I go about bunching fallen redwood branches and shoulder them home. The wet sprigs are spry and full. Some have cones. I lift my new set of shiny red bells hearing them jingle. I have my wire hoops from last Christmas before me. I unfurl rolled red and gold ribbons. I bind my stems to a hoop with floral wire and reach for more. Squirrels stop and face off, but when I turn back to my craft, so do they. They bury black walnuts and more black walnuts. I go around the evergreen wheel and round it filling empty space.
‘I saw it first,’ said the woman, grabbing the last size 16 red duffle coat.
‘No, you didn’t.’
Fists flew. Slaps stung. She screamed. I screamed.
‘Surrender!’ I said, holding her in a headlock.
‘Get off, you crazy cow.’
I released her, and she scurried away.
I went to work the next day, feeling quite pleased with myself—again, I was the Shopping Wrestling Champion.
‘Michaela,’ said a man’s voice. I looked up at Paul, the company boss. ‘Meet your new office manager Susan.’
I faced Susan and gasped. My new manager was my latest shopping victim.
‘Jules! Didn’t realise you smoked.’
‘I don’t. Please give me a ciggie, Mike.’
Jules lit up. ‘Ugh, vile,’ she coughed. ‘Brian is at it again.’
‘Who with this time?’ Mike took the cigarette from her.
‘Suzy from accounts, but only after Linda from sales told him to eff off.’
‘Shame you didn’t tell him that last year.’
‘Picking up men at Christmas parties is a stupid idea.’
‘Not necessarily. Fancy going for a drink?’
Jules hesitated, and Mike threw his cigarettes into a bin.
‘OK, but first there’s something I need to tell Brian.’
The moon wasn’t bright that night, neither was Eleanor's eyes. She laid close to her child, trying to provide warmth against the cold night. All she could do was hope for a miracle.
The night healed into day, She nudged at the cold wounded body of her child, but got no response. Miracles don’t exist. In pain and grief, she blew her trumpet so loud, it could be heard miles away.
Tit for Tat, child for child. She stomped away in anger, the earth trembled. It was time for revenge. Humans beware, an Elephant in distress.
Aaron was trying to finish solving the last clue in a children’s crossword puzzle. Suddenly, he exclaimed with childlike glee: “Oh! I know!” He wrote “CAT” slowly and unsteadily.
“Very good!” Marion said. She took the puzzle book and tucked it into her purse. “We’ll do another crossword later!”
She left the room and paused a moment in the nursing home corridor. She looked back at Aaron, her husband. She remembered when he could easily solve a difficult crossword puzzle in the Sunday newspaper. Now he struggled with a simple children’s crossword puzzle. She began crying.
I entered a room. Two people were sitting in silence. No lights, the only lights came from candles lit on the altar. I approached the altar, lit a candle, and went to my seat. Everything started to distort.
I was suddenly at my house. I saw myself talking to my mother in tears. I talked, she was asleep. I just tried to touch her when another distortion happened. I knelt on both of my parents’ tomb, lamenting. I was about to fall myself to the ground when I went back to my seat, now alone in the room with candles.
Yesterday it adorned Dave’s lawn. Today, not there. Stan called his neighbour who didn’t know his Christmas ornament went missing.
Stan noticed it elsewhere. A stranger answered the doorbell saying he didn’t own lawn ornaments. When they both looked it wasn’t there.
Stan spotted it several blocks away and phoned Dave. They drove to the property but the angel had disappeared here too.
“That’s weird,” Stan said. “I saw it earlier.”
They drove under a bridge. Hugging its wall lay a homeless man. By his side, Dave’s angel.
“He needs an angel more than I do,” Dave said.
After finishing my last day of school before the Christmas break, I leapt off the bus and darted home. I smelled smoke and saw three fire trucks parked at the curb. My mom was standing on the sidewalk, tears rolling down her face.
On Christmas morning, my mom, dad, older brother, sister, and I were crammed into a shabby hotel room. I tore the wrapping paper off my sole present, a pocketknife with a spalted maple handle. Years have passed, and I’m in my new bedroom, pocketknife in hand, carving wooden figurines, pendants, and ornaments: gifts for my family.
The door-pane glass rattles as I lug in holiday goodies. “Karen, hey Karen,” my greeting amorous, as intended.
The silence so deep, I hear the showerhead drip splatter in the upstairs bath.
Laying aside my bags, my mind spins with outlandish scenarios suggesting possible dreadful, fearful locations of my darling and our infant Lucinda.
Fingernails dig into my hand heel. Sweat beads my brow and dampens my crotch accentuating my stomach’s fearsome twist.
The fresh door-glass rattle illuming Karen’s lilting call, “Carrado, look, honey, a tree,” draining my anxiety.
Our embrace enfolds Lucinda’s pouch, our synchronization, “Merry Christmas.”
Stella's a little bitch,", she overheard her brother-in-law say, "she never shuts up." Stunned and fuming, Stella fled. Excuses aplenty when invited to dinner, birthday parties and other celebrations. Christmas arrived, that holiest of family gatherings - impossible to breach.
Stella went, ate and steamed. "What's the matter?" that viper asked, "our star has lost its glitter." His hypocrisy consumed her. Gift unwrapping time met with glee. Not for Stella. His turn. He held up the Bose headphones.
"That'll stop your gripes about the yapping of our neighbor's damn dog," his wife explained, innocently providing Stella with the perfect Christmas gift.
He was packing to travel cross-country. He despised air travel due to all the rude people. They were always crowding him, kicking his seatback, coughing and sneezing on him and many other annoying things.
He was reminiscing about his past travel experiences when a thought hit him so hard he had to sit down.
He realized that he had done the exact same things to others that he was complaining about.
He resolved to change his attitude and his behavior to make air travel better for himself and others.
Now if he could just do that for life in general.
They sat on the sofa. He put the gun on the table.
“Is it really the end? she asked, unwanted tears starting.
“It has to be. Germany is lost. I will be blamed.”
“But I am so young – “
“You would not be spared. Take this.” He put a capsule in her hand, another in his mouth. “Just bite and it’s over. I’ll shoot myself. I don’t want to disfigure you., but you must go first. I love you, Eva.”
She took the capsule. He did the same.
Before the cyanide struck he fired.
She spat out the unbroken capsule.
“AAAH! Ice cream headache!”
“Well, maybe you shouldn’t have inhaled it so quickly.”
“Like you could pass up this chocolatey heaven.”
“Hmm. Good point. It’s even better with chocolate syrup.”
“This does me and my headache no good, dummy.”
“Maybe you should switch to mint chocolate chip?”
“Drat. Another flavor that’s high on my list.”
“Or we could have a giant ice cream festival ... ”
“ ... with every flavor imaginable!”
“Wait. Wouldn’t that make your headache worse?”
“Not if I balance things out with cake between each sample.”
“Can you say ‘sugar rush’?”
“Totally worth it. I’ll make plans.”
“Count me in!”
“Why so glum?” Santa asked.
“My parents,” said the boy. “One says climate change is happening, the other says it’s not true. My sister says it’s the older generation. My gran says it’s the young people. All they do is argue but no one does anything. Why don’t people stop blaming and start doing?”
Santa thought for a moment. “Leave it to me,” he said.
On Christmas morning, children and adults all over the world found only seedling trees in their stockings. Eucalypts, oaks, pine trees, poplars…
And in the boy’s stocking, a note. ‘It’s a start.’
Their child was born in 1983, shortly after the advent of the camcorder. They would religiously mount the hefty piece of equipment on a tripod each Christmas to record their little darling’s squeals of delight upon opening presents placed underneath the tree. Mum did her best to grant wishes, but this became harder as the child aged. Things that once pleased became obsolete and styles changed as the child entered pre-teen years. The camera, of course, had a blind eye and captured the dull look and the disappointment of the youngster. The camcorder was retired to prevent further parental embarrassment.
In his dress shirt, tie, and chinos, a very nervous Gary rang the doorbell. He was greeted by a stern looking man who grilled him better than a steak. Finally, to Gary's relief, Cynthia, looking pretty as a princess, came down the stairs enabling them to depart.
That was the Winter Festival 26 years ago.
Today he's the one answering the door giving James a very stern look and acting the part of grill master. Lucy, "his" pretty princess, comes down the stairs.
After date and daughter depart, Gary thinks, "Finally, my turn to have fun...or to worry."
Suzanne was due to meet Marvin at the Bar near the Bull in less than 20 minutes.
He had never done anything like this. No way he would go through with it. There is no way he was going to do anything.
But maybe a kiss. Just one kiss. Maybe she is wearing lemony bath wash. Maybe she will laugh at my jokes. Maybe she likes older guys.
Through the door Suzanne Mishky walked. She spotted Marvin with her big green eyes –like pinwheels- and a giant smile broke out across her face.
The tree shimmered in the firelight, and scented candles perfumed the air with cinnamon and orange. Becky wearily set the mince pies on the table beside the mulled wine.
‘Excellent work, Becky, but straighten those garlands, please.’
‘Then can I go?’
‘Why not, it is Christmas Eve! Just tell my wife to get a move on, and remind nanny to keep the kids upstairs.’
Becky hurried home to Jason and their boys. Together they would decorate a plastic tree with handmade decorations and stand it in pride of place by the radiator. Becky smiled as snow began to fall.
“I’m afraid we’ll never have a baby,” she said sadly.
Miscarriages, surrogates changing their minds and a very long adoption list, had taken their toll.
“Perhaps Santa will bless us with a miracle.” He held her tight as they listed to carollers in the distance.
The doorbell rang and they opened it to three women standing beneath the bright starlit sky.
One held a bag of nappies.
The second, tins of milk powder.
The third a tiny baby. “His parents rejected him,” she said. “He has Down’s Syndrome.”
“He’s perfect!” They said in unison. “Our Christmas Angel.”
Joe Trulia wasn’t cheap. He was smart. He booked the $29 Christmas flight to Phoenix and intended to keep it that way.
At check-in, he was asked by the smiling agent, “Any bags to check?”
“None.” Joe matched the smile.
“No, thank you.”
“So, you don’t need any extras, Sir?”
That morning, Joe was wearing 4 boxers, 3 tee-shirts, a dress shirt, a necktie, 3 pairs of socks, skinny jeans under sweats, a fleece vest, and a hoodie with 2 Kind bars and a juice box stuffed in the kangaroo pocket.
Christmas creeps up on us. No snow, just decidedly grey days as last orders is called at the bar. My festive spirit is the kind you sip, fuelling my humbuggery, when suddenly she materializes.
Dual vowel sounds punctuated by poking my chest.
“Caroline” I reply, as if it hasn’t been an eternity.
“Time for forgiveness”
It’s both statement and question as a half-full glass is raised. We chink drinks.
Too many shots later and we’re mistletoe kissing. I start thinking about ghosts; past, present and future, wondering which one she is.
How the Dickens should I know?
Like every other day, Mariam's deft hands fold paper into stars, birds, teddies; ready to be shipped to another part of the world where they'll adorn a Christmas home. A fistful of rice boils. Mariam's three starving children wait with slivers of onion and salt; eyeing the pot. She smiles, cuddles them; ignores her hunger as she struggles to finish off the batches.
Like every other Christmas, Mariam wouldn't mind not having fairy lights or paper stars. Instead, she'll have some money to buy a fulfilling meal for them, and a little time to bask in their love!
My appreciation for the outdoors began in the summer—the season of new beginnings.
Since I retired, I've found pleasure in the quietude of morning walks because it benefits my health and over time, although contrived for having natural curiosities.
I've fallen into this exercise unconsciously for I found it spurred a rather spontaneous interest in the comings and goings of varied personalities in my neighbourhood.
Not only did it do wonders for my mental wellbeing, but propelled me out of idleness.
"See you at seven, Dolores, don't forget the ham!"
"...in the oven, as we speak, Martha."
Dean: “Make this one with brandy and zero eggnog, please. And let’s have the pumpkin pie now instead of after.”
Gerry: “Fine by me. It’s thawing, and dinner’s warming up. Oops, there’s the microwave beep. Please move your feet. Better yet, off the table altogether. You don’t have to bother with shoes.
“We’ll need some placemats. The landlord got really pissed last year when my roommate before you damaged his coffee table with some hot pans.”
Dean: “So when does the next movie begin? Isn’t it great we have Hallmark to show us how real families do Christmas.”
“Hey, Dolph, gotta make a pitstop.”
“When you gotta go, you gotta go, ’specially at my age.”
“Okay, I’ll look for a spot.”
“Where are we, anyway?”
“Don’t you know?”
“My glasses are fogged.”
“Somewhere over Arizona. Not much down there.”
“Wait. Wait. What’s that over there?”
“Claus, that’s … .”
“Yeah, deep and dark. I’m takin’ ’er down.”
“But there’s nothing down there.”
“Ain’t goin’ all the way down.”
“So what … Claus, don’t do that.”
“Why not? No one’s watchin’.”
“You mean you’re gonna stick your ass out … .”
“And crap in the Grand Canyon!”