“Christmas Trees” by Dr. Irving A. Greenfield

A quiet Sunday was what Julio expected. It was raining, and there weren’t too many people about from what he saw through the windows of the Apple Store where he worked as a Techie. Though Christmas was only three weeks away, traffic was slower than it was the previous year. Not that he minded it on this particular day. His thoughts were feathery: one moment they were about marrying Priscilla, the woman he was living with, and the next instant they were about going out to the Coast to try to break into the film industry in some capacity. Then Julio saw the old man through window, and just knew he would be his first client for the day. He noted him a couple of times before; not the man so much as the wooden cane he used. It was twisted like a snake and had a bulbous end at its top. He was certain it was a shillelagh.

The old man entered the store, took a couple of moments to look around and then went to Tony, a floor supervisor. Tony, a heavyset man with a moon face was all smiles as he and the old man spoke. Tony nodded and the two of them headed straight for Julio, whose intuition proved right something that didn’t happen too often.

“Julio, this is Sam,” Tony said, introducing them. “Sam has a problem getting started with his mini-iPad. I’m sure you’ll be able to help him.” Having said all the right things, Tony left them.

Each regarded the other. To Julio Sam was old, a cane user, gray bearded and somewhat wild looking, like an ancient prophet with a brown canvass shoulder bag hanging across his chest.

Sam saw Julio as big kid with horn rim glasses, and a long, whispery red goatee.

These were quick takes before they shook hands, and Julio asked what the problem was.

“No problem for you, but for me at least the Matterhorn, if not Everest,” Sam said opening the shoulder bag and digging out a mini-iPad. “I can’t get the fucking thing started.” And he handed the iPad to Julio, who asked a few questions and working quickly soon had the Desk Top screen open with its default icons.

“Magic when you know the right spell,” Sam said. “Wizardry.”

“Is there anything else you want done?” Julio asked.

Sam reached into his shoulder bag again and pulled out an iPad 2, opened it and said, “A few of the Apps on this one, I want on that one.”

“Just tell me which ones,” Julio answered, somewhat surprised by the appearance of the second iPad. Though there wasn’t another customer waiting to be serviced, Julio was beginning to feel annoyed with Sam. He felt the old man was pushing it.

“I’m certainly going to need Pages, Final draft and a dictionary, the same one I have on the iPad,” Sam told him. “Also Shakespeare’s plays, the App. for quotations and Notes; and the Cloud.” He settled himself on a nearby stool and watched Julio dutifully apply his requests; and when he was done, Sam said, “I hope I haven’t been too much trouble.”

“None at all,” Julio lied.

Sam nodded and said, “I’m an author.”  The words came unbidden.

“Wow, that’s awesome,” Julio answered. It was a pat answer. He wouldn’t have cared if the old guy a grave digger. He wanted to get rid of him and continue with his own musings.

Sam was surprised he told a stranger anything about himself; it was unlike him. He considered himself a very private person. It gave him an air of mystery that he liked. Even with his friends, he was purposeful vague when he spoke about what he was doing.

“I guess that about wraps it up,” Julio said, sliding the mini-iPad toward Sam.

“Yes, I suppose it does,” Sam agreed.

Julio expected him to close the iPad, put into the canvass bag, don his coat and be on his way. But no such luck! He just sat there gathering cobwebs instead of rainbows. His rainbow days were long over. It was a cruel observation but a true one.

Sam suddenly said, “I don’t usually tell people I’m an author… I don’t want them to get the wrong idea and think that I’m top draw.”

“I could see where that would be a mistake,” Julio said. He wanted to laugh but didn’t.

“I don’t want to be asked what I’ve written,” Sam told him. “It’s what I’m going to write that’s important…You see I thought it all out about Christmas Trees.”

“Christmas Trees?” Julio echoed.

Sam nodded. “Once you start thinking about them – well, other things come to mind; it’s like doors opening.”

Julio wasn’t interested in opening doors, but he listened.

“Millions of Christmas Trees cut down for no real purpose when they could help clean up the air. They’re not like turkeys. Turkeys you eat. But after a week or ten days you get rid of a dead tree. Garbage.”

Julio never thought much about Christmas Trees or any other kind of tree, and he didn’t want to think about them now. Sam was wearing out his welcome, and to move him along, he said, “It looks as if the rain has stopped. There are a lot more people about.”

Sam turned his attention to the nearest window. Outside it didn’t look any different to him than it was when he came into the store

“If we’re finished –”

“Yes. We’re finished,” Sam agreed. “You’ve been most helpful and patient.”

“Come back any time,” Julio answered.

They shook hands; and Sam, cane in hand, walked slowly out of the store, crossed Ninth Avenue and went into the Diner, a restaurant on the corner. A hostess escorted him to a small table and placed an over-sized menu on the table.

“I’ll just have a light coffee, no sugar, and a warmed up bran muffin,” Sam told her, draping his coat over one chair and sitting on the other. “And a glass of water, please.”

“I’ll tell your waitress,” the hostess said picking up the menus.

He thanked her, and he sat with his hands clasped at the table’s edge like a schoolboy who had just been chastised and knew what his mistake had been; he had talked too much. What would a Julio care about Christmas Trees or open doors?

A bus boy brought him his glass of water, and he quickly popped a pill into his mouth, took a bit of water and swallowed the pill. He was upset and in a few minutes the effect of the pill would calm him.

The waitress brought rest of his order. He stared at it. He wasn’t hungry; he just needed a place to sit for a while. The prospect of returning to his apartment was too much for him to deal with. The silence would overwhelm him, become viscous-like and morph into a palpable loneliness. And he wouldn’t be able to write; to do that he needed light and people, places like Starbucks or Barn’s And Noble. The noise didn’t bother him; he could shut it out. Like a street person, he spent the day shuffling from one place to another, sometimes engaging people in conversation, but mostly keeping to himself; though not recently, not today. Today the thing he feared happening, happened. He became what he never wanted to become, a garrulous old man.

.       .       .

Dr. Irving A. Greenfield has been published in Amarillo Bay, Runaway Parade, Writing Tomorrow, eFictionMag and the Stone Hobo; and in Prime Mincer, The Note and Cooweescoowee.  He and his Wife live in Manhattan.

He has been a sailor, soldier and college professor, playwright and novelist.


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