Present Matters

          For most of his life, David didn’t believe in anything. His father was Catholic twice a year, Easter and Christmas, and his mother got tired of lying every Sunday that her husband didn’t attend. As David grew up and began to take notice of his father’s attitude, he also began to think of the bible as a book, something to decorate the shelf with when company came over like the statues of saints with the price tags still attached, veiled in dust.
          It didn’t bother him much, at least not when he was younger. It meant more Nintendo, football on Sundays, and fishing trips with the neighbors when the weather was right. But like all complications we come to inherit, it came up eventually. Friends, lovers, anonymous polls, not to mention the art he studied in college. Even when he graduated from the classroom to the corporate ladder as an ad man, in a place he always thought had no room for religion, there it was. A statistic, a demographic, a consumer he had to address.
          “I don’t see what the problem is,” Mary said one night at dinner. She was an off-again-on-again who, regardless of her name, didn’t mind being with a heathen, fucked like one too. It didn’t hurt that she also challenged him mentally, and as she was also in advertising, exhibited competition.
          “I just don’t understand why it matters.”
          “It doesn’t,” she replied. “Just axe the Christmas theme and tack on Happy Holidays. Or if you really feel it necessary, give the old man a red scarf and have him winking at the kids.”
          “What’d you believe in?” David asked matter-of-factly.
          “Marketing strategy.”
          “No, really.”
          “Like you said, does it matter?”
          “No, but I want to know.”
          She reached for her wine. “I’m a Christian.”
          He laughed, surprised. “I don’t think I’ve ever known you to go to church.”
          “I didn’t say I did.”
          “That doesn’t make sense, Mary.”
          “Not everything has to, David, just some of it. The rest of it you make up as you go along and trust that you’re doing things right.”
          “You’re lying aren’t you, this is some kind of a pitch, what’d you get that Nabisco deal?”
          “You asked, David.”
          Frustrated, he felt the best way to deal with the issue would be to go to the source, a local priest David had heard was preaching from the heart rather than the book, whatever that meant. David invited him up to his apartment and offered him a seat. “Would you like anything to drink, sir? Or is it Father?”
          “Michael is fine, and some water if you don’t mind.”
          He went to the kitchen and returned, handing the priest his glass. “I bet you’re wondering why I asked you up here tonight?”
          The priest took the water. “I did find it strange, seeing as you are not a member of the congregation, but I do see you as a member of the community and thus a member of my church. Especially during this time of year.”
          David had to blink a few times before he answered. “Well that’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Mike. See I’m trying to get a better grasp about what this is all about, I mean baby Jesus, the wise men, all these angels coming down, what’s it really mean?”
          “It is about celebrating the birth of our savior.”
          “Like the literal birth, or the figurative?”
          The priest smiled, took a sip from his glass. “What is your problem, David?”
          “I’m trying to come up with an idea, and my client is really aiming for the Christian market, y’know? But I can’t seem to think of anything, I mean isn’t Santa Claus religious enough, he’s a saint for Christ sakes.”
          “I mean the real problem, David.”
          “I just—.”
          “Do you believe in Christ?”
          “Does it matter?”
[sp5[“It might.”
          David shook his head. “I’m just trying to understand what this is all about, alright? I had Christmas as a kid, I get all the sleigh bells and joy to the world, and last minute sales.”
          It’s about caring, David, about one another. About seeing that goodness that is represented by His birth. Kindness of the spirit, of the soul. It’s about celebrating the people we love.”
          “Okay, alright, but here’s the thing Mike, how do I sell that?”
          “You can’t.”
          Shortly after showing the priest the door, David decided to go for a walk. The season was all around him. Everything tangled in color, ringing, jingling, each house wrapped up in an endless loop of ‘Deck the Halls.’ He stopped in front of a store front and watched a commercial from one of his client’s competitors: people showing each other random acts of kindness, the various candies the company sold. Santa Claus stepped out onto the sidewalk and lit a cigarette, “The same every year.”
          David walked until he had left the lights behind him, found a bench and sat. The rain came unexpectedly, soft beads that fell across his cheeks, and left just as quick, but it stayed with him, the smell. Fresh and damp, rising and moving all around him, bringing with it something else, the smell of pine.
          All at once he was there, that Winter his family had spent in Hawaiʻi. Rain beats down on the roof of their rental car, streams run down the windows, and David watches the rivers empty into the drain. His parents are arguing.
          “We don’t have time, Margaret. Do you know how much this thing is costing us, how late we already are? By the time we get there the tour will have already gone.”
          “I don’t care, it’s Christmas Eve.”
          “You’re ridiculous, y’know that?”
          “Pull over, Gary.”
          “Fly the family out to Hawaiʻi, and this is what I get..”
          “I said, pull over.”
          He slows down and turns into the parking lot, pulls as close to the walkway as he can. David’s mother puts her jacket over her head and gets out, runs for shelter. His father turns to him, “She’s nuts, y’know that? Me and you Davey, we’re the only ones who get it, to hell with all this rubbish, what about what really matters?”
          David gets out and runs through the rain, along the walkway, and up the steps. The first thing that greets him is warmth and wet pine, a Christmas tree near the door. From the threshold, he can see his mother sitting in the front pew, her hands together and her head down. He walks down the aisle, past the empty rows, and stops when he reaches her. Without a word, he sits beside her and bows his head. David opens his eyes and remembers, makes the sign of the cross.

Talk story

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