N eal discovered a spectacular postcard last yearÍ on it the baby Jesus and the VirginMary huddled in a manger, candlelight behind each head providing the halos. Normally Neal noticed only regular Christmas postcards with a jolly Saint Nick or a cozy, welllit home surrounded by fresh snow and a friendly neighbor sleigh riding by, a hand of greeting held high in the air. But this card depicted the real deal. This card was Ukrainian. He bought it.
His mother had him over two days before Christmas, which had become their tradition.
They sat on opposite sides of the table, feasting on ham, potatoes, a few carrots, and cookies for dessert. Afierwards, they took the bus to the theater and watched a Christmas comedy.
Neal accompanied his mother home on the bus, made sure she safely entered her apartment, then took the bus back home to his studio. That day they did not talk much, but they listened to the sounds of forks clinking on plates, boots crunching snow, and audiences laughing at slapstick. Later, alone in his apartment, Neal hung Christmas lights. He made popcorn strings of garland. He listened to Andy Williams. He turned off all the lights and left the Christmas string blinking on and off like a holiday strobe.
The next thing Neal knew, the phone rang and natural light filtered under the door and between the blinds. He didn't answer the phone in time but reaching toward the cradle left him staring at the faux fireplace mantel. On it, a solitary stocking hung. Above it, the postcard Jesus and Mary smiled at one another from inside the flame Neal had bought for them. Neal's presence intruded on their serenity. He freed them from the frame, wrote a short note to his mother on the back, and left the apartment to mail it, all the while thinking it was his mother’s turn to wonder where the hell Joseph was.