The Perfect Christmas by Kristen James First Published by Skive Quarterly
Could this be a retirement-age crisis? Mark mused as he strolled down Sixtieth Avenue in the biting cold. Funny, he never imagined himself having one, but then, who does? He’d made it to sixty without any major breakdowns, and thus far had attributed that to his stoic prejudice against marriage. Only now did he question that.
A little late, he’d decided. But with Christmas bearing down on houses and shops with glaring lights, giant snow-filled balloons, and overly extravagant lawn figurines, he suddenly wished he could have a quiet evening celebration with someone. Not a wife. Not a big family. So he wasn’t sure what he wanted, and that was the crisis part.
Rushing around him, everyone else apparently had plenty of shopping to do. That he didn’t wish for. He’d enjoyed his time alone over the years when others were forced to migrate to family gatherings for long dinners.
He turned the corner and crossed the street to his office building. Though it was dark, he wasn’t done for the day. He’d taken the walk for a diversion, to waken himself and refresh his mind for another session. By putting in a few extra hours today, he would be done and could have an extended weekend to relax.
The itch for company? He used to find a companion here and there. They’d date for a few months – sometimes almost a year.
He saw the homeless woman standing outside his building and paused, ceasing his conversation with himself as well. She wasn’t blocking the entrance and he could enter without speaking to her. However, since she’d first appeared a week ago, he felt a need to see her face, hear her voice. Silly. Holiday hoo-ha catching up to him.
He passed inside and took the elevator up, wondering all the while what the woman looked like. She’d been facing the other way, dressed in a shabby, faded blue coat and black ski cap. His colleagues wanted her gone, taken care of, taken somewhere else. He’d contemplated giving her money for a hotel, at least for the holiday, but where would that lead? She’d simply be back on the street in four days.
He stepped out of the elevator and walked to his office, now thinking of the proposal sitting on his desk. There were a few letters to write, a phone call to make, and some loose ends he’d been pushing back.
That woman did look a bit like his sister. Sitting at his desk, he scanned papers with his eyes but couldn’t make his brain comprehend. He’d searched for his sister on and off all through his life. If alive, she’d be his only relative, and that wasn’t something he needed or wanted. But, maybe, it would be nice to know how her life turned out.
Sighing loudly, he threw up his hands in surrender. His mind must be aging as well as his body. Well, he supposed it wouldn’t ruin anything if he came in the next day to finish up. And what were his plans for the next day? For the weekend? For Christmas?
He took his trip in reverse, and somewhere between floor fifteen and one, he determined to give the homeless woman something. An old, solitary man like him had nothing to lose. Only everything to give. Maybe he should donate more; give his time, perhaps and do something besides ignore the imminent end to his existence.
Outside, the woman was still turned the other way, toward the busy street corner, holding her sign. Yes, very much like his sister, he thought with each step closer.
A car slowed, but only to let out a shopper. She tried for a smile, but the classy businesswoman didn’t even look. People stared right through her. They threw glares behind her, actually, and she realized another beggar must be edging in on her corner. She turned, not sure she could get him to leave. No, she would probably have to leave.
A man in an expensive coat and neat, gray hair stood lifeless ten feet away from her. He stared right at her, but his lined face wasn’t repulsed. Instead, tears streamed down both cheeks.
“Susan! My word, Susan!”
He rushed and embraced her before she could really see him. Who knew her? That voice . . . she slowly comprehended, but didn’t believe.
“Susan? You know your own brother, don’t you?”
“Mark? Can it be?” She felt weak and dizzy, but light. Could that be happiness? She wasn’t sure she remembered anymore. “Mark?”
“Yes, it’s your brother Mark. This is wonderful – you’re here for Christmas! Let’s go celebrate.”