The lights were, by turns, beautiful, dazzling, sophisticated, funny, overdone, underdone, twinkling, moving, immutable. Distracting even if a person was not consumed with a rabid holiday fervor, although in his experience, most people were infected with good feelings in spite of the fiscal woes associated with the end of the year. This festive virus ensured that the addition of a few tiny bulbs of luminescence made the host entirely unaware of his or her surroundings.
This young woman, for example, with her silky brown hair trailing down her back in waves and her soft cashmere travel wrap, would not ordinarily let a hitherto unknown man stand a mere foot or two away from her for longer than a minute, two at most, unless that man was exceptionally handsome. Yet he, who fell short of even being average-looking, had been hovering near her for a quarter of an hour, and had not received so much as a cursory glance. The scent of Chanel No. 5 wafted through the crisp night air, and breath escaped her mouth in a white fog that merged with his own exhalations.
He could be the love of her life, right here, within touching distance. She could look over, and their eyes could lock, for a minute. And then he, smitten by her beautiful brown orbs, would lose track of where he was and trip over the rubber-tipped toe of her Sorel snowboots. She would giggle, and say something slightly snarky and comforting while flashing a white, orthodontia-enhanced smile. He would respond with some witty repartee, and convince her to get a coffee with him. She would nurse something sickeningly sweet and holiday inspired, like a gingerbread latte. They would talk in the dim lighting of the coffee shop until it closed, and then he would walk her home. A kiss would be shared under the gently falling snow, the first of many more.
He could be a rapist, stalking his prey right here, within touching distance. She could look away for a few seconds, only to feel his hand clamp over her mouth and nose, holding a white rag damp with chloroform. He could drag her limp, heavy body behind the clump of large evergreen trees just a few feet away. She would awaken, hours later, as her consciousness slowly, painfully broke through the heavy, drug-induced haze. She would endure hours waiting in the hospital to be examined, shivering in a green smock that exposed her back and the bruises on her sancrum, where she would learn that in addition to being defiled, she had permanently lost feeling in three of her toes due to frostbite. Then, she would be hoisted onto the police for questioning, where she would be implicitly told, over a cup of gritty dark coffee, that she had been asking for it, wearing such a formfitting snow coat.
He could be her long-lost brother, the black sheep who left the family over a decade ago in pursuit of money and fame in Los Angeles. She could look over, and their eyes could lock, for a minute. They would simultaneously recognize their mother’s eye shape, and know that this was their former playmate, sparring partner, and confidante. She would envelop him in a tight hug, and they would head to a bar. Over cheap, sour beer, he would explain how he was disillusioned, and had only realized after heading out there that he did not have the looks, talent, or contacts to act, nor did he have the money, power, or contacts to produce, and had wasted the past eleven years washing dishes. How he had been completely alone when his cat Mr. Egghead passed away, and had decided it was time to come back home, where he could live with mom and dad and figure things out.
He could be anyone, anything, and she – distracted by the lights – would not look over, would not see him. It was too early for the drunks to come stumbling home from the bar, Taco Bell bags clutched tightly in their fingers and off-key carols escaping their lips. Too late for the frazzled shoppers, who had already driven home, made numerous arm-laden trips into their houses with the as-yet unwrapped presents, and now drank their eggnog and hot chocolate before the fireplace. It felt as though they were alone in the world, and anything was possible.
Christmas truly was the most wonderful time of the year.
She was still focused on the lights when the pain bloomed in her lower intestines. The knife slid easily in and out of her person, and he was walking away, each step crackling with the salt on the soles of his boots, as her blood began to pour onto the clean white snow.