Monday, December 25, 2006

An Oft Told Story

[a repost of the Christmas story I wrote a few years ago, on ...delerium. Merry Christmas, all.]

The First Noel, 2004

The Hanukkah travel rush was over, and Bethlehem was quiet again. Hence, the corner where Ben Simon worked the graveyard shift hadn’t seen a car pass in ten minutes. He looked up from his English textbook and peered across the street, to the small booth where his friend Isaiah worked. They had both gotten late-night jobs at gas stations at about the same time, and frequently used faux company loyalty as an excuse to pick on each other. Diagonally across the intersection from Ben was a third gas station manned by Mordecai Steinberg. While Ben and Isaiah had the occasional squeegee fight in the middle of the empty road, Mo usually stuck to his booth dutifully, reading the Torah.

Tonight was too cold for squeegee fighting, and the batteries had just run out in Ben’s Game Boy. His parents were mad at him for working on the Sabbath, and he had homework due on Monday.

Ben was all but dozing off when someone knocked on his Plexiglas window. He started and sat up on his shop stool.

“Sorry. What do you need?” Ben rubbed one eye with his palm as he looked up.

Outside the window stood a young woman wearing a military dress uniform. She was all straight lines – vertical spine, squared shoulders, and perfect uniform creases. And yet her face was gentle, hinting at a smile. Ben had no doubt she could take him apart in a hand-to-hand fight, and no one would make fun of him for getting beaten up by a girl afterwards.

Her eyes grabbed his, very pale and very clear, and she smiled. “What are you doing here?”

All at once, the world burst open. Light poured through the dingy windows of the gas station, and left no shadow. Ben Simon’s ears popped, his eyes widened, and he threw up his hands in terror. The woman outside the window threw light like a pure white sun, her smile only growing wider.

“Don’t be afraid!” she whispered to Ben. “I bring good news. The best news the world has ever heard. An hour ago, right here in Bethlehem, a Savior was born. The Messiah, Ben. Right here.”

At her words, the fear began to drain away. Ben lowered his hands and looked at her. Her eyes were bright and full of joy, and they stole his breath away.

The Messiah. Here.

He found his breath, struggled to pull it in. “Wh-“

“Not five blocks away. Down the street,” she said, lifting her arm to point, “you’ll find a newborn, wrapped in cloth. He’s in the laundry room of the hotel, lying in the sink.”

Ben barely had time to picture the King of Kings in his makeshift cradle before the angel looked over her shoulder, laughing. A battalion of soldiers in the same uniform, burning brighter than the day, swept in on wings of gold and silver, filling the intersection and the surrounding streets. Their voices shook the walls of Ben’s booth as they shouted, “Hallelujah in the highest! Peace on Earth to the favored of God!” There voices were as joyous laughter, filled with love and zeal.

The angel looked back to Ben, her wings unfolding like the sunrise. “Go, go!” she shouted giddily, and he lifted herself from the ground. Behind her followed the rest of the brilliant soldiers, shouting their chorus again and again. Moments later, the night was quiet again, and Ben could hear only his own riotous pulse. He stumbled out of his booth, staring at the sky, until he finally looked down to see Isaiah and Mordecai standing next to him.

“You... you heard that. You saw it,” Ben stammered.

“I know which hotel she meant,” Isaiah started, stealing glances at the stars. “We should... I mean, we’ve gotta- Mo! Wait!”

Mordecai Steinberg had turned and run headlong back toward his gas station, pumping his arms like an Olympian. He spun about breathlessly and shouted back:

“I’m getting my car! Don’t move!”

* * *

“Fernando! Is it refreshing?”

“Crap, I’ve got no bars. We hit a dead pocket... no! Wait, there it goes. What does it say?”

“Turn around! Shaun, turn around!”

The van halted sharply, and the young man and woman in the back braced themselves as best they could. Bina Zarafshar clutched at the notebook computer on her lap as the monitor swung forward and down. The cord running from the computer to their team’s cell phone snapped taught, and Bina caught her breath.


Fernando noticed at the last second and pulled down his hand, slackening the cord. He chuckled nervously and sat down. “That was bad. Almost tugged it right off your lap.”

“It’s okay. It’s fine. Wait. Did we-“

“Yes, yes, we got dropped. But we’ve got good reception here. Good spot to reconnect.”

Shaun parked the van and climbed into the back.

“How close are we?”

Bina looked to the chart. The latest data from the feed had been factored in, and the numbers were huge. Monumental.

“Oh, we’re close.” She couldn’t help but laugh. They were almost on top of it. “Try turning right back at that last intersection.”

Fernando nodded and grinned eagerly. “This is too good. Too good. You should redial now.”

“Oh! Right.” Bina double-clicked the link to her ISP, and the cell phone began dialing. None of them considered the absurd charges they were racking up, connecting to the Internet through an international call. The signal shot through the atmosphere, and a few moments later, the connection was up again.

“Good,” said Shaun. “You let me know if we get dropped again, okay?” His eyes grinned every bit as much as his mouth. He hopped back into the driver’s seat.

“Of course. Just brake easier!” Bina looked back to her screen. She logged back into the University network, and the feed began again. “All right, we’re receiving data... yes, definitely turn right back at that intersection. The stream was almost off the chart right there.”

“Let me see,” Fernando said, leaning in to see the screen. Bina turned it toward him, and he laughed aloud. The graph, which read “Divine Particle Density,” showed a spike in an already remarkably high, steady level at about the time they had passed the intersection.

“When we show this to the Nobel committee,” Fernando smirked, “do you think they’ll mind the name ‘divine particle?’”

“It’s as good a name as any for what they are,” Shaun shouted from the front, putting the van back in gear. He swung the vehicle around as fast as he dared and headed back along the road. “Tell me the convergence hasn’t moved.”

Bina shouted back, “No, it hasn’t moved for hours! And it has to be in this town... where are we?”


“No, what country?”

They all laughed. For all they sleep they had gotten in the past week of tracking and traveling, they should have been exhausted. But sleep was far from their minds.

* * *

No one was doing laundry this late, thankfully. There was a slight draft from under the door, but other than that, the room was warm enough. Joseph leaned on the wall by the sink, sleeves rolled up, looking down at his son. He hadn’t stopped grinning for hours. He couldn’t help but think that there was a better place to put him, but he had dried out the basin well enough. And besides, the child had been sleeping peacefully since the doctor had left.

Joseph sighed happily and threw a glance at Mary, who stirred on her cot. A few thin, dark curls still stuck to her wet forehead, and her face was still ever so slightly flushed. Joseph knelt by her side, by his wife’s side, and let himself just stare at her face. Her mouth was barely open, her breath steady and calm. A nice change of pace from... had it only been an hour ago? He shook his head in awe and smoothed Mary’s hair back from her face.

“My God,” he breathed, “you’re amazing.”

Her breath drew in sharply, and her eyes flickered open.

“Oh! Did I wake you up? I’m sorry...”

“No, no, it’s okay,” she said sleepily, squinting her eyes and stretching. “Is the baby still...”

Joseph nodded. “Yeah. Still asleep in the... sink.” He chuckled despite himself.

Mary smirked, shaking her head from her prone position. “The sink. Oi.” She slipped her hand into her husband’s, catching his eye. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Joseph squeezed her hand and held her gaze. He merely nodded, and leaned in to kiss her.

It was then that the doorknob turned. The couple looked up sharply as a young man poked his head into the room.

“Hello?” he said.

“Hello,” Mary replied. There was suddenly no sleep in her voice, and she sat up on her cot.

The young man was jostled forward by someone behind him. He stepped through the door, and two other teenagers followed, all scanning the room expectantly. They all wore blue uniforms with the logos of three different gas stations on their breast pockets. Their eyes settled on the sink in the corner at the same time. The one in the back gasped. “Is that... is the baby...?”

Joseph threw his wife a confused look, and found her doing the same. “How do you...”

“This way! It’s got to be right here!” came a woman’s voice from outside, speaking English.

A moment later, three Americans burst into the laundry room, carrying a laptop hooked up to a cellular phone. They all wore wrinkled, lived-in shirts and jeans, and were watching the screen of the laptop with awe in their eyes. The only light-skinned one of the three, who had nothing in his hands, looked urgently to all those assembled in the small room.

“Please, tell me one of you speaks English.”

The three gas station attendants, Mary, and Joseph, all began speaking at the same time, in English.

“Oh, thank God. Look, there’s a completely unique quantum event happening in this room, right here! We’ve been tracking it from America for the last nine months, and... what is it?”

Bina had set down the laptop and walked over to the sink, almost in step with Ben. Joseph took a step toward them, but Mary put a hand on his arm. The Jew and the gentile peered over the edge of the basin.

And there, wrapped in three of his father’s old t-shirts, was the child, his breath whistling softly through his nose. If peace were a child, it could be none other than this. Ben’s breath caught in his throat, and Bina’s eyes lit up.

“It’s him.”

“It’s a child,” Bina gasped.

Joseph breathed deeply, still uncertain. “How did you know we...?”

And all at once, the rest of the new arrivals realized that they had found what they were seeking. Suddenly they were all laughing in delight. Ben knelt by the sink, eyes locked on the Anointed One. Shaun grabbed Fernando by the shoulders, tears in his eyes. “A child! Of course it’s a child!” He turned to Mary and Joseph to explain just as Mo Steinberg did the same, and they launched into their stories as one.

“Wait, wait, wait!” It was Ben, who only now looked back up from the sink-turned-cradle. He held up a hand for silence, and turned reverently to Mary and Joseph. “What is his name?”

Mary met his gaze, slowly beginning to smile again. “His name is Joshua.”

They all took in the name in silence. Fernando grinned and nodded in approval. “Joshua. Jésus in Spanish. It means...” His voice trailed off.

Mary nodded with him. “The Lord saves.”


Blogger Third said...

yeah, i was going to post that, if you didn't.

4:13 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home