A little piece of fiction writing from Worthologist Mike Wilcox.
I stomped the dirty slush off my boots as I push open the restaurant door, cursing the season and the phony Ho-Ho-Ho of it all, letting the cold wind blast past. Everyone looked round to see who else was crazy enough to be out in this weather and then settling back to the Mama’s special of bacon, pancakes, eggs and home fries. I used to like Christmas, but the spirit left with my short childhood when my Dad died and there was never any money for again for the things other kids got. Christmas magic; Bah Humbug!
Most of the regulars here were an assortment of ne’er-do-wells, pickers, minor dealers with the odd big wheel looking to swindle anyone with an antique for sale and low on cash. Most of these guys were a pretty tough lot, living on their knowledge of getting by and turning a quick buck on anything from the Georgian furniture to hot games systems, and the worst of the bunch sat at the big booth at the back of the grill. To sit back here required a pretty thick skin and a history of past dealings—good or bad—where you were expected to know your stuff. If you got ripped off on a deal because you didn’t look close enough, there was no point in complaining to this lot.
Freddy the Picker slid over to give me a seat. “Want some of this cantaloupe?” he asked, “fresh from the market.” Freddy is on a health kick after 30 years of living off the auction chip truck, his body rebelled and put him in the hospital for three weeks with a perforated bowel. Now it’s porridge, fruit and veggies, but I can still see him gaze with lust at my bacon & eggs. “Sure thing, thanks,” I say. I try to encourage him to stay on the non-grease wagon, the others just egg him on.
“Hey, Freddy,” says John, the tool dealer. “You gonna start meditating and have those out-of-bodily functions?” The crew roars with laughter, knowing that until recently Freddy had to wear a colostomy bag.
Freddy slammed back. “You shut up before I shove the greasy garbage you’re eating up your nose.” The waitress, always knowing when to arrive, brings another round of coffees to shut everyone up. The owner only tolerates this crew because most of them don’t have much of a home to go to and eat most of their meals from his grill.
The talk is slow today, not much happening around Christmas. “Did you see that Van Erp Lamp on the ‘Roadshow’ last night, the one the woman had machine-polished?” asked Rick, the Arts & Crafts guy, always looking for a big-ticket score. “I thought she was going to have a stroke when that big jerk told her she had rubbed off $ 10,000.”
Normally, this would have brought an hour-long debate about the show, the high-class appraisers and the general bull in the business, but not today. The mood was a downer.
Freddy looked up from his porridge and pointed out the window. “Look, the winds dropped,” he said. Sure enough, the rattling of the front door of the grill had stopped and the snow started coming down in big flakes, falling in slow motion. I stared out into the snow as Rick started
prattling on about some Stickley piece he had his eye on and Freddy and John started up again about a deal they had been working on for the past two weeks.
The radio, which normally is only background noise most of the time, began to play Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas.” Not the one you hear all the time in the mall, but the original one from the movie “Holiday Inn.” Everyone in the grill went silent as Bing crooned on.
I looked about and it seemed like they were all in a sort of trance, Freddy and John seemed absorbed in the falling snow outside the window, Rick was pretending he had something in his eye and the waitress was just standing behind the counter with the coffee pot in her hand, lost in thought. The rest of the patrons had stopped feeding their faces and they too seemed trapped in their own private memories. In less than three minutes, it was all over. The song ended, everyone sort of gave their heads a shake, and normality resumed.
“Did you see that?” I said, “When ‘White Christmas’ came on the radio, it was like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Everyone looked like they were in a trance, everything stopped.”
John looked concerned. “What the hell are you talking about? I wouldn’t eat anymore of Freddy’s cantaloupe, if I were you. The pesticides are eating your brain.”
No one else admitted noticing anything, but the atmosphere of the grill seemed more relaxed. Everyone appeared to be in a better mood and you could hear laughter here and there.
I left a big tip for the waitress and headed out the door, I looked up into the heavy snow with tears starting in my eyes and smiling at the same time. I got a gift of three minutes of Christmas magic back that would last the rest of my life.
Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.
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