It was an unusual Christmas Eve to begin with, both in weather and in circumstance. Raw and wet was probably the best description of the night. While it was cold, it wasn’t cold enough to turn the sleet that had been falling off and on since early afternoon into snow, and the wet slop that was falling mixed with the snow from two days ago to cover the streets with a gray slush. It was also the first Christmas Eve that Wilson had ever been completely alone.
There was no particular tragedy about it, just one of those things that happen. Most of his family and close friends had made plans or left town for the holidays, leaving him behind. For the past few days he had been trying to do things that might recreate the feelings he remembered from Christmases of his youth. He had decorated a tree and placed his presents under it, listened to carols, and watched all the Yuletide specials that were on the television but he still couldn’t capture that same emotion from the past. Finally, the night before the big day, he decided to go for a walk to look at the neighborhood decorations. This was something he had often done in the past, it had always put him in a good mood, and this year was no exception. He enjoyed it so much that he went farther and stayed out longer than he had intended and the dampness began to get to him. As he came into one of the small business section that were scattered about the city, he noticed the bar on the corner was open. A couple of drinks and a chance to warm up seemed like a good idea.
It was a bar he’d stopped in occasionally, the place wasn’t strange to him. The atmosphere on that night, however, was. The bar itself was crowded but there were tables open. He went over to an empty one and sat down. The girls tending bar were working the tables also; while he waited for one to get to him, he sat back and took in the scene.
It was pleasantly festive. The back bar was decorated with multi-colored twinkling lights, cheap green garlands were draped from the ceiling, and a small three foot artificial tree sat on a table that was draped with a white table cloth. Beneath it there was a plastic Santa Clause in his sleigh with his eight reindeer ready to pull him of on his appointed rounds. Occasionally some one of the patrons would break out, singing an off key Christmas Carol and others would join in.
“Hi, merry Christmas! What can I get you?”
He looked up into the bar girl’s smiling face. He couldn’t help but notice she was a pretty woman, not gorgeous, but naturally attractive. He wished he was younger, closer to her age.
“Just a draft, a large one, please.”
“Sounds good, be back in a jiffy,” then she paused momentarily. “Haven’t seen you here in a while; holiday visit?”
“Just passing by and thought I’d drop in.”
“Well, glad to see you again.” She turned to walk back to the bar.
“Wait, you know what?” he called after her, “I’ll have a shot of Rock and Rye with that. It seems like a holiday type of thing.”
“You got it,” she gave him a wink and a smile.
He was surprised that she had recognized him. Even knowing she was probably working him for a better tip, it made him feel good, welcomed. He was glad he’d stopped. She returned quickly setting the two drinks down.
“There you go honey, enjoy. Do you want it on a tab, or pay as you go?”
“A tab would be nice, settle up all at once if it’s OK.”
“Perfectly fine, let me know if you need anything else.” With that she scurried away.
Wilson picked up the shot glass and downed the syrupy liquor in two distinct swallows, savoring the warming feel it created in his throat. Then he turned his chair so he could better watch the passing parade of revelry at the bar. He lifted the heavy glass of beer and took a healthy drink. His was a mood one of contentment. Then he heard the voice.
“Mind if I join you, Wilson?”
He turned and looked up, surprised. A large man loomed above him, a man who looked enough like the late actor Burt Lancaster to have doubled for him in the movies. Wilson honestly wanted to be left alone, but it didn’t seem right to be inhospitable with someone on Christmas Eve. He was also curious as to who this guy was and how come he knew Wilson’s name. He gestured across the table towards the empty seat on the other side. The stranger sat down; even close up he looked like Lancaster, the younger Lancaster, the way he’d looked in the movie “Elmer Gantry”.
“Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but I have to ask, do we know each other? You know my name, but I can’t place you.”
“Yes, Wilson, we know each other, in a manner of speaking.”
“Well, could you give me some sort of clue, your name at least?”
“Aha,” he flashed a toothy grin and shook his head, “I’m the one with no name, and yet I have many. Yahweh, Aten, Jehovah, Odin, Zeus, Juno, Brahmin, and many more; it all depends on where you come from. I remember for a period of time back in the eighteenth century, some were calling me the Great Architect. I always liked that one.”
“Here we go,” Wilson lowered his head and shook it slowly. “Why me? All I wanted was a couple of drinks. I wasn’t asking for much and what do I get? I get somebody with a God complex.”
Slowly Wilson raised his head up and looked at the large man. “OK, God, what brings you to my table on this merry little Christmas Evening?” His guest threw back his head and laughed loudly, joyously.
“Wilson, boy, you just don’t want to believe me, do you? Well, that’s understandable, somebody sits down next to and says he’s God, and you’re, shall we say, skeptical. You’re not alone, boy, nobody ever believes me at first. You all always need proof. Well, that’s alright too. Time for a miracle.”
With that he whipped his wrist forward, snapping his fingers loudly. Suddenly the bar was quiet. Wilson looked around and saw the people were all still there, but they weren’t moving. It was like being in a room full of mannequins.
“Shit, did somebody put something in my drink, or did I just have a stroke? Either way, I’m having one hell of a hallucination.”
“Well Wilson, my boy, if it’s just a hallucination you might as well go along with it and enjoy the experience.”
“OK, you win. You’re God and God looks like Burt Lancaster, who’d have figured?”
“Lancaster? Only to you, ‘ he seemed pleasantly surprised, “I look to everybody the way they expect me to look. Most often I look like their fathers or grandfathers. Children see me as Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny even the tooth fairy. Sometimes I resemble their local head of state. I dropped into Germany a few times in the late thirties, hate to tell who they thought I looked like, that all changed by 1944,” he laughed again. “By then, they were starting to see the light and I was beginning to resemble Franklin Roosevelt.”
Wilson thought of the irony; in his eyes he saw God as an actor who was famous for portraying Elmer Gantry, possibly the most notorious religious charlatan in literary history. Even if this was some sort of dream, it seemed like a strange image to him. But still, visitation, dream, hallucination, or illusion, he was having it and decided he had no choice but to deal with it.
“OK, you’re God. So tell me, why don’t you reveal yourself to the world? Why make yourself a stranger? If people knew you really existed, the world would be a better place.”
“Ah ha!” He flashed the toothy smile, hands raised; he was perfectly mimicking Lancaster’s interpretation of Gantry. “Freedom of choice, Wilson, I show myself and everybody starts behaving themselves. I want to see how people act when I’m not around, or they think I’m not around. When you’re on your own, that’s when your true colors show.”
“But you’re showing yourself to me, doesn’t that count?”
“No, simply put, even after this is over and I move on, you’re not going to be sure that it’s really happened. That’s the fun of talking with you agnostics, fanatics are a bore and hard core atheists are, as you would say, just a pain in the ass. The former get carried away and start some crazy religious cult. The latter, well, they just assume they’ve temporarily lost their minds. People like you actually ponder the issue. That’s the fun of these little visits. I get to have it both ways; I can make a difference without showing myself.”
“So tell me something, since I have you here I might as well ask. Why do you let the world get into such a mess? It seems to be a regular thing, just when things seem to be straitening themselves out, it all goes sour.”