Carl is not mine, but I'm borrowing him for this story.
A little Christmas card for all of you. May you be blessed together with family and friends this season and every year!
By Spun Silk
Carl Kolchak stood next to his window, looking out past the standard-issue curtains that had probably hung there since around 1950. Not his usual place to stand in his one-room abode, but tonight he stood watching. And thinking. And drinking.
It really was pretty, you had to admit, no matter what your mood. Soft snowflakes coasted down slowly and added themselves to the chubby covering on everything. Cars parked on the side street, phone poles, wires, all had developed soft white hats. The few people outside this afternoon walked briskly and happily through the scene, or they too would have grown puffy hats of snow. It really was charming.
Kolchak was in no mood to be charmed, however. He sipped again on his whiskey – prepared straight. His tiny fridge had long ago given up being able to produce rocks. He focused stubbornly on being miserable. His idiot neighbor had the radio on, and thanks to the paper-thin walls in the old building, was sharing his musical tastes with everyone on the floor. Music of the season. Music for Norman Rockwell.
'Families gather together', the music announced. 'Christmas warms the heart...'
Maybe so, but then I've got the better deal, he mused, Jack Daniels warms the entire chest! He took another swallow.
True to form, that morning had been the hardest day of the year. Ron Updyke had been more annoying than usual. A true feat; that bar was set pretty high already. He sat at his desk pulling things together and humming 'There's No Place like Home for the Holidays'. He had already gleefully announced he was leaving mid-day to fly to San Francisco to spend the holidays with his parents. His delight grated Kolchak's nerves.
"Uptight, knock off that humming! Some people are still working here." he growled over the cubicle divider.
"Are we playing Scrooge again this year?" came Ron's haughty reply.
"More Cratchit than Scrooge, pinhead. Who is actually working for his employer here today?" Kolchak tried to focus on the copy he was typing. No such luck.
"Matt, where are you headed for the Holidays?" Emily asked happily.
"I leave tonight to see Samantha," came the response. "My fiancee, you know. I'm so anxious to see her, I can hardly see straight." he grinned. "What about you, Miss Cowles?"
"I'll be with my sister and her family, right here in town. She has two granddaughters, the sweetest things you've ever seen!" she clapped her hands together. "I so enjoy them! We have a cookie-bake tonight like every year and you should see those little angels rolling out dough." she laughed in anticipation.
Vincenzo was the next to break Kolchak's concentration. "Still hard at work, Carl?"
"Yeah. It needs to get done." his fingers never left the keys. After a few beats, he glanced up to find Vincenzo still standing there, looking awkward. He looked at his boss questioningly.
"Listen.. ah, what plans do you have for tonight?"
Kolchak became instantly defensive. "I have plenty of plans." he lied. "Plen-ty."
"Really?" Vincenzo looked surprised.
"Don't be shocked. I have a life outside the office, too. My Uncle Jack and I are getting together. We get together every year." He returned to his typing.
"I hadn't heard you mention your Uncle Jack before..."
"Well, I didn't know you needed to show a family tree to work here. I thought selling papers was enough." He raised his eyebrows for confirmation.
"Because Margret would otherwise have had you over to have dinner with us..."
Kolchak did a double-take, his fingers leaving the keyboard in surprise. Then he scowled. "I'm nobody's charity case, Vincenzo." he spoke darkly.
"It's not charity, idiot! It's a bone-fide invitation to Christmas dinner!"
"Well, Tony, that's really nice." he answered flippantly. "I'd love to, but one does not stand up my uncle. No sir!" He turned back to his typing, subject closed.
Vincenzo had stood there a few moments longer, but at last had returned to his office. Carl had watched him go over the top of his computer screen with a hard, unreadable look in his eye.
One by one, the newsroom had emptied itself of employees. Calls of "Merry Christmas!" and "Season's Greetings all!" and even one "Feliz Navidad!" had accompanied each departure. With the last happy employee out the door, visions of sugar-plums dancing around their head, silence settled. Kolchak had sat at his computer, staring a hole into his screen...
Now he stood at his one window, staring a hole into that, watching Chicago slowly be blanketed over with snow. Dusk was at hand, and strings of Christmas lights winked on up and down the darkening street. The neighbor's radio cooed a mournful sounding carol
In the bleak midwinter, Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago...
Kolchak was drinking to find the happy tipping point of not caring any more. He wasn't there yet, but he was on the prowl for it. He swallowed again. Couldn't even go to his favorite watering hole tonight. Nothing worse than the inside of a bar on Dec. 24th...
It was an exquisite torture, as nasty as any a demon could devise. He stood isolated, surrounded by everything and every one around him extolling the joy of togetherness. Unhappy, when the expectation was everyone was happy. It was the same each year. Not trusting anyone was a good strategy that served him well the whole year through, but... well, December 24th was something he ...endured.
When had Christmas Eve been merry? Had it ever? He remembered the one wish he'd had every year all those years ago as a boy– one wish only, never answered– just to have his father come back. Not for good, that was too much to wish for. Just for one night. Just for Christmas. In spite of... everything. He took a long pull on the whiskey.
Now with his Ma passed-on and his Old Man who-knows-what (and who-the-hell-cares-anyway to boot) that about did it for family.
Family was over-rated anyhow. Actively, this time of year.
As for friends, well. He had acquaintances. And of those, two types. People either hated him or tolerated him. Better that way. No one's going to disappoint you if you expect nothing of anyone. Those that tolerated him were good for a few drinks, a few laughs. But the sad truth was –and he was in the mood for sad truths at the moment– they probably didn't give a fiddler's fart about him beyond that.
He took another swallow and watched the snowflakes make their lazy way to the ground.
A sharp rap at the door sounded. His head snapped up. Nobody ever visited him here. Carolers? Hey, that might be nice. He made his way over to the door, and opened it wide.
Vincenzo stood there in a snow-dusted overcoat, frowning. "I figured."
Kolchak's face registered surprise, but he recovered quickly to frown back at his boss. Both men stood glaring at each other. Vincenzo at having been lied to, Kolchak at having his isolation exposed.
"What do you want?" Kolchak demanded.
"I wanted to see how your Uncle Jack was doing."
"He's fine thank you very much, and so am I. Was there anything else?"
"Give it up Kolchak. You're not meeting any uncle today."
"I most certainly am!" he glanced at his watch. "I leave for Uncle Jack's in about an hour. Just... strengthening my self here with a drink, first." he indicated the glass. "The Kolchak men are kind of hard to face stone sober–-"
"Shovel it some place else." Vincenzo glanced down at the drink. It was clear to him what was going on. He sighed. "Come join us for Christmas Eve dinner. Some food to go with your cocktail... I'm serious, Carl."
Kolchak was wary, his defenses on full alert. Unconsciously, he moved to have the door partially between them, and leaned heavily on it. "I don't need any sympathy, Vincenzo." he said coldly.
Kolchak was startled to find he believed him. He frowned and studied him without comment for a moment, then asked, "Vincenzo, how many years have I worked for you?"
"Too many." came the knee-jerk response.
"Exactly." Kolchak nodded in agreement, eyeing him cautiously. "Now suddenly your family time is open to me? What gives?"
"Carl...look." He started, then stopped. He seemed uncomfortable, and stared at his shoes. He tried again. "This past September, ... ah... I saw you..." he struggled for the right words, then gave up with a sigh and spoke the word he had to use, "...dead."
"Oh," Kolchak looked sheepish, "that."
Vincenzo looked up finally. "I didn't like it."
The shadow of a smile flitted around the corners of Kolchak's mouth. "I got better, Tony." he said.
"Yeah." he cleared his throat. "Well, anyway... Margret would like to invite you over for Christmas dinner."
Kolchak pondered. That shadow of a smile took on bulk. Music continued to filter through the thin walls. Why not? He grinned at Tony. "In that case, I accept."
Tony grunted approval. Kolchak put down the half-empty glass and picked his over-coat off the pile on the chair.
"Just one thing," Vincenzo said, turning to leave, "No talk about that crazy story you're working on at the office. I don't want to hear about that at all ."
"Right, no shop talk." Kolchak pulled on his coat and followed him out the door. "Good idea. I'm pretty sure without that plan, any chance for 'Peace on Earth' would be right out the window."