(I wrote this several years ago but I think it remains relevant.  Especially as this is the first day of Advent.  Merry Christmas!)

 

The Christmas Story Revisited

 

Joe sat with Mary in a roadside diner. She squeezed into the booth, her pregnant belly tight against the table. Across the room, the waitresses wondered if she were his daughter, or he were just another nasty old man who found a vulnerable little girlfriend. Joe touched the ring on Mary’s finger, and his, to reassure himself.

They were together because he was lonely, and her family, dirt poor, saw his shop and skill as a way for the plain, good girl to escape the likelihood of having nothing. So he was engaged to her. What’s 25 years or so? He had finally accepted that it was alright. And then this madness.

It was crazy. The things she told him and believed. Maybe they were just a way for a nobody child to believe she were somebody. But there were also his dreams.; if they were dreams. He was asleep at the table in his cabinet shop when the bright light, who claimed to be an angel, told him about the child.

So here they were, going to the town of his kin for a few days rest in the Appalachian winter. Mary almost slept in the booth, and picked at her soup and sandwich. They paid the bill and slipped into the chilly parking lot and back in the car. The cold wind pushed at the shaky old Dodge. In the dim early evening, they stopped, a tire blown. There was no mechanic and Joe had almost no money.

At a roadside no-tell motel, full with shady travelers for the winter solstice break, Joe begged for a room. Mary leaned against him, thin legs barely holding up the added weight of the child; her heart barely holding up the added weight of what she knew she carried.

‘Sorry man, got nothing. But I’ll tell you what, out back is an old camper I use to hunt. Ya’ll can have it if you want. I won’t charge you nothin’. Your little girl there looks awfully tired.’ Joe smiled, and thanked him. Mary looked into his eyes and the owner had to look away from her purity, her loveliness and from the hint of some sorrow he saw in her dark eyes. ‘You sleep well, girl. And here’s an extra blanket. Ain’t no heat in the camper.’

They settled in, and though it was cold, he held her tight in his arms as much for his comfort as hers. The world seemed dark and out of joint, and Joe had not planned for adventures such as this so late in life.

In the early hours, she woke him with her moaning, and with the small bed wet from her water. He ran through the back field, tripping over tires and wire, over boxes and old lumber. The owner of the motel said, ‘Are you kidding? In my camper? Oh man, well here’s all the towels I have. Guess I should boil water, right? Wish my wife was here.’ They called for the ambulance, but in the small county off the beaten path, the only one was out of town, taking a sick baby to the city.

Before anyone could come and help, Joe squeezed Mary’s hand and out came the child, bloody and wet, crying in the confines of the cold aluminum walls, under the bright expanse of the vast winter sky.

People came for some reason. More angels, it turned out, had announced this poor child’s arrival. Mechanics and policemen, factory workers from a nearby town, some clerks from quick-stops and even the patrons of a little pool-hall. All of them, men and women, looking for something; for light in the dark, for a reason to hope. They gazed at the baby like he held the answer to all their disappointments.

There was also a university professor, a state senator visiting nearby, a news-anchor, all of them driving restlessly in the night, looking for something they didn’t know under the bright stars that shone brighter that night. They saw in the child the wisdom, power and influence they could never have.

‘I’ll call him Jesus,’ Mary said. And everyone agreed it was a good name. Joe smiled, tired, and found his tire fixed, his car full of food and clothes and gifts. And Mary, hugged by the women, Joe patted and given cigars by the men, finally found themselves alone with the child. And for a few more hours they slept.

In the morning they went on their way, apologizing for the mess and the trouble. And the owner of the motel cried, and said ‘it’s nothing,’ and thanked them for what they had done. They did not yet know what he meant.