It’s 3:00, Christmas Eve. He sits silently at his desk.
The office party cheer evaporates. A faint scent of wine lingers.
The empty office echoes the hum of his computer. Masks litter the floor.
He checks his shopping list, a white sheet filled with names.
So many names, no gifts. He taps it with his pen, anxiety sets in.
His watch reads 3:05. No more procrastination. Show time for shopping.
He girds up, grabs his keys and walks briskly to the parking garage.
Christmases past flood his mind. Always the same, last-minute shopping.
He heads to the mall, a conqueror in his quest. The streets are clogged.
The mall appears in the distance. It closes at 6:00. Traffic is a Gordian knot.
Nothing moves. He curses, blows his horn. The clock ticks: 3:18.
He fidgets, pounds the steering wheel. Sweat soaks his collar.
One lane moves, not his. Cars zip by, drivers yack on cells, celebrating.
He squeezes a grandmother out of the lane. She shrieks. He shrugs.
The mall parking lot is emptying. He’s confused. Only 3:27.
He jogs in, time is crucial. Clueless men roam the cavernous mall.
He checks his list, plans his route. Shelves stripped at Staples.
He scans Macy’s. Motley merchandise. He moves to Belk’s. Boring.
Neiman’s, over-priced, picked over. He stops at Starbucks.
A coffee. The barista moves like molasses. He paces, tick, tick.
Saks might save him. He smiles smugly, saunters in, thinks of his wife.
Clerks on cells yawn. They shun him. He despises them.
He inspects the shoes. Jimmy Choo, Manolo. He’s shocked.
Sticker prices stab him, surpass his comprehension. He tries cosmetics.
He dawdles with perfume testers. The air smells sweet. He can’t choose.
He moves to handbags. Three men linger there.
Choices are few. One crocodile Veneta. All eyes are on it.
Words erupt. Someone is shoved, Elbows fly, two men grapple on the floor.
He grabs for the bag. Too slow. A fist pounds his head. The bag vanishes.
He shakes it off, reviews his list. Half complete. The watch reads 4:32.
Time’s tick taunts him. He rushes into the corridor. Shops closing early.
He checks DeBeers. Their door slams shut. Luck at Lululemon.
He leaves, passes Victoria Secret. A cluster of old men gather there, gawking.
Window mannequins get fresh lingerie. They point, discuss, drool, dream.
He guesses their Santa wish list. Disappointment will fill their stockings.
His watch frightens him: 4:58. Time stalks him. He becomes manic.
He shops tawdry kiosks, grabs the garish junk. Satisfied with scraps now.
He’s a pinball, bouncing shop to shop, running wildly through the hallway.
His wife calls. A party, our home, 6:30? An expletive escapes.
It’s 5:24. Doors are closing fast. Still no gift for his wife.
He’s a feral savage now, delirious. His bags bulge, his wallet wilts.
Time punishes him, assaulted by the incessant tick, tick, tick.
Shops are closed. A dim light shines in the distance. Maybe, he hopes.
He remembers the toaster, the tumblers, the tenderloin he gave her.
She cried. His children ridiculed him. She abandoned the kitchen forever.
He bursts into the store, grabs the clerk, shakes him violently.
“My wife, my wife, what have you got for my wife?” He’s hysterical.
“The best for her. What is it, man? Hurry. Price no object.”
The clerk recovers, demonstrates a shiny see-through model, the latest rave.
“I’ll take it,” he roars. “What is it?” “Why, sir, an Oreck vacuum, the best.”
“Yes,” he shouts, “at last, at last.” He’s ecstatic. It’s 6:05. List done.
He sprints to the exit. The doors are bolted shut. He’s trapped.
He shakes them uncontrollably. Alarms sound. Security subdues him.
He pleads his dilemma. The cuffs come off, he’s kicked out. 6:15.
He finds his car, drives madly, weaves wildly, a lunatic at the wheel.
He arrives home. His pulse pounds. He’s disheveled, the necktie a noose.
He races in, kisses his wife, dumps his bags. His watch tortures him, 6:26.
She’s calm, smiles, Says Merry Christmas, reminds him guests soon arrive.
She sees his panic, pours him eggnog, says to calm down and relax.
“Oh, Honey, don’t buy me a present this year,” she says.
He’s stunned, confused, asks why. She grins, points to the garage.
“I saved you the trouble. I bought my own with your Amex. Go see.”
He does. A shiny new black Range Rover greets at him.
He stares in stark horror, estimating the cost. So long company bonus.
The doorbell rings. Guests arrive, the clock chimes 6:30. He faints.
* * *
Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas and hoping your shopping was everything you dreamed it would be. Sales begin soon. Relax.
December 23, 2021