Here is a little Christmas ditty I came up with. Hopefully you enjoy it. — The Management
For Goodness Sake
“Where do you get the ideas for your stories?” she asked him, her eyes bright over the lip of her champagne glass.
It was a question he got often and he often grew tired of. But she was pretty and seemed genuinely interested so he bit off the first smart-assed remark that sprang to his lips and merely grinned mischievously.
“That would be telling,” he said, and winked.
She chuckled appreciatively and the conversation moved on to other topics, though they each maintained their flirtations and left together after the Christmas party came to a close.
He sat at the keyboard and fumed. This was the fifth time he had deleted this file and restarted. Nothing was coming to him now. Nothing at all. At least the past five times something came, however shitty. But now, nothing.
The blank screen shouted at him. YOU’RE A HACK. YOU’RE A FAILURE. YOU’RE NOTHING. He got and up and went to the kitchen. He took down some scotch from the cabinet above the fridge and poured himself a glass. He downed it in one. He poured himself another. This one he nursed a bit.
He had a contract and a deadline and no time for writer’s block. He looked at the clock. It was 10:00 pm. Tomorrow was Christmas Day and his manuscript was overdue. He’d get no work done tomorrow—he was due to be at his brother’s house and couldn’t let him or his family down. No, he had to finish tonight. But he was tapped out.
He took his drink and went to sit in the living room. He turned on the television. It’s a Wonderful Life was on, of course. He sat down and started watching, dozing off as a despondent Jimmy Stewart began to see how the world was different without him in it.
It was the smell that woke him. Pine and cinnamon and just a hint of leather. A strong smell, almost like a cologne. He blinked, bleary-eyed, and tried to pry his tongue from the roof of his mouth. Twilight was peeking in through the blinds. The television was now showing an early morning Mass.
He rose from the chair, stretched and looked at the clock. He had a little bit of time before he had to get dressed. Perhaps he could squeeze a bit of work in—if he could get some inspiration. He plodded to the office and stopped short of the desk, peering at it in confusion.
Sitting on top of the desk was a small package, wrapped in bright red paper with a green ribbon.
He cautiously approached the desk and picked up the package. He put it to his ear and listened. It wasn’t ticking. It smelled faintly of that cologne he had woken up to. It had a tag attached to the bow on top. It was addressed to him from Santa Claus.
“What the hell?” he said, incredulous. He set the package down and went and checked his front door. Locked. His alarm—armed. His apartment was on the 7th floor. There was no way someone came in through the window.
He returned to the office. He picked up the package and then shrugged. He started carefully unwrapping it, revealing a neat box. Inside the box was a leather-bound notebook. Embossed on the cover was a rendition of Athena springing forth from Zeus’ head.
Curious, he flipped through the notebook. Inside, in a neat handwritten script, were story ideas. Good ones. The very first one listed would get him out of his bind with his current project.
When he got to the end of the notebook, there was a circled note: BE GOOD.
And then he laughed.
He set the notebook down and went to the keyboard and started typing.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
He inwardly groaned at the reporter beginning the interview with such a clichéd question, but did his best to not show it in his expression. He smiled tightly and said, “Santa Claus.”
The reporter frowned. “Santa Claus. I see. Like Bradbury getting his ideas from Schenectady. Cute.”
He shrugged. “Take it as you wish. You can quote me.”
The reporter recovered from this initial setback and the rest of the interview was far more insightful. However, the subject was never less than honest.
Success is a funny thing. It has an effect on the memory. Its beneficiaries often forget what brought it about and who lifted them up when they were down. Complacency and comfort often take the place of compassion and consideration.
He had achieved all the success he could dream of. He was a bestselling novelist and short story author. He was the toast of NPR and other media outlets. He had a huge social media following. He was a frequent guest on late night talk shows. There were even bobble-heads made in his likeness—how many writers could claim that?
But he was lonely. Oh, there were women—fans, mostly. But just fleeting hook-ups and chance meetings. His friends had dried up. He had become acerbic and sarcastic to the point of insufferableness. He didn’t have time for family gatherings any more—too many “gigs” to attend in the city. Career-wise, things couldn’t be better. His social life was busy. But emotionally, he was empty as a drum.
But he was worried now—he had reached the end of the notebook. But surely, he could come up with more ideas on his own. He was a writer, and a damn good one, before his gift. Besides, Christmas was coming soon. Perhaps Old Saint Nick would come through again for him. He’d been good. He’d given to all the right charities. He’d appeared at all the right functions. Surely, that counted for something.
He arranged the bottle and the cookies again on the sideboard and decided that it would do. Twenty-year-old scotch and gourmet cookies. Only the best for Kris Kringle. He went back into the living room and decided to watch television for a while. He was too keyed up to go to bed just yet. Too much was riding on tonight.
All of the ideas in the notebook were played out. And he had tried to go on his own but he was tapped. He sat in front of the screen for hours and nothing came. The well was dry. Last night he wept and drank himself to sleep from frustration. He tried calling his brother, but his brother had been away at his son’s Christmas pageant.
Now, he was desperate. He needed a new notebook. He needed a visit from Saint Nicholas to save his career and the world he had built for himself. With these thoughts dancing in his head, he dozed as the television played George C. Scott acting out Scrooge’s redemption.
He awoke once again to that peculiar cologne. Swallowing hard, he blinked and rose from the chair. He went over to sideboard. The cookies were gone, but the scotch was untouched. Shrugging, he walked to the office. He walked slowly, almost afraid of what he would find—or not find—there.
Sitting on the desk was a small package wrapped in red paper and wrapped in green ribbon.
Wide-eyed, he rushed to the desk and started ripping apart the paper and tore open the package.
Sitting inside the small box was three lumps of coal and small hand-written note. In a familiar script was written, “I said BE GOOD. Remember what is good in life and you will remember what to write. Santa.”
He picked up a piece of coal and stared at it. Then he closed his eyes and laughed, tears streaming down his cheeks.