“This is a re-worked story that appeared on my blog two years ago. Because that’s what writers do – re-work things. It was inspired by an email I had received that reminded me that Christmas is not an easy time for some people. I sat down to write and this story found its way into being. 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’re lucky it could make you grateful for what you have. So – here goes.”
A SPECIAL CHRISTMAS – by Francis Guenette
She never let herself believe in anything as foolish as the magic of Christmas, but this year she couldn’t shake the feeling that something special was happening. It was as if time were standing still – her whole world poised on the precipice – watching and waiting.
She definitely had not anticipated magic. She had watched as early December slipped 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 being crumpled 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 the dog for a walk through the garden. Plants dragged down to the earth by the weight of the rain and the early frost. Everything was dark and decaying. Just the way they would all end up one day.
The doctor said they could bring Tabby home for Christmas. In the New Year there would be time enough for arranging hospice care. So she had followed his advice and somehow, against all odds, the magic of Christmas had sunk into her the way brandy would soak the cloth-wrapped fruitcake her mother used to make. There was a quality to the coloured lights and decorations, on the streets and in the stores, which brought tears to her eyes. They had taken three days to decorate the tree. The story of each ornament was told with breathless anticipation, all of them lingering over the details. Then someone would hang the ornament with the greatest care so that Tabby would be able to see each one from the hospital bed that now dominated the living room.
She had never before shopped for gifts when the only priority was the present moment. She bought a CD she knew Tabby would love to hear, 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, 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.
She piled up precious drops of time spent together – baking and icing sugar cookies, pouring over Christmas cards, playing Christmas music, laughing together as they placed a Santa hat on the dog’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 had gone to bed to deal 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. Her eyes traced the line of the IV tubing to the point where 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 thickly covered, 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 last moments. Tears washed down her cheeks unaware. The special moments of magic she felt wouldn’t change the fact that Tabby was going to die. Very soon now she was going to lose her seventeen year-old daughter – bury her before her grown-up life had even begun.
She rose silently and grabbed her coat and boots from the hall closet. She tugged on her gloves and wrapped a scarf around her neck. Out on the snow-covered lawn, among the tall trees, she turned slowly, her head thrown back. The snowflakes fell on her face. She watched the stars sparkle far away above her. All that was, all that had ever been, was now, this moment. It was all she had, all she could hang onto, all she could bear.