Monday, December 31, 2012

O Holy Night

Under absolutely no circumstance would Brad accept the offering from his estranged mother. That’s what he promised himself a week earlier. Reaching for the opened envelope signaled his surrender. His shoulders slumped and a heavy sigh nearly folded him in half. Brad removed the check and re-read the note attached.

“Hope this helps you make it through the holidays.”

His is mother spoke in code. What she really meant was that it would totally spoil her social status if elite friends read in the newspaper that her son starved to death on Christmas Eve.

“Twenty stinkin’ bucks to clear her conscience!”

The bank closed at noon on Christmas Eve and it was 11:45 a.m. Brad stuffed the check in his front pocket and grabbed the hand-gun from atop the refrigerator. His hand trembled as he operated the slide and watched a round disappear into the chamber. He shoved the weapon down the waist of his jeans before he lost his nerve. It settled cold against the small of his back.

“The gun won’t be necessary”, he re-assured himself, “Just insurance.”

Brad had been out of work for almost a year with no solid prospect in sight. His cupboards were bare and as of three days ago the electric company decided to cut their losses. He spent most evenings alone, shivering in the dark, contemplating what could have been done to stall this downward spiral. Blow after bitter blow life rained down on him until a shabby apartment was the only standing between him and homelessness. In the still moments of dawn he crossed a tipping point when an idle mind eventually turns on itself. Where the darkest of dark settles in your bones and absolutely nothing separates you from hopelessness. Even as he entered the revolving door of the bank he mumbled words of despair.

“You miserable son-of-a-bitch, your life couldn’t get any worse!”

Brad Sinclair could not have been more wrong. A swift dissension into chaos left him regretting having ever uttered such things.

The coldness of the marble floor seeped through his jeans until his knee-caps ached. Every time he felt the urge to shift his weight he reminded himself of the potential repercussions. Two eerie gaps in the line of those commanded to kneel; black, empty space on either side of him where living, breathing creatures had been moments earlier.

“So for any of you numb-skulls that rode the short bus—this here’s a heist. Don’t be foolish and no one else gets hurt!”

The shortest and ill-tempered of the gun-man laughed for a disturbing amount of time at his own comment. As if anyone needed a further indicator of his disconnect with reality than what they all were forced to witness moments earlier. He paced back and forth; his assignment to patrol the line of hostages while his partners in crime attempted to gain access to the vault.

Brad’s attempt to reconcile such evil and heartlessness was futile, but he couldn’t stop his mind from circling back. To the right of him a sophisticated looking, salt-and-peppered haired gentleman lay face down. When questioned about access to the vault the quivering of his voice was interpreted as stalling. The empty space between words was enough to make him the recipient of a round to the back of his head mid-sentence. Brad couldn’t turn loose of the injustice. A man’s final thoughts; the fear and regret of everything he had done wrong in his life, splashed against Italian marble for the world to see. Among the intricate pieces that comprise a man’s life, a single sliver of consolation that he flashed from life to death in an instant.

Brad said a quick prayer for the young, blonde sprawled to his left. He could see the fog of condensation on the tile below her nostrils. The marauder had asked things of her she was incapable of. Despite repeated warnings she could not suppress an occasional sob with regards to her two little girls at home. Brad grappled with how such a predictable reaction from a mother could trigger a tidal wave of agitation. Anger so all-consuming that it subsided only after the butt of the man’s weapon met with her skull.

As soon as the perpetrator’s back was turned, without thinking, Brad reached forward, pushed her legs together and pulled her skirt back to a dignified position. Anyone deserved that much.

Brad spent the next several moments mentally distancing himself from the half-baked idea of robbing a bank. He was ashamed to have ever considered it. Perhaps had the circumstances gone terribly wrong, Brad might have brandished the hand-gun but would have never used it—not with the carelessness this animal displayed.

“This Christmas music is driving me ape-shit!” He bellowed.

Until now Brad had been unaware of Bing Crosby’s full and rich voice drifting downward from the lobby speakers. ‘White Christmas’ was followed by ‘Holy Night’. As it began to play Brad suddenly became aware of the Christmas tree near the teller desks, adorned with all of its elegant white lights. He stared at the lighted angel sitting atop the tree until her glow transformed his mind to a vision of himself as a young boy sitting next to his grandmother in a country church on Christmas Eve. A measure of peace fell over him as he heard his grandmother’s sweet voice once again. Brad was unaware of his humming until he heard a quiet voice most distinctly in the present.

He turned to the woman next to him. She was probably early sixties with a soft and kind face; the kind of person you supposed smiled at anyone. She had tears in her eyes, but offered Brad a warm parting of her lips before closing her eyelids tightly. She too moved to another place and time. Her voice became louder and sweeter. One by one, the remaining ten hostages joined hands; discovering within themselves the strength and defiance to join in.

The gun-man sensed the loss of control and sent a spray of bullets into each overhead speaker. The initial blasts from the muzzle temporarily interrupted the unlikely carolers, but soon there was no need for music at all. One after one a different employee or customer led the group in their favorite Christmas song.

Waving his weapon and threatening their lives was no longer effective. Collectively and harmlessly they had disarmed the perpetrator and he realized it. Even as Brad sang he watched the reactions closely out of the corner of his eye. His level of agitation grew ten-fold as he stopped his feet like a child. He moved quickly toward the nativity scene.

First he accosted the wise men, mowing them down one by one. He then turned on Joseph, laughing madly as he decapitated his representation. The cold-blooded murdering of Mother Mary caused several in the group to flinch, but even as the last splinters of wood and paint floated to the floor the ten remained relatively composed and able to carry a tune. The frustrated robber loosed a blood-curdling screech as he kicked the manger with all his might.

“Merry Fucking Christmas, Baby Jesus!”

The blasphemous outcry echoed and reverberated through every heart, and the singing stopped. In slow motion baby Jesus rose to the apex of his travel until gravity reversed the arc. When he collided with the hard surface his appendages broke free and skidded in different directions. The torso of the Christ-child rolled toward the line of mourners. The women next to Brad burst into tears, shook free of Brad’s hand, and leapt to rescue the child as if he belonged to her. Turning her back to the gunman, she drew the child to her bosom and began to rock from side to side. Her friends watched in horror as the gunman leveled the muzzle in her direction. Brad reached behind and retrieved his handgun and one final time the lobby exploded in chorus of gunfire, smoke, and guttural wailing.

Two officers led the remaining hostages from the bank single file. A swarm of reporters jammed recorders into Brad’s face and began firing questions.

“Sir, How does it feel to be a hero? It’s rumored that you broke one of the gunman by joining hand and singing Christmas carols, whose idea was that? Is it true you purposefully only wounded the three when you clearly could have killed them all?

Brad stared at the ground for a moment before responding.

“Ma’am, It’s Christmas Eve isn’t it? Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance.”

Brad lowered his head again and weaved through the circle of hungry faces until he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning quickly to confront an overzealous reporter, he was met headlong with the kind, smiling face of the woman who rescued baby Jesus.

“Thank you for what you did for me today. By the way, my name is Marlene.”

Brad smiled and extended his hand.

“Well Marlene, you have the voice and heart of an angel. Thank you for your courage to lead us in song, and reminding me that I am part of a world much larger than my own troubles. No matter how little we believe we have, we always have something to offer someone—and today the comfort in knowing that feels exceedingly good.”

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