A little flash fiction to finish up the Christmas run. Two more blogs to come, one on Friday (the final music extravaganza) and one on Christmas Day. But today, a different kind of fiction for your consideration.
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Lucius waved bye-bye just like the tow-headed girl heading out the door. Two years or seventy years, the wave was the same. One dictated by a lack of experience, the other by severe arthritis. Both full of love.
He watched through the glass wall as the final few families safely braved the blowing snow and fired up their cars. Once, long ago, he would have heard them over the storm. Now, well – nothing but a roaring silence in his ears.
Unseen, the disc of Christmas carols hit its final note and the silence of conclusion erupted in the room. Looking around, Lucius realized that for the first time in the past thirty-seven days he was alone in a place that should have been filled with people. While the quiet of his home was now laden with sadness in the wake of his wife’s death, the series of events he had attended as Santa had boosted his spirits out of the depression he’d worn like a cloak. Now, at 8:03 in the evening, that sadness had found him and snuck in the door as the last child had walked out to the parking lot.
A light caught his eye, and turning in his chair he picked up the single tin Christmas tree ornament that remained on the small platform behind him. Only two hours ago nine kindergartners had danced in their reindeer costumes and posed for pictures. This small reminder of their presence was likely the only joy remaining in the room.
Looking at the ornament, a small reindeer, he contemplated the loss and sadness of the last year. Married for forty years, his wife’s passing had been tougher than anything he’d ever known, surpassing even the loss of their only son in a war that nobody ever acknowledged. That medal in the shadow-box at home was like the ornament in his left hand: merely a shiny bauble that brought up memories but left an emptiness.
The room was clean: the staff had cleaned as they went tonight. Pizza boxes and plates shuffled into the dumpsters while he perched toddlers on his lap. The tables were wiped down, and there was a uniformity of space between the chairs. He was surprised by the size of the room where he’d ruled for the last two hours, it was almost as large as the mega-church sanctuary beyond the doors eighty feet from his throne.
Silence. No joyous squeals. No music. No chaos from kids photo-bombing him and trying to peek into his special bag. A blanket of lonely was covering him up like the snow outside: rapid, cold, and driven by the unforgiving wind of time. Tonight could be his last: he didn’t really have any reason to get up tomorrow. Just another day without a soul to share it.
The door to the daycare center opened and Miss Jennifer emerged. He hadn’t realized she’d stayed behind. A smile crossed his face, for she was truly an angel to behold. Others may not see it in her weathered features, but he saw the college girl inside of the grandmother. That spirit continued to thrive in her, where it had died in him.
“Lucius! I thought you’d bailed when the music shut off. What on earth are you doing out here?”
He dangled the tin reindeer from his white-gloved finger, “Spending some time with Rudolph. I’m in no rush to go anywhere in this storm.”
Pulling up a chair next to him, she began to sit down. Laughing, she stood up, pulled the cell phone from the back pocket of her jeans and said, “Time for a Santa selfie! I watched the kids doing that all night and envied them the opportunity. Now that I’ve got you to myself, I’m going to join in on the fun.”
Gently, she sat on his right knee and extended her right arm. He smiled at the camera as a pure reflex, and only after she struggled to hit the button did he notice her crooked fingers.
The image froze, and she swiped a wrinkled finger across the screen. Hitting one icon and then tapping with her thumb, she chortled. “I’ve got more Twitter followers than the pastor! I love sharing these pictures.”
Picture tweeted, he figured she’d hop up and leave. But she lingered on his knee. He realized he had been staring at the doors to the sanctuary and hadn’t heard her words.
“Sorry, Miss Jennifer, but what did you say?”
“I said you had the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen, Lucius. How did I never notice that before?”
Her hand cupped his face and she gazed into his eyes. “Yes. The most beautiful eyes ever. But what are they seeing, Lucius? I can see the tears at the edges?”
Leaning in, she adjusted her small frame and tucked her head into the crook of his neck. Like the children he’d held just an hour before, he could sense her wonder and awe, but it wasn’t at his appearance. It was something different – something deeper.
“You know, I lost my whole family over thirty years ago this week. My husband and the kids were all coming from a party at our old church and they lost control in a storm like the one outside tonight. Nothing but a slippery road and a steep hill, but they were all gone in an instant. I mourned a long time. Just like you. But it healed.”
Lucius wrapped his arm around her back and held her closer. It was the first time he’d felt alive in months. Not a romantic love, but Agape love.
“I’m tired of being sad. I’m tired from the last month. I don’t have that energy anymore, and it’s left me more empty than I realized. Those children are like a sugar high: the crash is monumental. Tonight, with the storm …”
Jennifer gently slid off his lap and extended her hand. “I want to show you something nobody but me has ever seen. Come with me, Lucius.”
Taking her hand, he stood slowly, bent by the years and his mourning. His boots clicked on the tile as they walked to the darkened sanctuary. Jennifer paused inside the doorway, giving their eyes a chance to adjust to the lack of light, saying nothing at all.
Lucius was content just to hold her hand and feel the warmth, but realized he should take off his hat in this place. As he did, he realized there was a glow coming from the left of the stage.
The exit lights over the doors were not the source, and it puzzled him. It must be the public address system panel, for he knew it was over there somewhere. But he couldn’t quite make it out.
“You see it, don’t you? I wasn’t sure the first time either, but if you think about what this room looks like in the daytime, you’ll figure it out.”
Lucius wracked his brain for a few minutes. He didn’t attend services much in December – too many breakfasts with Santa on Sundays.
Looking just to the right of the light, it dawned on him what he was seeing: it was the manger that they put up as part of the Christmas pageant. Well, that was nice. A little light must be in the manger to make the baby Jesus glow.
“It’s a light in the manger.”
Jennifer squeezed his hand. “No. Not like you think. I spotted this years ago one night when the power went out and I was in here feeling sorry for myself. Almost twenty years ago tonight. You remember that ice storm? No power for almost a week. I was here to check the building when the power went out. But that glow didn’t start until I’d been praying in the dark for almost an hour.”
Lucius kept her hand in his, and started down the aisle. The light gently pulsed as he approached. It wasn’t an LED, or a bulb: it was a ethereal glow like Saint Elmo’s Fire, and it was surrounding the child in the manger.
Sinking to his knees, Lucius stared at the manger. Tears flooded his eyes, and his soul expanded to fill his chest. Just like the Grinch’s small heart on Christmas morning.
And when his chest didn’t feel quite so tight, he got to his feet and bowed stiffly at the waist.
Feeling a squeeze on his hand, he turned to look at Jennifer. “Let’s go get some hot chocolate and talk about what we’re doing for Christmas dinner.”
The two old souls had been renewed by a baby’s love. It was time to live again.
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