Christmas in Herald Square

The first thing Michael thinks when hears the old crooner singing about Herald Square is ‘Fuck New York’—he’s a New Englander by birth, after all, and an inferiority complex was his birthright. The second thing he thinks, though—that’s what kills him. ‘Fuck Christmas,’ he thinks. “Fuck Christmas,” he says out loud.

It has been a year since his grandmother’s passing. Over the summer, as autumn approached, he asked his wife if they could just skip the holidays altogether this year. But the response had been “No,” and she’d convinced him that the feelings he was connecting with the most wonderful time of the year would pass.

They have not.

When he sees sidewalk Santas, when he hears carolers singing, he does not smile and he most certainly does not feel the cheer. All he can think of are coffins and false teeth forcing smiles and goodbyes he never got to say. Then, then the demons in his head start hurling other things at him. They attack him with the stresses of the end of the semester and the flight back east that is only hours away. ‘Think of all those papers you have to grade,’ the demons tell him. ‘Think of all those presents you have yet to wrap, of all the confused, disappointed looks you’ll have to process as the gifts you’ve given—always the wrong gifts—are opened.’

It is only the crooner’s line about chestnuts roasting on street carts that saves him from drowning in the lake of his own despair. Suddenly, he closes his eyes and he is in his own version of Herald Square. It is Downtown Crossing at dusk. He is racing through the streets of Boston from his office to the train station, in the years just after college. He is racing until he smells that sweet aroma all around him. Then he stops, just beneath the awning of Filene’s Basement, and he is warmed by the smell, by the tableau in the window before him: a family and their dog, playing in the snow. He will miss the train, he will miss kissing his bride-to-be goodnight, but he is—for a moment, at least—okay with everything he is missing and content with everything that is right here and right now.

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