Friday, December 25 Christmas Day

advent 2009

The Eternity Box

The snow began falling shortly after lunchtime.

Richard had been staring at the computer screen all day, clicking the mouse to move from page to page without really seeing anything at all. The accounts wavered and dissipated like smoke, curling across his screen in a pixilated mélange of numbers and text that he cared absolutely nothing about. He’d been like this ever since Annie was diagnosed, but it was worse now. The air seemed gray and stale, like the paste they used in elementary school. Even sunlight was strange. It seemed tinted with a radioactive yellow color, glinting evil and unrelenting in the corners of his eyes. He didn’t trust the world anymore, and it showed in everything he did.

“It’s snowing!” Carrie Weisman exclaimed, popping her pigtailed head over the aggregate of multicolored post-it notes that wallpapered his cubicle. Carrie’s braces had red and green rubber bands on them (“For the holidays!”), and she beamed at him as though she had just been told that she won the lottery.

“There’s something in your teeth,” Richard said. “Bread, I think.”

Carrie picked at her braces for a moment.

“I’ll find a mirror later,” she said. “Did you hear me? Snow!”

Richard sighed.

“Carrie, I’m working,” he said, shaking his head.

“Come see!” she said. “Just for a minute!”

She grabbed his hand and led him to the window.

He gasped.

“See what I said? Snow!”

But it wasn’t just any snow.

It was a real, honest-to-God blizzard, with snow tumbling down in clumps and piling up in drifts deep enough to bury a man. People outside were scurrying about bent over, collars turned up like ersatz clerics. Some muttered unintelligibly to themselves, their breath huffing about their heads.

“When did this happen?” Richard said. “It was sunny and 65 degrees just a few hours ago!

“Don’t know!” she said. “I guess it’s a miracle.”

“It snows in winter, you know.”

“Not in Savannah, it doesn’t. Hasn’t been a White Christmas since 1989, and that’s a fact!”

“Well, it’s not Christmas yet!” Richard said. “There’s a few days left.”

She stuck her tongue out at him. It was shockingly pink. He recoiled at it.

“Your tongue!” Richard said.

“Bubblicious! Watermelon flavored!”

Richard had to admit that he was amazed. Not at Carrie’s tongue (although it was a quite unique hue that he had never seen before), but at the sudden and unexpected snowstorm that seemed to just fall on them out of heaven. It gave him an unexpected thrill.

He had to call Annie.

When she answered the phone, Annie’s voice was a mere whisper. Richard frowned when he heard it.

“Are you okay?” he said.

“It’s snowing,” she said. “My God, can you believe it? It’s the first time since ’89!”

Richard could hear her smiling through the telephone. It warmed his heart to hear the pleasure in her soft voice. He grabbed his hat and coat.

“I’m coming home,” he said to Annie. “We’ll make a snowman.”

That night, Richard listened to the soft susurration of Annie’s breathing as he flipped through a few old photo albums. He’d done this with increasing frequency ever since Doc Martensen told them about her diagnosis. Chemotherapy made Annie tired; she slept a lot nowadays. The photo albums allowed him to revisit some of their most favorite times together—all while she drowsed away nearby, safe and warm and still drawing breath.

For her breathing was, to him, the most gentle and relaxing music of all.

He was about to put the last album away when a slip of old newsprint fell out from between the pages. It wafted on unseen currents like a moth, gossamer and aimless, gliding underneath his chair and out of sight.

“Where are you?” he mumbled.

And then he saw it—a faded yellow scrap not much bigger than a couple of postage stamps.

It was a classified advertisement from long ago. He crumpled it and was about to toss it into the trash when one word caught his eye:

Miracle

“What?” he said out loud.

Slowly, he unfolded the tiny rectangle.

It was an advertisement for a curio shop. “Miracle cures and holy relics” was the actual title on the ad. It was a bit odd that Richard hadn’t remembered saving it, but it was, after all, an unspectacular thing. Even the letters had faded. The shop (or “Shoppe,” as the ad said, in a vain attempt to sound cosmopolitan) claimed to have a collection of religious artifacts for sale. There were chain mail gloves allegedly used in the crusades, chalky fragments of the bones of obscure saints, and various sundry crucifixes and icons. But one thing caught his eye.

Fragment of the true cross, it said. Rarity of rarities.

Can’t be true, he thought.

But he smoothed the ad out with his palm, folded it neatly, and slipped it into his pocket.

The snowstorm dumped two feet of precipitation upon Savannah that night, paralyzing the city like a dose of weather-borne curare. Carrie Weisman called a little after 8 AM to tell him that the accounting firm of Yelram and Goorks, Limited, would be closed that day due to inclement weather.

“It’s true. We’re shut down. I rode in early this morning on my horse because my car wouldn’t start and Mr. Yelram said to call everyone else up and tell them not to come in. ‘Most of them won’t have horses, Carrie,’ he said. He’s such a card! Reminds me of my grandpa. Before he died, I mean.”

“Carrie?” Richard said.

“Uh huh?”

“Did I just hear you say you rode in to work on a horse?”

“Well, my car wouldn’t start, and…okay, I admit it. I just wanted to ride Buttercup in the snow. You see it in the movies, but we get so little opportunity to do that sort of thing here. I started out just wondering if I could actually get here by horse, so I saddled up and started riding. And when I got here, I tied up, went inside, and saw poor Mr. Yelram sitting at his desk in an empty office.”

“Well, he does live in the building. And he owns the company,” Richard said.

“He’s really a nice man, Richard. Cut him some slack.”

“Consider it done. Slack has been cut.”

“Enjoy your day off, Richard,” Carrie said. “You and Annie do something fun.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “And thanks for the call.”

Thrilled by the prospect of an unexpected snow day, Richard made his way into the kitchen and threw back the curtains. The yard was submerged in a brilliant white blanket that draped over the fence and across the shrubbery. Richard felt the muscles in his eyes tighten a bit as they adjusted to the glare.

“My God,” he said.

The sky was aquamarine; the morning sun glimmered between the moss-bearded oaks standing guard over Chippewa Square.

He made Annie a breakfast of sliced honeydew melon, pancakes, grits, and bacon and placed it on a tray. The scent of the bacon made his mouth water. He popped a slice into his mouth and felt it crumble against his teeth.

“That’s some good bacon,” he mumbled.

Richard plucked a handful of snow-covered pansies from the window box beside the front door, stuffed them into a small, globe-shaped vase, and filled the vase with water. Tray in hand, he then ascended the staircase to their bedroom. The fourth step creaked, as it always did.

“Richard? Is that you?” Annie said from the bedroom.

He was shocked at how washed-out her voice sounded. It made something clutch in his chest.

He nudged the door open with his forearm.

“Brought you some breakfast,” he said.

Annie smiled at him.

Her hair was long gone; she’d lost it by the second round of CHOP chemotherapy. He could see that fatigue had dulled the sparkle in her eyes. But her smile was still just as radiant as the day they married.

“You didn’t need to do that,” she said.

“Sure I did. Like I always say, ‘never waste an opportunity to serve a beautiful woman breakfast in bed.’ I saw the opportunity here, and I took it.”

“You always say that?”

“I do now.”

They sat together and talked about a multitude of things that made no real difference to either of them—Aunt Cheryl remarrying a younger man at age 64; Sharla, the office temp, who had a mustache like a 14-year-old boy; and how the interminable Golf Club remodeling project was going. It was silly stuff, but Richard knew that it kept her mind off of her illness, and that was important.

Richard munched on a piece of honeydew and popped a chunk of it into Annie’s mouth.

“Did you see Meltin’ John this morning?” he said.

“Not yet.”

Richard pulled back the curtains. Light cascaded in, thunderous and pure.

“Rich, you’re blinding me!”

Annie threw a pillow at him.

“Sorry, sorry. Forgot how bright it was.”

She put on her slippers and stood up. Richard wrapped her bathrobe around her bony shoulders and grabbed her hand to steady her.

“I’m okay. The vertigo’s better,” she said.

“Humor me,” he said. “I don’t want you to fall.”

Richard stood behind her at the window, their breath fogging the glass.

“I don’t see him.”

“He’s over there. By the ‘No Parking’ sign,” Richard pointed. “Red scarf.”

Annie rubbed at the fogged glass and leaned forward to see better, then giggled.

The snowman they had built the previous afternoon had a large black hat and was wearing a gargantuan pair of prop sunglasses.

“Where did we get those things?” she said. “They’re ridiculous!”

“The fair, I think. Won ‘em in the ring toss. Or maybe the Elton John fan club website.”

“Well, hold me closer, tiny dancer,” she said.

“I think that’s my line,” said Richard, tightening his arms around her thin waist.

“Where’s Meltin’s carrot nose?” said Annie.

“I think the squirrels got it.”

“Well, the real Elton’s nose is not that big, anyway. He looks more natural now.”

Richard nuzzled her neck, inhaling her scent. It was strange how he knew her aroma as well as he knew the curve of her hip, or the sound of her voice. It settled him just to be close to her. He felt the world slow down a bit.

“You don’t have to work today?”

Richard laughed.

“Look outside,” he said.

“True that,” she said.

“Why, whatever are you going to do with yourself?” she said in a thick Southern drawl, channeling Scarlett O’Hara.

“I do have to pick a few things up at the store,” he said. “Can you think of anything we need?”

“Light bulbs,” she said. “And dishwasher detergent. I can go with you.”

“I’d love you to, darlin’, but it’s a lot colder today. Twenty-two degrees, in fact,” he said. “Your blood counts are low. It’s just not worth it. I won’t be gone long. We can clean up a little this afternoon, if you like, or do some reading. And tonight, we’ll watch a movie and I’ll make you a candle-lit dinner.”

“Such a romantic,” she said.

“It’s why you married me, isn’t it?”

“Nah, it wasn’t that. You were just so pitiful, like the last puppy dog at the pound. I had to take you home. I felt sorry for you,” she said.

“Well, I’m eternally grateful for your pity.”

He kissed her on the forehead.

She smiled at him, looking up into his eyes.

“Don’t be gone long,” she said. “I’ve got chores for you.”

“Of course you do,” he said.

Richard put on his tan cashmere topcoat and grabbed a plaid scarf from the closet to wrap around his neck. He then slipped his hands into a pair of soft leather gloves and gently placed a chocolate-covered felt fedora on top of his head.

“You look dashing,” Annie said.

“Only to impress you, my dear,” Richard said, tipping his hat.

As he left, he brushed the snow from his shoulders, then closed the door and locked it up tight.

The air was crisp and clean. Richard’s breath swirled about his head. He spied a pack of kids hurling snowballs at each other in the square, their shrill voices somehow muffled by the snow-draped trees. The bronze statue of General Oglethorpe, Georgia’s founder, stared stonily to the south, towards his ancient adversary, the former Spanish colony of Florida.

Richard rubbed his nose, sniffled once, and took the folded rectangle of newsprint out of his pocket.

“Harris Street,” he said. “That’s just a few blocks away.”

Richard’s boots crunched vainly in the snow as they tried to find the hidden sidewalk below. He was truly astonished by how cold it was. His nose felt like an icicle. His ears might as well have fallen off; the flow of blood into them seemed to have ceased entirely, and they were anesthetized as though someone had injected them with lidocaine.

“Where is this place?” he murmured, the words tumbling through his frozen lips.

And then he saw the sign.

The sign was wrought iron, with gold inlaid letters, and was hanging from a hook that had been draped over a spike-tipped iron fence. Snow had partly covered it, but the gleam of gold lettering had caught the very edge of Richard’s eye as the sun climbed higher into the clear blue morning sky.

Curio Shoppe,” it said.

The door to the Shoppe was fashioned of a thick, dark wood; a grimy bevel-edged oval window had been cut into its center. The glass in the window was dark, as though it had been fashioned from smoky quartz. As Richard approached, the window seemed to become darker, more opaque. Richard cupped his hands around it and tried to peer inside, but his breath simply fogged the already obtuse glass into complete oblivion.

“You’ll never see in there,” a voice behind him said.

Startled, Richard jumped, slipping on the snow before catching himself on the iron fence.

A tiny white-bearded man, his shoulders bent forward by age and cruel gravity, stood behind him with an armload of firewood. He was dressed in corduroy pants, a plaid shirt, and a plain-looking brown coat that hung almost to his knees.

“Why not? Some sort of religious relic? A mirror into the future?”

The man chuckled and shook his head.

“Nah. I painted over the inside of it to keep the snoopers out.”

Richard’s cheeks flushed crimson.

“You mean snoopers like me?” he said.

“Maybe,” the old man said. “All depends on whether you’re buyin’ or just lookin’.”

The old man dumped his firewood onto the ground and pulled out a battered key ring that looked like it belonged in a Wild West jail. He used his thumb and his index finger to pluck one long, thin skeleton key from the jangling bunch on the ring and plunged the key into the keyhole on the door.

He turned the key, and a deadbolt lock slid back with a solid clack!

The Curio Shoppe door creaked open, slowly and deliberately. A blast of warm air poured out, as though it had been trapped inside under pressure. Richard could not help but think of Howard Carter opening the sealed chamber of King Tut’s tomb, and he smiled.

There were relics there, too, he thought.

The place smelled musty and stale, like old books and cat urine. There was only a single dim light bulb dangling from a scrawny cord to illuminate the whole room. As a result, tattered shadows flickered in the periphery of Richard’s vision like tiny ghosts.

The old man chucked an arm-sized log into his fireplace. A swirl of crimson sparks ascended into the chimney and disappeared.

“Name’s Gabriel,” the old man said. “I’m the owner here.”

He proffered a gnarled hand, and Richard shook it.

“I’m Richard,” Richard said. “Saw your ad.”

The room seemed as narrow as a coffin. A jumble of dark wooden shelves, dusty and sagging, lined the wall behind the marble countertop. The shelves were covered with various and sundry items—a number of ancient leather-bound books, a couple of human skulls, mounted collections of Roman coins, a rusty broadsword, and a couple of cracked porcelain bowls, among other things. A thin layer of dust had spread over everything, like a shroud.

Gabriel stepped behind the counter and brushed a hank of gray hair from his eyes. He removed a pair of half-rimmed spectacles from an inside pocket of his coat, rubbed the lenses with the edge of his shirt, and perched them on the end of his twisted nose.

Richard thought that Gabriel’s nose looked somewhat like the Matterhorn turned on its side.

“Can I see the ad?” Gabriel said.

Richard handed him the scrap of newsprint.

Gabriel’s bushy white eyebrows tented up in surprise. His eyes, ice blue, lit up. A thin smile creased his face.

“This is an old ad,” said Gabriel. “Really old.

“How old?”

“Twenty years or more.”

“How do you know that?”

Gabriel grinned. His teeth were a jumble of enamel.

“It’s the only ad I ever ran,” he said. “That’s how I know. Haven’t seen it in years.”

“Well do you still have some of that stuff you mentioned in the ad?” Richard said.

“A lot of it. Well, some of it, anyway,” Gabriel said. “A lot of it is symbolic stuff, you know? Religious icons, historical artifacts—they connect us with the past and give us hope for the future. This, for instance…”

Gabriel ducked behind the counter. Richard could hear him rummaging around beneath it.

“Here ‘tis,” he said.

Gabriel hoisted a large, flaking chunk of sandstone onto the countertop with a hollow thunk!

Richard’s eyebrows arched.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Piece of the Wailing Wall. In Jerusalem,” Gabriel said.

“How’d you get that?”

Gabriel shrugged.

“Not sure. Bought it from somebody. I’ve been using it as a doorstop,” he said. “But people kept hitting it with the door.”

“Not what I’m looking for,” Richard said.

“How about the bone of a saint? I’ve got a couple of St. Francis of Assisi’s metacarpals, and I may even have one of St. Paul’s molars left…”

Richard shook his head.

“Not interested.”

Gabriel was twisting the white strands of his beard between his fingers.

“What exactly are you looking for?’ he said.

“This is going to seem stupid,” Richard said.

“Try me,” said Gabriel.

“Your ad said you had a piece of the true cross…”

Gabriel rolled his eyes to the ceiling and shook his head.

“Oh,” he said. “That.”

“Well, yes. It caught my eye. In the ad, I mean.”

“I really can’t sell you that,” Gabriel said. “That’s just a gimmick to get people to come in.”

“You mean you don’t have it?” said Richard.

“Of course I have it,” said Gabriel, wiping his glasses with his shirttail. “It would be a bit foolhardy to lie about a big-time religious icon like that, don’t you think? I might be struck blind, or cursed with a crop of oozing sores or something. It’s just that I can’t really sell it. I mean, it’s priceless. No one could really afford to buy it, after all…”

“Can I just see it?” Richard said.

Gabriel drummed his fingertips on the table. He stared up at the ceiling, then leaned forward on the cool countertop.

“Why do you want to see it?” Gabriel asked.

“It’s just…”

Richard paused and wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.

“My wife is ill. I love her. If she had a miracle, somehow, she might not…you know, she might not…”

Richard felt a lump in his throat the size of Texas.

“I just thought if she could touch it she might be healed,” he said.

“Touching it is impossible,” Gabriel said. “It’s housed in a sealed Xenon case to prevent oxidation. Unsealing it is something I simply cannot do. It would turn to dust in a heartbeat. And it’s stored off-site, anyway. Too risky to keep it here.”

“But Annie…she’s so sick…”

Gabriel looked at the floor. Then he looked at the ceiling and closed his eyes.

At that instant, the light bulb flickered and sputtered out.

“Wait here,” Gabriel said. “I’ll be right back.”

Richard waited in the dark for a few minutes, but it might as well have been an hour. He could taste the moist, woolen hint of mildew in the air. A cool draft slithered across his ankles, like an invisible snake. There were some odd scrabbling noises someplace above his head (rats?), and Richard could hear the muffled sounds of Gabriel moving things about in the tiny shop’s back storage room.

Then the light flickered on again, illuminating the room once more.

Gabriel had materialized behind the countertop, holding a wooden box tightly between his hands.

The shop seemed brighter, somehow. Richard figured it was just the contrast with the darkness that had enveloped him minutes earlier, but the renewed incandescence of the single bulb nearly blinded him. Richard could not even look at it.

“Come here,” Gabriel said.

Richard leaned across the countertop.

Gabriel placed the box on the counter. It was oblong, tightly-grained, and not much larger than Richard’s outstretched palm. It was unornamented and plain, without a single bit of engraving upon it. The edges were round, as though they had been sanded, and its smooth surface was completely free of blemish or imperfection. The bronze latch and tiny bronze hinges were all tarnished with age.

“This box contains a special gift,” Gabriel said. “It’s unique.”

He opened it.

“There’s nothing in it,” Richard said.

“Look again,” Gabriel said.

At first, Richard thought the box was empty. But then, as his eyes adjusted, he could see an impenetrable darkness. Set into that darkness were myriad sparkling shards of diamond, glittering like tiny stars in a midnight sky.

“What is this?” Richard said.

“It’s an Eternity Box. If you stare into it, you can see forever. It shows the eternal nature of love as a reflection of God’s unconditional love for us. I don’t know exactly how old it is, but it’s ancient.”

Richard stared at the box a moment longer.

“It’s beautiful,” he said.

“Do you want it?” Gabriel said.

“I can’t afford this,” Richard said.

“You don’t understand. I’m giving it to you,” said Gabriel. “for your wife.”

“But how can…I mean, you can’t…” stammered Richard.

Gabriel shrugged.

“Sure I can. It’s my store,” he said.

Richard stared at the box again, running his fingertips over its impossibly silky surface.

“It’s okay?” said Richard.

“It’s okay,” said Gabriel. “My gift.”

And he winked.

Richard unlocked the door and hung his hat and coat up on the hooks by the door. He had clutched the Eternity Box in both hands the entire walk home, afraid it would somehow tumble from his grasp and be lost forever. The box was warm; it pulsated slowly against his chest, as though it were alive.

“Annie?” he called as he latched the door.

There was no answer.

A bolt of sheer panic shot through him. He hit the staircase at full speed, sprinting like he had years ago when he ran track in high school.

His thoughts raced, a soundtrack of rapid-fire accusation pounding in his brain.

You fool! Spending time with that old man while your wife was here alone and now something’s happened and she’s gone! And you weren’t here!

He opened the door to the bedroom and saw Annie sitting at the window in her favorite chair, her iPod headphones on. She was reading Gone With the Wind again, its dog-eared and tattered pages so vicariously familiar to him now because Annie loved it so very much. She’d been reading it again during chemotherapy. She said it helped take her mind off of her own troubles to read about someone who was far worse off than she.

Richard touched her shoulder.

“Lord, Richard, you startled me!” she said, pulling the headphones from her ears. “Another lamp blew out. Did you get the light bulbs?”

He shook his head.

“I never made it to the store,” he said. “I got sidetracked.”

The tears came suddenly and unexpectedly, stinging his eyes just when he least expected it. He tried to wipe them away but more followed, welling up inside him like a summer cloudburst. He tried to speak, but all he could manage was a stifled sob.

“Richard?” Annie said. “Are you okay?”

He dropped to his knees beside her and wrapped his arms around her legs, dropping his head into her lap. At the first touch, he felt his despair begin to abate, the black cloud of oblivion dissipating like smoke.

Annie placed her book on a table and ran her fingers through his hair.

“When you didn’t answer, I thought…” Richard said.

“I’m here,” she said. “I’m fine.”

He looked up at her.

The sunlight illuminated her face. She was smiling down at him, her hazel eyes catching the sunbeams like twin jewels.

“You’re really pitiful, you know that?” she said, shaking her head.

“Sorry,” he said, sitting up on his knees.

“It’s okay,” she said. “It’s part of why I love you.”

“What’s the other part?” Richard said.

“You bring me things,” she said. “And I can get you to do chores for me.”

“Such is the substance of true love,” he said.

He was still clutching the Eternity Box in his right hand. He felt its warmth burning into his palm like an ember.

“What’s that?”

“A gift.”

He held it out to her.

“Remember, I bring you things. I’ll do a few chores later.”

Annie’s delicate, pale fingers took the box from him.

“It’s warm,” she said.

She opened the lid of the box and stared inside.

Her eyes seemed to change color as she stared, pupils dilating in wonder.

“This…this is beautiful,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. What is it called?”

“An Eternity Box.”

“I don’t understand,” she said. “What made you get this?”

“I found it at a place called the Curio Shoppe a couple of blocks from here.”

“But why did you buy it?”

“I didn’t buy it. It was a gift from the shopkeeper. It represents the eternal nature of God’s love for us. It’s a symbol of love as the centerpiece of our faith.”

Annie stared deeply into the box. Tears began to well up into her eyes.

“I wanted you to have it. I thought it might give you…hope. Or something. Perhaps it could help heal you a little bit,” Richard said.

Annie closed the box.

“You don’t like it?” Richard said.

“It’s lovely,” Annie said. “It really, truly is.”

“Then why are you crying?”

She placed the Eternity Box on the table, on top of her novel, and took his hands in her own.

“You dear, sweet man,” she said. “I already have what is in that box.”

“You what?”

“Richard, I know love is eternal. I know that God’s love for me exceeds the limitations that this body has set for it. I know I’m going to live forever no matter how the chemotherapy turns out. That’s why I’ve not been frightened at all through all of this. The box is beautiful, but I don’t need it to remind me of the eternal nature of love.”

“How are you so sure of these things?” Richard said. “I’ve always been a good Christian, but the very foundations of my faith have been challenged by your illness. I’ve been angry at God for letting you go through this. It’s not fair.”

Annie smiled at him once again—radiant, her eyes changing from green to blue and then to gray as her teeth gleamed and the sunlight trickled across her porcelain face.

“Richard, it’s you. You are my Eternity Box. I look at you and my belief in love is rejuvenated, my faith in eternal life restored. God created love. And love, unseen and invisible, permeates everything in my world through you. It’s with me in every breath. It’s with me when I hear you speak, when I see you walk in the door, and when I feel the touch of your hand.”

She paused for a second, glanced out of the window, then looked back down at him.

“If God created love, and love is eternal, then we are eternal, Richard. That’s what you have given me.”

The two of them were silent for a few moments.

“It’s snowing again,” Annie said, finally. “Looks like we’ll have a White Christmas for certain this year.”

“I love you, Annie,” said Richard.

“I love you, too,” Annie said. “And I’d sell my hair to buy you a watch fob if I had any hair left.”

“Well, I’d sell my pocket watch to buy you some combs for your hair if you had any hair left. Or if I had a pocket watch.”

“Such is the substance of true love,” she said.

Carrie Weisman called the next morning and said that Yelram and Goorks would be closed throughout the rest of the holidays.

“Merry Christmas!” she said.

When he returned after the holidays, Richard gave Carrie a case of Pink Watermelon Bubblicious as well as a riding cloak to keep her warm when she rode her horse to work.

A few weeks later, Richard decided to go by the Curio Shoppe and thank Gabriel once again for giving him the Eternity Box.

Perhaps I’ll take the old man to lunch, he thought.

But when he got to the place on Harris Street where the Curio Shoppe had been, there was nothing there. The little place was boarded up and dark. It looked like no one had been there for years.

“That’s so odd,” Richard said, shaking his head.

On the way back home, Richard was lost in thought striding past the Oglethorpe statue in Chippewa Square when he collided with an elderly white-bearded gentleman in a brown, knee-length coat. The man was carrying a beat-up handmade sign that said, “God is alive and well and living in your heart.”

“Excuse me,” Richard said. And then he glanced at the old man.

I’d know that Matterhorn nose anywhere, he thought.

“Gabriel?” Richard said. “Is that you? What happened to the Curio Shoppe?”

The old man looked at him and shook his head.

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, mister,” he said, hoisting the sign back onto his shoulder.

And then he winked.

“God bless,” the old man said.

Richard just stood there, dumbfounded, as the man walked across the Square and vanished, melting into the crowds of tourists and shoppers like a spirit.

Or an angel.

– Mark E. Murphy
Christmas, 2009

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