Winston S. Planworthy left his house that morning as he typically did. For work.
It was snowing, but because it was 7:30 AM Christmas Eve, it didn’t matter. He enjoyed this particular time of year. Winston attempted to impose serenity on himself regardless of the general horrors of the world around him. The light snowfall assisted his calmness as he walked to work.
He always walked; he had played on all the sports teams at school and habitually challenged one of his parents to a tennis match when he had returned home. Driving made him anxious, so he only did it when necessary. Desk jobs like his made him restless. His brisk strolls always did his nerves good.
Until this morning.
The wine glass stood, perfectly crystal clean, in the snow. It was directly in his path on the sidewalk. The glass was neither particularly ornate nor very large (six imperial ounces at the maximum). Winston stared at it. A car whizzed by, causing slush to slop onto the sidewalk and one leg of his recently dry-cleaned pants. The glass remained undirtied. Several times Winston frowned alternately at his pant leg and at the mystery glass.
Abruptly it contained wine, red wine.
“Sure. Fine. I believe this,” Winston said aloud.
At the bottom of the glass there appeared a large Christmas tag that had a rather attractive winter scene of a horse drawn sled. On it was written in very neat, if ostentatious, hand writing: “To Winston: please drink this.”
“Uh-huh. Yep. That’s done it. I’ve lost my mind. Too many hours in front of a computer screen. All that green glare has poisoned my mind. And so young too.” As Winston thought this, he felt an urge to pick up the glass and drink from it. His mother’s training was screaming otherwise, but the glass was irresistible. I’m finding this hard to cope with, he mused, as he picked the glass up. It smelt just like red wine. Close to French, as opposed to Spanish. As he sipped it he was certain it was not Italian either. He didn’t know what it was.
Winston dodged the horse and cart. Dust caught in his throat. The middle of the road was a dangerous place. People were moving and screaming. He felt like he was in an extreme exaggeration of Kensington Market. But in a desert.
“What happened to the snow and wine glass?”
His winter long coat was becoming rather warm. The snow on his shoulders and boots had melted, leaving wet patches. He fled the roadway after managing to avoid more crazy people in ramshackle horse-drawn carriages.
Once at the side of the road, he noticed that the people selling varieties of ill-smelling food out of makeshift tents were staring at him. This was no surprise, considering he was over-dressed for an arid environment, as well as a foot and a half taller than anyone around. Some of the people looked awed while many laughed quite loudly.
“Just precisely where the hell am I?”
He decided to walk. Everything around him smelled bad and he wanted fresh air. He proceeded to step into a mound of donkey droppings. There was no clean air to be found. Everyone was scrambling to try to find a place to settle down for the evening. Winston felt confused. To him it was about eight in the morning.
So far he had not heard one word of English. People were still staring at him despite the fact he had taken his coat off and was now carrying it. The tie drew quite a bit of attention. Two Roman-looking soldiers disturbed him. They wore bits of armour, looked very professional and quite potentially violent. They asked him twice, once in Latin and again in Hebrew, who and from where he was. When he could not answer, the shorter and broader of the men attempted to detain him. Winston planted one foot firmly on the ground and tripped him up, causing him to eat a little dust. The other drew a sword and Winston ran away. The soldiers could not keep pace with his long legs. Winston carried a winter coat, but the Romans were supporting weighty armour.
He took to scurrying between tents. From the shadows a leper begged for money and Winston recoiled with horror, bolting down another path. He ran smack into a man with a beard. The man swore at Winston in Hebrew as they both tumbled to the ground. “I’m sorry.” Despite the smell, Winston helped the man stand up and offered to help carry his and his pregnant wife’s considerable baggage. The man grabbed one sack away from him, refusing help. Winston asserted his desire to help by standing his full height and bellowing, “Let me help you, damn it!” Joseph didn’t understand a word but let Winston carry the bags.
Winston looked at Mary and noticed she was not just mildly pregnant. Looking at Joseph, he saw lines of concern twisting the shape of his beard. Three successive inns turned them down. At the fourth, Winston convinced the innkeeper to let them stay by putting him in a headlock. When the innkeeper led the trio to the stable, Winston got suspicious. And then frantic.
He looked at the conditions under which a miraculous birth was supposed to take place and was offended. He started cleaning up the stable. But there was nothing to use for cleaning. He spent twenty minutes scrounging for several dirty lengths of cloth. He began a fire and boiled clean a dirty pot. Then be boiled some clean water. Not unpredictably, the manger was the only possible substitute for a crib. He scrubbed it down.
Mary and Joseph looked at him as if he were insane. Joseph was scolded for letting such an odd man join them. The husband retaliated by asked her if she felt like engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a giant. At this point Mary went into labour.
Winston panicked. He hadn’t finished cleaning.
Joseph did most of the work, guided by Winston’s miming of what Joseph should be doing. Winston’s first aid courses were more schooling than Joseph had ever had. The baby was placed in an exceptionally clean manger.
The Christ child looked like any normal new-born baby — kind of small and shrivelled. But the birth had been particularly simple, even by Winston’s twentieth century standards. Also, the child didn’t howl much. In fact, Jesus was so quiet that for a moment Winston thought he might be dead.
When the wise men and all the shepherds arrived, things really livened up. It was indeed a celebration. Winston looked up at the sky and sure enough the star hung like a beacon over their heads. His mind went so numb with shock he decided to complement the feeling by getting drunk. A member of one of the Wise Men’s entourage had several huge wineskins. Winston sucked a large swig of red wine and proceeded to vanish.
It was cold in the snow without a coat. The flakes whirled around and Winston was feeling the effects of hot-cold shock. He started to run in order to keep warm. He furiously flagged down a cab. Once in the taxi he was certain he had left his wallet in his coat in Bethlehem, but he found it uncomfortably wedged in his hay and dung covered dress pants. Thank God for small mercies, he thought.
With a wrinkled nose, the cab driver said, “Whew! Have you been to a horse show or something?”
“No, actually, it was more of a Christmas party.”