Sometimes I want nothing better than the tack and gear of traveling: good old well-worn boots, backpack faded with sun and rain, a steel canteen that was new in 1945. Today or tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. Tonight is the night when we call the sun back. Unless we just want to follow it. What, after all, do we have to offer? We're hardly in a position to bargain.
Sometimes I want to make a numbered list, just for the relief of seeing the numbers appear on the page, each in its place, the reassurance of four coming after three.
Christmas doesn't come like that. It's dangerous, variable, driven by rumor and anxiety. It lies buried somewhere at the far edge of the year, like a landmine. Somewhere else, somewhere far and far beyond, are the pale blue mornings of March and April. It's hardly worth even thinking of, though. For now, there's wax under our fingernails and stray fir needles on the backs of our jackets, and the neighbor's lights reflected in the driveway puddles. There's clouds climbing the ridge and backing off, there's condensation on the windows or frost, depending on which way the thermometer tipped at three this morning.
Butter and sugar crusting over my slowly curing chest: a layer of bone, a layer of muscle, a layer of fat. I wash my hands and wait, wait for the hot water to come. When it does I let it pool in the cup of my palms, soften the connective tissue, loosen the joints.
Okay, I'm ready for the new year to start. Huddled over the sink, I lift my head and see that strange stout man with the twinkly eyes, that Santa Claus, who lives in mirrors these days, with his shirt hanging down over his belly, and a faint puzzlement at the corners of his pursed mouth.
Merry Christmas, old man, whoever you are! Pull yourself together and get to work.