By Frankie Sturm
Tinsel shimmered in the moonlight. My wife burrowed deeper into her overcoat and tightened her scarf. She hadn’t gotten colder, but the temperature hadn’t tamed the stench. She reeled in disgust and contrived a better shield. I slowed down to investigate. She hurled onward.
Christmas lights sparkled above us. The city had purchased new decorations, and the young bulbs pierced the winter night. They glimmered sharply and cast the city in high definition. Memories of the old lights seemed gauzy in comparison. Garland stretched across the semaphores, buttressed by steel but weighted by snow. Red ribbons capped streetlights along the sidewalks.
I marveled at the silvery strand. It twisted in the breeze, catching a variety of colors along its trajectory. Moonlight anchored the foreground and illuminated the tiny bubbles within, a delicate string of vermilion and emerald roe, suspended from the bottom lip of a slumbering man who’d made a home of newspaper and shredded sheets.
He had fused into the park bench. They appeared to be a single, unitary object. He sat immobile, save for the labor of his withering lungs. He was drawn but not quite emaciated. If he had been a larger man, his saliva could not have attained such proportions. His belly would have curtailed the spectacle.
I wondered how long his drool had been gathering momentum. It hung precariously and peacefully above his legs, but it could not go on forever. It was already down to half an inch of clearance. I admired those last moments, charmed by the unexpected brilliance of the display, a Christmastime kaleidoscope descended not from the efforts of sextons or homemakers, but from the salivary glands of a man whose existence will be forgotten just as swiftly as the spittle’s journey from mouth to waistband.
The glistening twine reached the man’s lap. It went taut for an instant. I expected it to snap in the brittle air, but it did not. It doubled over itself from head to toe, a wobbly inchworm dragging its last flickers of light until it extinguished on the soiled garments below.
My wife had grown colder. She gestured impatiently and urged me on. She was right to do so. We were already running behind. I wanted to leave the man a dollar, but my hands were cold, and I didn’t want to remove my gloves. Wind was likely to sweep the alms from his sleepy grip anyway.
We arrived just in time for the homily. I couldn’t pay attention. Instead, I soaked in the darkness between the advent candles and let a new memory go gauzy, confident that the sheen of the tabernacle had nothing on the vision I had witnessed just moments before.