PHOENIX
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Josiah sat on the edge of his bed. It was morning and already his brain was at work. He was thinking about one Buckley Wilmington.

The choir had put out a call for new voices for its Christmas season concert, and Buck's was surely the newest. It wasn't that Brother Buck was bad. He was just plain God-awful. Josiah wondered how a man could be so quite so tone deaf as all that and not know. And he wondered why he hadn't noticed that about Buck before.

He knew why Buck had joined the choir. The soprano section had more than one or two pretty heads in it. The problem was that those heads, and all the other heads in the choir, had ears attached to them.

They had come to him as a group.

"You have to tell him," said Mr. Winthrop, a baritone and one of the local barbers. "He'll ruin it for everyone." Everyone else had nodded in agreement.

"Why don't you tell him yourselves?"

"You're the preacher here. And his friend."

"Ain't you his friends?"

Winthrop ignored that. "He may take it better if you tell him. The concert is tomorrow Josiah. We've put it off as long as we could because he's your friend, and he seems to be a nice man and all, but..." He let the end of the sentence dangle in the air.

Josiah sighed. The job of preacher with such a varied and challenging flock was not an easy one. How do you tell a friend that he's so bad he's not wanted? He thought about asking JD to do it, or maybe even Chris, but that hardly seemed fair. No. He was as much Buck's friend as anyone's and, as the church's only preacher, it was up to him.

That evening, he'd headed slowly down the boardwalk towards the saloon hoping that, if Buck was drunk enough, maybe he wouldn't take it too hard. Besides, if he was just in it for the girls, he probably wouldn't mind much at all.

He never made it inside. Buck had come out just as Josiah reached the doors. And Buck was stone-cold sober.

"Well, howdy, Josiah!"

"Brother Buck!" Josiah said, with forced joviality. "I was just comin' lookin' for you."

"Well, that's just great, 'cause I was lookin' for you, too."

Josiah took a deep breath. Migh as well get it over with, he thought. "It's about the choir--"

"Yes, it is! Funny you knowin' that. Look, Josiah, I just wanna thank you for lettin' me be in on this."

"Really? So one of the Bartholomew girls said she'd go out with you?"

"Well, both actually...but no, that ain't it. Y'know, singin' them Christmas carols... joinin' in with all them other voices... It's like... bein' part of something larger than yourself...All them voices come together to reach up and...You can feel the music, you know?" Buck's eyes were shining.

"Better watch that, Buck. You're startin' to sound spiritual..."

Buck laughed. "I know. My mother was a spiritual woman. In her own way."

Josiah nodded.

Buck clapped a hand on Josiah's shoulder. "Well, I just stopped in to be social. Ain't drinkin' tonight because I don't wanna spoil my voice. See you tomorrow, Josiah!" And he had walked away with a bounce in his gait.

Here it was: tomorrow. Josiah glanced out the window at the dawn sky as he dressed. The concert was today. Today they would all assemble in the church, and sing about the spirit of Christmas and about peace and goodwill to all mankind. Josiah always liked those sentiments.

He thought for a moment, then opened the top dresser drawer.

"What the hell," he sighed, stuffing cotton in his ears.

They could all use a lesson about Christmas spirit anyway.

END


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