A blindsided young man can suddenly see the Other.
A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.
He knelt down next to the fireplace, stoking the coals and adding another piece of wood to the pile. A Christmas tree twinkled beside a wingback chair, and in the adjoining room, pillar candles burned atop the dining table. Two plates were set with a cloth napkin, Christmas cracker, and crystal glasses. The trimmings sat ready on the stovetop, the turkey nearly done.
But she wasn’t going to be there—she was never going to be there again.
“I wanted to tell you this in person,” she explained over voicemail, “but I just can’t bear to look into your eyes when I say it.”
He’d missed her call earlier while out walking the dog. There was a pause in the recording here and goosebumps rose on his skin as though the blizzard outside was still swirling around him.
“The thing is, Emerson,” she went on, “I can’t marry you. I wish I didn’t have to hurt you like this but I canceled my flight this morning and I’m not going to be moving to your province. I’ve unpacked all my bags.”
He swallowed, throat dry. The terrier lying on the wingback chair raised its head, gazing at him with intuitive concern.
“I hope you didn’t cook anything or go to too much trouble,” the message continued. “I figured you’d be ordering in. I’m so sorry—I shouldn’t have waited this long to call. You were probably expecting me to arrive by shuttle soon.” She let out an exhale and explained in greater detail why she was breaking off the engagement so suddenly. It wasn’t until she said her final good-byes that he realized he’d dropped the phone at some point in her message. It lay on the plush carpet next to where he now knelt at the fireplace, the screen black in sleeping mode.
He added one more piece of wood to the fire and anger sparked within him like the flames in the grate.
On impulse he grabbed his phone, donned his outdoor gear, and pushed into the snowfall. Tears froze on his cheekbones and he ducked his face down against the chill. He didn’t yet know where he was going but he walked with determination, boots crunching on the lamp-lit sidewalk.
After a few minutes he stopped at the end of a driveway and turned to face the shadowy bungalow. A faint inner light suffused one window, the rest of the house dark. His anger fading with a newfound resolve, he went to the front door and knocked, hoping his eyes weren’t red. It took awhile but eventually came the sound of shuffling footsteps, the thump of a cane, and the sound of a latch turning.
The door creaked open.
An old man blinkered at him with a single eye, the other sealed shut by the stretched and knotted scars consuming one side of his face.
“You don’t know me,” Emerson said, “and I don’t know you, but I’ve seen you around, and you’ve seen me around, and well, I’m alone this Christmas and if I’m not mistaken, so are you. Will you join me for dinner tonight?”
About a half an hour later, having called and caught a cab together, Emerson’s guest now sat across from him in the very seat intended for his fiancée. The food had been laid out, the turkey sliced, and the drinks poured. Carols and holiday hits played on the stereo while the dog strategically sat beneath the table in the hopes of falling crumbs. They said grace.
“Haven’t celebrated Christmas since before the war,” the old man said, his voice wavering. He cut his food with some difficulty before taking a bite, one hand stiff with more of the same knotted scars that covered half his body. “Swore I never would again.” His eye was milky with age but it glinted with some deep emotion. “Oh, this tastes so good.” He ate a few more bites with evident pleasure. “Young man, d’you know what, you’re the last person on this street I’d have expected to show up at my door tonight. I don’t have much longer to live . . . a few months maybe, is all. If I was ever gonna have a last Christmas, this is it. I never dreamed anybody could care about me again . . . I’ve been invisible all these years.”
Emerson looked down a moment and the fork trembled in his agile hand. He set it down. “You weren’t invisible,” he said, lifting his gaze. “I just couldn’t see you through my good fortune.”