Johnny America




“It’s a liv­ing na­tiv­i­ty,” he said from the side of his mouth. Be­fore and af­ter that his teeth chat­tered. The snow on Pas­tor Bryan’s front lawn was­n’t fake. Loose robes were like­ly more ap­pro­pri­ate away in a manger, some­where in the Mid­dle East.

Kevin was Joseph, poised over Mary and her bun­dle of hope and joy. Ex­pe­ri­ence from the year be­fore led the church’s de­ci­sion to use a doll. Two-plus hours out­side in the heart of win­ter is sel­dom an en­vi­ron­ment en­dorsed by pe­di­a­tri­cians and con­cerned par­ents. One in­fant was hand­ed a re­prieve but Kevin, the woman por­tray­ing Mary, the Three Wise Men, the chil­dren dressed as an­gels of vary­ing or­der, and a troop of farm an­i­mals re­mained in se­mi-fixed po­si­tions as the ap­pear­ance of the North Star neared.

Doug took in the scene from the side­walk with a hand­ful of on­look­ers. Some had stopped af­ter dri­ving by the Pas­tor’s house, op­ti­mal­ly lo­cat­ed at one end of Christ­mas Lane, a small neigh­bor­hood ded­i­cat­ed to hol­i­day cheer and out­ra­geous elec­tric bills. Oth­ers were loy­al fam­i­ly mem­bers, snap­ping pho­tos of loved ones reen­act­ing that mem­o­rable moment.

Con­scious of the sanc­ti­ty the dis­play in­tend­ed, Doug point­ed to his wrist­watch and looked at Kevin with arched eye­brows. Kevin rolled his eyes in re­sponse. Ei­ther he meant that, “I’ll prob­a­bly be stuck here for an­oth­er two thou­sand years,” or, “I can’t be­lieve you’d be so dis­re­spect­ful.” The crunch of snow un­der his feet re­sound­ed in the still air. Even if Kevin were to break ranks and re­spond, Doug would not have heard.

Near­ly an hour elapsed be­fore the play­ers be­gan hop­ping up and down to pro­vide heat to their staged ex­trem­i­ties. Christ’s birth reen­act­ment drew to a close. Pas­tor Bryan moved through the set, shar­ing his ap­pre­ci­a­tion with the ded­i­cat­ed troop, as if they chose to participate.

The move­ment drew Doug’s at­ten­tion from the celebri­ty mag­a­zine he was flip­ping through. He turned on the head­lights, sig­nal­ing Kevin and il­lu­mi­nat­ing the flim­sy ex­tent of his cos­tume. Kevin paused then re­turned his at­ten­tions to the dis­man­tling of the set. Af­ter ten min­utes, then hugs and hand­shakes with cast and pas­tor, he got in on the pas­sen­ger side.

Over the heater and com­men­tary from NPR, Doug and Kevin ex­changed heys. Doug put the car in­to dri­ve and left the re­mains of the na­tiv­i­ty scene be­hind. He thought Kevin would do the same. The con­ver­sa­tion was lim­it­ed to the com­mer­cial-free broad­cast the en­tire ride home.

Kevin moved through the apart­ment, turn­ing off lights, when Doug de­cid­ed to break the si­lence. “I imag­ine cast­ing you as Joseph en­sured the like­li­hood of an im­mac­u­late con­cep­tion,” he said from un­der the tight­ly tucked blan­kets of the queen-sized, low-pro­file, ul­tra-mod­ern bed, “but it must’ve played hell on the young bride’s self-con­fi­dence.” Kevin turned and nod­ded, then be­gan un­dress­ing with his back to­ward the bed. It was min­utes af­ter ly­ing down that he said good night.

Since they were now talk­ing, Doug asked what day the fol­low­ing week they should go down to the agency. “Be­cause af­ter that they’ll prob­a­bly be closed for the hol­i­days, be­ing gov­ern­ment run.”

“Can we talk about it to­mor­row?” Kevin asked. He was on his side, fac­ing away, and his voice was distant.

“Sure. But if we could de­cide tonight, there’d be one less thing to have to do to­mor­row. It’s our on­ly day off to­geth­er, remember.”

Kevin rolled to his back and ex­haled. “It’s just that I had a talk with Pas­tor Bryan to­day, just be­fore the na­tiv­i­ty, and he brought up a few points that I’m not sure we’ve thought about. Some of the oth­ers in the con­gre­ga­tion had opin­ions, too,” he said.

“No kid­ding? What a sur­prise that must’ve been. Who would’ve guessed?” Doug asked.

“I think they had some valid points. I mean… what makes us so knowl­edge­able about child de­vel­op­ment? Maybe we’re be­ing a lit­tle pre­sump­tu­ous by think­ing we know what’s best. Maybe we’re not ac­tu­al­ly qual­i­fied. Maybe we’re not even ready, yet,” Kevin said.

“And maybe there’s no more room at the inn,” Doug added.

“What are you talk­ing about?” Doug asked, “That does­n’t make any sense.”

“No, it does­n’t,” said Doug, “Good night, Kev.”

In the morn­ing Doug woke up last. Kevin was in the kitch­enette, cook­ing and hum­ming. Mo­ments lat­er, Doug had a plate on the bed and a glass of juice on the nightstand.

“That was stu­pid last night,” said Kevin, “I just freaked out a lit­tle bit. The re­spon­si­bil­i­ty of a child and all. Pas­tor Bryan does­n’t know our sit­u­a­tion.” Doug looked up from his omelet. “He does­n’t know, but I do,” Kevin con­tin­ued, “and I’ve decided.”

Doug smiled. “A Christ­mas mir­a­cle,” he said.

Filed under Fiction on March 23rd, 2007

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