From “Once Upon A Christmastime”

THE ANGEL TREE
Peggy Perry
Copyright 2013

Vodka. Check.

Sleeping pills. Check.

Funeral instructions. Check.

Will. Check.

House cleaned. Check.

Front door unlocked, so her body could be found without damaging the cabin door. Check.

Christie went on down the list, checking off everything she had been able to think of that needed to be taken care of. She depended on her lists. Her friends said she had become a little OCD, but she needed something ordered and logical in the howling chaos that had filled her life in the last year.

Her eyes moved over the cabin her family had always used for their Christmas vacations. It was a big log cabin, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a big kitchen. The living room was L-shaped, and had an enormous fireplace against the end wall. The front porch opened to the short leg of the L, which helped keep cold winds from blasting through the door and filling the room. Her husband had built the cabin to her specifications, and had become the family’s favorite vacation spot.

This was the first year the cabin had no decorations, no cinnamon and spices filling the air, no tree surrounded by a huge pile of brightly wrapped gifts. Last year it had been a wonderland filled with love and laughter and joy. Then her husband had taken the children down the mountain to see the lights in the town below on Christmas Eve while she wrapped all the gifts she and her husband had previously delivered and hidden in the cabin.

They never came back. The officers came instead; telling her there was nothing anyone could do, except to identify the bodies. That had been her Christmas present; a trip to the morgue, to verify what everybody already knew. Her New Year’s Day was spent burying her reasons for living.

She had gone to grief therapy. She had received counseling. But she had nothing left, no reason to live. She had sold their home, had sold all the furniture, and given away the clothes she had once so carefully chosen for the people she loved. There was nothing left in the world for her, and she was ready to leave it.

The church her family had been members of believed that suicide was a sin, and that those who committed it went to hell. Christie didn’t care. She only wanted relief from the screaming in her head, and an escape from the well meaning platitudes of friends who thought words could ease her pain.

Now it was Christmas Eve again, and her plans were set, her lists checked off, and she was ready to turn off the lights and fall into the darkness in her soul. Moving to the entryway of the cabin she glanced through the window blinds by the front door, absently noting the wind was howling and the snow blowing so that nothing outside could be seen. It was a good night to die.

She jerked back as she reached for the light switch next to the door. The pounding on the door sounded again over the howling wind. “Open the door, for the love of God! My children are freezing to death! Please, please, let us in! Oh, God, help us!”

Christie gasped and yanked the door open. A man staggered in, holding a small child, followed by two other children and a woman. She urged them toward the living room. Just as she was about to slam the door shut on the snow blowing in after them, a horn sounded. She shielded her eyes against the snow and wind and saw headlights pulling up to her porch next to the car already there. And then another pair of lights!

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw the family who had come in getting out of their coats, the woman frantically checking the children’s faces and hands, brushing snow off their hair. Christie held the door almost closed as she looked back out to see an elderly lady making her way carefully up the porch steps, fighting the wind. As she almost fell through the door, Christie caught her and pulled her in, depositing her in a chair beside the door.

“The thermostat is on the wall there!” she told the man leaning against the wall. “Turn it up, and you can turn the fireplace on as well. It’s gas, with a pilot light. Just turn the ignition switch on the mantel. That should warm it up in here faster.”

A young couple staggered in as Christie held the door. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” The woman sobbed as the man with her helped Christie slam the door shut. “I was so sure we were going to wind up freezing to death before we found shelter! There was no way we could stay warm in that car!”

The young man nodded. “We had the heater up as high as it would go, but we were still freezing. If we hadn’t seen your lights and been able to make it up the road, we would have met Jesus for Christmas.”

The elderly woman laughed. “I was following the tail lights in front of me. That’s all I could see through that snow. Thank God you were here. I couldn’t go another foot, I think.”

The man with the children came over and shook Christie’s hand. “Have to second that. Mack Williams, ma’am. These are my wife Annabelle and my kids, Jody, Ricky, and Susanne. Thank God your light made it through that blizzard.”

Christie looked around at them shrugging off their coats. Her forehead wrinkled in confusion. “How could you see any lights? My porch light is off, and the blinds are over the windows. And this cabin can’t be seen from the road. We designed it that way.”

They all stared at her. “Then maybe it’s just a Christmas miracle!” the elderly lady finally said with a laugh. “My name is Edith Morton, my dear. And a very merry Christmas to you.”

Christie sucked her breath in, but before she could say the angry words trembling on her lips, the little girl Susanne announced in a loud voice as only a four year old could, “I gotta go potty!”

Her mother looked alarmed. “Oh dear, all the children need to go. Please, where’s your bathroom?”

Distracted by mundane problems, Christie pointed to the doorway. “Down the hall, past the kitchen door.”

The children rushed to the door, the young girl bellowing, “Me first! Me first!”

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