Christmas Spirits

By John Clise

He was looking out the window at a raven sitting on a cross looking at a weeping angel marking a grave in a cemetery.

The old man with a whiskey glass in his hand was sitting in an old orange chair he’d gotten from a second hand store years ago. He took in all that his narrow view from the window would allow.

Nearly breathless from years of smoking, drinking, and running just one step ahead of the devil took its toll. He’d quit smoking a few years ago to ease his breathing. Every step now, though, was like winning an Olympic gold medal.

His unshaven face was a testament to shaky hands he could no longer control. He did shave when he could. Mostly though he depended on the working girl downstairs to give him a shave when she had time. This was one of her busy times of the year. Christmas brings the lonely out in people. They seek to ease their pain even if only for a few minutes with a stranger in the backseat of car behind the corner bodega.

The old man just sat silently watching the outside, contemplating the memories he had of the past, and decisions he made on the way to where he was now. He didn’t really have regrets. You can’t regret what you can’t change he always thought. Perhaps it was just a justification to make those decisions easier to live with.

Sipping whiskey from a bottle labeled 1968 out of a Garfield cup he smiled as he scratched under his chin feeling the roughness of the whiskers. He was thinking about his traditional Christmas feast he’d be having later. SPAM on toast with spearmint jelly from one those little gift set jars.

He bought one of those gift sets each holiday giving the jams and other items to friends and strangers save the jelly and and a roll of summer sausage. He mailed the summer sausage to someone he’d known in another life. It was to let her know her brother was still alive, and to annoy her because she hated summer sausage. He’d long ago let her go, and her delusional ivory tower.

The raven brought his attention back to the cemetery and the weeping angel with a short, low pitched caw. People with flowers seemed to be in emotional distress. He hadn’t seen anyone in the cemetery except caretakers in 10 years. That’s about the amount of time the raven had been hanging around.

He wondered if strangers would come to his final resting place years after his passing with such an emotional grieving. It seemed odd people would do that, but perhaps the person resting there just disappeared without reason only to be discovered now by loving family members.

Admittedly though the old man didn’t disappear from family and friends without cause; he merely faded away from them. There were no regrets. He harbored no thoughts of ill will. He wasn’t angry at or with anyone.

The whiskey was working. It went down smoothly. He’d been holding on to the bottle for 50 years waiting for a special occasion. The raven’s caw woke him early this morning, and it seemed like the day to enjoy the long held bottle had arrived.

He kept the raven in bird seed, grapes, and bread crumbs over the winter months. The raven kept him company. On rainy days the big black bird would often take shelter in the window under a blue umbrella the old man had fashioned as a birdhouse.

The old man opened the window slightly to allow the radio to waft out the window in hopes of bringing some sort of comfort to the mourning souls gathered across at the cemetery.

Blue Skies written by Irving Berlin though he wasn’t sure who was responsible for this version. It flowed through the window with gentle solace.

He stared at a photo framed on the wall with yellowing paper and fading images from long ago. His parents on their wedding day so long ago. It was the happiest day of their lives they told him until his birth. He became their happiest day after that.

Cigarette smoke drifted through his window from people smoking on the street. He enjoyed the first few whiffs, as he had missed smoking himself. He enjoyed being able to breathe better than he imagined he would death.

Tired he made the trip, aided by his cane, of a few steps to the matching orange couch he’d gotten with the chair. Truth is the chair cost him $10. The couch was thrown in for free to get rid of due to its worn condition.

The old man lay there covered in a green crocheted two tone afghan blanket holding a prayer cloth in his left hand slowly drifting off to sleep with thoughts still swirling in his now buzzing head. The buzz made going to sleep much easier, and the thoughts so much less harsh. The prayer cloth was a gift from a concerned friend.

His sleep brought peace. Sweet dreams of memories of childhood. Sled riding. Christmas mornings. Wonderous days of young love. First jobs. Family. Friends. He was fishing on the White River in Missouri. He smiled as the smell of his mother’s biscuits filled his senses once again. The skies were as blue as he’d ever seen them, and the sun was bright yellow as it warmed his face.

He woke to the raven standing guard out the window.

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