A Christmas Answer
Jess Mercer
( 2008 by the author)

  The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at...

Al looked up at the glowing stained glass window over the doors of the large church, wondering if he would find acceptance. Bravely taking a step forward, he climbed the few granite steps, pushed open the swinging secondary door, and entered the narthex.

An usher looked at him, then smiled, handed him an order of service , and said, "Welcome and a Merry Christmas to you." As he opened the door to the nave and started to lead Al to a seat. Al stopped him by touching him on the arm. "I'll sit here," he said, indicating the last pew. The usher smiled and retreated to his post in the narthex once more.

The church began to fill rapidly. Al found himself pressed into the far corner of the pew. 'No matter,' he thought, I'll attract less attention here.

The music started; Al glanced at the order of service the usher had handed him, delighted to see it would be comprised of mostly familiar carols played on a variety of instruments. Just now the organ pealed forth. Next would be organ and harp - oh how he loved listening to a harp, then handbells. He leaned back and closed his eyes letting the music flow into his lonely soul.

When silence, broken by the slight rustling of the movement of people, entered his consciousness, he opened his eyes only to see total darkness. Then his attention was attracted by the light of a single candle being carried by the robed pastor as he read the opening passages for the mass. He watched fascinated as more candles in the chancel and altar area were lighted.

Suddenly the organ burst forth at full volume, everyone rising to sing the processional hymn. Almost before he could comprehend the meaning of the pageantry and words, he followed to the chancel rail and knelt for the Holy Communion. He made the sign of the cross and returned to his seat. The blessing, then everyone singing Joy to the World and it was over.

As he left, he was greeted by several and, lastly, the vicar and pastor. He clutched his thin jacket tightly, for it had grown colder, and shuffled off toward his tiny efficiency flat. With the final hymn of the mass, his Christmas was over, for he had no one. His only prayer had been that he would find a job soon. His savings were dwindling faster than he liked, though he lived frugally.

"Spare a dollar for a guy out of work at Christmas?" The voice broke into his consciousness.

Spare a dollar? How could he when he had so little himself. He looked at the supplicant and started to refuse, but the words of the pastor's homily came to mind. "You're hungry and cold?" He asked.

The figure nodded. "Shelter's full and I've got nowhere to go." He shook his head sadly. "Time was when Christmas was great, but that's gone now. Be better if I were gone, too."

Al touched the man on his arm. "You can't think that kind of thoughts on Christmas, man. I've not got much, but if you want to get out of the cold and share what little I've got for Christmas dinner, then come along."

They walked side by side in silence for a few blocks, then Al turned onto the walk to an old Victorian house, long since turned into flats. They climbed the stair to the third floor; Al unlocked the door of his efficiency and waved the man in.

"Make yourself comfortable while I start the coffee," Al said.

"Could I wash up a bit?"

"Sure, bath is through that door," Al replied, pointing.

When his guest returned, Al indicated a chair at the small table as he set cups of coffee for both of them on the table, along with a plate holding a few decorated Christmas cookies he had salvaged from a little party at which he had been hired to help the caterer clean up.

"I guess we should know each other's names. I'm Al," he said, holding out his hand. "You look kind of familiar, but I can't place you."

"So I should, Al. I wasn't certain it was you. I mean you've always done so well in life."

Al shook his head slowly. "I guess all things come to an end sooner or later. But who are you?"

"Remember when we managed to set fire to our old treehouse and got our butts warmed?"

"Teddy? Is that really you?"

Ted nodded. "It's me. To be correct, I should say it is I."

Al grinned. "Damn! You always got A+'s in English."

"Yeah, and darn near flunked math. I would have if it hadn't been for you."

"It's good to see you, my friend," Al said, hugging his childhood companion, "but why are you here like this? I thought you were a professor or something big."

"I was. Had a great job and a beautiful wife. Trouble was, she wasn't who I wanted to love. I tried, but I just couldn't resist my graduate assistant. The wife got suspicious somehow, hired a private eye to get evidence, and took me for everything. The university cancelled my contract as soon as it all hit the papers. Without a recommendation from them, there's no way I can get another teaching position, especially with the way schools are cutting back. So here I am, broke and homeless."

"I'm a victim of the cut backs, too. With the market practically dead, a monetary advisor has little advice to sell. I did manage to save a fair amount, but it seems to disappear at an alarming rate these days.

"Your being here makes it seem like Christmas, Ted. I've only got one bed, but we slept together plenty of times when we were kids. I don't guess it will be too awkward for you, will it?"

"Hardly, buddy. If we put aside all those fears we had as kids, I think we'll find we're more alike than ever." Ted stood and pulled Al to his feet then hugged him tightly. "Merry Christmas. I've nothing to give you but my love."

"Nor have I, but I love you, Ted, and now I realize that I always have. I prayed that I wouldn't have to spend Christmas alone and my prayer got answered. Stay and we'll make our way into the New Year and, hopefully, a better life once more."

Ted's smile was broad. "If we're together, I know we will."

He kissed Al. "Life is brighter now. God bless, my love."


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Posted: 12/19/08