A string of notes came from the open doorway of the nearby church. "O holy night! The stars are brightly shining!"
The snow fell in a soft pattern, and the wind made it dance on the sidewalk. "It is the night of our dear Savior's birth!"
An old man with a cane tottered into view, slowly feeling his way forward as to not fall. His cane was shaking in time with the man's body from the biting cold. Or maybe it wasn't so cold; maybe it was just him...
"Long lay the world, in sin and error pining."
What once was a happy complexion was now a grimacing scowl on the man's face. His eyebrows were big and white, hiding the blue eyes that once shone with joy. His lips pulled down at the corners into a permanent frown; his face was creased into lines. On his head was a shock of white hair, but only a shock. His back was stooped, his body thin. And he wore nothing more than a pair of trousers, brown shoes, and a white shirt underneath a plaid sweater.
"Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth."
The music angered him, he hated Christmas music. Correction; he hated Christmas.
Nearby was a bench. Not a flashy bench, but a simple, wooden bench covered in snow. It was perfect. The man needed a rest from walking, so he staggered over to where the bench was, brushed off a portion of the seat, and plopped down.
"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices!"
The man relaxed his aching bones and rested. Immensely he wished the choir would stop its singing. Music brought back bad memories for the old man. Memories he wished he could rid himself of. Memories he was chained with, never able to free himself from.
The thought of his hideous memories overwhelmed the old man, and he hastily shook his head to clear out the pictures. A distraction is what he needed, so he began to look around at his surroundings.
The singing was coming from a nearby church. "St. Mary's" was written on a sign in front of the building. On top, the roof was lined with fairy lights, and had a light up manger scene.
"For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn"
This image was disgustingly happy for the old man so he looked away. He noticed a young girl on her cell phone walking towards him. His ears weren't as sharp as they once were, but he could tell from the expression on her face that something was wrong. This concerned him slightly. He knew that even though Christmas was an unbearably sad time of year for him, it shouldn't be for such a young person as she. She came within a few feet of him, and he could see that she was crying.
"You're breaking up with me…on Christmas…?" she sobbed into her phone.
The man closed his eyes, willing the memories to leave him, but then the combination of the music, and the familiarity of the girl's heartbreak on Christmas became too much. His memories came flooding back and on rushed the thoughts about that day; the day of which he'd been holding unthought-of of from his mind for ten years.
It was Christmas Eve of 1989, and he was sitting in the waiting room at the local hospital. He had been sitting there for a good while, waiting for his wife to come out of surgery. She was having a tumor removed from her liver. Back then, he was happier, and was grateful for the doctors who were staying at the hospital on Christmas Eve instead of wanting to be at home with their families.
He remembered the last thing his wife had said to him before getting wheeled into the operating room in her wheelchair.
"I love you, always remember that. Here," she had outstretched her hand, giving him her wedding band, "take care of it for me? When I get out of here, you can put it back on my finger where it belongs."
She had winked at him and given him his favorite smile, before she was forced to let go of his hand, and was taken to the O.R.
The nurses reassured him that everything would go okay, that nothing would happen. He chose to believe them, and sat patiently in the waiting room.
The time had passed quite quickly it seemed, but if he was being truly honest he would admit that he had fallen asleep. A nurse woke him up when the surgery was complete. But he had a strange sort of feeling in his stomach.
"Sir, your wife is out of surgery now…" There was a look in her eyes that said something was wrong, that something had gone wrong.
"You can follow me up to the recovery waiting room," she said while taking his arm.
He didn't say a word, but silently followed her into another waiting room. This one wasn't empty like the last one was though. It already had five people in it.
He took a seat next to another middle-aged man and his son, who was reading a Christmas book about an elf pretending to be a human.
One by one, they were called by a nurse to learn that everything had gone well in their family-member's surgery, and that they could go visit them in their room now. Everybody except for the old man.
He continued to wait for what seemed like forever, until finally a nurse came to him. This nurse had a friendly face, and it gave the man an unsettled feeling. He could sense that this was the woman they sent to people whose loved ones' surgery hadn't gone well. She wasn't really friendly; she was just practiced at telling people morbid news.
"Come for a walk with me, sir? We'll go up to your wife's room."
The man stood up silently, and followed her out of the waiting room. He wished she would just tell him already…
"Do you have any plans for the holiday, sir?" she asked.
The man grunted, and shook his head.
"Ah, that's too bad. I love the holidays…" she reminisced about when she was a little girl with the old man, but he tuned her out.
They finally arrived at his wife's room. He stopped in the entryway and closed his eyes.
"Sir?" the nurse asked with concern.
He took a step across the thresh hold and opened his eyes. The bed was empty.
He doesn't remember much past that point in the memory. But he does remember breaking down in sobs, and putting his wife's wedding ring on his own finger above his own ring. He hasn't taken off the ring since.
He also vaguely remembers his son coming to his house the next day. There was yelling, and throwing, and glass shattering, and medical bills… and no more visits from his son…
"Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!"
He hadn't realized he was crying until he stopped thinking about that day 20 years ago. Hastily he mopped his eyes with his handkerchief and sniffled.
He abruptly decided he had had enough of his walk, and stood up to go home. He was still blinded by his tears though, and slipped on the ice beside the bench. There was no one around to see, and no one around to help him, so there on the ground he stayed, weeping.
Then he heard a soft padding of feet on the snow and looked up. He was startled to find a face so like his own looking down at him. He had the same brown hair he once had, the same cheekbones, the same blue eyes…
"Dad…" the man said.
He helped the old man up, sat him back on the bench, put his arms around him and together they cried, saying nothing, but healing everything.
"O Holy Night…"