An Understated Magi

Dumping the peppers was making me late. It was only a Saturday side job and my employer was probably still rubbing last night's venial sins from crusted eyelashes. That row of mason jars had been sitting atop my kitchen cabinets for well over four years, mocking me from their pressboard perch. Kristen's canning abortion lingered like a reminder of what unhealthy love can yield:  a dusty relic of time gone by that haunts you, breaks you, castrates. Company often asked about them and I fumbled for an answer. The drain sucked down the liquid, the trash can took the solids. I smirked with overdue accomplishment and descended to the sidewalk.

I'd seen him around town ever since I'd moved here shortly before the breakup. It was unclear where he slept, but his clothes implied a stairwell. He was old enough to have served in the latter years of Vietnam and the courtesy in his eyes suggested that the young man who drew a bad hand had served his country dutifully. There was always a nod or a wave from the suntanned skin he washed in public bathrooms. Long strands of gray hair fell from his head and upper lip. This morning a trenchcoat shielded him from the first delayed frost that had stalled until December. While I approached my truck, he rummaged through the ashcans behind the bar next door.

I pulled the pack from the left breast pocket of my denim shirt and counted its contents. Eight was enough to last him two days. Eight was enough for a Festival of Lights.

"Want a smoke?" I asked while my altered course intercepted his.

"I found a few butts," he confided. His trenchcoat made him look like a film noir detective. What he sought was the boiled down reduction that all of us pursue in our our ways:  a few simple pleasures before the curtain falls.

I handed him my box of smokes without the complication of words. He replied with "Merry Christmas." I admired the lack of "Happy Holidays" paranoia. We went our separate ways.

My truck rumbled to a start and I shifted into gear. I was barely out of the municipal lot when my part-time employer called to notify me of his anticipated delay. A boiler he'd installed last winter was having trouble. A man of his word, he was heading there with vengeance.

"I'll call you when I'm finished," he said. "Stay home for now."

I parked and climbed three flights to my apartment. My boots were returned the closet and I peeled my work garb off. Air bubbles plagued the copper pipes in its hydronic heating, but sunlight augmented the warmth. It seemed the right time to wash those mason jars. The faucet ran, the dish drain filled with glass. Timing sets the stage for the silent wars endured. A block or two down Main Street the outdoorsman lit his first.

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