© Wanderer -- all rights reserved
It was Christmas Eve ... and I was ready to share it with everyone I could. First, I bounce into the Blind Pig, my bushy tail swinging along behind me to the beat of a carol that was running through my head. Luckily, Jack is sitting at the piano tinkling away at an old tune when I walk up and put my furry paws on the lid.
"A merry morrow, O magnificent musical mule!", I almost sing in greeting.
"Hay there, Wanderer!", Jack replies. "Is that Christmas spirit, or did someone slip you a happy pill?", he says with a toothy grin. (Lucky herbivore. I do that and I can be arrested for assault.)
"Ah", I cry with a deepening of my British accent, "'Tis but the merriment of the season, O my friend. It is a fact of my constitution that I must become almost obscenely happy at this same time each year. Anything else would be ... ", I smirk, "... unconstitutional."
"Ooooof", Jack moans with a wince without missing a beat. "Mister, I hope that's the last pun for a while."
"Don't bet on it", I reply with a careful smile. "Right now, though, I was wanting to sing a little something for Christmas."
"Well, I guess 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer' can wait", he says, drawing the piece to a quick close. "What'll it be? Silent Night? Jingle Bells? The Monsters' Christmas?", he adds with a waggle of his eyebrows.
"Veeery funny. No, I had something else in mind."
"'It Was a Very Good Year'."
"Well, yeah, but it isn't over yet."
"You know what I mean", I say with a wicked grin ... which I quickly narrow to hide my teeth. I'd been slipping lately. "Just two verses, though. Do you know it?"
"Sure. Just get up and get going."
The intro sparkles through the air of the bar as I move into position and breathe deeply. Then, the vamp done, he hits his mark and waits for me.
"When I was twenty-one ... "
I gaze off into space, feeling the honeyed sweetness of the words flow over my tongue.
"It was a very good year ... "
I close my eyes to remember.
"It was a very good year, for city girls, that lived up the stair ... "
So many beautiful people in the world.
"With perfumed hair ... "
Such glory in them. Glory even they won't admit. Even to themselves.
"That came undone ... "
And yet they sparkle so.
"When I was twenty-one."
I hold back slightly going into the next verse so that I can build from there.
"And now the days grow short ... "
My life ...
"I'm in the autumn of the year ... "
So much to do ... my voice swells with emotion, with pride and happiness and joy and praise and worship as I enter the final lines of the song, the honeyed sweetness becoming ambrosia on my tongue.
"And now I drink my life, like vintage wine, from fine old kegs ... "
I hold aloft an imaginary goblet, filled to the brim with possibilities.
"From the brim to the dregs ... "
I put the imaginary goblet down on the piano ... and gaze at it. So much that could've gone wrong ... and so much that went right. Lives saved, wrongs righted, friends reunited, true love brought to the world ... and I was a small part of it.
"Running sweet and clear ... "
Would I do it all again? I lift the cup ... and make a toast in my heart. In a heart beat I would.
"It was a very ... good ... year ...", I whisper in song ... and drink from the cup.
The applause is sweeter than any drink.
"Now", I call in a stage voice, "Since I seem to have finished that little number, how about a real Christmas song?"
Not much assent, but then so few people come here on Christmas Eve anyway.
"All right. And Jack?"
"I won't be needing you for this one."
"Huh? Now wait a long-eared minute here ... !"
"It's okay, Jack", I say as I gesture to Wolfshead back at the Lupine table. "I brought my own accompaniment for this one."
As Wolfshead brings my old monstrosity of a CD player-tape deck-radio out, I fish a cassette from my pants pocket. Sneaking a look at Jack's face (slightly gray-furred now from the curiousity), I smile. I know they're going to love it.
"Thanks", I tell my wordless friend. He sketches a quick salute, with his human hand to his furry brow, and returns the way he came.
"This year", I say to all around, "I am going to give everyone here ... including myself ... a special treat. I am about to sing a duet with my mother."
Some laughter, but mainly murmurs as the message sinks in.
"This tape", I say, waving it in the air, "holds a recording of my mother's voice performing the carol, 'O Holy Night'. I shall be singing along with it. Oh, and there is a piano player on the tape, Jack. Nothing personal."
"No prob, Wanderer. Just give a little warning, okay?"
"As you wish. And now", I say as I slide the tape home, "let the music begin."
Silence at first ... then the sounds of the old church upright ring brightly through the still air in the Blind Pig. I can almost see her now, her auburn hair gently tousled by the stirring of the old overhead fans.
Then she sings.
And my heart twists within me.
"O Holy Night ... the stars are brightly shi - ning, this is the night, of our dear Saviour's birth."
The crystal soprano lifts from the tape and carries my heart with it into realms of transport, the pain of the beauty cutting me to the heart.
"Long lay the world ... in sin and error pi - ning, 'till He appeared, and the soul, felt its worth."
I close my eyes and begin steeling myself for the second verse.
"A thrill. Of. Hope, a weary world rejoi - ces, for yon - der breaks ... a new and glorious morn ... "
I brace myself ... but it does no good.
The voice thunders out with all the power, beauty and strength of Heaven in it, my heart straining to leave my chest as the sheer purity of the song lifts me to the breaking point.
"FALL ... ON YOUR KNEES ... OH, HEAR ... THE ANGEL VOI - CES. OH NI - IGHT DIVINE ... Ohhh, night ... when Christ was born ... oh, Night ... di-vi - i - ine, Oh, night ... oh,oh-oh-oh-oh night Divine."
I catch my breath when the expected high note fails to materialize ... as it always does, I remind myself. I never remember that it comes in the next verse.
Now we sing together, as we used to, our voices merging and blending as we begin, my baritone pacing her soprano note for note, decibel for decibel.
"Tru-ly He taught us to love one ano-ther, His law is love, and His gos-pel is peace ... "
I close my eyes and begin tightening my diaphragm in preparation for what lies ahead.
"Chains shall He break, for the slave is our bro-ther, and in His name, all oppress-sion shall cease ... "
The beauty begins to tear its way through my heart again as a blissful smile spreads across my face.
"Sweet hymns of joy in grateful cho-rus raise we, let all with-in us, praise His ho-ly name ... "
It comes ... !
"FAAAAALL ... ON YOUR KNEES ... OH HEAR ... THE ANGEL VOI-CES. OH NI - IGHT ... Divine ... oh-h night ... when Christ was born ..."
I ready myself ...
"Oh, Night ... "
I raise my voice as the dagger of joy inside me twists, my heart straining to fly to the clouds.
"Di-VIIIIII-I-ine, oh-h night ... oh-oh-oh-oh-oh night di-vine."
Oh my Lord, how beautiful are thy works!
I slowly come back to myself, my hands shaking from the energy poured into the music. Slowly, carefully, I bow.
I spend the rest of the night accepting congratulations ... and remembering
"One last thing", I call as last call is sounded. Those who remain turn to face me. "I have one last treat for you tonight ... Lady Death?"
My Lady walks in through the door with a bowl full of chocolate-chip cookies.
We get mobbed, of course. But I wonder if they'd like them so much if they knew I cooked them? People do seem to worry about fur in the food when I do that ... though I'm very careful.
"It's a tradition", I tell my Lady later. "I do not have a great many that apply any longer to my life."
"I know", she responds. "But next time, we bring the food in ahead of time. Those cookies were cold by the time you were ready for me to go get them."
Agreed", I say softly. She is right, after all. "And now for a new tradition."
I pop my other tape into the player, and a slow-dance version of "What Will You Give Me for Christmas?" fills my economy apartment. I pull her close.
"Dancing with a beautiful woman whom I love."
"It was beautiful, Mother", I tell her. "Her real name is Antoinette. She's so wonderful to me. And I really think we have a chance together."
"Oh, the Christmas party stunt went off without a hitch. Everything went like clockwork."
"And now, of course, it's time for *your* hymn ... "
"Hark! The her-ald an-gels si-ing, Glo-ry to the new-born king. Peace on Earth, and mer-cy mi-ild, God and sin-ners re-con-ciled. Joyful all ye nations ri-ise, Join the triumph of the ski-ies, With th'an-gel-ic host pro-claim, Christ i-is born in Beth-le-hem. Hark! The her-ald an-gels sing, Glo-ry-y to the new-born king."
"Christ, by high-est heav'n adored: Christ, the everlasting Lord; Late in time behold him come, Offspring of the vir-gin's womb. Veil'd in flesh, the Godhead see; Hail, th'incarnate Deity: Pleased, as man, with men to dwell, Jesu-us, our Emman-u-el! Hark! the her-ald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!"
"Hail! the hea - v'n-born Prince of pe-eace! Hail! the Son of Right-eous-ness! Light and life to all he bri-ings, Risen with heal-ing in his wings, Mild he lays his glory by-y, Born that man no more may die-ie: Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to-o give them second birth. Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!"
With that, I bow once, and walk away from the gravesite into the dark of a Christmas morning, smiling as I idly remember all the things we did together, all the paths we walked down, all that went before ...
Now, what lies ahead for me? I don't know.
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org