is Santa going to find us?

               Missy quietly finishes her dinner. When she places her spoon
               into the empty bowl, Joe takes it outside to wash in the

               When her father is outside, Missy takes out the magazines she
               had found for her father and wraps them in the crumpled gift
               wrapping paper.

        17     EXT - APARTMENT BUILDING ALLEY - NIGHT                       17

               Joe washes the old mess kit they used for their dinner as
               best as he can in the snow. He tries to dry his hands when he
               was finished and turns to the entrance of the shelter,
               hesitant to go in despite the cold night air.

        18     INT - GOVERNMENT EMPLOYMENT OFFICE - DAY                     18

               Joe is sitting across from the desk of a government
               CASEWORKER. She is looking over some paperwork then turns her
               attention to Joe.

                              You are a widower?


                              Have you been working?

                              Yes...well. I've been doing some
                              odd jobs for a friend of the
                              family. Mr. Balthazar, I have him
                              as a referenceÐ

                              I know about Mr. Balthazar. But you
                              need to be looking for something
                              more than odd jobs. You have a
                              daughter that you need to take care

                              I am taking care of my daughter.

                              I'm sure you're doing the best that
                              you can but your daughter needs a
                              stable home environment. She can't
                              be moving around from place to
                              place as she's been doing.

                              I am doing my best...

                              No one is saying that you aren't...
                              Where are you living now?

                              We just moved in to a new place.

                              Do you have an address for me so I
                              can update your file?

                              Actually, no, not with me.

                                  (suspicious of Joe's
                              Is your daughter currently enrolled
                              in school?

                                  (feeling trapped)
                              Of course she is...Do you think I
                              would keep my daughter out of

                              perhaps...if you had no permanent
                              address to put on her records...
                              Joe, I'm not here to judge you. I'm
                              just trying to help you.
                                  (taking a business card
                                   from her desk and handing
                                   it to Joe)
                              Here's a place in town where I
                              think you might find some
                              work...And when you get a chance,
                              call me or stop by with the address
                              to your new...place.

                              Of course... thank you.

               Joe gets up, obviously upset, and walks out of the office.


               Missy is sitting quietly on a bench outside of the office.
               Joe comes out and takes her hand. They start to walk down the
               corridor but Joe pauses by a wastebasket. He looks at the
               business card the caseworker gave him, then throws it away.
               They continue down the hall.

                              What was that, Daddy?

                              It was nothing sweety.

                              ...Daddy, when can I go back to

                              Soon, Missy. I promise.

               As they continue down the corridor, the caseworker comes out
               of the office in time to see them slip around a corner.

        20     EXT - APARTMENT BUILDING ALLEY - NIGHT                       20

               Joe finally decides to go inside the shelter.

        21     INT - ALLEY SHELTER - NIGHT                                  21

               As Joe enters the shelter, Missy is already in bed pretending
               to be tired. She lets out an animated yawn and lies down
               facing the wall so her father can't see her crying.

               Joe sits on the "chair" and holds his head in his hands.  His
               eyes grow dim and lose their life as he ponders the future.
               Slowly, he raises his head and looks at the flickering light
               of the kerosene lamp.  His eyes well up with tears.


               Hunched over with cold and worries he rises from his seat,
               blows out the flame and crawls into bed beside the sleeping

        22     EXT - BALTHAZAR'S STORE - NIGHT                              22

               Through the front window, in the back of the dark store, Mr.
               Balthazar closes the door separating his store from the small
               apartment in the back he had moved into when his wife died.

        23     INT - BALTHAZAR APARTMENT - NIGHT                            23

               Mr.Balthazar sits down to a simple meal of bread and milk
               while his old mouser timidly tastes the contents of the bowl
               from the other side of the table.

               After a few moments of picking at his food, the old
               storekeeper gets up from his seat and paces the confines of
               his minuscule living quarters. In his pacing, he comes across
               a Polaroid snapshot of Joe, Mary and Missy taken the last
               time they had visited him and his wife on Christmas Eve. He
               picks up the Polaroid and walks to a picture on the wall of
               his deceased wife.

                                        MR. BALTHAZAR
                              MamaÐYou've got to help me. It's
                              Joe and Missy. Ever since Mary
                              passed away, they've been having a
                              really hard time of it.
                              Their apartment was condemned, Joe
                              hasn't been able to find work.
                              They're living under a stairwell
                              for God's sake...If you can call
                              that living. Mama, I don't know
                              what to do. If only you were
                              here...You always knew what to do
                              in times like this.

               Mr. Balthazar looks down at the photo again and thinks for a
               moment. He then gets his coat and cap and goes outside.

        24     EXT - CITY STREET - NIGHT                                    24

               Mr. Balthazar shields himself as best as he can against the
               cold night air and walks down the street toward the alley
               where Joe and Missy are staying.

        25     EXT - APARTMENT BUILDING ALLEY - NIGHT                       25

               Mr. Balthazar approaches the old stairwell slowly,
               contemplating what he is going to say or do. As he
               approaches, he hears the sounds of a man crying. He stops and
               thinks for a moment.

                                        JOE O.S.

               Mr. Balthazar can't bare to go any further. Thinking there
               must be something he can do, he turns around and walks back
               to the street.

        26     EXT - CITY STREET - NIGHT                                    26

               Mr. Balthazar walks back in the direction of his store. He is
               across the street from it and looks at it thinking. He walks

        27     EXT - CHURCH - NIGHT                                         27

               Mr. Balthazar walks ahead looking down at the sidewalk. He
               then lifts his head and sees a small church. It had just
               opened recently across the street from his store. From
               inside, he hears Christmas carols. He walks toward it.

        28     INT - CHURCH - NIGHT                                         28

               Mr. Balthazar walks in and takes a seat in the back of the
               church. The
                          little congregation is singing a carol while the
               minister's wife accompanies them on a second-hand keyboard.
               When the song is finished, the minister walks up to the

                              I have a very special announcement. 
                              It has come to my attention through
                              the good offices of the
                              superintendent  in this building
                              that his basement apartment, as
                              well as his job, have become
                              available since he is retiring and
                              moving to Florida with his
                              daughter.  Now I have seen this
                              place, having visited the good man
                              as part of my pastoral duties, and
                              I just know that there must be
                              somebody out there who could
                              benefit from such a situation as
                              has been placed in our hands
                              through the great mercy of the
                              Almighty.  Let us pray. . ."

               The service ends and the congregation slowly files out, but
               Mr. Balthazar hangs back, waiting for an opportunity to speak
               to the pastor.

                                        MR. BALTHAZAR
                              Reverend, I own the little shop
                              across the streetÐ

                              Yes, of course, I stopped by for
                              some supplies for our service this
                              morning.  What  can I do  for you,

                                        MR. BALTHAZAR
                              That announcement you made earlier,
                              has anybody made a request for it?

               The minister's wife approaches the two men. Other members of
               the congregation have stopped their march out the door to
               hear what the old man has to say.

                              No, nobody has said anything to me,
                              how about you, dear?

                                        MINISTER'S WIFE
                              No, I haven't heard either. Did you
                              have somebody special in mind, sir?

                                        MR. BALTHAZAR
                              I have this father and child, their
                              mother is dead...The apartment
                              building where they lived has been
                              condemned and he hasn't been able
                              to find work. And the child hasn't
                              been able to go to school because
                              they have no permanent address.

                              Where are they now?

                                        MR. BALTHAZAR
                              They're livingÐif you can call it
                              thatÐin the stairwell of their old

               The minister turns to the congregation.

                              Brothers and sisters, who among us
                              can possibly go into a warm house,
                              fill our bellies with good food,
                              and crawl into a soft bed while a
                              father and child suffer such want
                              as this? The superintendent has
                              given me permission to hire his
                              replacementÐÐand I can think of no
                              worthier soul.

               Members of the congregation look to one another and one by
               one set forward.

                                        PARISHIONER 1
                              Minister, I can bring in some food
                              for this family.

                                        PARISHIONER 2
                              And I've got some clothes I was
                              going to give away, they can have

                                        PARISHIONER 3
                              I've got some extra pots and pans.

                                        PARISHIONER 4
                              I have a bed that's not being used,

               The other parishioners offer what they can as the minister
               and Mr. Balthazar smile.

                              This is wonderful. Brothers and
                              sisters, bring what you can right
                              back here as soon as you can.
                                  (to Mr. Balthazar)
                              My friend, bring this father and
                              daughter here. They needn't stay
                              one more cold night like this under
                              a stairwell.
                                  (he takes a key out of his
                                   pocket and gives it to
                                   Mr. Balthazar)
                              Here is the key he will need.

        29     EXT - CHURCH - NIGHT                                         29

               Mr. Balthazar leaves the little church with a new spring in
               his step.  The restlessness which had once pursued him now
               became purpose, an urge to get his plan into action before
               this holy night was over.

        30     EXT - BALTHAZAR'S STORE - NIGHT                              30

               In a few quick steps Mr. Balthazar reaches his store.  He
               unlocks the front door and goes in.

        31     INT - BALTHAZAR APARTMENT - NIGHT                            31

               Mr. Balthazar enters his small apartment and rummages through
               some old boxes he finds a couple of the stockings like the
               ones his wife would give to the neighborhood children. He
               fills one with candy, some coloring pencils, a notebook, and
               a little bottle of hand lotion.  The other, he simply drops
               the key into. He walks out of his small apartment.

        32     EXT - APARTMENT BUILDING ALLEY - NIGHT                       32

               Mr. Balthazar walks down the cold alley and peeks under the
               stairwell where Joe and Missy are trying to sleep. After a
               brief moment, Joe comes out into the cold, surprised to see
               the old storekeeper. Mr. Balthazar holds up Joe's stocking.
               Joe takes it and turns it upside down, dropping the key onto
               his hand. He looks to Mr. Balthazar, asking for an
               explanation. Mr. Balthazar explains and Joe hugs him. He then
               peeks into the stairwell himself to bring Missy out. The
               little girl comes out of the stairwell and Mr. Balthazar
               gives her a stocking. Joe kneels beside her and explains the
               situation. Missy hugs her father and he picks her up.
               Together, they walk out of the alley.

               THE END