Christmas Eve? Already? I just told a boy to shoo away from my window. He was making noise and throwing snowballs. He had on an oversized threadbare tweed coat with patches and holes throughout. His long scarf lifted on the wind as he ran away. He turned and got off a hard packed snowball which broke upon the window pane, cracking it.
"You bloody pest! Now look what you've done."
"Merry Christmas to you too, guv'ner!" punctuated with a two fingered "V" pumped into the air towards me.
Now all this is very odd because the urchin disappeared along with the snow as he turned the corner. Looking at the window I still saw the crack.
"Nonsense and stuff," I muttered returning to my wrapping. Christmas, I thought, is such a pain in the arse holiday, what with mandatory gifts and merchants' ads pummeling you on all sides. Not to mention the new renditions of old standby Christmas music. It can hardly be called music since there is no melody . It's just heavy bass booming repeatedly upon savaged eardrums along with unintelligible words screamed into a microphone.
Ah, well. It's time to finish wrappping the gifts. Spend time in lines. Buy gifts with no idea what the recipient wants. Then they spend time in lines to return your unwanted, and unappreciated purchase, for something they would rather have. It's a guessing game that eats up time and money I don't want to spend, but it's Christmas and expected.
Hear that? Yup. Rain. Perfect. The South's version of a white Christmas. Liquid snow due to the 70 degree temperature outside. It's far too warm for nature's miracle of snow covering a multitude of eyesores. Just another wet day.
There, the packages are wrapped. Gift checks are written. Finally, finished with those. Now it's time to pick up the last minute items. Everything will be picked over. I'll have to go out into the crowds, interact with rude sales clerks. They don't want to be working anymore than I want to be buying. They want to be home same as me. It's a miserable season.
I'll just send these e-cards and be on my way....
A tap on the shoulder woke me. "Huh? What? Time to go? I must have drifted off."
"OK, OK. I'm awake. Wha... Who are you?"
"I'm the ghost of Christmas."
"OH yeah? Which one? Past, present or future?"
"The only one, I'm thinking."
"Huh? What does that mean?"
"Just grab hold of my sleeve."
"Whoa buddy. I don't want anything to do with this. I've seen the movie a dozen times. You show me a bunch of stuff from my past and the present, then you take me to a graveyard where I fall on my knees and beg you to say it ain't so. Does that cover it?"
"What a schmuck. Just grab the sleeve."
"I don't have a choice do I?'
At the touch of his sleeve there was a flash then darkness. We stood in a narrow street bordered by square buildings made of hardened mud. Each one was lighted by lonely pots of oil sitting in small windows cut into the walls. A yellow glow from those flames basked the walls on each side of the alley way.
"What the... Where are we? This isn't any past I remember."
The clopping of hooved feet echoed off the walls. I heard a voice above those hoofbeats.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes. Try here." It was a woman's voice.
There was the sound of a fist on wood.
The creak of a hinge and, "Excuse me. I need a room. My wife's..."
"Sorry. No rooms available." Followed by a slam.
"Joseph. Please, I need a place lie down. The pains are coming often."
"Alright. I'm trying. It's past midnight. There's nothing. I'll keep trying."
Another knock. Another rejection. Another slam. The clip clop of donkey hooves approached.
"Is there anything we can do to help?"
"No one can see or hear us. We can only observe."
We watched the man, leading the donkey, drop the reins and march to the door across from us.
"Hold on! I'll get us in here!" he said and commenced beating on the door.
"Hold up there! What's this racket?"
"Thank God. I need a room for my wife. She's in labor! The baby is coming!"
"You stupid gitt. I don't have any rooms. We're full up. You should have thought about it before coming. Now go away and stop hammering at my door."
"Please! Can't you see she's in pain? I'm telling you the baby is coming now!"
"Jonah, what's all the noise here?" Jonah's wife held a lantern high and peered out the door.
"Nothing Ruth. Just some yokel wanting a room. Go back to bed."
"What do you mean nothing? Look at that poor girl. She's in agony. She needs a place to lie down. My God. She's in labor. She isn't old enough to understand what's happening. Get her around back and into the stable," she said to Joseph. "I'll bring some blankets. Hurry! Get along with you."
"Thank you." He hurriedly led the donkey around back. He helped the girl off the animal and into the stable.
"Men!" said Ruth as she gathered blankets and a skein of wine. "That little girl can't have been fourteen years on this earth and that geezer she's with has already pushed life into her womb. MEN!"
She hurried to the stable brushing passed us without a look.
"Take this old man out of here and send our daughter. I'm going to need her help with this birth."
"Yes dear," said Jonah. He hurried into the house and out flew a young girl pulling on a wrap to ward off the cold.
"Miriam, get some warm clothes for this young thing. She'll need them shortly. And get a blanket for the little one to come. And bring some water!" she shouted at the girl running back to the house. "Now dearie, try to relax. I've been a midwife for years, so you're in good hands."
She yelled out the door to her husband, "Jonah, take this wine and get that man out of here."
Jonah took the wine skein. He grabbed Joseph by the elbow leading him outside.
"Time to leave, my friend. It's best not to stay when she gets like this."
The two of them walked out into the hills surrounding the village. Jonah gave the goat's bladder to Joseph who sprayed a long line of wine into his mouth. He swallowed and wiped his mouth. A scream came from the stable. He turned the bladder up and squeezed it long and hard. He obiously was not a drinking man. After the third hit his eyes teared up.
"Whoa, friend. you might want to take it easy with that wine."
"Easy for you to say. You don't know what I have to contend with."
"Maybe not, but I've had my share of troubles being married these twenty something years. They work themselves out with time."
"How many children do you have?" asked Joseph.
"Four total. Miriam's the youngest. She's the girl helping Ruth with your wife. She's about the same age as your wife come to think of it. She's really young to be with child. If it had been me I would have waited a year or two before..."
"Ha, ha, ha. You think you know it all, don't you? Well, you don't. That's not my child."
"Maybe I'll take that winebag now. You've had a bit too much. I don't think you should talk about your wife that way. Especially to a stranger."
Talk about my wife that way? What way? Know how I found out? She told me."
That's not the best part. Want to know who the father is? Huh? Do you?"
"Well, I think that's between you and your wife..."
"Tell you any way. The father of that baby is God. Yeah, that's right. God."
"Be quiet man," said Jonah looking around. "You blaspheme."
"No, seriously. That's what she told me. We were betrothed and she went to visit her cousin. It was a hurried trip. We never lay together because we wanted to wait the year of our engagement. So we announced our betrothal and the next day without a word she left to visit her cousin Elizabeth who had found herself with child in her seventieth year. Odd that. Then when she came home she told me she was also with child and that it was the Lord's child in her womb. The angel Gabriel told her that. Well, I couldn't divorce her. She'd have been stoned. The night she told me I had a dream that she was having a baby in a stable , just like now."
"That's not all. We had visiters after his birth. Yes, it was a boy these men came to see. They all said they had come to worship the new born king, the messiah. The child being born now was to be the messiah. That dream was too real not to be heeded. So I haven't divorced her. We had to travel a long way to pay taxes. She was heavy with child but we had to come. And now, thanks to you, she lies in a stable giving birth. Just like the dream. And...and.."
"Here. You do need this wine. Have another drink. I'll go check on your wife."
He hurried to the barn and was met by the cries of the newborn breathing his first. Jonah looked at the child. There was a glow about him that brought a smile to Jonah's face. He turned to hurry back to Joseph. On his way out he bumped into ragged shepherds.
"We've come to see the child born this night. We saw angels in heaven above our field. The heavens were filled with their voices in glorious song. It was they who told us of the child. We rushed here to see and there he is just as they said, wrapped in swaddling clothes."
Jonah had no liking of shepherds. They were dirty and shiftless, smelling of sheep, but he smiled at them, bidding them pass to glimpse the newborn. As he left, they all fell to their knees in worship. Odd, he thought.
"Joseph! Come, see your child. A beautiful boy."
"Are there shepherds from the hills in the stable?" he asked with fear in his eyes.
"Why, yes. How did you know?"
"My dream. Want to know more?"
"Oh yes. When we get to the stable there will be a star standing over it and three finely dressed men on camels will be dismounting. Their slaves will be untying boxes with rich gifts that they will lay at the feet of the child in swaddling clothes. Gold, frankencense and myrrh. They will say they are three kings from the orient who have traveled far to see the newborn king who will change the world."
"That's the wine talking. He is a beautiful child, though. Your son. No matter if you choose to remain married to the maid, if you love her, and you must, you will love this child. Come with me. Take a look."
"Yes, alright," said Joseph rising unsteadily.
They rounded the corner and in front of them three finely dressed men were dismounting from camels. Joseph and Jonah looked up and there above the stable was the brightest star they had ever seen shining its light directly onto the stable. They looked at each other in disbelief.
The newly arrived visitors were entering the barn bearing boxes before them. The animals in the stalls quietly looked up at the strangers entering then returned their gaze to the child who smiled at them.
The first man knelt before the child laying the gift of gold at his feet. As he stepped back the second repeated the act as did the third in his turn. They bowed their heads and gave thanks. The child looked upon them all and raised his tiny hand then smiled at each one. They backed out of the stable bowing in the the babe's direction. As they stood by their camels they argued for a short while about which direction to take home. They finally decided to go in the opposite direction from their approach. Joseph and Jonah watched in silence as the three disappeared over the hill.
The shepherds backed out bowing just as the previous three kings. They excitedly thanked the two men as they made there way back into the hills followed by the tinkling bells worn by the sheep following along behind them.
It was Joseph's turn to see the child born that night. Mary looked up as he knelt by the manger. She smiled at Joseph. Then she offered the boy to him. Joseph hesitated. The child smiled holding out his arms toward him. Slowly Joseph took the baby into his arms. The baby made burbling noises through his smile. He contiued to look upon his earthly father until Joseph smiled and kissed him gently. The little bundle kicked with glee.
"You told me the truth, Mary. I know it now that I have seen and held our child. God has blessed us and the world."
There was a momentary blackout. Then I was here once again in front of the keyboard along with an empty cup of coffee and... and... my shoe. In my shoe. There's sand. Lots of it. Sand in my shoe? Where did that come from?
"Schmuck!" It was a voice from nowhere. It sounded familiar though.