More than even gifts, Abby Crosby loved wrapped-up boxes. Loved the anticipation. It was the same with Christmas Day.
Having grown up in a large city, she enjoyed the small-town feeling in the air on the days leading up to Christmas. Stately townhouses showcasing candelabra in their usually blinkered windows appeared quaint. Instead of noting the pitiful foliage of air-starved city trees, she’d admire the calligraphy of lights looped artfully amongst branches.
The city folks weren’t more cheerful, but the excited tourists were. For once their presence brought more than it took. Innocent eyes gleamed with the anticipation of famous hot cocoas at Serendipity before visiting the tree at Rockefeller — traditions cynical New Yorkers sneered at.
Abby paused to push that one stubborn strand of curly, dark hair back underneath the red beanie she’d knitted herself. Afterwards, she slipped back on her matching, store-bought mittens; she excelled at curves or rows but couldn’t manage thumbs. Finding it relaxing, she’d crocheted a plethora of hats and scarves in the colors of her friends’ favorite football teams again this year.
She felt wrapped up, toasty-warm, and sighed happily. It occurred to her at that moment if she pretended to mock the tourists’ fascination with Christmas, was everyone posing? Did everyone feel as she did, too afraid to admit it?
“Middle of the sidewalk,” a gruff, strangely intimate voice whispered in her ear exactly as hands pushed her hard between her shoulder blades. Abby turned around to deliver the kind of diatribe only a girl born and bred in Brooklyn could, when she saw the man’s eyes were cross-eyed with crazy. Instead she quickened her pace towards Chad’s building across the street.
The man turned left on 6th Ave, soon lost in the crowd of holiday shoppers.
She and Chad were going to exchange, although not open, gifts early this year. Chad’s family was flying to Nashville; his sister had just had her fifth baby. They were very religious, and Chad thought it better if Abby stayed behind this time, to “avoid another incident.”
Last Christmas his family met up in Connecticut. They’d driven up for the afternoon; Chad had to work the next day, so they couldn’t spend the night.
“Abby, how does your family celebrate the holidays?” Chad’s mother asked, up to her elbows in flour in the midst of preparing a truly resplendent feast. The entire house was decorated floor to roof in Christmas tchotchkes. Abby felt as if she’d stepped into a Norman Rockwell painting: Christmas from the 50s.
Silence greeted her words.
“Um, we’re Jewish? But I’ve always loved Christmas. Some Jews just call it Chrismakkuh, stick a Star of David on ‘the Hanukkah Bush’, but my father—”
Chad cut her off: “Mom, you need help decorating those cookies? Abby is ‘artistic’.”
“No, that’s okay, dear. I could tell you were Jewish,” she said not unkindly. Abby blinked.
“I saw Jews, when I lived on Long Island. You have that look about you. Now, tell me,” Chad’s mother leaned her elbows on the counter. “Why are all Jews so wealthy?”
It was on the tip of Abby’s tongue to make a sarcastic comment about “international banking conspiracies”, but she was a guest. And, even if she couldn’t celebrate Christmas, she’d always liked partaking in the spirit.
This year even more conservative family members would be in attendance down South, Chad explained.
The thought of Christmas Day alone felt lonesome, but, after all, Abby was Jewish. She’d go to a Chinese restaurant and then watch Woody Allen films — her forefathers’ modified version of Christmas.
Chad lived in a doorman building in Chelsea, but the doorman barely looked up behind his desk in the swank lobby.
“Hi, Fred,” she smiled. He nodded recognition, always looking as if he couldn’t be bothered to remember her name, as if he knew something about her relationship with Chad she didn’t.
Abby shook her head at herself. She was being morbid. The angry stranger had gotten to her. Gleaming silver doors opened and whisked her to the 26th floor. She was anticipating the view of Manhattan with all the lights up, twinkling in the evening air. She could already hear Chad’s voice, booming over puzzling party sounds as she stepped into the carpeted hallway.
“Couldn’t put it off, dude. She’s coming by with one of those cheesy-ass scarves I’ll bet. I’ll wear it once, pretend to lose it. If she weren’t hot — ”
Abby didn’t wait to hear more. She simply stepped back into the elevator; the doors hadn’t even had a chance to shut. This time Fred looked surprised to see her.
“He’s home, miss.”
Fred reached for the telephone.
“I… I…” Abby couldn’t make up an excuse. Suddenly, she started laughing.
What did it matter? She’d never see Fred again. She glided through the shining revolving door, feeling as if she’d dropped a burden at Chad’s place instead of still clutching one in her hands.
Along with a blue and gold scarf and hat, she’d baked brownies and bought a bottle of Chad’s favorite, albeit revolting, single-malt whisky, Laphroaig. That’s when she saw the grouchy man who’d shoved her before. She’d thought he looked familiar. It was the bum who “lived” on the corner across from Chad’s apartment building. A small parking lot had a little roof over the fence, a spot coveted by many bums.
“Here you are, sir. Please wear this hat and scarf in good health. A lot. Merry Christmas.”
Abby handed him the bag and walked away as he peered suspiciously at the contents. She could hear the joyous whoop a block away when he undoubtedly discovered the whisky.
It actually was the perfect gift for a bum. She just hadn’t known which one to give it to. Unburdened, surprisingly relieved in a way, Abby walked back to the Village, promising herself a hot chocolate like any old tourist.
This year she’d give herself the gift of a wonderful Christmas.
Isabella David is a former actress. She’s currently a stay-at-home mother and budding free-lance journalist and writer. To distance herself from her former occupation, she wrote under her nickname “Izzy” for years. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter and blogs about books, writing, poetry, feminism, and sustainable fashion at www.brooklynbooksandbabies.com.