Blog by Steve Laug
I started this short story last Christmas and never finished it. Over the past months I have taken the time to complete the story and continued to edit it. It has a few twists and turns and a predictable ending I suppose. I post it now as we move ahead toward Christmas.
Matt had tucked the children into bed after giving them each a cup of warm milk and reading them a good story. And now quiet had descended on the house as they were sound asleep. His wife had gone to bed as well after preparing for tomorrow’s Christmas meal. All things being equal that meant Matt had some quiet time to relax and reflect. He poured three fingers of Maker’s Mark neat into his mug and settled into his chair. He loved to sip the smooth bourbon from a mug rather than a glass – it just worked for him. On the side table next to his chair he had strategically placed one of his pipes (chosen for just this occasion), a tin of 2010 Christmas Cheer, a tamper and lighter. There was also a selection of books that he could spend time reading – everything from murder mysteries to autobiographies. There were plenty of options to meet whatever desire struck his fancy.
He took a sip of the Mark and then set it on the table so that he could pack his pipe. He loved the flavour of Christmas Cheer and he always packed it straight from the tin. He rubbed it together to form a ball and then stuffed it into the bowl. He put some of the broken pieces of tobacco on top of the bowl to use for tinder and took a draw on the pipe to make sure it was not too tight. He then let the flame of the lighter dance across the surface of the tobacco as he drew the flame into the bowl. It did not take long before the tobacco ignited. He tamped it lightly and relit. Soon he settled back to puff contentedly on the bowl. The flavours of the Virginia hung in his mouth on his lips and gums. He could taste the sugars. The air around his head was filled with smells of rich Virginia. And even though he had read that you could not smell your own pipe Matt was convinced that he could and savoured every smell.
With the pipe fully lit and smouldering he took another sip of the Mark and swirled it around in his mouth. Makers Mark went exceptionally well with a rich Virginia Flake. And Christmas Cheer was as rich as could be and the combination just worked. He sat quietly thinking about his family in bed in the rooms above his head. He looked at the Christmas tree and the gifts that were placed strategically around its base. He nodded his head and thought how much the kids would enjoy the magic of Christmas morning in just a few hours. He well remembered that they would be up at the crack of dawn and emptying the stockings that hung on the mantle of the fireplace – heavy with goodies and small gifts. He and his wife had devised the stockings as a strategy to give them a bit more time resting while the kids opened the stockings.
The smoke curled around his head and the peacefulness of the moment lent an air of contentment to his heart and mind. He reached for a book he was currently reading – a biography of CS Lewis one of his heroes. He had read all of Lewis’ books and had read the Chronicles of Narnia to his children for many years now. It was almost a yearly event that started every fall and ended about the time the flowers poked out from the ground in the spring. He found that at this particular moment he could not focus on the book at all so he set it aside. He tamped his pipe and slowly puffed on it. He sipped the Mark and leaned back in the chair. He put his feet up on the foot stool and disengaged from the world around him. That was the beauty of a pipe. The ritual of loading, packing, lighting and smoking a pipe had an uncanny way of making the cares of life slip away for the time spent with the pipe. It slowed down time and caused worries to dissipate even if only for a short moment. The respite seemed to make knots untangle and worries not matter as much.
Time seemed to just slip away and Matt was brought back to reality when he heard the grandfather clock strike 12:00. The tobacco had burned down to a light grey ash. The fire in the fireplace had grown cold. The Makers Mark in his mug was gone. He had been lost in the smoke of his pipe and the quiet reflection that seemed to reside in the midst of that smoke. He heard a rustle behind him and wondered what was going on. He thought he must have been hearing something but he stopped nonetheless. There was a rustle of fabric and a slight cough. He sat up straight and peered around the edge of the tree in whose shadow he sat to see who was there. And what to his wondering eye should appear? Who was behind the edge of the tree and his vision? Whose clothes were rustling and who coughed? It was his son Luke. Luke came into the room and climbed up on his dad’s lap. He snuggled in close and Matt laid his finished pipe on the table.
He sat with his young son on his lap in the dark with only the flickering Christmas lights lighting the room. His eyes grew heavy and very soon he was sound asleep with his son on his lap. He never heard the slight rustle in the chimney or the clunk as a pair of boots landed among the cold ashes of the fire. Nor did he move when the fellow quietly went across the room and laid down his sack and arranged his presents under the tree. Once finished the fellow looked at Matt and Luke sitting in the chair and chuckled quietly. His eye took in the pipe on the table next to Matt and the can of Christmas Cheer sitting open next to it. He walked to the table, picked up the tin and took a deep sniff of the tobacco. He took a pipe out of his pocket and loaded a bowl, tamped it with his finger and lit it with the lighter. He sipped the tobacco and as it burned slowly in the bowl he wrote a note for Matt. He set the note next to the tin and replaced the lid on the tin. As he did Luke stirred and his eyes grew large as he took in the fellow smoking a pipe standing in front of him. He wink at Luke and put a finger in front of his mouth. He put a finger next to his nose and in a wink he was gone.
Matt awoke to his son shaking him. His son said nothing but merely pointed to the note next to the tin of tobacco. Matt shook himself awake, picked up the folded paper and read what was written there. Here is what it said:
Hi Matt, I stopped by to leave a few things under your tree. I was so glad to see that you smoked some decent tobacco in your pipe. Christmas Cheer is my favourite blend. I hope you don’t mind but I helped myself to a bowl. You left the lid off so I put it back in place for you. You don’t want that tobacco drying out too much. Oh and just so you know I left a little something from me under the tree. I expect you will enjoy it. Maybe next year you will be awake and we can share a bowl. Merry Christmas! — Nick.
Matt sat stunned for a moment. Then he turned to his son and together they looked at the fireplace and the gifts under the tree. He went to the tree and picked up the small package with his name on it. He knew that it had not been there before. He turned it over in his hands and then opened the package. Inside was a nice tin of 2008 Christmas Cheer, two years older than the one that was on the table. There was a short note under the plastic lid that simply said:
I enjoyed some of your 2010 Cheer so I thought I would share some of mine. Enjoy! – Nick
Who would ever believe this simple tale? But they both knew it was true. Luke had seen the old soul and Matt had the letter and the closed tin of tobacco. They both knew that their guest had been there. Matt could also smell the Virginia smoke in the air. Ah well. They both should head to bed for a few hours of sleep before the rest of the family awoke and the festivities began. He unplugged the lights on the tree and picked up his son. The two of them climbed the stairs. He tucked his son into bed and kissed him good night. He took himself to bed and pulled back the covers. He was asleep as fast as his head hit the pillow. October 6, 2015