Deirdre Reilly: What Christmas could be in the future

Deirdre Reilly

The year was 2050, the time was winter, and the family: the Marshalls. Tom and Alexa Marshall were brother and sister, ages 10 and 8, respectively, and got along tolerably well most of the time - and had, in fact, improved their dispositions when together so much that they had recently been allowed to go to the moon alone, without grownups. They had never been alone and felt very grown up as they rocketed back to earth on a high-speed commuter rocket, slurping on the Twisters and enjoying the Rock Candy they had purchased there.

Tom scanned his retina at the front door, and it opened with a satisfying hiss, and the children passed indoors. Their home was suspended over the Charles River - prime real estate, their neighbors always bragged - held aloft, floating, by gravity repellers that harnessed the innate power of water currents. All they heard was the sound of the Charles rushing under their house, and at night they could look out the round portals in their rooms at their neighbors’ homes, suspended also, dots of glowing light over a black river. Room had run out on earth a long time ago.

Their mother rushed into the room, looking harried, as usual. "Kids, I’ve got a conference on ‘Earth Resources’ tonight, and we have not even begun The Display. How was the moon, by the way? Anyhow, on the wall panel the decorations are labeled ‘Holiday Appreciation’; just push the button and then check the chamber in five minutes. We’ll decorate when Dad gets back from The Rings. Any questions? Do you guys feel like doing homework?" She wafted out again, and it was like she hadn’t even been there at all - you could just smell a remnant of her perfume.

Alexa went to the control panel next to the tele-wall (they received news and scientific planetary updates on one wall of their home 24/7) and pushed a button. She peered at the panel closely. "Uh oh, Tom, I might have pushed the wrong button," she said. "I think I called the stuff stored under the house. Grandma’s box of stuff." Tom shrugged. He was doing some math in his palm - they had both been tranquilized and given permanent palm calculators - and drew equations in the air in front of him, which would be transferred to his classroom by Thought Atomizers, waiting for his robotic teacher to review the next morning.

They heard a clunk in their retrieval chamber, and Tom waved his hand to clear his math and went to retrieve the box. He came back in with a metal storage bin. "Alexa, dummy, you did get Grammy’s box." He put it on the transparent living room floor, which hummed and glowed with tiny dots of heat, and looked like millions of fireflies trapped in the floor. You could see the river twisting faintly underneath all the dots of light. Alexa went back to the control panel and pushed "Holiday Appreciation Music" and a computerized, tentative, unsure strain of music filled the air around them. Tom opened the box as the front door hissed, signaling that their dad was home early. Tom reached into the box and took out an object wrapped in foil. Their father appeared behind them, removing his pilot’s helmet.

"What have you got there, kids?" he asked tiredly but kindly. He was a good father. Tom unwrapped the object - an old figurine wrapped in brown robes, wearing a headdress and holding a gift. Their dad breathed in so sharply, Alexa and Tom turned around.

"Dad, what is it?" Tom asked, beginning to unwrap more objects - a kneeling mother, her painted face chipped, a lamb, curled forever into itself, gazing upward. Their dad reached between them and set up the tiny, old figurines on the floor, until they formed a scene. The kids, not knowing how to handle objects (kids mostly played in their heads now) touched the figures and listened as their dad told them of a time when Holiday was called Christmas, and a baby came to ask humans to learn to want not power, or great intellect, but instead love. They pulled an old music disc out of the box and carefully inserted it into an old-fashioned player they had in a closet, and strange beautiful music that had words that tugged at their frozen children’s hearts filled the air, and their house suspended over a black river glowed like a thousand suns with warmth and light and a kind of a dawning. And from heaven above them, God saw this and smiled, and changed his plans.

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