Arlett’s Christmas Repairman by Tina Wagner Mattern
I can tell you this much, there ain’t no one coulda been more shocked than me to have Jesus show up at their front door on Christmas Eve. I mean, it ain’t like I’ve ever been some church-goin kinda gal or anything. I always believed in God though, don’t get me wrong. There is just way too much proof, to my way of thinking, to ever doubt that. I mean, think about it; somebody wrote a whole big, long book about Him way back years ago in a time when people probably couldn’t even read. But even if they could, well frankly, some of the book is downright boring, especially that who begat who stuff back there in the beginning. We’re not talking about a bestseller here, like something by that Danielle Steel woman. No, the book is just way too complicated to not be a true story. And as far as Jesus goes, I seen pictures of him that were painted hundreds of years ago by famous old guys, so I always knew he had to be real.
I believe in miracles too. Not the kind on that “Touched By An Angel” TV program, since I don’t think angels go around announcing the good they’re doing and glowing all over the place like lightbulbs. I’m pretty sure it’s in their contract somewhere that they have to keep a low profile.
No, I believe in the kinda miracles where people pray for some sick little kid with a brain tumor the size of a honeydew melon and the next thing you know, the little kid is on TV sitting on his mama’s lap, grinning like someone just gave him the deed to Disneyland. And the doctors are telling the TV guy, “Well, we’re certain there is a scientific explanation for the tumor disappearing…” and looking like fools.
And I believe in those kinda miracles like they have on that TV show, ‘The 700 Club’ sometimes, where some poor schmuck who’s been shooting everything into his arm from heroin to cough syrup, hits rock bottom one day, falls on his knees asking for God to come help him and, TA-DA, God does it! The guy gets up off his knees with a big old grin, quits drugging, with none of that miserable withdrawal stuff, and goes off to become a minister to poor folks in the ghetto. Those are the kinda miracles I’m talking about here.
But nothing I ever saw on TV coulda prepared me for Jesus comin over to my house.
Naturally, the first thing I did after it was all over, was to call my best friend, Nola Jean, and tell her to meet me at the Pagoda Chinese Restaurant bar so I could tell her all about it.
“Nola Jean, I got something to tell you that’ll knock you on your butt!” I said on the phone. “You just ain’t gonna believe it in a million years!”
Nola Jean said she hadn’t heard any exciting news since her next door neighbor, Ruth Bromley told her about catching her husband, Bert, out in the tool shed with that horse-faced piece of wrong-side-of-the-tracks trash, Inez Townsend. (Those are Ruth Bromley’s words there, not mine. I don’t gossip no more since Jesus saw fit to bless me with His presence and all; it’s the least I can do.)
“You’d have to go some to knock me on my butt, cause you know I heard it all,” Nola Jean told me. “But I’ll be there with bells on, you betcha.”
When I got to the restaurant, Nola was already on her usual barstool, which is right next to my usual barstool, and she was in the process of fishing the cherry outa the bottom of her Stinger. She was concentrating on it like a scientist looking at a two-headed spider through a microscope, so she didn’t see me come in.
Bald Bill did though, and he gave me a cheery wave and a, “Happy New Year, Arlett! Did you have a nice Christmas?” Bald Bill is Nola Jean’s and my favorite bartender. He don’t care how often we come in, unlike some of them. He’s always pretty polite and he don’t ever ask us to leave unless we fall off our stools or start a fight or run out of money or something. He looks a little like that TV toilet clean guy with the bald head, Mr. Clean, only short.
“Hey Bill. You have no idea!” I said, plunking myself down and reaching for the Screwdriver that he had already set down for me. I used to drink Martinis’ but that was before I came up with my theory. See, I got to worryin awhile back about what they call, “excessive alcohol consumption.” Now of course, I don’t drink no excessive amount, only a couple-three times a week, and I never drink anything at home but beer or wine, so I really don’t have much to worry about, but I did figure out that if Vitamin C is so good for people, adding it to alcohol should pretty much cut out any harmful effects. And orange juice tastes just dandy mixed in with Vodka. I thought I’d invented a new drink the first time I ordered it but Bald Bill told me it was called a Screwdriver. Kinda weird name but what the hey, long as it’s good for me.
Nola Jean grinned, waving the cherry at me before popping it into her mouth; it was the same color as her favorite lipstick, Forbidden Fuchsia. She smacked her lips and then leaned over to plant a big kiss on my cheek like always. And like always I grabbed my cocktail napkin with the naughty jokes on it and scrubbed the lipstick off. I gave her a one-armed hug while I was picking up my drink.
“So, what’s the big news? You pregnant?” Nola Jean chortled. Bald Bill laughed out loud.
“Nope, more amazing than that!” I said.
Nola Jean grinned. “More amazing than you being pregnant at 72? This I gotta hear!”
I set my drink back down, reached over and grabbed Nola Jean’s hand so’s that I’d have her full attention. And then I cleared my throat and said real quiet and serious-like, “Jesus came over to my house on Christmas Eve!”
Nola Jean looked at me. She blinked. Finally, she took a big, long slurp on her straw and laughed. “Course He did. Elvis and the Easter Bunny couldn’t make it and He didn’t want you to be disappointed.”
“Honest to God, Nola Jean, it’s true! Jesus was at my house. Really!”
“Jesus came over to Arlett’s house on Christmas Eve. Honest to God!” Nola Jean announced loudly to nobody in particular.
An old Chinese man in a booth by the window looked over at us and shook his head. Bald Bill stopped drying a glass and raised an eyebrow.
“Never mind that,” I sighed, reaching for my drink again, but then setting it back down. “The important thing here is that He did. He coulda chose anybody, but He didn’t. He chose me!” Just remembering Jesus standing there on my front porch, all lit up by the Christmas lights hanging out there, made my backbone thrill up and down like a rollercoaster ride.
Nola Jean, chomping on a handful of peanuts said, “Arlett, you are just so full of shit.” Ignoring her, I went on with my story.
“He was in disguise of course, but I knew Him right off. Even in the lawn service uniform and all, I seen it was Him.”
Nola Jean snorted and said, “Hi there, the name’s Jesus; I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and see if you needed anything. Was that it?”
She reached for her purse and pulled out her compact to check on her lipstick, which was mostly gone between gumming up three glasses and my cheek, so she spread on another coat. Sometimes Nola Jean can get pretty annoying, especially when she’s been drinking, which is most of the time, and it’s just lucky for her that I’m a good enough friend to overlook her snide little remarks instead of maybe calling her a fat, blowsy old cow, like some other people might do.
I picked up a menu, shoved one in front of her and said, “Order something.”
She laughed, waved the menu at Bald Bill and when he came over, ordered a number one: chicken chop suey, egg foo yung and fried rice. “I’m ready for a fresh drink too, Bill,” she added.
I went with my usual, number three: pork chow Mein, sweet and sour spareribs, and white rice. Bald Bill pointed at my drink. “You want me to bring another one when the food comes?” I looked over and saw that my drink was still full, so I shook my head.
“Now here’s what happened,” I said in a very pointed fashion. “In case you’re interested in the biggest thing that ever happened to me.” Nola Jean must have noticed I was getting peeved so she made a big show of putting her Stinger down, folding her arms over those big balloon busties of hers, and looking at me like was about to give her the scientific formula for becoming invisible. She nodded, which I took to mean I should continue.
“I was waiting for the lawn service guy to come because one of my sprinklers broke that morning and was spraying water all over the sidewalk in front of my house. I mean, Christmas eve or not, my sprinkler was shootin water out like Old Faithful. My water bill was gonna send me to the poorhouse. In the meantime, I was in the bathroom plucking out those little hairs that keep cropping up like some kinda damn chin-weeds or something. You know, them nasty, black wire-brush ones? Well, there I was doing that when the doorbell rang, so I fluffed up my hair, cause you never know who might be at your door, and went to see who it was.”
Here, I stopped for a minute, picked up my Vitamin-C Special, as I call them, before going on. “Who’s there,” I said in a real deep voice so’s that if it was a mugger out there, he’d think I was my husband, if I had one, just like you taught me, Nola Jean.”
“Damn tootin, I did,” Nola Jean said with a loud belch. “And you’re just damn lucky to have a best friend like me to save your ass,” she added, poking me in the chest none too gently with her index finger. Her voice was starting to get that loud and slushy sound it gets when she’s had one too many Stingers and no chop suey. Bill looked over and shook his head, so I took aholt of that finger of hers and planted it firmly back down on the bar.
“Shush up that mouth of yours Nola Jean!” I told her, setting my drink back down so hard some of it sloshed over onto the bar. “I can hear you just fine without you drillin a hole in my chest and yellin in my ear.” Now, where was I?”
“You was telling me that Jesus Christ came over to fix your sprinkler system,” she cackled, slapping her hand on the bar, pleased as punch with herself.
I ignored her. “Who’s there?” I said again, to get her back to the story. “And a man says, “Fernandez Yard Service—you called us?” Which I did. So, I look out the little peek-hole and sure enough, there’s a man in a yard-guy uniform out there. It says, “Fernandez Yard Service” right there on his hat. “Okay, just a minute,” I say, and unlock the two deadbolts and the chain lock so’s I can open the door.”
Nola Jean butted in, “You should get yourself one a’them big-ass barkin dog recordings, Arlett. Now, that’s the kinda stuff rapers are scared off by—big-ass dogs!”
I ignored her and continued. “So, there I am unlocking the door. I open it up and Oh my gosh, it’s Him! Jesus! I recognized Him by the pictures I seen of him all my life. Even before He took His hat off, I knowed it was Him. I took three steps back, my eyes all buggy, I’m sure, and said, “C—come in! I mean, please,” I added. Then, soon as He come in the door, He did take that hat off and all that long, brown hair come tumbling down on his collar and…well, there He was, in all His glory!”
Nola Jean made a loud, very unladylike raspberry sound with her lips; I ignored her again and said, “He looked just like His pictures: beard, mustache, big, sad eyes.” Just remembering those eyes made me shiver on my barstool. I reached for my drink, but then stopped and hugged myself instead. “But just in case you’re thinking anybody could look like that, there’s another way I knew that it was Him, the Lord.”
Taking a big sip of her drink, Nola Jean gestured with her straw, which I took to mean, “go on,” so I did.
“He was wearin a name tag!”
Nola Jean choked on her Stinger. “What?”
“Honest to God,” I said. “I mean, He was. He really was! It was right there on his chest. One o’them mono-grammed things; it said, “JESUS”, sure as I’m sittin here.
“Your lawn guy’s name badge said JESUS?” Nola Jean, said. “Well, I’ll be damned!”
“You will be if you don’t watch that mouth on you,” I said sternly. “Now I’m tellin you that it was Jesus, nametag and all.”
Bald Bill showed up right about then with our food. He picked up Nola Jean’s empty glass. “Ready?” he asked. She grinned real big and leaned over, dropping them big bazongas of her onto the bar, batted her eyelashes up at him and said, “You betcha, honey.” She gets pretty friendly sometimes after four drinks or so. Personally though, I don’t think Bald Bill would sleep with Nola Jean even if he wasn’t married. She’s just too big for him, that’s all there is to it. She’s smoosh him like a piss-ant. Not to mention the fact that she’s thirty years older than him.
Bill just smiled and looked at my drink, which for some reason was still full. The ice cubes was all melted though. “Something wrong with your drink, Arlett?” he asked. Surprised, I shook my head. “No, I don’t think so. I guess I never even tried it. Musta been too busy talkin.”
He picked it up and said, “No problem, I’ll get you a fresh one.”
See, I told you he’s a nice guy.
Nola Jean poured half a bottle of soy sauce over everything on her plate, then proceeded to scarf it all down like somebody who hasn’t had nothing to eat in six months. But to be fair, Nola Jean’s a big girl. She don’t eat like a bird because she’s got a lot of space to fill, and that ain’t me mean-talkin here, it’s just the truth. Now me, I do eat like a bird, a hummingbird, Nola Jean says. It peeves her no end that I’m skinny and she’s well, fat.
Bald Bill set a new Screwdriver down in front of me and I picked up my fork, ready to go on with the story. “Now, where was I?” I said. “Oh yeah. Okay, so I gotta tell ya, I’m pretty well flabbergasted at having the Lord right there in my living room. I say, ‘Jesus!’ And then, cause it seemed like the right thing to do, I grab onto the chair next to me and use it to sort of ease myself down onto one knee.”
Nola Jean’s eyes got all big. “And then what happened”
Over in my side-vision, I noticed Bald Bill edging closer. His eyebrow was at full mast.
“Jesus just looks at me for a second, then He smiles and reaches for my hand and pulls me back up onto my feet. ‘No, Signora!’ he says and pointing to his nametag, he says something that sounds like ‘Hey Zeus’. Well, I have no idea what that means, so I just sort of stand there, feeling all overwhelmed and happy.”
Bald Bill was smiling big by then and shaking his head. I know he’s one of those church-going people and he probably reads the bible and stuff, so maybe he was familiar with Jesus’ language.
Nola Jean was tuned in by then, but she was shakin her head too, like she was just not buyin anything I was sellin. “Okay, so then what?” she said.
“So, like I said, I’m standing there all speechless, being in the same room with Jesus and all, and He’s standing there smiling and looking expectant, and I’m looking at him like a calf at a new gate and wondering what I have in the kitchen to fix for Him, when he says, ‘I am here to fix your sprinkler.’
Well, I’m just shocked. To think the Lord Himself would come all the way to earth, to my house, just to fix my sprinkler! And I gotta say, I’m a little surprised to hear that he’s got an accent just like Mr. Fernandez and the rest of his crew.
‘I will have this done for you as quickly as possible,’ He says then. ‘If you will just show me where your water shut-off valve is…’
“All of a sudden, I find myself remembering all the rotten things I’ve done in my life, stuff I know must have been written down in God’s book somewhere and I’m overwhelmed with shame. ‘Jesus, I say’, ‘I don’t deserve to have you fix my sprinkler.’”
I pick up my drink and bring it up to my mouth, but all of a sudden I realize that I’m not very thirsty so I set it back down.
“Aw, Arlett. You been a good person,” Nola Jean said, “You always buy Girl Scout cookies when they come around.”
Bald Bill reached over and patted my hand. “She’s right, Arlett. Nobody’s perfect. So, what happened next?”
“Well, that’s when the real miracle happened,” I said, going on with the story. “Jesus just stood there, not saying anything, just looking at me with those eyes of His. And then, just when I was feeling like I was gonna bust into tears or something, He looks over at my fireplace, where I put my Nativity Scene every year. ‘May I, Signora?’ He asks, and I take that to mean He wants to get a closer look. So I say, ‘Of course!’ He walks over and stands there looking at it, not saying anything, so I go over and stand next to him. After a minute, He picks the baby Jesus up, looks at it, and then smiles before putting it back down. I’m kind of shifting from foot to foot, still feeling really unworthy and all when He turns to me and says, ‘I must go fix the sprinkler now, Signora, okay?’ I swallow kind of hard and say, ‘Okay’. I take him to the garage and show Him the water valve. He nods at me and says, ‘I will have this repaired quickly.’ He shuts off the water and asks me to open the garage door so He don’t have to come back into the house, which I do. ‘It is cold outside’, He says, ‘You stay in where it is warm. I will come tell you when I have finished.’”
Nola Jean shrugged. “I don’t get it, what’s so miraculous about that? So, he fixed your sprinkler…”
Bald Bill shushed her and said, “Go on, Arlett.
“I close the garage door after Him,” I said. “And then I go back into the house to wait. I sit down at the kitchen table and think about my life and about how I shoulda paid a little more attention to God. I’m just dumbfounded that Jesus would take the time to come visit me, let alone do repairs around my house. Well, I sit there thinking for a long time until I guess maybe I fall asleep because all of a sudden, there’s a knock at the door. I go and open it and there He is, hat in hand again. ‘It is finished, Signora,’ he says. I take a deep breath, grab His hand and say, “Thank you, Jesus.” He stands there smiling at me, His eyes all warm and soft and says, “You’re welcome, Arlett. Thank you!”
Well, my mouth falls open. “You’re thanking me?” I say. And then I realize…His accent is gone, and He just called me by my name. Before I can say a word, He reaches out His other hand and puts it on my shoulder. I feel a big rush of something…joy, I guess. He looks over at my Nativity Scene again, turns back to me with a little smile and says, ‘Thank you for remembering my birthday.’”
“What? No way!” Nola Jean’s eyes looked like they was ready to pop out of her head. “What happened then?”
I got that funny joy feeling again, remembering. “Then, I think I closed my eyes for a minute because when I opened ‘em, He was gone.”
Nola Jean harrumphed, “You’re crazy, Arlett. I think you dreamed the whole thing.”
Bald Bill leaned over the counter and said, “Maybe. But maybe not...” He picked up my second untouched Screwdriver. “So, what do you think…would you like a coke, Arlett?”
I thought about it for a minute and then smiled real big. “Yeah, Bill. I believe I would.”