UNITED STATES—Morris still lay on the mosaic floor of the hallway. His shoes pointed to the sky; his eyes wide shut.

The motionless form seemed to ratify the state of the Deville Manor, whose rooms and apartments over the last two and a half years had silently succumbed to the scampering of rats, the weaving of spiders, the colonization of cockroaches, the spongy contagion of dry rot. The old artist acutely felt that it was to be the last living thing in this once vibrant Bohemian lodging.

“I heard voices,” said a homeless woman who was living in the boiler room of DeVille Manor. She had a phone. “I called 911.”

In the century-stretching minutes preceded the firemens’ arrival, Gil Talbott, the old artist dreaded the trials that awaited. He would be convicted of murder, provoked by the toy gun that ejected the white ‘bang’ flag. The legal machine of the Stewart family would pursue Gil to his grave, and beyond. It had been meant as a joke, a-not-so-innocent joke. Gil felt a cement heaviness in his stomach and his groin.

When the firemen came and put sensors on Morris’ limbs and chest, the real estate man twitched and sniffed. The old artist jumped for joy; the beret fell off his glossy head, home for a swirly mane of long white strands. He went to hug the homeless lady, but there was no homeless lady to be found. With the sensors the firemen rapidly ascertained the robustness of Morris’ health. He was free to come or go, as the firemen were free to leave and put out fires.

“I want you to have this,” Gil reached for the box under the carved Christmas tree.

“I am sorry I have nothing to give you, Gil,” Morris Stewart said and after listening to himself, he added, “Nothing but the sidewalk,” he added with a signature smirk, but slightly mollified by just the faintest touch of empathy.

Gil didn’t dare mention it. Or Morris would try to hide it now.

“It’s really not much, but something I made to give to myself, since there is no one else to give any thing to me.”

“It must be good,” Morris said.

“Why don’t you open it now?”

“I can save it for later,” said Morris.

“When I saw you on the floor, I was afraid there might be no later. I want you to open it now.”

“There’ll be a later alright.” Morris Stewart took in the menageries of statues that crowded the old artist’s garret. In addition to the marble nymphs and Adonises, there was the stone Christmas tree and, under it, a single wrapped box that Gil brought over and handed to Morris. The place looked like it hadn’t been dusted since 1992.

“All the crap is still here,” Morris Stewart sighed with landlordly dismay. “Now I’m going to have to call the sheriff’s, and next Tuesday they’ll be here to carry out the eviction. One last tenant, paying peanuts.”

Morris’ smooth fingernails started to undo the red satin ribbon and then the pesky scotch tape attached imperceptibly to the smooth green wrapping paper. This man was certainly an artist, the way he wrapped things. Morris finally gave up and put his fist into the box. Gil looked on bemusedly as the Lazarus raised from the dead got caught in the struggle to unwrap a package.

Gil looked on smiling. He retrieved the beret and knocked a thick coat of dust off it before placing it back on his head. Inside the box was tissue paper, joined by a gold medallion. In the center of this cloud of tissue paper was a piece of vellum paper:

I give you time

to release from the insect hurry.

Time for you to brush your

teeth with care,

to lavish attention on each moment,

and not get sucked into the human

delusion that it’s too late.

I give you time – all the time.

Gil lay down on a rusty cot in the corner. He was tired, but he was happy.

It was all so freaking impossible: hitting your head against the wall. You had this place, this beautiful place, and it was only breaking even. Morris had nowhere to go. There was no profit margin. He could only do what he had to do. He reread the lines of the vellum scroll.

“New age crap,” he denounced.

Morris gazed around the studio at the stones and dusty chisels and statues half finished. Canvases and brushes and their crazy palettes beckoned. He had a notion to stay here a while, a good long while.

“You know what, Gil? I just want to stop the madness and lie down one holiday season and watch that silly movie. ‘Miracle on 42nd Street.’ I wanna know once and for all what happens to the guy who believes he is Santa Claus.”

Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet,” a survival guide for the holidays and beyond. (available on Amazon).

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Hollywood humorist Grady Miller grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon). His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)