Tom Smith's The Christmas Shopper provides the reader with a startling look at the construction of identity and the trappings of materialism. The shopper's quest--to find suitable, and suitably expensive, gifts for his family--leads him to a city apparently as obsessed with appearances and as unclear about personal authenticity as he is. The desk clerk, the beautiful woman in the hotel, the threesome in the train and restaurant, all of them sized up in moments and with few words, suggesting that what lies just below the surface of these characters is the loveliness of the human mystery. Tom Smith has written a wonderful story, one which invites the reader to luxuriate in beautiful language, even as his characters luxuriate in beautiful things.

                                                                    Brent DeLanoy

                                                                              contest judge

     Tom Smith received his undergraduate degree from SUNY-Albany in 1956, his graduate degrees in Literature from Rutgers-New Brunswick. He taught from 1964 to 1995, at Castleton State College, in Vermont. He has published one novel and nine volumes of poetry. Tom Smith is also an actor who has appeared in many roles in summer stock, in community and college theater. He is married to soprano and actress Virginia DeAngelis Smith.

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Pen and Ink w/ Watercolor

April Kendziora Smith

1

     Amtrak descends from the north along the shores of mountain lakes, past Plattsburg, at Whitehall gathering stragglers from Vermont, past Glens Falls, Saratoga. Greyhound travels down Cherry Valley from the west, stops at Ithaca and Syracuse, beside the Mohawk carrying The Christmas Shopper toward Schenectady.

     At Schenectady, The Christmas Shopper connects with Amtrak to follow the Hudson River into New York City. Monday, December 20, 1999. The Christmas Shopper anticipates his birthday. In two days, he will be sixty-six.

     The Christmas Shopper travels light. One small suitcase, lifted onto the rack above his seat, contains socks, underwear, a change of shirt and tie, the necessary toilet articles zipped into plastic. From his left shoulder hangs a canvas tote into which his wife has packed a lunch of sandwiches and fruit. This he lets drop onto the aisle seat as he slouches toward the window and sits down. He carries, finally, a slim book, sales slip protruding.

     He remains seated a moment; then, placing the book beside the tote, rises to remove gloves and scarf: snug black pigskin, Italian silk paisley, navy blue and maize. He packs the gloves into one pocket of his topcoat, folds the scarf into the other, unbuttons the coat, black wool and double-breasted, and lets it slide off his shoulders and arms; folds and lifts it into place atop the suitcase. He stands in the aisle a few moments, scanning the car, considering whether or not to remove his jacket, dove-grey cashmere, Italian styling casual and slimming. His necktie matches both the color and the fabric of the jacket. His shirt is bright blue, almost peacock, trousers black wool, socks black and gartered, loafers black and elegant, fashioned of the softest leather. He is pleased to be so well turned out, yet comfortable. These fine clothes, not new, are newly wearable, owing to the weight he has recently lost. No matter what he eats or how much, how little exercise he takes, the ounces continue to tick off. He has consulted his doctor twice about this happy mystery. The doctor does not find any problem. Indeed, The Christmas Shopper has seldom felt healthier.

     The Christmas Shopper (Sheldon, Sheldon Lomber) does not want to remove his jacket, but the train is over-heated. He sighs. He sheds the jacket like a fairy-tale skin. He folds it away, thinking about Keats' Lamia and the gorgeous transformation of the serpent; folds himself again into the seat. A smile transforms his old man's face, a smile that suggests a happy secret. Briefly his skin seems to glow beneath his silver halo.

White Eagle Coffee Store Press      2009 A. E. Coppard Prize Story

The Christmas Shopper by Tom Smith