I just finished this story. No bus stop this time but, like the others, it did happen. I suppose the traditional thing to do would be to publish it next December. But who says Christmas has to be limited to a few weeks? In fact, let's all be Christmas rebels and be kind to each other all year long. I like the sound of that. I'm going to have a T-shirt made that says, “Christmas Rebel,” and when anyone asks about it, I'll explain the principles of our movement. Maybe love will go viral.
The story pretty much explains itself, so there's nothing more to say other than – Have a Merry and Magical year!
Christmas in June
Sometimes Magic appears a little later than hoped for or shows up in an unexpected way. But it's always there. It's just waiting for you to look for it.
On the night of every twenty-fourth of December, I stop the festive busyness long enough to watch the snow so softly fall that its quiet peace drifts round and into me and I somehow connect with that spell we call Christmas. On years when the sky won't cooperate, looking for that spirit of snowfall yields images of remembered wind-carved whiteness drifting round darkened houses, barns, and sheds, trees drawing bare branch shadows on canvas that curves and flows, landscapes of movement and stillness, moonlit in perfect places. This winter lives in another time, a world of beginnings left long ago. But whether I see the spirit falling earthward in the present or conjure it from past existence into a scene that only I can witness, either way, on every Christmas Eve, for me, it always snows.
But I never got to it this year. And Christmas day itself, because of various adult complications, didn't seem all that different from any other day. Sometime during the winding-down week before New Year's, I found myself looking out into the night, hoping for one of those peaceful storms of my childhood. Out of nowhere, though I hadn't thought of it in years, came this story of a man, a boy, and a fish and chip shop. What the place was called is lost to me now, but I like to think that it had a wonderful name to match what happened there one day thirty-five years ago.
I wondered if the owner of the laundromat had had his doubts about this particular endeavour when the sign read, “Come On In And Suds Your Duds At The Wishy-Washy Coin-Op Laundry.” It seemed ok to me, at least as ok as laundromats go. Washers, driers, a counter and chairs. Get in, get it done, get out. In another city, I'd once seen a tiny cupboard of a restaurant that was called “Eat It And Beat It.” Sometimes functional is all you need. So I took the friendly sign's suggestion and came on in. After all, my duds did need sudsing and it was close to home, my new, possibly temporary, out looking for a job, home anyway. What really felt like home at the time was actually eight hours away down a long hot highway and a cool country road.
Laundry's one of those on the way to something better chores, “I'll just get this done, and then I can....” My apologies to any laundry lovers if I'm generalizing, but I would bet that most people try to make it into something different. Meditation might be possible – find the right key and Om along with the hum of the machines. Homework – be twice as productive by doing two boring things at the same time. And of course, the ever popular dozing. I read Dylan Thomas, whose prose was the first poetry I ever loved, kept an eye out for a possible love of my life (she never showed up), and watched the socks and underwear channel till I got dizzy. It's an acquired taste. I used to wonder what people would say if I wandered in off the street, no laundry, pulled up a chair in front of their drier and said, “What's on?” possibly offering them some of my popcorn. There was never anything on the rule board like, “Viewing of another patron's drier contents is strictly prohibited.” You can't be too specific with the likes of me.
Once I found a job, visiting The Wishy Washy became a usually Sunday thing for me. At some point during the endless wash cycle, I'd walk out of the water sloshing shade into the warm, always sunny and pleasant for some unknown reason, little parking lot. The length of a car and then the sidewalk and street. An always crazy-busy crosstown street. Wave after wave of driven people who had obviously already cleaned their clothes and were rather quickly heading off to the good stuff before Monday closed in on them. Though the weekends back then weren't without my version of fun (a movie, a few new records, and a browse through the bookstores), it would sometimes feel that I had accomplished everything I needed to do, and was now ready to really start my weekend, only to find that it was 11 pm Sunday night. I hesitate to mention Mondays and my job at the steel products plant because this particular tale is not about hell and damnation.
About the time I would step out into that parking lot, food would enter my mind. A few minutes later, it would enter my mouth because of the fish and chip shop just across the side street. My first time in the place, I left a bright light June day behind and entered a fast food cave. Directly across from the entrance, a wall listed the many items on the menu. Running from one side of the room to the other, it divided the inside of the small building into what looked like two equal parts. There was an opening in the center of the wall small enough to buy train tickets from – “One ticket to Foodville, please.” On one side of the wall, the kitchen and kitchen noises. On my side, silence and empty space (or maybe a table or two), a much bigger than needed at the moment take away zone hoping for more customers on a Saturday night. Wondering how crowded the kitchen was, I stood off to one side, leaning on a wall, waiting my turn. The only other customer, a small boy, looking to be about six, stood in the middle of the room as if waiting in an invisible line. Soon, his order came. From the size of it, the whole family's dinner. He reached up, paid what was owed, carefully lifted the food down from the counter, and turned to leave. Turned a bit too quickly though and in one sweeping movement, the whole order flew off the cardboard tray, food scattering out across the floor.
And then, that face. That poor little face whose expression said so much. Confusion, fear, rising panic, a sudden hurt flooding through the small untested life and no one he knew close by to run to and say, “Look what's happened, it's broke and I don't know what to do.” And those eyes. The tears so close. You could see what was coming. And all this was perceived in no more than a second, but before I could do a thing, there was nothing that needed to be done. For out from behind his counter, in the time it took me to say, “Oh, dear,” the owner appeared from some door I hadn't even seen and it was, “Now don't you worry at all about that. We're gonna give you a whole new meal, no charge. You know that was awful silly of me not to pack that properly for you. That's my fault. You come over here to the counter and I'll be back in a minute with your order. Don't worry about that stuff, I'll clean it all up in a minute.” And not one tear fell. Close, but not one. Any more hurt was quickly denied entrance into that little heart and any that had already entered was quickly shown the door. I watched the little face soon regain its smile and matched it with one of my own.
A moment later, this time with a large, strong paper bag in his hands, the boy, looking quite pleased, headed for home. “Can I help you, sir?” the owner said. I'd almost forgotten why I'd come in, but took a quick look at the menu on the wall and gave him my order.
“That was a really nice thing you did,” I told him.
He shrugged, looking embarrassed. “I had to. Did you see his face?”
“Yeah, I know.” We both shook our heads a little and breathed out in that small way that people do after a close call.
“Here you go, that'll be....”
I paid, said thanks, and left.
Stepping out into June again, on the way back to Dylan Thomas and The Wishy Washy with my carefully carried lunch, I thought, “I'm gonna tell everyone about your place.” And I did.
Thirty-five years later, looking out of my December night window at an absence of softly falling snow, just before conjuring up a peaceful vision of childhood winters, I remembered, for no obvious reason, the little boy and the fish and chip shop hero.
I saw love freely given. I saw innocence protected so that it would live as long as possible. And I knew that, once again, I had found Christmas.