Christmas Eve and it’s going to be a long night.
One present left to buy.
The big one for Someone Special.
The mall is all but deserted. The kiosk vendors are packing up their cell phones, woodcarvings, hair straighteners, sun glasses and massage chairs and, in some cases, erecting Easter displays. Somehow the sight of an Easter bunny with a Santa Claus backdrop is disquieting.
I trudged through the ever-thinning crowds as store after store turned off their lights and brought down their security gates.
Oh well, I thought, as I made my way to the exit, looks like a gift certificate or an IOU or an envelope of cash dredged from the bottom of my closet will have to do. I’m out of ideas and out of time.
About that moment I spied a familiar shape shuffling towards me.
It was the Old Hand.
“Yo, bud,” I called out, “what brings you to the mall at this late hour?”
The Old Hand moseyed up and stood in front of me full of Christmas cheer and holding a bag full of goodies that nearly crawled out of their confines in joy.
“Hey, yourself,” the Old Hand greeted me warmly, “Season’s greetings to you, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Your sacking arm is recovering nicely, and I was talking with Carlos the other day and he sends his best.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I replied downcast, “happy whatever to you and Carlos. Well, I gotta go.”
And with that I turned away and headed towards the door.
“Hey,” the Old Hand called, “what did you think of the New Store that opened up this week?”
I turned around and asked, “What new store?”
“The one down from Foley’s. You checked it out, didn’t you?”
True, I had been down by Foley’s but I didn’t see any new store. There was The Gap and Buckles and the Watch Store and the Bagel Shop, but nothing new.
“No,” I replied, “I didn’t see the new store. What do they sell?”
“All sorts of stuff,” the Old Hand replied, “I think you’d find what you’re looking for there.”
“I dunno,” I replied dejectedly, “I’ve been all over the mall all night and I’m empty handed and it’s 10 PM. I’m just going to crawl home and…” I trailed off.
“Follow me!”, the Old Hand said enthusiastically, “You won’t be disappointed.” The Old Hand disappeared down the mall calling “Follow me!”
I turned and followed the Old Hand who was nearly skipping down the deserted mall walkway. Man, I thought, he can move when he wants to.
I hurried along.
Shortly we pulled up in front of a store I had overlooked during my shopping. The bright sign above the doorway flashed “New Store – Opening Soon.”
As we crossed the threshold I heard an all too familiar tinkling sound and through a fog in the back of the store, in slow motion, blonde hair swishing back and forth ever so slow, came Gizelle; hips pivoting, long legs reaching out atop 8-inch spiked heels. She was as ever beautiful.
Breathlessly, Gizelle stopped, towering above us and asked, “Is there something I could show you? Boys?”
Boy, howdy, could you, I thought, but said out loud, “I’m looking for a gift.”
“This way,” Gizelle replied without even asking me who the gift was for or how much I wanted to spend.
We followed Gizelle through aisle after aisle of exquisite gifts until finally she stopped and pointed to an object on the middle shelf.
“This will this do,” she stated petulantly.
I looked down and feasted my eyes on the perfect gift ever. I closed my eyes as in a dream, opened them again and, yes, it was still perfect. I checked the price tag having already decided that money was no object and the price was reasonable.
“Oh, yeah, babe,” I said, “this is way cool. I’ll take it. Do you gift wrap?”
Gizelle regarded me as she would an insect and replied, “Of course.”
The gift wrapped, the Old Hand and I left the new store and made our way to the mall entrance.
“Thanks, Old Hand,” I said as I shook his hand, “This gift is the most perfect gift I’ve ever found. It embodies what I feel, you know what I mean? It’s not just a thing to buy and give, but it expresses what my heart wants to say. It’s, well, perfect.” My voice trailed off.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said the Old Hand, “Well, Merry Christmas to you and yours and we’ll see you next year, old pal.”
And with that the Old Hand disappeared into the gently falling snow and in a moment was gone.
Just before I headed out the mall doors myself I spied the mall manager doing his nightly duties. I strolled up to the manager and told him…
“That new store of yours is a stroke of genius and I wanted to thank you personally for saving my hide on Christmas Eve.”
“Oh”, the mall manager said, “what new store?”
“The one down by Foley’s, where the Texas Store used to be before it closed.”
“There’s no store there,” the mall manager replied, “it’s still an empty property.”
Together we walked through the now deserted mall towards Foley’s where the New Store should be. As we rounded the corner we passed The Gap and Buckles and finally…
The storefront was dark and empty. Gizelle was nowhere to be seen. We peered through the window but there was no life inside.
“Are you sure this is where you bought your gift?”
“Yeah, I’m sure, look,” and I opened my bag clearly labeled New
The mall manager looked in and let out a low whistle, “Whoa, man, that’s a cool gift. Wish I’d found my wife something that cool. You say you got that here?” The mall manager looked around wistfully.
“Yeah,” I said, “I think so.” And, suddenly, it all seemed not as clear.
The mall manager shook his head, and we walked back up the mall to the main entrance. We said our good-byes and I headed off into the parking lot.
As I got to my truck I heard some laughing and looking up, I thought I saw Gizelle climbing into a low-slung, red sports car, the Old Hand sliding into the driver’s seat. I closed my eyes, shook my head and when I opened my eyes again the sports car was gone.
Is this a dream, I thought? I looked into my bag and gazed upon the perfect gift. I guess not.
Shouting into the night I proclaimed, “Merry Christmas, Old Hand!” And in the distance I heard a throaty varrrooommm and a high-pitched, tinkling laugh.