Christmas Eve. A warm, silent snow falls in the darkness of a small prairie town. A town centered with one strip mall, two barbers and three bars surrounded by houses and beyond that, farmland.
At this hour, sixty-two year old Henry, single father and the town’s longest serving barber is closing. He takes off his smock, places it neatly on a worn brass door hanger beside his chair. As it happens each and every Christmas Eve, he turns towards the front and expects Madeline to be at the till counting money. It’s been ten Christmas’s and he still yearns for her embrace, flowery perfume, raspy voice, sharp wit, infectious laugh. A dull throb perches on his shoulders as he dresses for the cold. He reaches for the back door then remembers the gift. The one he brought last spring when prices on winter items were cheap. It’d been wrapped for months with wrapping he found on sale in July. Habits he’d learned from once having to count each penny and having little during the great depression. In the back room, he grunts as he moves a chair and lifts a loose floorboard. His secret hiding spot. A last resort to hide gifts from his far-too-curious son. Then it was out the door.
At a street lamp at the furthest reaches from town center Henry’s son, ten-year-old Wayne waits. He’d just walked the seven blocks from his sitters, in anticipation of his dad’s getting home and allowing the opening of at least one gift as was Christmas Eve tradition. Wayne stands at the streetlamp beside his house staring up into the kaleidoscope created by the snow falling through the light above him. He loved doing this and only when conditions were perfect: at night, the temperature just below freezing, low clouds, no wind, and the snow has to be falling in large flakes. And always with some trepidation: he was sure his friends would think he was crazy. But these moments made him feel good, warm.
Sitting in the idling car Henry’s mind wanders…
Madeline gets into the car. “We’re late! Let’s go, you know Wayne will be
waiting. What’s wrong?”
“I forgot to get the gift. Damn it!”
“Is it in the hiding spot?”
“No, I forgot to buy it.”
“I reminded you many times, not on me.”
“What will we get him?”
Madeline pulls out a small wrapped gift. “Always prepared.”
“Oh thanks. Saved my skin again. Did you mean to give him that?”
“Bought it for last year, remember, you misplaced the gift, but found it last second?”
A car horn wakes him. As he drives through the intersection he looks over to the empty seat and smiles.
Henry steers the car through the maze of the new subdivision. His shoulders stop throbbing and he smiles again to see Wayne under the light, jumping up and down.