(c) Christmas Story for two people

The Christmas market in the town hall square was filled with people. It was their last chance to shop before Christmas Eve. Engelbert Schwarz was in his usual, unprovoked bad mood and thought “If only these stupid Christmas holidays were already over”. He crossed the square to reach the pharmacy.
He was greeted with a very friendly “Good morning” by the pharmacist. “Morning”, he replied and handed over the prescription. She looked at it, “I’ll have to order in the sleeping pills, they’ll be here by noon. “Then I’ll have to come back” he grumbled, but she was not perturbed. Engelbert Schwarz, dressed in black, watched her while she typed the order into the computer. She was around 50 years old, wore little makeup and had short hair. “Not really my type” he thought to himself. Her name tag read “Valeria Stern”. “An unusual name,” he thought and grabbed the tablets impatiently, touching her hand for a split second – and felt a jolt. He left.
Crossing the square just before noon, he noticed some Christmas decorations marked down. He recalled how his wife had always visited the market and bought a new decoration for their home and bought one with an angel and a red candle. At the pharmacy, Valeria was on the telephone, smiling said, “I’m sorry Herr Schwarz, but there has been a computer breakdown and your tablets will not be here until after Christmas.” Engelbert was about to explode, but her friendly demeanour threw him off balance. “May I suggest you try this Valerian tea?” To Engelbert’s surprise and puzzlement, he took her advice and bought the tea.
Back home he hung his coat in the wardrobe and passed the mirror. “I look so old and grumpy” he thought to himself, “and yet this Valeria Stern has been nice to me – but then, that’s part of her job.”
After lunch, he walked in the park. He saw a young couple hand in hand and very much in love. Usually he would have ignored them but today he felt a pain in his chest as he remembered happy Christmasses with his wife. Then he recalled that he had left at the pharmacy the decoration he had bought at the market. He looked at the time – and realized that the pharmacy would close early on Christmas Eve.
Sitting on a park bench, he heard the voices of two ladies walking along the path. They did not see him, but one of the voices was familiar and his heart began to beat faster. He heard Valeria say “Yes, I am really enjoying my new job at the pharmacy, but you know, most people really don’t need medication, they just need someone to overcome their loneliness; today a grumpy elderly ………..” Engelbert could not hear the rest.
With these words in mind, he made his way home and put the kettle on. Although he had not taken his calming herbs, his depression had lifted. Suddenly the doorbell rang. He opened the door and there was Valeria Stern. He started to tremble. “You left your decoration in the pharmacy and I looked up your address in our records.” Valeria said. “You really won’t need this after Christmas and, as I live close by, I thought I would bring it past”. “That is so considerate,” replied Engelbert, “I was just making a cup of herbal tea, would you like to join me?” he said, plucking up all his courage.

“That would be nice” Valeria replied. She gave him the fir twig with its angel and candle. Engelbert lit the candle, thinking “I really don’t need an angel, one just walked in the door”. Then he made tea. They sat and talked and Engelbert discovered he had more courage than he thought. Hearing that Valeria was new to town, he found himself asking her, “Would you join me tomorrow for the Christmas Church Service”. To his surprise she answered “Yes” and so Engelbert arranged for them not only to attend the Service together, but also to dine out afterwards.

That night Engelbert completely forgot about his tablets and slept like a baby.

Translated and adapted from “Weihnachtsgeschichte für zwei Personen” – unknown author – by Resi Schwarzbauer and edited by Herta Uhlherr.