a christmas story

A Christmas Story

by Malcolm Johnson, Tofino


A cold coming we had of it, so starts T.S. Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi,’ and that was the line that was tramping through my head as I walked into a winter wind on 32nd Street. That morning I’d discovered there was nothing left in the fridge, and I’d spent a full two hours cruising the city trying to find a decent greengrocer. The day before, I’d decided that I detested New York; tied-up inside about not surfing for two weeks, I’d taken the A train out to Far Rockaway, where it’d been two feet and cross-chopped and thirty-two degrees. I’d gotten right back on the A and gone home. But Natalie had asked me to be there, so I was. I was there, like she’d asked, though not in spirit; I’d spent most of my time crashed on the computer, checking the wave models for the Canada coast and reading emails about how Chesterman’s was head-high and firing grey, gunmetal barrels. I was where I’d always wanted to be, but I wanted to be back home.

I’d finally found a good grocery, and I was cooking udon when Natalie came in that night. I poured her an egg nog and rum, and she pulled in close to me.

“ Did you have a horrid day, babe?”

“ So horrid. It took me two hours to find noodles.”

“ Poor thing,” she said, smiling, and pulled in closer.

“ Heh, I know. But for real, it wasn’t that good of a day. I’m so friggin’ aimless here.”

“ Well, you weren’t working at home either.”

“ I know,” I replied, “but there I’m a part of things. It’s cool to cruise here, but I just don’t have much to do.”

“ I’m sorry, babe. I’m stoked that you’re here though.”

“ I know, missy. It’s just that Christmas thing I guess, that homesick thing.”

“ Mary and Joseph had the same thing,” Natalie said. “They couldn’t even find a place to stay. The manger, that’s like the underground parkade. At least I’m letting you sleep upstairs. And in my bed, no less.”

“ I know. I just been a bit bummed today, that’s all.”


Later that evening we were sprawled on the floor in front of the fire, listening to Ryan Adams’ ‘Heartbreaker’ album.

“ So what do you remember,” she asked.

“ Remember about what?”

“ Christmas. ‘Cause we didn’t have it.”

“ You had Hanukah though.”

“ Yeah, but I want to hear about yours.”

“ Huh. I don’t know. There’s all these things that stick together; I think ‘83, that was a good one. That was my first Christmas there, and my mom got me all bundled up, like Randy from ‘A Christmas Story,’ and I sat there on the beach while my dad surfed. And at night I was really scared of the cedar trees; they had all these bare spires, you know, I thought they looked like claws. We were staying in this little motel; we had barbeque chicken and canned cranberries, and I got a remote control tank that said 1983 on it. I don’t know, Christmas out there, it’s just, it’s kinda outside the order of things. It’s just kinda impressions that trigger it for me. And the lights on 4th Street. It’s just so sublime up there in winter. And there’s sick waves.”

“ Keep going,” she said, half-asleep.

“ We’d always go for walks on Christmas Eve, and I don’t know if this was real or not, but it’d always snow, these big fat flakes ghosting down with whitewater surging up the beach. And then one Christmas I had to work, and this couple had a dinner for us, but by the time I got there everyone was wasted, people passed out all over the place on the floor, so I just walked home and read the Bible, you know, about Mary and the assumption and stuff. Cold comings we have of it, yeah?”

The stereo was on track 7, ‘Call Me On Your Way Back Home.’

“ Do you still believe in that stuff?”

“ I don’t know, Nat. Things are expansive. I believe in it in some ways, but all this stuff, the stores, Santa, stress, it’s not it. I know what’s corrupted and what’s not. That’s why home’s so rad; everything’s so elemental there, so dark, you feel so surrounded by this wild world, you know? I kinda see it like, there’s this lighthouse offshore, and I’d always go down there at night; I walked down there that Christmas Eve everyone was drunk, and I’d see the beam from the light going around, you know, through all the salt spray from the surf. I wish you could see that sometime. That’s kinda the part I believe in; but that’s what the story’s about for me, just that flashing, the Christ child, the holy bursting into the world. Light and dark, that kinda thing, and that darkness is so big, you know, but that light is what lets you know you’re at home. That’s kinda how it is, if that makes sense.”

“ But you can feel that anywhere, right,” she said.

“ I think so.”

Natalie was falling asleep, as was I; as she cuddled in closer, there were sirens on the street below, and the red and blue lights were shining off the building across from us. It wasn’t Tofino, but it would do.

Malcolm Johnson works as a writer and guide in Tofino, B.C. He can be reached at malcolmjohnson@coastalbc.com.

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A Christmas Story by Malcolm Johnson for Tofino Time Magazine. Published in December 2004.

tofino time december 2004

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