Saturday, December 01, 2012
(This story takes place about 10 months before the novel, Troubled Fields, begins.)
The scent of green cedar merged with the fragrance of oranges and tangerines to bring a heightened sense of peace with every breath. The chunk of hard ribbon candy lay sweet upon his tongue. That feeling, unknown at any other time and indescribable at any time, filled the air around him. In a strange but comforting way the wintery cold just beyond the door could be felt through the cozy warmth provided by the space heater. The steady whisper of butane feeding the flames that peeked through the ceramic grates in the heater promised increasing warmth as the day progressed. Coffee was percolating while Pat and Mary cooked and set the table for breakfast. The happy sounds of soft conversation and dishes rattling in the kitchen mixed with music from a new album on the stereo to make a music all its own. And the noise of kids playing with newly discovered toys was not noise at all. Things that were heard, seen, and smelled with a great sense of awareness and appreciation on this one day would simply blend unnoticed into the background on any other day. It was all part of a beautiful concoction that had come with the dawn and would be gone when all eyes in the house closed for another night's slumber. It was simply the best feeling to be had this side of Heaven, and it must be savored . . . every moment of it.
He could hardly force his eyes away from the tree. The presents piled beneath it were a decoration unto themselves. It would not be quite the same once their ribbons and bows were scattered across the floor along with piles of once beautiful paper reduced to so much garbage. But, for now, he found himself drawn to it all, strangely desiring to be absorbed into the the splash of colored light reflected in glass balls of red and blue and silver and green. It was as if the lights on the tree spoke of the One who could fix everything. Gazing into those lights, he felt that there was something there that could, but would not, offer an explanation. Was he to try to understand, or was he merely to wonder at the mystery of a lighted tree?
"Ray?" the voice repeated softly, evenly.
He could hear, but he could not turn away from the tree.
"Ray?" the voice said yet again in almost imperceptible insistence.
Forcing his head to turn toward the voice, he found himself gazing into those beautiful brown eyes. Unmistakeable . . . and how strange.
"Laura. . . . Laura! . . . I've missed you!" He struggled to say. Just the sight of Laura kindled a long abandoned happiness within him.
She reached out and cupped his face in her hands as if it was something she did every day. But, he couldn't remember any other day. The softness of her touch moved him. He closed his eyes and reached for her to pull her to himself for a kiss. He found himself reaching into thin air. Opening his eyes now, Laura was standing before him with the baby in her arms.
"Emmy!" Ray said smiling. "Merry Christmas!" He reached for her, but Laura held the baby closer to herself. "Can I hold her?" Ray questioned.
Laura stood there before him, suddenly detached. Her smile had faded and displeasure registered on her face.
"Laura? Can I hold her?" he asked again.
Laura backed away.
Ray stood and took a step toward them. "Hey, Emmy!" he whispered. "How 'bout a Christmas kiss for your old man?" The baby recoiled as if in fear and began to cry.
"See what you've done?" Laura scolded. "You messed it all up! Just go back. You don't belong here . . . with us."
The folding doors that led to the dining room opened and Laura turned her back on Ray as she walked toward someone waiting just beyond the opening. As Laura reached him, their lips met in a lingering kiss. The man bent and kissed the baby in Laura's arms as little Emmy giggled the way infants do. Ray strained to make out the face. . . . Clint! Clint McKay was in his home kissing his . . . his . . . his what?
"Hey, Ray!" Clint said easily, as if he were glad to see his old friend.
"Clint," Ray replied, amazed at how easily he accepted the scene before him.
Looking at Laura, an immense embarrassment fell upon him. Why would he have tried to kiss her? She was married to Clint. He knew that. . . . didn't he? The sense of warmth and belonging seemed to drain from him. He felt himself being pulled away by a force he couldn't understand. He couldn't stay, but he didn't want to go. Turning his gaze back to the tree to take in the wonder and beauty of it, his heart sank. The lights had gone dark. The tall cedar looked more like an over grown house plant there in the corner. The comfort it had brought was gone. Noise. It was all just noise now and it grew in intensity. One of the kids was playing with a ray gun nearby. The grating buzz it produced grew louder and louder. It rose to a near deafening pitch.
Ray jerked, and when he did, he shook himself awake. He frowned as an all too familiar disappointment filled his mind, the regret of waking. The buzz was not that of a child's toy. It was the same buzzer he heard throughout the day every day. It told him when to wake up. It told him when to get in line. It told him when to sit down to eat. It told him when to go outside and when to come back in. And it told him when to lay down to sleep . . . and dream . . . for yet another night.
"Come on, Ray. Breakfast is coming up and then it's turkey and dressing for dinner. Merry Christmas," a fellow inmate said as he passed Ray's bunk.
"Yeah, Merry Christmas," Ray replied as he found his voice. "Fifteen down, twenty-five to go," he said to no one in particular.
"Fifteen Christmases, fifteen dreams," he thought to himself. "Lord, I don't understand them. Maybe it's just my mind processin' all the information and events in my life. Anyway, I thank you for those dreams. As weird as some of them are, its kind of like bein' back home for Christmas. And I thank you for that. I hope you don't mind me dreamin' about Laura. Nothin's gon' come of it. It's just a dream, and I don't think I can control it any way. Mostly, I thank you for what this day stands for . . . for what it means. Thank you, Jesus, for coming. Thank you for forgiveness. Thank you for setting us free. . . . even in here."
A short while later, as he sat eating Parchman Penitentiary's best breakfast and exchanging Christmas stories with men who had maybe one single thing in common, Ray pondered his dream of the night before and its disturbing end. Coming back to reality he mused that this certainly was not the life he had dreamed of as a young boy in Dover, Mississippi. Then it hit him. . . . Life really is pretty much like a dream. Neither one goes quite the way you want it to.
And Christmas? Well, Christmas in your own home is a fine thing for certain, but it's the Christmas in your heart that really matters, 'cause it's Christmas . . . no matter where you are.
Here's your video. I had to look through a good many of them to come up with this one. Maybe you'll like it.