Emmet Kryndle was a businessman. That was what he considered himself when it came down to it. He counted the bills and the coins in the till and sharply closed the drawer on the brass National Cash Register that sat atop the wooden counter of the Mercantile. He looked straight ahead, he didn’t want to chance an encounter with the pair of eyes that were staring longingly into the store’s picture window once again.
“Where the hell is that child’s mother?” he grumbled, keeping his view focused on a shelf of canned goods across the store.
Other children had stopped to look at the Christmas display with the large stuffed animals, penny candy and toy train. But this boy hadn’t just stopped, he had stood and studied the window. Emmet assumed he was interested in the Lionel Toy Train with its black locomotive and red caboose. All the boys in town wanted to find one of those beneath their tree on Christmas morning. But this boy arrived every evening, just before closing, when the streets were bare, the streetlights had been lit and were glowing brightly, and Emmet was getting ready to close his store.
Although Emmet worked hard to avoid looking at the youngster, he had noticed the thin cheeks, sad eyes, ragged haircut and unsmiling mouth of the boy. The thin jacket was much too late for the late December weather. He shook his head. This was none of his concern. Let the boy look, it was a free country. He would just go about his business inside the store until the urchin left.
But, as soon as the boy left, Emmet found himself drawn to the door, watching the young man walk slowly down Main Street and finally disappear into one of the tenement apartments on the next street. Flipping the “Open” sign to the opposite side, Emmet locked the front door and extinguished the gas lights throughout the store. He looked back at the empty room, now all shadows and darkness, and began to slowly climb the back staircase to his apartment above the store. His legs ached, his hands stung with arthritis and his heart was heavy. “I’m too tired for this,” he muttered as he turned the crystal doorknob leading into his kitchen. “I’m just too tired.”
He walked into the kitchen, turning up the light to send a warm glow throughout the room. But the warmth of the room did not reach his heart as he lit a burner on the stovetop and moved the heavy, cast iron kettle on top of the flame. He sighed heavily when he realized he hadn’t even looked for her this time. Hadn’t stopped in the doorway anticipating her greeting or the smell of dinner cooking on the stove. She was gone. Gone from this earth, gone from his life and now, gone from his routine.
Walking across the room, he pulled open a wooden cupboard door and stared inside for a few moments, looking at the decreasing number of jars lining the shelves. He took down a quart of peaches and brought it to the counter, on his way he switched off the burner under the kettle. Pulling a can opener out of the drawer, he popped the lid and, with a fork taken from the same drawer, sat down at the table for a solitary meal.
“Is that all you’re going to eat for supper?” she would have asked, scolding him and insisting on making him soup or stew or a plate of eggs and bacon. How he missed her scolds. He wiped a bit of moisture from his cheek and placed his fork on the table next to the jar. How he missed his dear wife.
His appetite gone, he slowly walked from the kitchen into the living room. The curtains were drawn tight and the room lay in shadow. No sign of Christmas was in this room. The decorations, the tree stand and the ivory nativity his wife had so painstakingly wrapped every January 1st still lay tucked in the paper and straw in crates in the back room. How could he stand to face Christmas without her? Christmas was a time for love, a time for joy, a time for celebration. He had lost the one true love of his life; how could he celebrate the season?
“Christmas is not confined to this world.”
He started and quickly scanned the room. It was her voice! “Emma?” he called softly. “Emma is that you?”
He waited, hoping for another sign. But nothing came. No voice, no sign. It was just a figment of his poor, lonely imagination. He started to turn from the room when he noticed the old Bible sitting on the sideboard. It had been closed this morning, he was sure of it. He walked across the room, picked the large, open book up and carried it back to the light of the kitchen. Setting it on the table, he looked down at the verse of the top of the page.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Angels. Hadn’t he always thought his Emma was an angel? Could it be that she was now an angel in heaven and she was celebrating Christmas?
A sudden image of a little boy staring into the store came to his mind. He was sure there would be no celebrating Christmas in that household. Without taking time to think it over, Emmet hurried downstairs to his storage room, pulled out the crates of Christmas decorations and placed them on a wooden hand trolley he used to move stock in the store. Then he walked over to the display window and picked up a box containing a Lionel Train Set. He placed that on top of the crates, unlocked the front door of the store, and made his way down the street to the tenement building he’d seen the boy enter.
When he reached the building, he knocked at the first door. It opened and he was met by a pair of eyes that looked like the young boy, but they were in a face much older and more tired.
“Excuse me,” Emmet stammered, wondering now what he was supposed to say. “I’m here about your son.”
The woman’s face seemed to turn even sadder. “Yes?” she asked. “What about him?”
“I wanted…,” he shook his head. This was going all wrong. “I wanted to bring Christmas. I saw…”
“Christmas?” the woman asked. “Why would you want to bring Christmas?”
He took a deep breath and prayed the moisture in his eyes would stay there and not leak down his cheeks. “Because I realized this evening that Christmas is not just celebrated here on earth, but it’s celebrated in the heavens too,” he said. “And I want to celebrate with my dear wife who passed away this fall.”
Tears fell down the woman’s cheeks as she opened her door to him. “He loved Christmas too,” she whispered, emotion straining her voice. “He’s probably celebrating with your wife.”
“Excuse me?” Emmet asked, suddenly confused. “Your son. A little thing about waist high with your eyes and brown hair.”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, that was Luke.”
“Was?” he asked.
She wiped away a tear. “I lost my son in October,” she explained.
“But I saw him…”
“At your store window?” she interrupted with a nod. “Yes, before he became ill, his favorite place to dream was in front of your store.”
Emmet stood in front of the door, not aware of the cold wind blowing or the puzzled look on the woman’s face. Was the child, no, the little angel, reaching out for his mother’s sake or for Emmet’s sake?
“Does it really matter, Emmet?
He could hear Emma’s voice in the wind. He paused another moment and a smile slowly grew on his face. No, it didn’t matter.
Taking a deep breath, Emmet met the woman’s eyes. “Merry Christmas,” he said softly.
She smiled back. “And a very Merry Christmas to you too.”