Ginger Ale Toothpaste

21 12 2009
ginger ale
In honor of Solstice, I present the 2009 Revised Edition of an original story. We embrace the darkness, we welcome the light, and we celebrate the cycle and the turning of the seasons. May the return of the light be a herald of peace, joy and prosperity for you all.

The multi-colored Christmas lights he’d strung around the window cast a buoyant light around the room. Generally, they didn’t shed much light, but because of their large number they were sufficient to write by. Besides, they made the otherwise small, base apartment look better. Everything looked better under Christmas lights.

To most, the task of writing Christmas cards was normalized; one viewed as more of a necessity, a price to be paid for holiday mirth, than a pleasure. But for some, like him, who were doing it for the first time, it was every bit as much a pleasure as anything else. He liked the feeling of writing Christmas cards. It made him feel somehow closer to the rest of the world, as though he finally belonged. To need to write Christmas cards was an achievement.

He put down his pen and looked at it fondly. He had bought it on his second trip to the city. It was of the finest quality and had served him well over the years. The pen was one of the old, familiar things that he counted on to always be there. Shifting his gaze from the pen to the stack of cards before him, he began to place them in envelopes and label them. When he was finished, he rifled through the stack, mentally noting each to be sure he hadn’t forgotten anyone. He sighed as he came to the last in the stack. The envelope had a name, but the card inside was blank. He’d saved this one for last on purpose. This one would require a special touch. This one was for her.

He picked up the Waterman fountain pen and uncapped it. Its shiny gold nib was lightly spotted with indigo ink and reflected the twinkling lights. The reds and greens, blues and ambers of the lights seemed perfectly at home against the glow of the gold. He paused. The pen hung, poised above the blank surface of the card for several minutes. This particular print of Christmas card had been chosen very carefully. Cheerful, warm, but with a touch of humor, and of course printed on 100 percent recycled stock. This card reflected him, in a way, and the wishes he sent with it.

The nib hung in space, expectantly. A quiet ache in his back brought him out of the warm daze he’d been in. Relaxing his stiff posture brought an admonishing creek from the desk chair and he recapped the pen and returned it to the desk’s surface. Rising, he stepped to the window, still half musing on partially digested thoughts. The window pane was cold despite the comforting warmth of the apartment. Seizing the moment of inactivity, a thought escaped from his brain. “It would feel warm to someone out there in the cold,” he said in a murmuring voice even though he was alone.

“What a bizarre world this is,” came another muffled declarative.

Outside, the turbulent winds sent snowflakes swirling around in a chaotic, wintery dance, always on a steady descent to the ground below. “Funny,” he said to the glass, clearly this time, “that snowflakes melt on a cold sidewalk, even though they thrive in the cold.”

A man stood on the curb below. He wore a long, black overcoat that flared in the cold wind that lashed through the dark city streets. No matter how many lights came on, the city always seemed dark. The man’s collar slapped against one side of his face, instigated by the wind, though he didn’t seem to notice. He looked lonely and concerned—or maybe a little anxious. He stood with the city’s darkness around him, seemingly oblivious to the wind and bitter cold. Finally, after several minutes the cruelty seemed to reach him, and the man pulled his coat around his chest and shoulders, and tried to hide from the wind in it.

He turned from the window and surveyed the apartment. It radiated warmth and welcome. It had taken a long time for this place to feel like home, but now it finally did, it was all worth it. He thought back, before he’d moved into the apartment, before he’d moved into the city. He thought back to college and then before college. He thought back to his friends. Where were they? What were they doing now? He missed them. He’d spent the best years of his life with them. But they’d made their decisions, and done what they had to do. It seemed so long ago, and so far away. He hadn’t wanted to go through it alone, but he’d said that he would—that he could—and he had. Certainly, there had been new friends, new memories, but never the same closeness. Never the same magic that they’d all shared. He’d made this life. His life. The way he wanted it. But there was no one to share it all with. Except maybe for her. When he’d met her, he’d caught an echo of those feelings—the closeness and the warmth. It seemed possible, anyway.

Breaking suddenly from the fit of nostalgia that clenched him tightly, he turned again to the window. The man was still there, standing in his place on the sidewalk like a sentry at his post. He hugged his arms close against his body now, as the wind lashed into him. Cars drove by, and as they passed, the sentry studied each one, expectantly. People hurried past on the sidewalk, taking little notice of his determination.

Minutes passed. Just as began to turn from the window and go back to the Christmas cards, something changed. It was a subtle change most would have missed. The man’s demeanor and stance changed. His grip on his own chest relaxed, and his head rose as he straightened his neck, giving up much of the protection his collar provided from the wind. His face lightened. An instant later, a taxi came into view and pulled up alongside the curb where he stood. His face lit up with a warm smile. He reached for the rear door of the cab but before he could grasp the handle, it flew open. A woman burst from the backseat, chestnut hair flashing elegantly under the harsh glow of the street lights. Her gray, flowing overcoat and silk scarf seemed forgotten in the moment, as did his own coat. The coats and the cold and the cab and the whole of the world seemed simple ornament, as she leapt from the taxi and they held each other, frozen for a moment.

He turned from the window again, and sat down in his desk chair. He did not look back to his work though. Instead, he glanced around the apartment and mused. “Everything looks better under Christmas lights,” he said to the night. The Christmas lights’ reflection in the bathroom mirror drew his eye. From his chair he looked in upon the sink and noted the tube of toothpaste resting there. The same kind he’d used since he was a kid. Looking at the tube felt the same as the clean, new feeling it left after he brushed. Nothing special about it. But it was pure and simple.

As he shifted his gaze, it caught on the corner of the desk. Once more, the Christmas lights directed his vision. The light they threw caught on a glass of ginger ale, and danced among the rising bubbles. The colors of the lights bounced around and diffused into the gold in the glass. The crisp, old-fashioned flavor drifted across his tongue. Simple. Pure. His eyes fixed upon some other object briefly, and then snapped back to the glass. The way the bubbles danced and sparkled reminded him of her laugh and how her soft brown eyes danced when she did. On his face the smile faded with the distance of the recollection, but inside it grew and his heart beat faster because of it.

“Wouldn’t life be a grand thing, if you could customize it, fill it with just the things you loved most? Just the things you loved the most,” he said to the lights.

The smile returned to his face. He could explain it later, but for now it would do. The pen rose in his hand once more, and the gold nib glided across the card stock on a trail of ink.

“How does ginger ale toothpaste strike you?”

by William Murphy

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