Hurt till it Gives

If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse. (Proverbs 27:14)

dingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingading . . .

I hear it from the parking lot as soon as I step out my car. That relentless pinging, that incessant ring-a-ding-a-dinging that strafes me with its lethal, small-caliber good cheer.

dingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingading . . .

I drop my head and lean into the bright metallic barrage. All I want is a gallon of milk, a simple gallon of milk.

dingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingading . . .

The trilling grows louder as I near the entrance which is guarded by some red-aproned Gorgon and its suspended red pot. I steel myself. You can do this, I tell myself.

dingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingading . . .

You must not ignore the creature, I remind myself. It will smile its terrible smile at you. It will speak its horrifying Merry Christmas at you. It will make eye contact with you. You must be ready.

dingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingading . . .

Remember the Medusa, I think, that snake-headed monster whose gaze could turn a man to stone. Remember how Perseus defeated her by using her reflection against her. You can do the same. Return the ringer’s eye contact. Return the ringer’s seasonal grimace. Return the ringer’s greeting. But keep walking. Whatever you do, keep walking.

dingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingadingading . . .

The glass door slides open—

DINGADINGADINGADINGADINGADINGADINGADINGA . . .

I am blasted by a sonic conviviality that nearly takes my head off. I hesitate, my narrow, self-serving lactosian purpose quavering like a candle in the wind. What can a man do against such implacable jollity? The little bell peals its insidious mantra:

DINGADINGADINGAfreakingDINGADINGADINGADINGADINGA . . .

I reel as unbidden thoughts roil over me. Sleighbells RINGADINGADING—are you listening? Let freedom RINGADINGADINGADING! With this RINGADINGADING I thee wed. Ask not for whom the bell DINGADINGADINGS. It DINGADINGADINGS for THEE!

DINGADINGADINGADINGADINGADINGADINGADINGA . . .

Before I am ready I am face to face with the GORGON. The bell. The smile. The pot. The bell. That damned bell! It’s cheery maw opens and I’m scalded with a buoyant “Merry Christmas!” (Hold to the plan the plan the plan!)

DINGADINGADINGADINGADINGADINGADINGADINGA . . .

I will a smile to my plastic face. (Keep walking!) I lock eyes with the jolly monster. (Keep walking!) I take a shallow breath. (Keep walking!) “Merry Christmas!” I sputter. (WHATEVER YOU DO, KEEP WALKING!)

DINGADINGADINGAdamnDINGADINGADINGADINGA . . .

The glass door slides closed behind me. The bell is gone. It is finished. The gorgon is slain.

At the checkout stand I scan the milk and listen. No bell, only the muted blips of the checkout machines. I move carefully toward the exit. No red bucket. No gorgon. No bell. I pause briefly at a red stand with an empty dangling chain, then step unmolested into the parking lot, fingering a lone quarter at the bottom of my pocket.

It’s a wonderful life.

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