Merry Christmas to All!
Posted by Debbie Mumford
And to all … sweet Christmas Dreams!
The mermaid on the sign beckoned to Carrie. The young woman glanced away and rubbed her eyes, determined to walk on, but her feet remained glued to the snow-dusted sidewalk. Her gaze drifted back to the mermaid.
There! She did it again. A trick of the light? Carrie sighed, yanked the door open and stepped inside. No sense fighting it; she had to know what a beckoning mermaid sold.
Christmas shopping was usually the highlight of her season, but this year the sucking sound carried all the way to China. She shied from celebration now that Frank had deserted her. A depressing vision of her ex-fiancé locked in another woman’s arms floated through her mind. She rejected the thought and turned her attention to the mermaid’s lair.
The shop’s dim interior resonated with Carrie’s gloomy mood. Moving carefully through aisles crowded with knick-knacks from a bygone era, she gazed about for other customers. As far as she could tell, not another living soul disturbed the murky quiet of the little store.
Well, she thought, at least it’s not blaring Christmas Muzak.
For the first time in her twenty-five years, Carrie faced a Christmas alone, and that fact grated enough without the constant irritation of alternately cheerful and maudlin music. She sighed again—a long, breathy exhalation filled with bitter defeat. Being depressed at Christmas sucked.
She wandered through dimly lit aisles searching…for what? Despite the indistinct lighting, she noted the fine layer of dust coating each item. Disappointed, she headed for the door. The beckoning mermaid had led her astray; this mausoleum held nothing for her.
“Perhaps I can be of service.”
Carrie wheeled to find a gnarled old man standing in the tight corner between two large displays. Since she occupied the center of the only navigable path, she wondered where he’d come from. The ancient frock coat covering his small frame looked like it belonged in a museum, the wrinkles on his face so exaggerated he might have been made up for the stage.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” she said. “I’m just window shopping; not looking for anything special.”
“But the mermaid invited you in,” he said, his eyes sparkling with secret knowledge.
She jumped. “What do you mean?”
“This shop isn’t open for business—hasn’t been for years,” he answered, flicking dust from a piece of antique lace. “Yet you walked right in. She called you, didn’t she? She knows your heart.”
Carrie’s pulse pounded in her temple and her vision blurred. She refused to faint in a deserted store, alone with an obvious maniac. Carefully, she edged away, backing toward the door.
“Tell me, Miss Maxwell,” he said, his voice soft, almost crooning. “Tell me what you seek.”
The sound of her name on this strange man’s lips panicked her. Carrie turned and bolted for the door. She raced through a maze of dolls and books and lace-trimmed linens. She ran too far; the shop wasn’t that large. Confused, she stopped to get her bearings. She didn’t see the door, but she did see the gnarled little man; he waited a few paces away beside a wicker doll carriage.
He cocked his head of unkempt white hair and peered at her from beneath grizzled eyebrows.
“Don’t be frightened, Carrie. The mermaid and I, we mean you no harm.” His words gentled her, his tone calmed and reassured. “Be at ease, my child.”
Carrie relaxed, and why not? Kismet worked in odd ways. A mermaid beckoned, a wizened man guided, a treasured secret bubbled to the surface.
“Tell me what you seek, Carrie. Tell me your heart’s desire. What brought you out into winter’s harsh grasp so close to the Christ Child’s birth?”
His words cajoled…hypnotized…created a peaceful trance. Carrie fell headlong into his spell.
“I want to be loved,” she whispered. “I want a home of my own, with a husband who loves me, who’s loyal and true, and children, someday.”
Warmth spread through her body, flooded her soul with peace. Just beyond a display of hand-painted china, she could almost see the man of her dreams; a fleeting impression of a long, dark overcoat hiding a trim physique, a mischievous smile and a playful wink. She blinked, rubbed her eyes hoping to improve their focus, but when she looked again, he was gone.
The gnarled little man chuckled, reclaiming her attention. “Yes,” he said, “the mermaid always knows.”
He patted Carrie’s arm and guided her to the door, now plainly visible a few yards to her right.
“He’s waiting for you, Carrie,” he said as he opened the door. His words quivered in the blast of cold night air. “When you meet him…remember.” The door closed behind her.
Carrie roused with a convulsive shiver and blinked. She stood on the sidewalk before an abandoned store with filthy windows. The cracked and peeling sign above the door showed a bedraggled mermaid. She frowned, and wondered why she’d stopped here. Nothing to see in this grimy window.
Whatever. A sense of buoyant expectation filled her soul, her mood lighter than it had been in weeks. Frank’s desertion no longer mattered. He belonged to another existence. Let that other woman worry about the callous, disloyal jerk. Carrie deserved better.
She ambled down the sidewalk toward well-lit shops and scurrying pedestrians, her heart singing. Christmas was just a few days away, and she had gifts to buy for people she loved. She strolled past a brightly lit window displaying a colorful electric train chugging around a snow-capped mountain. The detail of the scene delighted her, but not enough to stop her forward motion. She walked straight into an unsuspecting man.
“Excuse me,” she cried, as he dropped his packages to catch her arms and hold her steady on her feet. “I’m so sorry!”
“Not a problem,” he replied in a firm, deep voice. “Nothing breakable in those bags.” He bent to retrieve his packages, his long, wool overcoat brushing the snowy sidewalk.
When he straightened, Carrie gazed up into sea-blue eyes set in a rugged face framed by snow-dusted dark hair.
He smiled and winked.
…And memory flooded Carrie’s soul.
Radiant warmth buoyed her as she held out her hand to the man of her dreams. “I’m Carrie Maxwell,” she said, suppressing a nervous giggle. “Tell me, have you met any mermaids recently?”