I wrote this piece of flash fiction today, based on the opening words – She never let herself believe in anything as foolish as the magic of Christmas . . . This was a prompt for an old Christmas story contest that ran in a local paper years ago. I found the snippet in some notes of my mom’s. She was always entering writing contests. I used to think – why on earth would she care if she won a writing contest in a silly, little, local paper. Suffice to say, I was arrogant beyond belief in those days.
I got an email recently that reminded me that Christmas is not always an easy time for people. As I sat down to write, that reality was on my mind and this little bit of story emerged. It isn’t filled with holiday cheer – it doesn’t sparkle and make you smile like a freshly decorated gingerbread house might. But if you are lucky it could make you grateful for what you have. So – here goes.
She never let herself believe in anything as foolish as the magic of Christmas, but this year she couldn’t shake the thought that what she felt was real. It was as if time was standing still – her whole world poised on the precipice – watching and waiting.
It was a surprise – she definitely had not seen this coming. She had watched the early December days slip by like sodden leaves falling battered to the dark earth – each day she dutifully ripped off a page of the tablet on the desktop calendar, feeling as though a part of her soul was crumbled right along with the ball of paper that landed with a thud in the trash bin. Death was everywhere, now. It dogged her footsteps each day when she took Bella, their golden retriever, for a walk through the garden – plants dragged down to the earth by the weight of the West Coast rain. Everything dark and decaying – she supposed it was the way they would all end up one day.
The doctor said they might as well bring Tabby home for Christmas – make the time she had left special for all of them. In the New Year there would be time enough for thinking of hospice care and the end. So she had followed his advice and somehow, against all odds, the magic of Christmas had sunk into her the way the dark brandy her mother used to soak the fruitcake permeated every crumb of the cloth-wrapped loaves. There was a quality to the lights she saw on the streets and in the stores that brought tears to her eyes. They had taken three days to decorate the Christmas tree. The story of each ornament was told as if it was the last time any of them would ever hear that story. Hanging each special object on the tree was terribly important. She wanted Tabby to be able to see them all from the hospital bed that now dominated the living room.
She had never shopped for gifts when the only priority was the present moment – knowing that everything else was soon to slip over the abyss. A CD Tabby would love to hear this moment, a bottle of a light and fresh perfume to mask the ever-present smell of life slipping away, the prettiest flannel nightie to wrap around a body now diminished to skin and bones. And best of all, a stuffed pink bunny – just like the one Tabby had as a toddler – this one brand new and so soft all she wanted to do was stroke it over and over. She couldn’t believe the absolute joy she felt as she wrapped each gift and laid it under the tree. Or the pleasure she took in wringing out of each moment, precious drops of being together – baking and icing sugar cookies, pouring over Christmas cards, playing Christmas music, laughing together as they placed a Santa hat on Bella’s furry head. She knew she was already storing these memories like a miser with every penny that came her way.
The living room was dark now as she sat curled up in the recliner. The rest of the family tucked away, dealing in their dreams with their own versions of magic and pain. Tabby was asleep at last, the high sides of the hospital bed pulled up, the glint of the morphine drip catching the light from the Christmas tree. She traced the line of the IV tubing with her eyes before it snaked under the blanket. Her gaze shifted to the window and she saw the snow falling in huge, fat flakes to the ground. The trees, branches thick with the snow were already bowed under the weight like so many white garbed priests in supplicating prayer. The quiet was deep and total.
Her world was reduced to moments now – this last Christmas Eve, tomorrow the last Christmas Day. Tears washed down her cheeks and she was unaware. She knew the magic of Christmas she had felt this last week wouldn’t change the fact that Tabby was going to die. Very soon now she was going to bury her seventeen year-old daughter – bury her before her grown-up life had even really begun.
She rose silently and walked to the hall closet to grab a coat and her boots, a pair of gloves and a scarf. Out on the snow-covered lawn, among the tall trees, she turned slowly. Her head was thrown back. The snow fell on her face. She watched the flakes twirl and twist far away above her. All that was – was now. All that mattered was this moment. It was all she had. Maybe all she would ever have.
Hey, this is really beautiful. I read it through twice. The detail about the soft bunny almost made me cry, and it was so easy to blur my eyes and transport myself to the poignant scene you’ve created, as I sit here on my couch with the lights of our own freshly-trimmed tree twinkling on the far side of the room.
The bunny part brought a tear to my eye, too. Thanks for reading – twice!
Somehow you have managed to tell this story in a way that keeps me from feeling terribly sad about the situation. The woman is so aware of everything she sees, does, feels and knows. I am right there with her in the present moment. It’s just like magic!
Thanks so much – these little snippets of stories are quite a different genre for me to try my hand at and I find the process draining but the outcome quite rewarding.
This is Gayle, Ian’s wife posting – in the middle of the night. I woke up with plans for our annual Christmas letter dancing in my head and, when I went online, your blog came up. What a lovely and poignant story you have written! This is especially meaningful to me this year as we are going through a Christmas still in mourning for grandson Benjamin who died in May at 13 days old as I was holding him in my arms. He was recently home from the hospital where he had developed a serious infection after birth, had rallied enough to be sent home with his mother (my daughter) and then had suddenly taken a turn for the worse and just stopped breathing. The best efforts of my son-in-law and myself giving him CPR until the ambulance arrived and then the ministrations of an emergency medical team and finally a cardiac pediatrician (who was flown in later) could not revive him. Instead of a baptism, we had a funeral. I can’t even describe how heart-rending it is to lose a child. This would have been his first Christmas, one he will not experience here on earth. But, we take heart in remembering him and knowing that he also has a place in eternal life because of the Christ child. He has a place on our tree with a special ornament of a baby angel playing amongst his Christmas toys. Thanks for writing such a meaningful piece and Merry Christmas to you.
Gayle – thank you so much for sharing your family’s experience – such a painful loss. My heart goes out to all of you. Writing a story – even a snippet of a story – and setting it loose in the world is like dropping a pebble in a still pool – effects rippling out and out – my story now part of your experience and your sharing part of my story and part of the stories of those who take the time to read comment streams on blogs. Powerful stuff – Merry Christmas.
[…] Saddest flash fiction post: She never let herself believe in the magic of Christmas (though Starting Over was pretty gut-wrenching, too – don’t read these if you’re day is all […]