O COME LET US ADORE
© 2018 by Janis Wick
Accepted for publication by Surreal Magazine
It was Christmas Eve at the Palo Verde Shopping Mall, and the display windows beckoned with still-life scenes of elegantly dressed couples and children surrounded by extravagant toys. But Sarah could not find a place to park. Curbs, sidewalks and handicapped spaces were all full. Even plots of shrubbery had been mowed down by Mercedes sedans and shiny black Range Rovers. Cars moved through the asphalt lot in fits and starts, threading their way up one aisle and down another. Sarah crept along in her brand new baby blue BMW, an early gift from her husband. The sleek green Jaguar following her edged up close to the rear bumper of her brand new car.
Sarah had planned to visit the stationery store that turned its upstairs loft into a wonderland of green, gold, silver and red ornaments each year. She had been going to that same store for more than three decades, first as a child led by her mother, then as a mother herself with her two sons in tow. Now her sons were home watching football on TV with their father. But Sarah didn't mind going alone.
She turned on the BMW's Blaupunkt radio, and a children's chorus sang out, O come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant . . . Her heart fluttered. Christmas, she thought. She sang along, Above thy deep and dreamless . . . On "sleep," she jammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a tomato red Porsche Carrera. The Jaguar slid to a screeching halt less than a foot behind her. Horns began to beep and blare.
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem . . .
The Porsche Carrera began to move again. Sarah followed. She passed by display windows that lit up fine china and beaded silk dresses. The windows seemed to hold the promise of a safe elegant present and an ever brighter future. Sarah wanted to park and move into the realm of promise, but all remaining plots of vacant earth, asphalt and concrete were guarded by traffic cops in khaki who stood impassively as angry drivers shouted obscenities at them.
The hopes and fears of all the years . . .
Sarah began to panic. Her brand new baby blue car felt like a trap, or maybe a prison. But suddenly she saw a neighbor, Lydia Hamilton, staggering across the parking lot weighed down by shopping bags. Sarah frantically honked her horn. Lydia looked up, smiled, and staggered over.
"My dear!" she exclaimed. "You don't look well."
Sarah wanted to burst into tears and weep on Lydia's shoulder.
"Oh, I'm fine," was all she said. "I just can't find a parking space."
"It's murder," Lydia exclaimed. "Just murder!"
Sarah's hands began to tremble on the steering wheel. Her mouth quivered.
"I tell you what," Lydia said, "you just follow me and park in my space."
The chorus of sweet voices sang another song, Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing, O come let us adore him; O come let us adore him . . . Sarah's eyes filled. She was being silly, she knew it, but she was happy. Up ahead, Lydia set her shopping bags down beside a lemon yellow Mercedes 560SL sedan.
When Sarah had succeeded in inching her way forward to the sedan, she stopped but the Jaguar didn't. Sarah felt a sickening jolt as the sleek green nose of the Jaguar, carried forward by the inexorable momentum of a 4.2 liter engine, crashed through the trunk of her car and buried itself in the baby blue leather of the back seat. Meanwhile, the snub nose of her own BMW sank neatly and deeply into the rear end of the tomato red Porsche Carrera. Sarah's pocketbook flew to the floor and landed upside down. Stunned, Sarah sat and stared at two securely wrapped tampons that lay unharmed on the baby blue rubber mat.
When she had collected herself a bit and realized that she was shaken but not hurt, Sarah got out of her car prepared to direct her anger and indignation at the driver behind her. But the owner of the Jaguar, a fastidiously coiffed matron whose hairdo sat slightly askew on her head, had been rear-ended herself, as had the person behind her. Attempts were made to sort out exactly who had hit whom first, but the accidents appeared to have had no beginning and no end. There were shoppers standing by their cars arguing and fuming three aisles over on either side.
Sarah lost track of the arguments. She was too busy staring at her car, a $40,000 objet d'art of Bavarian engineering, which had taken the hit every bit as well as a Ford Pinto might have. The prophylactic rubber bumpers were now inlaid in the auto body itself. Traffic cops arrived and began yelling at shoppers to get back in their cars and move on. Shoppers yelled back. The traffic cops became nervous and belligerent. Sarah saw a young officer accost two perfectly reasonable, well-dressed middle-aged men, who were in the process of exchanging information about insurance carriers. The cop ripped the men's notepads right out of their hands and ordered them, as if at gun point, into their smashed German-made automobiles.
Sarah scurried into her car and tried to start the engine.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .
The radio remained in perfect working order. So, to Sarah's amazement, did the engine.
The Porsche Carrera slipped from the grasp of the BMW's front-end as smoothly as a bag of giblets from a Christmas turkey, and the sudden massive union of metal, rubber and chrome dissolved into a vehicular snake. Soon the bells will start, And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing, Rosemary Clooney sang.
Sarah followed the line of dented bumpers and crushed front-ends. Her only desire now was to go home—to a warm fire, a hot bath, a nice glass of wine, and to her husband and sons. There would be no more trying to park, no more endless switchbacks on level ground. The shopping mall had lost its allure. Sarah couldn't remember what her husband and sons looked like.
At the exit the tomato red Porsche Carrera made a U-turn. He's going back in? Sarah wondered. She was amazed that anyone, under the circumstances, would make such a choice.
A traffic cop awaited Sarah. She could see herself in his sunglasses. Her hair was awry and her make-up smudged.
"You'll have to turn back," the traffic cop said.
"What?" Sarah asked. She strained to see through the mirrors into the man's eyes.
"I said, you'll have to turn back in."
"No!" Sarah gasped. "No, I want to leave."
"You can't leave," the cop said.
"Of course I can leave," Sarah said. "I mean, why not?"
"Here's a little something to make your stay more pleasant." The cop held out a thick roll of bills he had just pulled out of a metal box beside his feet. "Ten thousand dollars," he said and smiled.
"But," Sarah said, thinking ten thousand dollars? "But I think I'll just go home."
"Get this straight, lady," the cop said, resting his hand on the butt of a pistol strapped to his hip. "You can't go home. Nobody goes home. You gotta turn back in."
Long lay the world in sin and error pining . . .
A famous tenor voice sang Sarah's favorite carol. She turned back in. Her speed ranged from two miles per hour, to five, to a dead stop. Her neck felt stiff, her shoulders ached, her throat was raw with thirst. As the sun set, the sky lit up in pinks and golds. Christmas lights glittered in the dusk. The tenor's voice filled the cool air inside Sarah's battered car.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices . . .
And then it happened. Sarah found a parking space. She parked automatically, without even thinking about it.
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angels voices.
Oh night divine, Oh night . . .
As Sarah walked steadily towards the windows that beckoned but no longer tantalized, shoppers passed her, boxes piled so high in their arms that Sarah could not see their faces. Lydia, dragging a new load of shopping bags, lurched towards her.
"How much have you spent?" Lydia called out gaily.
"Nothing yet," Sarah said.
"Nothing?!" Lydia screeched. "Nothing? You better get going. They'll give you another ten thousand next time around."
In the shopping mall proper, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shoppers elbowing each other and hurtling past and over each other. At the entrance to Neiman-Marcus, a huge wedge of people sardined themselves through double glass doors. Sarah let herself be sucked into the wedge and thrust through the doors, which shattered behind her and left a dozen shoppers cut and bloody. Inside, Sarah watched mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and uncles and aunts, armed with coat hangers and display umbrellas, fight each other off for silk ties, gold earrings, and alligator handbags. A woman in Italian high-heeled pumps and a silk dress made a swan dive into the center of the jewelry counter to get her hands on a string of baroque pearls. A child in designer overalls sat and cried beneath a department store mannequin that had been denuded. The mannequin smiled pleasantly.
Sarah was hungry and thirsty. She went into the gourmet food shop and flipped the lid off an imported raspberry soda, unscrewed the top of a mushroom garlic pasta sauce, sat down on the floor and began to eat and drink. The in-house sound system blared overhead:
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed . . .
Thin strong fingers grabbed Sarah's wrist. She tried to wrench free.
"Ma'am, let's have no more of that," said a young man dressed in an immaculate gray suit and pink shirt.
"What's wrong?" Sarah asked, and then added, "Leave me alone."
"You haven't paid for what you are consuming," the young man said politely.
"Here," Sarah said, thrusting the roll of bills at him. "Is that enough?"
He smiled. "More than enough, ma'am. I'll just take a hundred." He pulled off a single bill.
"No, take it all," Sarah said.
"I'm sorry. I can't do that. It's against the rules."
"But I don't want it."
"But it's your responsibility," the young man said very gently.
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with Thee there.
When the man had left, Sarah shop-lifted a two-ounce jar of beluga caviar, a bottle of Château Mouton-Rothschild and a box of individually-wrapped salted wafers. Armed with provisions, she headed for Woolworth.
In the dime store, the crowds of shoppers were dense and agitated. Sarah concentrated her efforts on the "dollar" tables in which nobody else seemed particularly interested. As other eager but dazed shoppers carried crates of Kodak 35 mm film and Scott paper towels (marked down twenty-nine cents) to the cash register, Sarah quietly pilfered a large canvas handbag in which she placed tiny yellow stick-on pads, a miniature tool set, a plastic tomato slicer, a pair of knit baby booties, a tin box of bandages, a framed photograph of Joe Montana, a set of four bright red plastic soup bowls and glasses to match, a cloth Christmas corsage made with ribbons and plastic pine cones covered with painted snow, a 99¢ knife with a wood-grained formica handle and a bottle of hand lotion with no name-brand recognition.
A soothing silky voice crooned from a speaker in the ceiling:
Little girl and boy land . . .
"Hand it over, now."
A large beefy man in a polo shirt and jeans grabbed Sarah's arm and squeezed.
"No!" Sarah said.
The man squeezed harder. Sarah handed over her canvas bag. At the cash register a young woman with nine purple fingernails and one gold one rang up the total: $37.92.
"Pay up," the dick said.
"No," Sarah said.
"No?" the dick said. "Why not? You got the dough."
"Arrest me," Sarah said. Her husband would bail her out. That would be the end to it.
"Fine by me," the dick said, "but it's a capital offense."
"I'd get the death penalty for shop-lifting at dollar days?" Sarah gasped.
"No, not for shop-lifting. For refusing to pay once you get caught." The dick shrugged. "It's kinda un-American, lady."
Mystic, merry Toyland!
Once you pass its borders,
You can ne'er return again.
Sarah paid her bill. Outside Woolworth, she slumped against a wall and sat down. It was dark and cold. Her legs ached. Her stomach was cramping. If she were at home, she would be fixing dinner, but she couldn't remember what her kitchen looked like. Would a tomato slicer come in handy there or not? she wondered. She pinned the plastic pine cone Christmas corsage to her blazer and applied the nameless hand lotion. Then she sat back and listened to Elvis sing with husky longing while she swilled Château Mouton-Rothschild from a brown paper bag:
I'll have a blue Christmas without you.
I'll be so blue just thinking about you.
A young man dressed in janitor's coveralls walked by, keys jangling in his hand. His dark brown face was scarred by a jagged tear that ran from his left temple to the base of his chin.
"Are you leaving?" Sarah asked.
"Yes, señora," the young man said.
"Will they let you out?"
"Sí, claro, of course," the young man said. "I just work here."
Sarah's heart leapt with hope.
"Will you take me with you?"
"No," the young man said. "I'm sorry, but that is not permitted."
"In the trunk of your car," Sarah said, staggering to her feet. "You could take me out in your trunk."
The young man shook his head. "I'm sorry, but they check trunks."
"I'll pay you," Sarah begged. "I've got ten thousand dollars. Right here." She thrust the bills at the young man.
"I'm sorry, señora," the young man said again. "I don't need money. I've already paid. Perhaps you didn't notice." He walked away, the keys still jangling in his hand.
Sarah sank down against the wall. Elvis caressed the night and the longing.
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won't be the same, dear, if you're not here with me.
Sarah wondered if it were possible to spend $9,862.08 on ornaments and strands of tinsel. She got up immediately and headed towards the stationery store.
The first level had been stripped of nearly everything except accountants' ledgers and guest books for weddings. There were only a few shoppers. A fit, handsome man sat in the middle of an aisle mumbling "but I am a neurosurgeon" while he methodically ate chocolate-covered cherry candies, wrappers and all. The elegant matron who owned the squashed Jaguar browsed through a rack of Halloween masks. She chose a Michael Jackson likeness, covered her head with it, left cash at the abandoned register and walked out of the store.
At the foot of the steps to the loft, Lydia Hamilton, surrounded by a dozen shopping bags, lay unconscious, or perhaps dead. She clutched to her chest an out-dated calendar which featured photographs of award-winning pies. As Sarah ascended the stairs, she wondered if rigor mortis had set it.
The loft was untouched. The room sparkled with glass, foil and gold. Sarah saw tiny wooden Santa Clauses, angels made from cornhusks, strands of multicolored tinsel, globes covered with rhinestones and fake pearls and silver braid, hand-painted eggs with intricate baroque designs, and small clay nativity scenes from Mexico. So much to choose from, Sarah thought, so much one could buy.
She didn't have the energy, or perhaps the inclination, to select which items she preferred so she began to take one of each and then two of each and ten or more of each. She made a huge pile on the floor, a mound of stationery store ornamental artifacts. When she believed that she was done, she surveyed the mound, which sparkled and glittered in the fluorescent light, and she was satisfied.
She crawled carefully into the middle of it and covered herself with ornaments. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures," she murmured. Then she listened to a single, clear contralto voice that sang out through the random static of the stationery store's antiquated speaker:
I'll be home for Christmas;
You can plan on me.
The mushroom garlic sauce and the wine had given Sarah indigestion. She burped loudly and violently. A bright red globe, decorated with green braid and silver sequins, rolled off her abdomen and smashed onto the floor. Sarah burped again more gently and sighed. Then she rested.
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love-light gleams.
I'll be home for Christmas,
If only in my dreams.