After a series of dark and rain splattered days topped off by a drenching storm on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day dawned clear and golden from first light. He’d read her from the Bible as well as The Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas in her room at the rehabilitation hospital on the eastern city limits of Chico; out near where the firestorm of November flowed down from the ridge and tried to enter the town.
He came back on Christmas morning and found her doing much better than on the days before. Outside the bright day beckoned and so he put on her warm coat and scarf and took her out into the courtyard. There they sat in the unseasonably warm sunshine under a sky washed clean of ash and smoke and soot. They breathed in fresh air smelling like freshly laundered sheets hung on the line to dry. Even the breeze when it came and went and came back again was gentle, almost warm. They had coffee and remarked what a fine fine Christmas day it was.
Once again she regretted that she had “ruined Christmas.” Once again he reminded her of the fact that in October one of her sons had a motorcycle accident and a concussion and yet survived and was feeling fairly good again. Once again he reminded her that in November another of her three sons had had his house in Paradise burned to ashes along with the whole town. And then he pointed out that in December she, in the 104th year of her age, had fallen and sustained a concussion and yet here she was again on the mend.
“It’s Christmas Day and all three of us are still here and still standing. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a very merry Christmas if ever there was one.”
She laughed and allowed how that had to be the case. Then they had some more coffee in the courtyard next to the ravines running down from Paradise where the burned zones still blotched the hillside with charred soil and scorched trees like vast pools of shadow with no source of light.
Later, as he drove west back into town, the sunset in front of him grew more and more intense until it held all the colors of a raging wildfire cast up from behind the coast range. He stopped by the side of the road and watched this singular sunset burning brighter and brighter until its colors became as incendiary as the Light of the World, born this day, long ago, in Bethlehem.