Long ago and far away...
Aboard the Streetcar of Desire
Christmas was coming like an oncoming express train...and he felt he was helplessly tied to the railway tracks, or the tracks of the streetcar he was riding home.
He remembered his childhood when he couldn't wait for Christmas and his school holiday; the time endlessly dragged. Now with nothing to look forward to, Yuletide rapidly approached and rapidly finished; the advertising of Christmas sooner and sooner each year didn't help either. You became used to the idea that Christmas was coming, and coming and...coming...then it was over and there were only the after Christmas sales.
In his adulthood there was no Christmas leave for him as his more senior workmates had Christmas or the summer for their time off. He had taken his yearly holiday in his favourite season, the colourful autumn.
His summer ended when his ladylove dumped him. She informed him that a lowly civil servant like himself could never bring her her desires and fantasies of having children in a comfortable lifestyle. His September had been a melancholy one, but his October leave had perked him up. He kept looking on the bright side; he had a secure job and congenial room and board in the wonderful homelike atmosphere of the upper floor of an old widow's house that reminded him of his childhood. Mrs. Donnelly was fond of cooking and the pair had an outstanding roast turkey Thanksgiving dinner. She said that she was thankful that she had him to cook for as it gave her an excuse to create superb evening meals. She also said cooking for one was depressing and wasteful.
In North America the seasons started on the equinox, however he was more in favour of Australia that began their seasons on the first of the month. This especially seemed true for autumn, when the children began school, and winter, as the leaves were gone, Thanksgiving finished the fall, and the first snow mostly fell at the beginning of December.
He was happier than usual as he had the morrow, the sixth of December off. He was making his plans for posting his overseas Christmas cards and doing some shopping...
'Is this seat taken?'
He looked up at a white bearded gentleman with twinkling eyes and a magnificent smile.
'I was saving it for you, sir!'
The older gentleman laughed as he sat,
'I'm not your Colonel...you can call me Nick!'
A wave of euphoria had come over him and he had no reason why it did.
'In the nick of time in the time of Nick! Actually, I didn't think you were one of my field grade officers; I was thinking of you as one of the Knights of the Round Table. Sir Nicholas raising the grail filled with lambswool; the cup of good cheer with a toast of happiness!'
The older man's eyes sparkled even more, and he broke out with an infectious laugh,
'Lambswool! I haven't partook of that concoction in...I can't remember how long...', His face transformed into astonishment, 'You're the only man I've ever met who thinks of a grail in the form of joy, rather than treasure!'
'Treasure is joy! And you, Sir Nick, are the first person in my limited circle who's heard of a grail and drank lambswool!'
In addition to his white beard, Nick had a cavalry style moustache that he twirled as he spoke,
'The time has come...to talk of many things...'
'Of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax...'
'Of cabbages and kings!'
The time flew by in happiness as the two new friends had a wonderful and witty conversation. In the army he had been the barrack room obscurist, his civil service workmates also had limited topics of conversation. At last, he was with someone he had rapport with. They gleefully enjoyed a witty intellectual game of verbal ping pong.
To his surprise, Nick stood up; he turned and behind him was a radiantly smiling young woman that he spoke to,
'My friend here has always desired to meet you, but he's been too bashful. Please join him.'
'No sir, I will stand-'
'No, you won't, you two have a lot in common! I've a lot of business tonight, so I'll be getting off at the next stop...you'll be together...'
'Would you like the window, Miss?'
She sat down by the window and held out her hand,
'My name is Katrina.'
She shook his hand.
Indeed, he was bashful; Nick goaded him.
'This is my stop! It's the Eve of St. Nicholas and you're finally together! Introduce yourself!'
Her smile made his shyness disappear. As with Nick, he felt at home talking to her.
'German. My mother is from the Netherlands. Now my family lives in Chicago.'
She had a lazy eye that made her all the more beguiling.
'You are looking at my Amblyopia?'
'Isn't that a country near Greece?'
Her laugh sounded like relief; he sensed that a nervousness she had about her eyes had been broken. They carried on chatting until,
'Goodbye, Shy. This is your stop.'
'It is! How did...'
'I have been watching you for some time...I catch this tram now and then.'
'I hope I see you again...wiedersehen!'
He ran to the door and exited, then waved goodbye...She blew him a kiss...
St. Nicholas Day
His employers had granted him a day of leave, for in his own eccentric world he was fond of celebrating certain holidays no one else did. He loved the symmetry of St. Nicholas Day as the start of Christmastide that ended with the bonfire of the Christmas trees in Powell Park on Twelfth Night.
He didn't waste time sleeping in as he had his and Mrs. Donnelly's overseas Christmas cards and small parcel gifts to post at the branch post office within the block of his neighbourhood shops on Glen Flora Avenue.
It was a cool, grey quiet day, the leaves had all fallen leaving the skeletons of the trees. The brightest thing was his red vest sweater he wore with his green suit.
Others had the same idea he had, as Veneman's, the shop that contained the post office, had a large crowd holding parcels waiting for it to open. He thought he'd enjoy a hot chocolate at Johnny's Cafe on the opposite end of the block.
On his way there he found himself looking at the brand-new window display of White's Variety Store. Inside a border of colourful tinsel garland was a small Christmas tree that dwarfed a layout of a miniature train on a circular track upon a field of cottonwool simulating snow broken up with plastic holly. Small, gift-wrapped parcels were set out like the buildings of a village with toy cars and a birdhouse in the shape of a steepled church. A small musical nativity crèche, Santa statuette, glass animals and skater figurines placed on top of a small mirror added to the scene.
'It's Christmas in miniature...as St. Nicholas Day is...'
He turned to face the speaker; it was no surprise it was Nick! The two warmly shook hands then enjoyed hot chocolate with marshmallows and conversation in Johnny's.
'Is there room for one more, Nick and Shy?'
They looked up to see Katrina wearing a red turtleneck sweater beneath her coat and a beret. They rose in welcome,
'I have just come from Mass at St. Anastasia. I have the day off.'
'So do I', he responded. 'I had no idea that St. Nicholas Day was a Holy Day of Obligation.'
'It is not...in my country many women go to church on the Feast of Saint Nicholas...never mind why.'
In his mental repository of useless information, he recalled that amongst other things, St. Nicholas was the protector of unmarried women.
'Here the Church has a Mass every weekday...it is my first time...the women who go every weekday look so sad when they are inside, but they smile and go to each other's home for coffee afterwards. I was going to go to the post office...but the crowd...'
He held up his bag of cards and parcels, all of them laughed. Nick cheerfully signalled Johnny to bring hot chocolate for three,
'I'm going too, but not to the post office...it's a godsend you two are here because I'm going to need your help...'
Katrina revealed she lived two stops further North on North Avenue from where he left the streetcar. They swapped stories of how they came to the small industrial city on the shores of Lake Michigan; the young civil servant had a vacancy to fill, Katrina found a job in a department store on Genesee Street downtown, and Nick said he was between assignments and had something to do in the area that led him to rent his accommodation; however, he would not say what those things were...
By the time their chocolate and chat were finished, the queue at Veneman's post office had gone down and the young people did their postal business.
Their presence was a godsend for Nick...Veneman's main form of business was selling paint; he had the pair carry paint buckets to the house he was boarding in, that fortunately was not far away. The first snow of the year fell on them giving an ethereal mood.
'In exchange for lunch, would you be able to help me with some painting?'
'I would love to Nick, but my clothes...'
'Oh, I've thought of that!'
Indeed, Nick had, how he had, the young people dared not ask, as he provided each of them with perfectly fitting white coveralls.
'All you need is a flying helmet and goggles; then you'll look like an aviatrix!'
'Call me Hanna Reitsch!'
'Oh Nick, do you have a telephone I can use to inform my landlady I shan't be back for lunch?'
'I'll show you, and you can tell her you're having a wonderful time.'
After making his telephone call the trio walked through the backyard. The snow continued, leaving a small dusting on the lawn. In the middle of the yard was a wild rabbit.
'Oh, the poor bunny...he must have a broken leg.'
As soon as Katrina spoke, Nick smiled and walked up to the rabbit who showed no fear. He picked him up and stroked him then whispered something.
The rabbit rapidly hopped back to the row of trees where his warren was.
The young couple looked at each other...
'Did you see that!'
Inside of the garage, Nick showed them a very old sleigh that he had promised to prepare for a celebration. His workers had informed him at the last minute that they could not come as they had arranged, it was very important so...
Prior to painting, they had to scrape rust off the sleigh; he joked to Nick that he should have picked a former sailor rather than a former soldier. As the young pair scraped and painted, Nick was working on some sort of contraption that he said was an important part of the sleigh, but he would not explain what it was.
A Merry Celebration
They lost track of time and didn't realise Nick had gone. With miraculous timing just as they completed their painting, he called them in for lunch.
Beneath her eyeglasses, Katrina's eyes grew large.
'It is just like Germany!'
On a beautiful tablecloth were tasty Weisswurst, potatoes with paprika, green gherkins, sauerkraut and hot vegetables. There were also three mugs containing...
'Lambs...wool...?', questioned a mystified Katrina.
'Ale and cider mulled with apples, cinnamon and cloves. Beware...a little lambswool goes a long way!'
They concluded with hot American apple pie topped with slices of cheese washed down with coffee.
'Are you two young people doing anything special this afternoon? I'll need your wonderful help again...'
'No, I'm going to visit a home for the elderly, and pass out small gifts and cookies for their Christmas party...I've noticed both of you are wearing red sweaters...'
The young couple did the dishes in Nick's kitchen, again unaware of Nick's absence. He returned in the most amazing Victorian Santa Claus costume that they had ever seen.
'You are Saint Nicholas!'
'You can be my Black Peter!'
'Well actually, my name is Peter Black!'
'Then I will be Krampus!'
She loudly slapped Peter's backside that made Nick give a hearty laugh better than any Santa.
'The look on your face, Peter! I told you, a little lambswool goes a long way!
Before quarter past one they were picked up by a small bus. Upon arrival at the home for the elderly that had once been a mansion, the driver, Peter and Katrina unloaded the boxes that were placed on tables. Some of the women recognised Katrina from church and warmly greeted her.
The elderly inhabitants were smiling with joy, and pointed at the ceiling as the trio came in.
Peter and Katrina kissed and embraced for their entertainment. She actually swooned in his arms, he looked in her eyes as she opened them, and he realised that he would never be alone again...
The afternoon passed in sheer delight, with Nick passing out presents, all enjoying hot cinnamon mulled apple juice and egg nog ('Too much egg! Not enough nog!', laughed one of the oldies) with Christmas cookies and fruitcake, then a wonderful singsong of Christmas Carols. Katrina beautifully sang solos of O Tannenbaum and Stille Nacht.
To Peter and Katrina's surprise, Nick gave the couple parcels that contained seasonal red wool scarves knitted by the women of the home; Nick proudly received one as well.
The festivities turned into dancing. Katrina was the belle of the ball with all the males queuing up to dance with her. The less mobile ladies slowly danced with Peter, but the daring ones went to Nick, the literal ball of fire who expertly and vigorously out danced Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly put together!
A Winter's Journey
Sadly, their festive time was over.
The staff packed things away, and at Nick's request Katrina and Peter had the last dance together as their audience wistfully remembered their own youth...
'Do you two youngsters mind if we walk back to my home? I've had a lot to eat!'
They agreed Nick had a wonderful idea.
Katrina walked in the middle, arm in arm with her two gentlemen. All three wore their red scarves and smiles as if they were on an enchanted journey to a magical kingdom...The snow continued as they walked through the quiet neighbourhood in the lingering finale of the late afternoon. Children were home from school and joyously playing games.
'Christmas is for children...'
'Children of all ages, Katrina...I've never had a better Christmas since my childhood, Nick.'
'You've given a wonderful celebration to my friends at the home, the old love being with the young during the Christmas season. You were everyone's grandchildren and that was a wonderful gift to them.'
Peter and Katrina were too touched to reply.
'What is the celebration your sleigh is for? Can we join you?', Katrina asked.
'That's my secret...everyone joins me...'
As they walked, the heavens gradually changed from steel blue to the orange of twilight. The sky slowly darkened, the streetlights flashed on and excited children scampered home to their supper. The lights in the windows of the houses resembled warm lighthouses of welcome, tranquillity and happiness; coloured Christmas lights flashed joyfulness.
It was dark when their journey ended down the alleyway leading to Nick's garage. The snow ceased, the empyrean domain cleared, and the stars made their entrance, indicating a cold night. The sound of a music box plaintively playing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen was the only sound.
Nick regretfully spoke,
'This is my final night here; you've made it one I'll always remember.'
'No, Nick, we want...'
Suddenly Peter and Katrina couldn't talk, nor could they move, except for their eyes. Nick kissed Katrina and clasped Peter's hand. Peter noticed a squirrel was paralysed on top of a garage and a solitary bird stood still in flight. They heard a celestial celesta, as if the stars themselves were making music...
Nick opened his garage door. They watched in silence as a group of reindeer were pulling the sleigh they had painted that now was not only dry, but shining as if it were polished.
'Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!'
Wrapped in a blanket, Nick cracked his whip in the air, the reindeer took off in the sleigh into the winter sky...once it vanished, they, the bird and the squirrel continued their movement.
'Did you see what I saw???'
Katrina responded by embracing and kissing him.
Peter looked in those warm eyes again.
'When I telephoned my landlady, Mrs Donnelly said we'll need you to help decorate her tree; she puts it up on St. Nicholas Day...you've been invited to dinner tonight as well...'
'I don't know what to say...'
'Say you'll come...please...'
'I will...if you want me to...'
'Who else will be able to put the angel on top of our tree except an angel like you?'
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).