Rainbow Advent Calendar
Merry Christmas to you all, whether you celebrate today, on Christmas Eve, or tomorrow morning, Christmas Day. You’ve just opened the last door of this year’s Rainbow Advent Calendar, and I’m happy and very proud to bring you the final story. And what could be more fitting than an homage to the master of all Christmas tales, Charles Dickens, and his “A Christmas Carol”. Our story comes with a twist, of course, and it may just be the first LGBT-themed one out there. Enjoy!
Paul’s Dickensian Christmas – A Short Story
“Who are you?” Paul offered weakly.
The old man who suddenly appeared before him was scary looking, with a big white beard, a severe expression on his face, and the strange, colorful robe he wore. And, as old as he appeared, his eyes were youthful and full of energy—intimidating yet strangely familiar. The man suddenly laughed heartily, as if he’d been asked the silliest question ever. “I’m God. Who else did you expect?”
“Am I dead?” Paul wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“No, Paul, you’re not. You’re dreaming,” God responded, his voice paternal, patient, his eyes gleaming with mischief.
“So…I’m delusional. I’m dreaming about having a conversation with God—which is really quite upsetting, given I don’t even believe in you.” And as if he needed convincing himself, he added, repeating what he’d already said, “I’m an atheist, have been for most of my life.”
God laughed some more before raising his hand in an appeasing gesture. “This is a special dream, Paul. No, you’re not delusional, and quite frankly, I don’t blame you for not believing in me. Heck, given all the BS people say I demand they do, and all the horrors humanity commits in my name, I’m surprised any sane person still believes in me.”
“I don’t understand. If you really are God, why don’t you stop people?”
“Ah, the ten-thousand-dollar question, isn’t it?”
“Sorry, it’s been on my mind ever since I was a child. For all the misdeeds done to me, to others, I’ve questioned how anyone could really allow that—how evil done to any human being could be sanctioned by any deity, not just you. You do not, after all, have the monopoly on being a god to humanity.”
“Actually, that’s not entirely true. You see, I go by many names. You know me as the Christian ‘God,’ but I’m also known as YHWH, Allah, Brahma, Zeus, Oden, and a great many other names. Some worship me as the sun god, I’ve been worshipped as Gaia or Mother Earth through the ages of mankind. But it’s always good old me.”
“You’re Gaia? How’s that possible?” Before Paul’s eyes, God seemed to shape-shift into a dark-skinned, middle-aged woman with a full figure, standing before him in all her glorious nudity.
She laughed. “How’s this for you? Better?”
Paul shook his head in disbelief. “But…how…?”
“My dear child, you’re overthinking this. I am whatever you need me to be, whatever each human being wants me to be. If they feel the need to pray to a fertile woman, I can be Gaia, Mother Earth, Hera, Pallas Athena or Aphrodite, and if they need a man, I’ll be Allah or God or whatever. I’ve even been known to be a gender bender at times.”
“Are you real?” Paul was anything but convinced, doubting his own dream.
“It’s your dream… But seriously, Paul, I didn’t come here to debate theology with you. I am part of you, just as I am part of every other human being that has ever walked the earth, past, present, and future. Which is why I’m limited in what I can do. I am what you are, not more, not less. If humanity works together for the common good, I am omnipotent. I can achieve anything. Alternatively, I am powerless to interfere when you go to war, hurt each other.”
“Then why did you appear to me now?” Paul was seriously worried about God’s presence at this stage in his life—if he was real. At the age of fifty-five, he was what the lifestyle magazines dubbed the “new thirties”—a man in his best years, yet at the same time a man trapped by his upbringing, the wrongdoings of his parents, and the consequences thereof on his life, his lack of capacity for love, his commitment issues. A long list. Now he could add fear of death to the list. Why else would God appear in his dream?
“Am I dying?”
Again, God laughed heartily at the suggestion. “No, silly. Why would you be dying? You’re in good health, although you could finally get that lazy ass of yours out of your apartment and go to the gym. Working out a bit more wouldn’t do you any harm, and those non-existent abs aren’t really going to help you with the boys, not to mention your clogged arteries…”
“You know I’m gay?”
God shook his head. “Do you need this in writing, Paul? I’m inside your head. I am you, or at least part of you. So yeah, I know everything about you—probably things you haven’t even acknowledged yourself, at least not on a conscious level. Interesting though that you picked up on gay but let the clogged arteries go unnoticed. Interesting indeed… Can we get on with it now?”
“Get on with what?”
God rested his head in his palms. This was one tough client. “It’s your dream. You summoned me. Seems to me you have something on your mind…” He flashed Paul a smile and a wink that was more than obvious. Paul was relieved that it was only the two of them in the dream, or it might’ve been awkward. Was God flirting with him?
“Let me see if I’m getting this right. It’s my dream, I’ve summoned you, and you know everything about me—stands to reason you also know what’s on my mind, right? Why don’t you just tell me?”
“Excellent!” God exclaimed. “Now you’re talking. I’m actually here to talk to you about Christmas.”
“Twenty questions again? Yes, Christmas. Today is Christmas, remember? You know, the Christian holiday you observe, despite being an atheist? Tree, lights, presents, overeating, carol-singing, commercial overload?”
“I know what Christmas is, but I don’t understand. I like Christmas.”
“You do, yet there’s always a sadness in your eyes, particularly when you look back at a certain Christmas past, and it looms like a dark shadow to this day.”
“So now you’re Dickens?” Paul had an inkling where this might be heading, and he didn’t like it one bit.
“Let me remind you, Paul, that you’ve not always been a cynic. Until you were fifteen, you loved Christmas unreservedly—even after you’d found out that Santa Claus wasn’t the real deal. But that year, something happened, something that forever changed your views of Christmas.”
“I was outed by my parents and tossed out on the streets for good measure. That’s what happened. How’s that not going to affect a person’s view of Christmas? I can never celebrate without thinking back to that morning, and the events that took place.”
“Why don’t we have a look?”
Paul’s eyes widened with terror. “Do we have to?”
“Your dream, your Dickens reference. Come on, let’s go…”
God made a swooping gesture with his arms, and underneath them, the ground slowly dissolved and was gradually replaced by a familiar setting—a weird and ghostly scene from Suburbia, a house with typical seventies furniture, TV blaring in the background, Christmas tree in the corner of the living room, lots of colorful presents underneath it, and a family of four sitting on the couch.
“I believe that’s you, right there? The acne-ridden teenager with the bad hair?”
“What? You’re a style critic, too? Weren’t you supposed to be on my side?”
“I am you, and if I’m not mistaken, you are your biggest critic, are you not?” God sneered condescendingly, just about fed up with Paul’s constant nagging.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Let’s get on with the spiel. Do I have to watch this?”
God simply shrugged as the scene in front of them played out, just as it had played out in Paul’s mind hundreds of times since that fateful day back when he was a teen.
“Mom, Dad, is it okay if Jesse comes over later today?” Paul heard himself say from the couch in front of him, and the memory of what was to come cut painfully through him.
“No, son!” his dad replied forcefully. “Your mother and I don’t want you to see that boy again, ever.”
“But he’s my best friend.”
Paul’s mom cut in, “It’s for your own good. Did you not hear the sermon from the pastor last night at midnight mass? How he admonishes us to live without sin? There’s been talk about Jesse in church for some time now—rumors, serious allegations… We think it’s better if you stay as far away from that boy as you can.”
“What rumors, Mom?”
Paul’s dad raised his voice. “Trish, why don’t you go to your room for a minute? Your mother and I need to talk to Paul, alone.”
With an angry stare at her brother for inevitably delaying the presents waiting to be opened under the tree, Trish got up and stormed out of the room. Seconds later, Paul heard her bedroom door slam shut.
Paul tried again. “What rumors, Mom?”
She didn’t answer but stared pleadingly at her husband, who responded in her place. “Rumors, about aberrant behavior, things happening at the latest scout gathering, ugly things, abominable things, sin, mortal sin.” His dad pressed out the final syllables forcefully as if to convey their actual meaning, but Paul was lost.
“I don’t understand…”
“I’m relieved you don’t, son. Jesse is a homosexual, an abomination in the eyes of God, an evil monster sentenced to eternal damnation in the hottest fires of purgatory. I’m surprised his parents are still in town. I would’ve left. How they can face the Andersens every Sunday in church is beyond me.”
“What did he do?” Paul was utterly confused. He liked Jesse—liked him a lot actually, a feeling he thought was mutual. They’d even kissed and made out a couple of times, but what did Alex Andersen have to do with any of this.
It had made no sense to young Paul, and the pain from remembering the next few minutes in the Baker household was almost physical, particularly as he was seeing it now, staged by his very own “Ghost of Christmas Past,” for his personal viewing pleasure, or torture, as it were.
“He corrupted the boy. Did unspeakable things to him—things two men, two boys, should never even think about, let alone act upon. They were caught by their scoutmaster in a most compromising position, one I shall not dignify with mentioning out loud. Safe to say, you shall never see this abomination again. I will not have any homosexuals in this house. Ever. And that is final!”
“But I like him, he’s my best friend,” Paul offered defiantly.
“Nonsense. How would you even know what a best friend is?”
“We kissed…” Paul blurted out, blushing. He’d never thought about telling his parents about his feelings toward Jesse. It had seemed unnecessary somehow, an instinctive security barrier, keeping him from mentioning it. But asked about it, he wouldn’t, couldn’t lie. He’d been taught better. Lying was a sin. Sure, he’d been called names in school—faggot, gay, and so on—but he’d never connected the dots. Even the pastor’s sermons had never really made any sense to him, with regards to him. When the pastor had spoken of the sin of homosexuality, it had always seemed so theoretical, as if he’d spoken of much older men, and carnal things—things a fifteen-year-old did not understand, could not fathom. His feelings for Jesse were pure as snow, and the kisses they’d exchanged were pristine, innocent.
Not once had Paul understood the implication of his words, his emotions, not until he saw the horror on his mother’s face, the utter disgust on his father’s face. Not until they had coerced every last bit of information from him, not until his father had literally beaten it out of him, not until they’d forced him upstairs to get dressed, not until they’d thrown him out of the house, unceremoniously, wearing nothing but the clothes he’d just put on and with the few dollars he’d had in his wallet. Tossed out onto the street, in the middle of winter, in a small town in Northeast Indiana. Alone. On Christmas morning.
Paul watched the scene unfold before him, saw his young self being driven from his own home, his mother crying, his father yelling hysterically. He had never seen them again. Somehow, he’d survived that day, found shelter at another church in town—one more welcoming to Christopher’s Kind than his parents’ congregation. A kind soul had helped him move to Chicago, where he’d been placed in a home with other children his age, so he could finish school and get whatever education he could without money or parental support.
Paul had done well for himself. That he knew. He’d done better than to survive. He’d built himself a home, started a company in the suburbs of Chicago: express plumbing, services always needed, help always rendered. Paul’s company flourished, and he was in high demand. He had done well…except for his heart. He was lonely. He’d never trusted anyone again, unable to bring himself to place someone else in danger, or risk getting hurt himself.
“Have you seen enough?”
“Why did you show me this?”
“Because you always come here on Christmas. But I have a hunch that after today, you won’t have to, not anymore. Come on, we have two more places to visit.”
Paul wasn’t sure he wanted to. “More Dickens?”
“Yes, sir. Let’s go. Your parents await…”
“Why, yes! You get to see them how they are today…”
Paul hadn’t even known if they were still alive.
Underneath him, the world dissolved into a swirl of sand, and for a second, he seemed to float in absolute darkness before a new swirl of the grayish sand appeared and began to form an entirely different scenery than that of his childhood home. This room was dimly lit with yellow-brownish floor tiles, a hospital bed, sparse furnishings, yellowed curtains. Paul didn’t recognize the place, but it did remind him of a retirement or—more likely—a nursing home. A figure lay in the bed. Next to the bed, with their back toward Paul, sat another figure: slim, small, dressed in dark clothes. Crying.
“Come on.” God gestured, gently pushing Paul forward, toward the bed. “They can’t see you. This is still a dream, remember?”
“Who are they?” Paul whispered, still not quite believing that the two figures, the man in the bed and the woman by his side, couldn’t hear him.
“Don’t you recognize them?” God had an amused tone in his voice.
It dawned on Paul. “Mom? Dad?”
God nodded, nudging Paul to move even closer.
“What’s happening? Dad is barely breathing.”
“Your father will be dead before the night is over. Your mother is here to take her leave.”
“Where’s my sister?”
“No longer alive, I’m afraid. After you were forced from the house, your sister rebelled, against everyone and everything. She began to hang out with the wrong crowd, one thing led to the next…she died of a heroin overdose before she’d turned sixteen. Your parents lost both of their children to their god, their faith, and their own sense of moral superiority. They’ve been paying the price for over forty years. It’s too late for your father, but your mother can still be saved…” There was a knowing undertone to God’s voice.
“She looks so old, so small, so very fragile.”
“She’s suffered a lot. As you might remember from your previous experience, your mom wasn’t quite as orthodox as your dad. I doubt she would’ve tossed you on the streets had it been up to her. But she was brought up never to question her husband, and so she didn’t. Instead, she suffered silently, not only at the loss of you but that of her daughter as well. It broke her heart, but like I said, it’s not too late…”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is that your mother is still alive. You still have a chance to reconcile with her. Remember, you only have this one life. Make the most of it. Carpe diem and all that… Go see her, talk to her, make a fresh start.”
Paul was about to ask God about what he meant with this “one life” and all the lessons about an eternity at his side, but thought better of it. His mother looked up from the bed and stared right at him. She had cried a lot, her face pale and sunken. She must’ve been through a lot of pain in the years he hadn’t seen her. Her big brown eyes were barely recognizable, sad, murky, but she was still his mom.
“Are you sure she can’t see me? She’s staring right at me…”
“It’s your dream. Anything is possible… But no, she can’t, although she often thinks about you. She still lives in your hometown in Indiana, in the same house. It’s less than a four-hour drive to see her. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure. Do you really think she’ll want to see me?”
God smiled and beckoned. “I have one more place to show you…”
Once again the ground shifted beneath Paul, making way to the void as the yellow-brownish tiles, the walls, the furniture and everything else dissolved into that gray sand again, swirling and falling into the black abyss underneath Paul’s feet before re-coalescing into a completely different scene: a house, one he didn’t recognize. It was winter; there was a lot of snow on the ground, and a big Christmas tree was lit outside the house, along with other Holiday lights and decorations.
Standing on the sidewalk, Paul spotted a big, colorfully decorated Christmas tree through the front windows. “Whose house is this?”
God chuckled. “You still don’t get it, do you? We’ve been to your Christmas Past, your Christmas Present… What do you think this is?”
Paul shrugged. “Well, if this were Dickens, this would be my Christmas Future, but that would entail a graveyard and a lonely tombstone with my name on it. But this isn’t it, is it?”
God sighed. “You’re a tough cookie, a true skeptic. I figured the scary approach wouldn’t work with you, so let’s just call this…the promise of a Christmas Future…”
Paul looked up at the house. He noticed a character inside the house: a man his own age he didn’t know, and a dog running around the man’s feet.
“It’s a golden retriever. I love that breed. I’ve always wanted one. But living alone, working as much as I do, I just never felt it justified to get one. Who’s the guy?”
“You already know him…and you’ll meet him again…soon,” God said knowingly.
Just as Paul was about to respond, a car pulled up in the driveway. A man in his mid-fifties and an older woman exited the car. Paul became excited. “That’s Mom. What’s she doing here?”
God laughed. “Celebrating Christmas with her son and her future son-in-law, of course…”
Paul stared at the man who’d driven the car. “I’ve lost weight. I look older.”
“Always the critic. But yes, you’ll begin to work out and spend some time at the gym. Your dad’s heart disease and your mom telling you about it will be the final straw to break the camel’s back, to overcome your resistance—getting you to see your own GP, getting some straight talk about your own health—finally looking after yourself. Meeting Jesse again will also help.”
“Yes, Jesse, the one and only. Just like you, he had a horrible youth and ended up in the system, but in Indianapolis. Unlike you, he wasn’t quite so lucky. He did drugs, served time, and never really got a second chance. Mostly working stray day jobs, he never caught a break in life until he ended up in your hometown again, by chance.
“He met your mom at the nursing home where your dad was living out the last few weeks of his life. Jesse was working as a janitor, and he and your mom began to—or rather, will begin to—talk. One of life’s coincidences, really—that your mother is the one to bring Jesse back into your life. The rest, as they say, is history, or it will be, come next Christmas…”
Paul’s heart was racing, yet he remained skeptical. “Why are you showing me this? I thought I was supposed to do something different in order to change the outcome of Christmas Future? This makes no sense…”
“Paul, you really are one stubborn mule.” God tousled Paul’s hair. “You still have to do all the work, make all those changes, or you’ll wake up next year to a Christmas just like the one you’ve celebrated these past decades—in your apartment, alone, working Christmas Day rather than spending time with your family. Life, my friend, is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s what you make of it. Just remember, I am God, and I am right here, right inside you, part of you. Therefore, in some way, you are God, and your fate, your future, is yours to shape, if you work hard, spice it with a pinch of luck and sprinkle it with some Christmas magic.”
Around Paul, the scenery began to dissolve again, but rather than the sand coalescing into another scene, Paul woke up, and found himself where he’d fallen asleep a few hours earlier—in his own bed, in his own bedroom, in his apartment.
Paul turned on the lamp on his nightstand before getting out of bed to go to the bathroom. God was no longer there… if he’d ever been. Yet when Paul returned and saw his phone lying on the nightstand, he was immediately reminded of God’s advice, to call his mother. He picked up the phone and walked out to the kitchen to make coffee. He needed to think clearly. He wasn’t sure if his parents still had a landline, but chances were they did, and given that so little had changed, chances were they still had the same number they had when he was a boy.
Paul didn’t need to think about that number. There had been countless times throughout his life that he’d considered calling, mulling the pros and cons, but ultimately, he never did. Better to be safe than sorry.
He grabbed a cup from the cupboard and poured himself a fresh cup as the coffee maker had stopped spilling the last drops into the pot, and was now mostly sputtering air. He sat down at his kitchen table, picked up his phone and dialed the number to his parents’ landline from memory. After a couple of signals, someone picked up on the other end.
“Hello, who’s this?”
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND REMEMBER, CARPE DIEM!
I hope you enjoyed this short story. May it remind you of the true spirit of Christmas, that of love for your next. To read the other stories in this beautiful calendar, look here:
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