EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an extract from Catching Christmas, by Lori Borgman (Good Cheer Press, 2008).

Walter

Walter Hawkins had taken his eyes off the road for two seconds, maybe three, when his front right tire glanced off the curb. He jerked the steering wheel hard to the left, and in the process sent an adrenalin rush through the driver in the car next to him, who instinctively laid on her horn.            

Walter glanced at the driver. Spiked hair, multiple piercings, and a bobble-head Santa shaking on the dashboard. Looked like the type that might or might not have a small handgun on the seat beside her. Walter was about to make one of those apologetic nods drivers make when they know they’ve done something stupid and are profoundly grateful it didn’t result in an accident, when the driver smacked her thumb and index finger, shaped like the letter L, to her forehead and mouthed a word Walter could clearly make out as “LOSER!” She surged ahead with Santa’s oversized head bobbing wildly and leaving Walter in a putrid cloud of exhaust.

He began searching again, but this time keeping one hand on the wheel and both eyes on the road. He rummaged through a pile on the passenger seat — loose papers, file folders and an empty sack from Freddy’s Fried Chicken. He stretched his arm, reached into the glove box and gave it a good ransacking, but no go. He popped open the console between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat and dug around in there. Christmas CDs, straws, gloves, salt and ketchup packets, napkins — bingo — sunglasses.

No wonder he had a hard time finding them. It had been ages since he’d needed his sunglasses. Ever since Thanksgiving it had been the Twelve Days of Darkness. For nearly two weeks, people had plodded through their daily routines beneath low-lying clouds that looked like dryer lint suspended from the sky. Today, all that had changed. This morning the sun burst through the clouds, turning the sky a glorious pink and orange. The glare of the sun was nearly blinding. It was hard going for Friday morning commuters headed east.

Walter enjoyed the drive to the Cypress Academy. He had been a commuter in D.C. before his recent move. He and his family had lived in one of those satellite suburban communities that ring the capital. It was a newer neighborhood where all the houses on all the streets in the entire subdivision looked exactly alike, were it not for two small details. One, each homeowner expressed individuality in the choice of color for the shutters, and secondly, the builder had flipped the floor plan on every third house. Each and every house sat on a postage-size lot and sold for three times what it would have in the rest of the country, California excluded.

In D.C., Walter would have driven ten minutes to the train station, parked the car, taken a twenty-five minute inbound train, then walked another ten minutes from the station to the office. Roughly fifty-five minutes one way; nearly two hours round trip; ten hours a week, forty hours a month, 480 hours a year. Walter had a thing for numbers. Numbers and efficiency.

Walter’s work in D.C. had involved appropriating monies to organizations across the country, from day care centers to homeless shelters, and assorted groups that served as putty in the cracks through which the lost and forgotten often slipped. His specialty, however, was schools — urban partnerships hammered out between faith-based groups, private organizations and corporate sponsors. All in all, it was a rewarding job. Or at least he told people it was.