(Initials are used to protect the innocent — and myself, because no releases were signed)

It must be understood that M.J. was retired, or nothing wonderful can come of this. I personally can attest to this fact, having been present in the flesh for the party celebrating his much-deserved retirement. That being said, and M.J.’s retirement established as a dependable fact known to all, we can proceed with our tale.

As I sat in an empty newsroom during the Christmas season, A.S. walked through the empty room and stopped to inquire as to why I was still there. “I thought everyone had left,” A.S. said. “What are you still working on?”

“I’d like to say that I’m working,” I replied. “But I am just enjoying my Christmas gruel and watching everyone argue on social media.” To be fair, the gruel was my concoction of oriental noodles and every hot spice I could add to it. A.S. considered the bowl a moment, then thought better of commenting other than to slightly wrinkle his nose.

“You should give it a rest and go home. Enjoy the Christmas season,” he said. “Unfortunately, they will still be arguing tomorrow,” he added. “People have the right to disagree, after all. But I’m heading home now, and you should, too.”

I assured him that I would not be too far behind him and told him to have a good evening. Not long after his departure, as I sat reading angry messages and half drowsing at the computer, I was alarmed by an odd sound. A doorbell sounded at a certain door off the newsroom, and this concerned me for two reasons. One, the opposite side of that door has no steps leading to it, and two, there are no doorbells at the newspaper. But before I could respond, I was surprised to see the previously mentioned M.J. (still very much retired) enter the newsroom.

“I can see you still don’t know the difference between being on the clock and off,” he said without preamble, though in a good-natured way.

“Just got a little preoccupied,” I defended myself. “But you always had everything well ordered and didn’t get distracted.”

M.J. slipped comfortably into an armchair as though he had done it just yesterday and promptly disagreed. “No, you procrastinate, my friend. But since you brought me out of retirement, I am going to help you out. You know the drill,” he said. “Three spirits in one night. And don’t get them sidetracked because everyone has places to be. It is Christmas time, after all.”

“Isn’t this supposed to happen on Christmas Eve?” I asked, laughing.

“I’m not giving up my Christmas Eve,” he said with a smile as he stood. With a wave he motioned me over to the door’s small window. “See all the people out there still hard at work?” he asked.

When I looked out the window, the parking lot beyond was empty. “Uh, M.J.,” I said, “there is no one out there.”

“Exactly,” he answered.

“That’s because even with everything else going on in the world today, they still had the good sense to go home,” he said, then faded away and left me standing in an empty room once again. I shrugged and went back to my desk, then ate some more noodles and scrolled through more social media.

The noise made by a moving chair caught my attention some time later, and I looked up to see L.W. sitting at her desk across from mine. “I thought you were on vacation,” I said.

“I am, so let’s make this quick,” L.W. said with a bright laugh. She rolled her chair cross the intervening space, then pulled up short when the smell of my “dinner” assaulted her nostrils. “Are you really eating that?” she asked in disbelief, then continued without giving me a chance to reply. “People are arguing because the Christmases they remember are better than what they have now,” she said. “Or at least they think they were. And they want to make more of those memories, but they are afraid with everything that is going on they will never have the chance again.”

“Is it really that simple?” I asked.

“No, but nothing ever is,” she said, rising to her feet. “Still, it’s the best I have to offer. Hope that helped, and now I’m going back to my vacation,” she laughed. “Have a Merry Christmas.”

I had to admit that her words had merit as I considered them and could see that explanation between the words of the angry “posts” online. The lights in adjacent rooms, which are activated by motion sensors, had shut off and so the brightest light came from my own computer screen. That is until a bright light began to shine under the door of the office just off the newsroom. Then a familiar voice said. “Let’s get this over with. I don’t have all night. But DON’T bring that bowl in here, because we can smell that all the way to my house.”

I walked over and opened the door, only to see H.C. sitting behind a desk surrounded by presents, decorations and assorted boxes. As I stepped inside, he said, “I’m going to make this short and sweet because I’m missing out on family time,” he said. “People are grousing because they want to have a halfway decent Christmas, and they are working around COVID, unemployment, and the fact that half their Christmas presents for their kids might not make it in until New Year’s because of all the crap going on with the shipping industry. And if they have to complain in the middle of all that because they are begging for a little Christmas cheer, then let them gripe. Besides, when its all said and done, Christmas isn’t canceled. It’s just different. You have a merry one.”

I admit that I had to agree as I exited the office, only to come face to face with E.P. standing by my desk. “Aren’t you supposed to be in a black robe and take me to a graveyard?” I asked.

“Well, that’s just morbid,” she responded, standing the fork up in my uneaten noodles that had solidified. “And this is revolting. How do you ‘Boomers’ eat stuff like this?”

“It’s an acquired taste, I guess,” I answered.

“If you say so,” she said with a shrug. “Anyway, here’s the message because I have somewhere to be. It is pretty grim right now,” she began. “And it has been for too long. But it will get better. We just all need to do what we have to do to get through all this, including showing a little bit of respect and consideration for those who disagree with what we think is best. It’s bad I know, and in a lot of ways it can get even worse, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. As long as the sun rises, there’s hope.”

“You really think so?” I asked.

“I do. Nothing lasts forever, except maybe Christmas itself.”

And with that, like the others, she was gone. So, I sat down at my desk and rubbed my eyes, thinking about it all. When I opened them up again, I wasn’t in the newsroom at all, but sitting at home at my desk in front of my computer. Still, what the “spirits” taught me made a lot of sense. We want to return to a time when our lives seemed better and less scary. We want this Christmas to be as good as it can be, considering all we have endured. And we want future Christmases to be bright and shining, so much so that they eclipse what we have had to endure. Good lesson, I suppose, if we can bring ourselves to learn it.

Then again, maybe I should just stop eating spicy food and falling asleep at my computer.

Merry Christmas

Reach CHARLES ROMANS at cromans@dailyindependent.com.

Trending Video