Contemporary Fiction Christmas

A match struck in the dark; a moment glow:

A band played on the sidewalk, in winter dusk, in the fading light. Post-rock; experimental forays into the world of music, of art-rock, rock made classical, beautiful. The drums spoke the rhythms of the world, the fading world, the low-hanging, dark clouds over everybody; the cold breaths, sighs of mist; the snow all around; the crystals in the trees; the freezing cold of the sidewalk beneath one’s feet, felt even through one’s boots. The volume not-so loud, only enough to serve as a kind of accompaniment to the death of day and the wake of night. The call of returning birds, the chilling wind blowing by, the cars driving down the road, returning home.

A pair of girls, one taller, one shorter, came out of the front door of the one of the houses giggling, both their laughter buried under the excitement tying them together, huddled together in each other’s delight, as they rushed down the streets, their footsteps careful, still remembering their mother’s words, about how slippery the sidewalks must be, but also careful not to let it dampen their thrill, the buzz in their chests, as they passed the band by and crossed the road and entered the park to sprint over to the store they’ve wanted to go to since the beginning of winter: a place they had always referred to in hushes and whispers and quiet little giggles to each other, with knowing glances, fingers to each other’s lips, the way sisters communicated—a store far beyond our view. We don’t go any further. Watching them cross the street, we see them pass by the tree by the entrance to the park, before they go on out of sight. But they paid the tree no mind.

Back by the side of the street, the band played on, accentuating the coming winter night.

A middle-aged woman passed the girls by. Short and timid, she held a guarded look, her eyes sharp, in them a wariness, as she looked left and right and then crossed the street the girls just crossed, striding down the sidewalk and stopping at her door, pulling the key out and, looking left and right one more time, getting inside. Through her window, we see her settle down in the living as a relaxed smile crosses her lips. She was calming down, was easing up, taking off her coat and scarf and letting down her hair and changing into a warm, comfortable sweater and sitting down on the armchair, eased back, picking up the book beside her on the side table and cracking it open, flipping over to a page, taking a deep breath, closing her eyes, her facial muscles relaxing, before flipping back a couple of pages, rereading a favorite part, marked, giggling in either delight and comic relief before finally going back and continuing from where she’d left off.

Outside, the streetlights come on, illuminating the neighborhood, the sun now set, as a small audience gathered around the band and listened, intently, quiet, savoring the moment as the world flipped into night. The girls come back, holding new rollerblades, vinyl and shiny, the glee apparent even among the younger kids across the street, the boy and girl gazing out the window, eyes tracking the girls, their chins on their arms, arms on the windowsill, their sighs turning into mist on the glass.

Meanwhile, a man walked up to the park entrance and spotted the tree and stopped, pulling off his hat, to gaze at it. A minute later, a woman, who seemed foreign to her surroundings, stopped as well, beside the man, and stood gazing at the branches. The world had changed; and in the faded light, the gentle glow of the streetlights and lamps along the park, the tree transformed into a kind of beauty—the trunk of the tree now glittering white, as though peppered with a million diamonds, and the branches, naked with the advent of winter, now shimmered red and blue and green and gold, just like the strings of light all around, reflecting them, changing with them, shifting in the darkness. It was a Christmas tree, somehow.

Like a match struck in the dark; its magic emotion, how captivating…

The man and woman turn to look at each other and smiled. They giggled, then looked up at the tree again. Silence settled over them like snow, and behind them, people passed on by, without noticing the tree at all. Yet they stood there, and kept on standing there, as if there was nothing else more important than what’s in front of them right then, right there. A moment in time, a glimpse of the beautiful little things available in the world if one took the time to look at them.

In the distance, on the roadside, the band played on, their small audience changing from one moment to the next, never the same people, each one coming and going, appreciating them only for a moment. But here, in the park, the man and woman remained, hour after hour, watching the changing lights, even as the wind blew by and sent chills up their spines, even as time passed them by like the passersby. They kept on watching, even after the holidays lights have gone off, turned out. Now, it was the bare tree, a figure in the dark. And they looked at it, tentatively, like a work of art. Before, finally, talking to one another.

“How long have we been standing here?” the man asked.

“Beats me,” the woman replied.

She giggled, then he giggled; and finally, they both giggled together, recognizing something in each other, feeling some long-old sense of solidarity some way somehow. They talked on, and on, and on. Then, when the Christmas lights somehow came on again, they held each other’s hands and started dancing, one two three four, moving, spinning slowly like Earth and Moon around the Sun, the tree, going around and around, almost forever—

And then the match-light perished, and it was dark again.

August 13, 2021 00:03

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