*ed. note: For those not in the know, you can read more about the incredible Tom Ironsides here, here & here . As I understand it, Perrin is about to rerelease The Substitute - the first Ironsides novel - w/ a new publisher, and we should see the second installment in the not-too-distant future.
~a Tom Ironsides tale by Perrin Lovett~
Saint Thomas of Aquino College, Blowing Rock, North Carolina, December 22, 2022…
As the low December sun dipped behind the mountains, their afternoon dance complete, the slow-drifting refracted beams of stained glass light faded from the chapel wall. Several of the older congregants and more than a few of the youngsters noted the departure, with at least one mind wishing the ephemeral decorations good evening and goodbye. The tall, commanding speaker, standing in the middle of the steps before the altar, wearing a dark suit, an unusual tie, and a genuinely delighted look, took the shadowy spectacle as the signal to conclude his presentation.
‘And so,’ he said, ‘in summation, it has been, all the news of the outside world notwithstanding, a wonderful year both at the collegiate level and, especially, at our nascent little school. By the way, my earlier remarks, just to be clear, about quote-unquote wisely investing the center funds in something called FTX, that was a joke. I didn’t think enough of you laughed at the time, not in here, and it was difficult to gauge the online mood.
‘Speaking of that, what a testament! There may, in fact, be great things ahead for our concept of internet-assisted homeschooling. A note was passed to me some minutes ago, and it seems we have just over two-hundred families, benefactors, and friends joining us via the video call function. From as far away as the Helvetic Confederation and Slovakia, I might add. I regret to inform those of the digital set that they, unfortunately, will not be able to directly partake of the sandwiches, punch, and cookies which we’ll enjoy momentarily.’ Here, a peal of general laughter erupted.
‘My apologies,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘Perhaps that’s the next grand step in technology. But again and again, thank you all for coming this evening, all of you watching nationwide, worldwide, and everyone within these walls. I’d like to especially thank our tech department friends for making the wider conference possible. And I owe a debt of gratitude to all of my classics students and the other young academicians who stayed several days after finals to help. The younger kids love all of you, they look up to you, and your assistance has been beyond important. Critical, if you will. And if I’ve missed anyone, then I offer a great, all-encompassing thank you!
‘Just before we wrap this show up and commence our Christmas partying, a final word about those unpleasant secular and spiritual matters, the ones that have dogged us particularly hard of late. In an optimistic spirit of defiance, I offer you this inspirational challenge: There is no cure for this evil, but by the giving of greater force to the good hand. The righteous cause must be strengthened with might to resist the wicked, to defend the helpless, to punish all cruelty and unfairness, to uphold the right everywhere, and to enforce justice with unconquerable arms. Oh, that the host of Heaven might be called, arrayed, and sent to mingle in the wars of men, to make the good victorious, to destroy all evil, and to make the will of the King prevail! So wrote Henry van Dyke in his story of the Christmas Angel in 1905. In his young century, and in ours. Fear not! Our side is just too strong; they can’t win. Merry Christmas, everyone!’
The gathering then removed to the adjacent events center for further merry festivities. Tom inched to the back doors of the chapel and greeted everyone again as they disembarked in search of food and drink.
‘What a wonderful message, all of it,’ someone said. ‘I always loved van Dyke, and you did his words great justice.’
‘Thank you. It’s easy in a beautiful setting filled with gracious people.’
‘The virtual crowd enjoyed the show,’ a techie told him. ‘You had them overload the chat box! I emailed you all eight hundred messages for later, just like you asked.’
‘Thank you! Couldn’t have made it work without your help.’
‘You’ve made quite the start in only three years, Colonel,’ a woman said.
‘Time flies when you’re making progress and having fun!’
‘Public speaking might be your thing, sir. You should teach or something,’ one of his classics students said.
‘Yeah, I need to look into that.’
‘I knew you were trouble when we hired you,’ a Regent said. ‘My kinda trouble.’
‘All I’ve ever really been good at.’
‘What did you do to those state DOE people from Raleigh?’ another professor asked.
‘Get with me after the break about that.’
‘I like your tie, Doctor I,’ a little girl from the day school said. Her mother stood behind her, alternately smiling and biting her lower lip, and conspicuously batting her eyes at Tom.
‘It’s daffy just like us,’ he replied while ignoring the maternal flirtation and looking down at the Santa hat-sporting Duck himself.
He entered the hall last, walking and chatting with Oak Moreland. ‘I have to meet this woman, Chief,’ he said in response to some new information. ‘I suppose she’s behind these subtle changes in your ways. Have you noticed?’
‘No,’ Oak said. ‘Well, okay, I do notice her, shall we say, positive influences. I have also noticed a few things about you lately, boss. Are you aware that you, just now and three times, called this place the center? Didn’t I tell you? The Ironsides Center has a ring to it!’
‘Huh? Maybe,’ Tom said. ‘I’m more interested in seeing if a ring pops up in your life. Then you two can get on with the, you know, adding more kids to our programs.’
‘One step at a time, man! But, kids— Did you ever think, back in the old days, about your recent reason for being? I could always have seen it coming, but literally seeing it now, meeting her and all, is something different.’
‘Honestly,’ Tom said with light reflection, ‘back then, I didn’t even count on making it to retirement. Now that I’m here, I gotta admit this is the best part of life! Babysitting is the funnest job I’ve ever had, and kind of a reward for the trials of parenting – that first great go-round. Maybe a reward for any of the good work we might have ever done over all those mean years. You’ll find out before too long, one day, my friend.’
‘When will mommy and daddy be back?’ Oak asked.
‘Tomorrow, straight up from Charlotte,’ Tom said. ‘They took Jessica with them, her and her new positive, hopefully-speaking, influence, what’s-his-bubba. Bringing a college shuttle bus full of relatives, in-laws, and out-laws back with them. Thankfully it won’t be quite as many as last Christmas or the overkill year before. Got some folks scattered about this year. Oh, and I’d best remember to top that thing off before we return it. Wash it. Details.’
‘Can Todd drive it okay?’
‘Yeah. I mean, he was man enough to marry Vicky, so a box truck with seats shouldn’t be too bad. Who knows? Maybe she’ll drive. But not me! Cause I got something, somebody a whole lot more important right here!’ The men stopped and looked down at the gala’s smallest and youngest participant.
There, surrounded by college kids and swinging from Carmyn’s arm, was Tom’s pride and joy, his newest, funnest reason for being. She was named after Tom’s late mother, she was almost eighteen months old, and she was possessed of a constant bubbly precociousness. Her big brown eyes gleamed happily up at her grandfather before rapidly drifting over to Oak’s large, smiling face. She started hopping up and down and calling: ‘Bear! Bear!’
‘Hey, baby girl!’ Oak exclaimed as he bent down to her level. ‘Grrrrrr.’
‘You do look like a big, old grizzly,’ Tom said. ‘Especially with the beard.’
While the hulking man happily allowed many a tug on his beard, Carmyn proudly said to Tom, ‘not a peep from Meredith the whole time! She’s the perfect child. I’m not even sure she knows how to cry or fuss.’
‘She also failed to laugh at any of my jokes,’ Tom said with faux ruefulness. ‘Nor did she show any interest in my new Greek rhetorical powers.’
‘Gee, babe, that was all Greek to me too.’
Along with his usual Latin quips and French aphorisms, Tom babbled on in Greek a little more, or tried to, in between visits here and there around the room. He and Carmyn decided, along with an ample contingent, to simply make a dinner of the various finger foods, scrapping their earlier plans to dine in Boone. And so, perhaps an hour and a half passed pleasantly in the company of many good, intelligent, and interesting people.
Outside, as Carmyn snapped the happy toddler into her car seat, Tom made a suggestion. ‘What say we cruise downtown and look at the lights?! The park and Main and all?’ he asked. And, the three of them being in agreement, that is just what they did. Carmyn sat in the back with Meredith, whom she kept whispering to.
‘So, guess what, gramps!’ Carmyn said to the driver.
‘Vicky told me I could tell you this if I wanted to,’ she said. ‘You’re you, so you wouldn’t have noticed anything. And she’s not sure herself. I’m not. Mehr-Mehr, here, isn’t either, but we all suspect something!’
‘Is this leading to a riddle or a conspiracy?’ he asked.
‘It might, if it happens to be right, lead to another grandbaby,’ she said with a little gleeful squeal in her voice.
‘Woo-hoo!’ Tom exclaimed. ‘More babies! Number two of six, eight, or ten, I hope. I want all the kids to have kids. Lots of grandkids! Hear that, Meredith? You’re gonna be a big sister! And I’ll end up being the old man who lived in a shoe.’ He looked in the mirror at Meredith, and added in a silly voice, ‘he had so many children, he didn’t know what to do!’
For her part, the little girl was most excited about the prospects, as best she understood them. And she tried to follow the grownup conversation. Of course, at her age, she found the eventual turn in their words inexplicably mystifying.
‘Speaking of shoes, old man,’ Carmyn said while playing with the bow in Meredith’s dark brown hair. ‘Some of the kids and faculty were talking with me about all that sick stuff with the Balenciaga ads. Can you believe they tried that?!’
‘Baby, I can believe anything after all I’ve seen and done. And with all the news the past few years. But, yeah, it’s everywhere. BAAL-enciagas. Sadly fitting for our day and times.’
‘Lydia and I had a talk about that crap - oops, sorry Mehr - about that stuff, a few weeks ago,’ Carmyn added. ‘We never worked for the house outright, but we’ve both worn their, uh, stuff, at shows or functions. Makes me a little sick. Your big sis too. Yuck.’ The old Rover was silent for a moment. Then she changed the subject: ‘How about some music? A song?’
‘Oh, I got a song for our devil-worshiping friends,’ Tom said before clearing his throat. ‘Sing along if you— It’s cadence; just refrain after me if you know the words.’
‘Oh, Tom, is this—’
‘Down in the night, with the falling rain! Come on, echo me!’
‘Tom is this age—’
‘Down in the night, with the falling rain!
‘HALO jumper gonna bring the pain!’
‘Ka-Bar, Ka-Bar, sharp and dry!’
‘Hit the ground, find the pedos, and MAKE THEM DIE!’
‘What? She likes it. Look!’
‘She likes everything, darling. Just, uh, keep it nursery-friendly.’ Meredith was, in fact, bouncing and clapping in her seat. ‘Well,’ Carmyn said. ‘She— That was pretty clever. You know, little miss, your grandpa here used to take it to the bad people of the world pretty hard and heavy.’
‘Used to?’ Tom asked. ‘Used to. Well, someone has to guard the nursery.’
‘Okay, then do that, and stop guarding the radio. Find some Christmas music for our tour.’
Tom dialed up a Joyeux Noel compilation concert by Michel Corrette and Pierre Dandrieu, and the trio hummed and sang along while they light-hopped the small mountain Gotham. Tom had just eased by the town hall, slowing considerably to allow full viewing of the park decorations, when Carmyn’s phone rang.
‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Hey! How was the drive down?’
‘Good. A little traffic near the airport, but no problems,’ Vicky said from the other end. ‘The hotel is fine. We’re settled in. Before we— Oh, a couple of quick updates! Ari and Maddie landed a few hours ago in New York. That gang’s off to Gstaad in the morning. Domestically, Trey and Romana caught an early flight, so Jess and her bubba - hey, yeah, I think I’m starting to like him! - are down in the lobby waiting on them. I’ll tell her you said hello. We’re about to go down so we can all relax in the little bar when they arrive. Adult time! I can almost remember what it was like now. Speaking of, how’s our little baby?!’
‘Darling, you’ll be so proud!’ Carmyn said. ‘He’s driving us around, talking a little, only mentioning killing pedos once, he hasn’t spilled anything lately, and he’s almost minding his manners!’ The girls shared a healthy laugh.
‘Honey bunny, funny bunny?’ Tom innocently asked the mirror, his eyebrows arched.
‘No, the other baby,’ Carmyn continued; ‘She’s perfect! The hit of the party. We’re driving around now, light-seeing. She keeps cooing and singing. So sweet! So tiny and cute. And, she— Oh! She just mimicked me, tiny and cute, in that voice. She’s so perfect that we want to keep her. She and Mox really warm up the house. They make me feel alive and make your dad act like an overgrown kid. You guys can just stay put until New Year’s, maybe later. Or if you want, Mox and I can keep Mehr-Mehr, and y’all can take over with grumps. No? But I bet you wanna talk to her, don’t cha? My girlfriend’s right here.’ Carmyn leaned over with the phone to Meredith, saying, ‘put down the sippy. Mama’s on the phone! Talk to mama and daddy!’
‘Grumps?’ Tom mumbled to the vacant front passenger seat.
‘Mama!’ Meredith chirped.
Mother and daughter had a quick, blissful conversation, with Meredith even recounting her recent exciting encounter with a bear. Carmyn and Vicky had a quick, blissful discussion about Meredith’s big sister potential. Tom blissfully looped around from Main to Ransom and back again. After a minute, Vicky and Todd joined the sightseeing via a video call. Together, they all toured the small business district and the houses down 221 towards Tom and Carmyn’s home in the hills. As it happened, they were all so carried away singing Dominick the Donkey, they drove right past the driveway. But in short order, Tom carried the lightly sleeping Meredith into the house. He was whispering to her about why the old Babushka still searches every Christmas for a certain Child and why she leaves a single tear on each pillow as she looks. Meredith, of course, was otherwise occupied with the broad, firm pillow of Tom’s shoulder. She was awakened by and they were all met with a terrific woofing from Moxie, Vicky and Todd’s huge Tatra Shepherd, whom Tom and Carmyn were also babysitting for the night. Meredith began excitedly reaching down and calling, ‘Mos! Mos! Mos!’
‘Here you go, the two of you,’ Tom said as he lightly placed her on the dog’s back as if he were a small pony and her a tiny jockey. A short ride turned into a snuggle fest on the living room rug by the Christmas tree. ‘This place’ll be packed this time tomorrow,’ Tom said, waving around.
While he plugged in the lights and cranked up the little train, Carmyn asked him, ‘I’ve been meaning to ask. What’s in that huge, empty-feeling package in the corner? Behind the big, long, heavy one?’
‘Oh, that’s just a safe tube,’ Tom said, as he concentrated on re-centering a small engine on its tracks, honestly enjoying the smokey ozone smell that rose from the small shower of rail contact-generated sparks. ‘Plastic pipe’s all it is. It’s for burying what’s in the heavy present, or at least one of them. Seal it down, purge it, and good to go!’
‘One of them? What, pray tell, is in the heavy box?’
‘Mehr-bear’s Kalashnikovs! Matching set.’
‘Her what now?’
‘Latest version of the venerable AK-47! Two of ‘em, and boy, are they tricked out! I got her folding stocks, those slide-aside holo-sights Birch made, bayonet lugs, and—’
‘You got a baby assault rifles?!’
‘Battlefield rifles, my dear lady.’
‘She’s not even two! How’s she supposed—’
‘Well, not now, obviously. She’s not even as tall as they are long. The big drum mags probably weigh as much as her. But that’ll change, and when it does, I’ll be ready. Better to have them now than wait around.’
‘What’s Vicky gonna think?!’
‘I tell you, she’s going to be a little jealous, as these are much nicer than the one I gave her when she was this age. And there are two of these! Bury one, one by the nightstand.’ By this time, Tom was standing near the packages in the corner, rubbing his hands happily, expectantly.
‘Only you, Tom,’ Carmyn said. ‘Are they, what do you guys call it? Full-auto?’
‘No, no, baby,’ he said soothingly. ‘They’re on safe. Gotta flip the selector around all the way to go full. Safe, one, three, rock n’ roll.’
‘Only you— ‘
‘Oh,’ Tom said down to Meredith, ‘and yours I dipped in girly-girl pink. Pink princess guns! Next, Imma get ya matching pistols and 12-gauge autoloaders. We also need to talk about blades. One day, we’ll even discuss applied creative chemistry.’ Meredith was too busy gumming Moxie’s ear to notice the revelations. Moxie, upside down on his back with his paws folded, appeared to enjoy the munching.
‘Um, you’re a character, you know,’ Carmyn said while smirking and leaning on the large stone fireplace’s mantle. ‘You’re not trying to raise Hit-Girl, are you?’
‘Hit who now?’
‘Comic book heroine, darling,’ Carmyn explained. ‘Well, there’s not much meekness in you. There’s something to be said for that, I suppose.’
‘Meekness? Of course, I’m meek! And I want all my kids and grandbabies and all my people to be meek,’ Tom said in a semi-professorial tone. ‘Our English word, meek, as translated into Matthew, is derived from the - here it comes, again - from the Greek word práos, which means— It’s based on a military horse training term. It means a war horse disciplined to fearlessly stand in the face of battle, to respond to the just authority of the rider with controlled power. It has nothing to do with all this neutered, latter-day, Enlightenment nonsense about passively accepting everything. It means resolute, therefore strong service with neither timidity nor recklessness. We meek lil’ folks are battle horses in the great spiritual war!’ He looked down at the happily frolicking Meredith and added, ‘baby love, the war horses shall inherit the earth.’
‘I knew it,’ Carmyn said through a near-mocking smile. ‘When I first found you loitering on the street in Highlands, I knew you’d be interesting. Dangerous, but interesting. You’re a wonderworker, Tom.’
He answered her while still speaking more to Meredith (and Moxie): ‘We’re not alone, babydoll! Jolly old Saint Nicholas once said, or wrote in a Troparion, the truth of things hath revealed thee to thy flock as a rule of faith, an icon of meekness(!), and a teacher of temperance. He’s also roundly known as a wonder worker! We’re all war horses, my valiant little filly. By the way, he’s the big dude who follows hot on the little Babushka’s heels, Christmas night. That is if one believes in that sort of thing. And, maybe if one doesn’t mind mixing up cultural appropriations.
‘Speaking of! You probably don’t know this— And, yeah, I guess Mox’s ears and snout are clean enough— But, did you know that Saint Nick even made his way into Irving’s Sleepy Hollow?! It was, if I remember correctly, by way of a mention of the old sailors’ habit of calling on the protection of—’
‘Okay, um. Mehr, you’ll figure out that the, that the, er, curiosity and learning never stops around here,’ Carmyn stammered for a second. ‘Unlike the little train on Miner’s Mountain, with this one, the ride never ends. And hey, Professor, what did you end up getting Stanley? Some anti-tank rockets?’
‘Seven dozen of them, as it turned out. All thanks to Brandon.’
‘You’re wearing you’re I’m-not-kidding face—’
‘Just kidding, baby. No, I also got him a complete set of The Papers of John C. Calhoun and a copy of the new book about Calhoun in the twenty-first century. All autographed by Doctor Clyde Wilson, the author. He’s a friend of a friend.’
‘Wow! He’ll love those,’ Carmyn said. ‘Also…’
‘Yes, he will! He’s got a little room on a shelf behind the table with his Civil War chess set. Perfect place. He and the old statesman can sit there and strategize things working out the right way as he puts it somewhat wistfully.’
‘Is his book coming out through that publisher?’ she asked. ‘Wellshot or whatever?’
‘I think so, if he can ever decide on the title,’ Tom said. ‘Right now, he’s working with Red On Grey: A Physician’s Review of Procedures and Conditions in Confederate Field Hospital Triage in the War for Southern Independence, by Doctor Millionaire Hillbilly, MD. Mouthful and a half, but it’s a take on a battle and, you know, blood on grey uniforms and all. Might need a tad of PR work.’
‘Well, he will enjoy the gift books, at any rate. To think, he used to call you, that Yankee,’ she said.
‘That G-D Yankee, if I was on good behavior!’ he added.
‘Well, I won’t say anything before he opens them,’ she said with a smile. ‘What time do you think he and Dot will arrive?’
‘Not sure,’ Tom said as he picked up Meredith, pausing to tweak Moxie’s large, wet nose (because not even the CIA’s all-time best could resist). ‘Probably late morning or early afternoon. I expect the entire gang to converge around midday. I also expect someone might need a little changing. Ahem.’
‘Ahem,’ she repeated. ‘Why don’t we all change, and - this one’s wide awake and we have all the time - why don’t we have a fire out back? It’s fall-like weather. Too nice not to.’
‘A wonderful idea!’ Tom said. ‘You two take your time, then grab some drinks and snacks, and meet me and Moxie outside. We’ll be out there preparing. I already have the fireplace loaded, and I have a couple of surprises!’
‘Oooo!’ Carmyn said.
‘Suh-pies!’ Meredith said.
‘Ruff!’ Moxie barked.
Tom led Moxie away, singing, ‘...you marched in the battle of the grey and the red. When the cannon smoke cleared, took days to count the dead. ‘Cause, you fought all the way, Stanley Reb, Stanley Reb, you fought all…’
A short while later, the girls trundled out onto the flagstone patio, both dressed warmly in matching Tweetsie Railroad fleece, ready for evening comforts. Carmyn bore a large thermos full of hot cocoa and a s’more-making kit. Moxie ran in circles around Meredith as she toddled forth, a short stack of insulated cups in her little be-mittened hands. The little courtyard was lit both by the ambient light from inside the house and by the warm lambency emanating from the hearthstone. The air was noticeably cooler than it had been earlier, but it still possessed a wholesome, welcoming aura. An agreeable breeze was wafting the sweet scent of evergreens up the hill. Carmyn took a deep breath of it and sighed contentedly. Meredith thought she might have seen her own exhalation, and though she was not completely sure, she was nonetheless pleased with the simple, entertaining notion. They found Tom tossing the cap of a Bolivar Belicoso Fino into a fire that was already heartily crackling with life, approaching the roaring state. Radiant embers rose from the chimney to join an amber glow that all melted into a clear, dark, and star-filled sky. Tom had surrendered his suit in favor of tactical pants and a field jacket. A large brown paper grocery sack rested curiously upon the corner of the stone hearth. The former television goddess set up her snack bar on the table between two love seats, Meredith and Moxie rollicked, and Tom crudely lit his cigar on the glowing, smoldering edge of a log.
Turning to the crowd, he said, ‘well met! Lemme get this puffing along and then before we melt marshmallows, I have an inaugural tradition to — inaugurate. A second, please. I’ll also later need to Oban-ize my cocoa.’ He pointed to a bottle on the mantle while drawing on his Cuban.
‘Okay, one second! And what a nice fire, darling,’ Carmyn said. ‘It smells different. Sweet and maybe leathery. Using a new wood?’
‘Yes, kind of. And thank you. Now, just a moment.’
After puffing the cigar’s bold, aromatic foot to an orange brilliance, he temporarily placed it on the mantle. ‘Okay, let’s start this party! Little lady,’ he pointed to Meredith and then to the paper bag, ‘can you fetch the contents of this bag for me?’ The tyke did so, laughing at the funny little doll she found. It was made of cloth stuffed with straw: a misshapen little man wearing a white coat and a tie. Cheap paper eyeglasses were taped on his poorly-formed face, and what might have been a dinky cardboard excuse for a syringe was affixed to one of his arms. He looked comical yet oddly familiar.
‘What in the world is that?’ Carmyn asked incredulously.
‘Our new tradition!’ Tom boomed proudly. ‘It’s time for the first ever burning of the Tony Fauci effigy!’
Carmyn started to remark something but was caught in a fit of laughter.
‘Okay, babydoll,’ Tom said to Meredith. ‘That’s one of the baddest of the bad people. And that’s a life-sized doll too. So, this is reverse Molochism. As the youngest, cutest child present, it is your honor to throw the stupid little man into the fire!’
‘Tom, no,’ Carmyn began to say. ‘It’s too—’
‘Right, right,’ he acknowledged. ‘Not too close to the flames. Wait.’ He knelt down between the girl and the inferno. ‘Okay, you toss him to me, and I’ll chuck him in where he belongs. We’ll bring justice together! One, two … toss!’
Soon, as three voices cheered and jeered, and while Moxie addressed a tangle in his puffy tail, the hideous little mannequin caught and was engulfed in the cleansing conflagration. ‘Say, bye, bye, little troll!’ Tom instructed Meredith.
‘Buh, buh, leedle twoh!’ she exclaimed while jumping and twisting.
‘En Français,’ Tom said. ‘Say, brûle, homme méchant!’
‘Brooo-l … Oohm … Meh-chaant.’
‘Bra, omma, mekat!’
‘Perfect!’ Tom said happily. ‘Next year, we’ll add Latin.’
The girls curled up on one sofa, with Tom on the other, downwind and smoking away like the special new logs. Moxie rested his head on Tom’s lap for pets in between the man’s sips of Scotch chocolate. The sipping, s’moring, easy talk, star gazing, and fire-watching lasted for some time. A refreshing chilly air descended and the weather began to feel more winter-like. As Tom’s cigar was burning down towards his fingers, Carmyn said, ‘Tom. She’s asleep. Really asleep.’ He looked and saw brown hair nestled down beneath Carmyn’s fuzzy, half-open No. 12 jacket.
‘This one too,’ he said, scratching the dreaming dog. ‘We’ll get them both to bed soon. What a wonderful day and night.’ He shifted his boots, re-propping them on the table. Carmyn looked at them as if momentarily in a trance.
‘Back to the disturbing news, for a minute,’ she said. ‘I feel bad that Vicky and I bought you those Balenciaga boots a few years ago. A shame, they looked so good on you.’
‘Who, exactly, bought them?’ he asked. ‘But I know, right? Saint Nicholas and Saint Michael, protect us.’
‘That’s not them, now, is it?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘I got rid of them in an appropriate fashion. It’s like the old clergyman and teacher wrote in his story. We have to do what we can, in the face of the evils, to strengthen the good hand. Small acts of defiance against the darkness. These are new Danners. Marine Expeditionaries. I had my guy dye them black and buff them smooth. Kind of like dress boots now. Close enough. What a wild story. But let’s not dwell on that anymore. Happy time.’
‘Yes, darling,’ she said. ‘And, as per, you do make a lovely fire.’
‘I sure do.’
‘But, what? Not to linger, but how did you get rid of the BAAL-enciagas?’ she asked.
‘They make a lovely fire.’
A brief, obliging silence followed. And while neither of them mentioned the observation, they both, for a cursory instant, suspected they saw a few random snowflakes swirling somewhere out at the edge of the visible light.
A little deeper in the night, as fleeting sparks disappeared into the cold air, scattering the vague memory of molded forms of wickedness, both of modern pharmakeia and of the old cobbled Canaanite variety, a house quieted for decent rest. The angelic observer would have seen the strong man and his beautiful wife carefully tuck the tiny girl into her bed with kisses, a prayer, and a gentle “we love you.” A fluffy white guardian of a flock of one settled on the floor of his lassie’s room. The couple retired to their nearby chamber, she to wrap into his arms. So mingled and arrayed, the days closing steadily towards Christ’s Mass, the good, the meek and mighty, and the victorious drowsed in the prevalence of the will of the unconquerable King.
A Very MERRY CHRISTMAS To One And All