From “The Angel Tree”

From “The Angel Tree”

Trigger warning for those who need it: This is a story about a woman contemplating suicide who gets…distracted. This excerpt begins partway through the story.

Published in the short story collection “Once Upon A Christmastime” (https://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Christmastime-Peggy-Perry-ebook/dp/B00KO5Y5DY/)

“There’s another bathroom in the master bedroom at the end of the hall,” Christie said automatically.  Her mind whirled as she was forced to deal with the invasion when she had been set on dying alone in peace. 

The little girl came out of the bathroom with her mother as Edith passed.  As her brothers shoved past them, elbowing each other and slamming the door, little Susanne pulled at her mother’s hand as she peered into the dark kitchen.  “I’m thirsty!”  she cried.  “I want some hot chocolate!  And cookies!”

Her mother hushed her and looked up at Christie, an apologetic smile on her face.  “That’s what we always have on Christmas Eve,” she explained.  “Susanne, honey, we’re not at home.  We’re at…”  She looked up, realizing she didn’t know her hostess’ name.

“Oh, uh, I’m Christie, Christie Wright.  And I can make some hot chocolate, but I don’t have any cookies made.  But I do have some canned food that we can probably make into a meal.”  She went into hostess mode automatically, locking onto something she could deal with.  She went into the kitchen and turned the light on.  The little girl followed her in and began exploring the cabinets she could reach, ignoring her mother’s reprimands. 

“It’s okay, those are childproofed.  My youngest son is the same – aahh!”  Her voice stopped with a gasp.  When Annabelle looked at her, frowning, she shook her head frantically and fumbled with the pan she was putting on the stove.  The little girl wandered out the door and her mother chased after her.  Christie fought for calm as she measured the ingredients with shaking hands. 

She nearly dropped everything as an arm wrapped around her waist and squeezed lightly.  “I put away the vodka and pills,” Edith whispered in her ear.  “Wouldn’t want the children to come upon them.  I put them in the closet up on the highest shelf.  That little girl looks like she might go through all your drawers if she gets away from her mama.  You don’t have a gun around anywhere, do you?”

Christie shook her head numbly.  She had disposed of her husband Rick’s guns as well.  She didn’t need them.

“That’s good.  Do you need any help here, dear?” Edith then said in a normal voice.  “Why don’t we fix something to eat?  I’m sure everybody is hungry.”  She began opening cabinet doors until she found the pantry and began pulling out cans and jars.  She looked in the refrigerator and freezer, but they were empty.  Christie had no need of fresh or frozen food before she left this world.

Edith didn’t seem bothered.  She asked Christie to introduce herself again, since she had missed it on the way to the bathroom.  When Beth came in asking if she could help, Edith put her to work opening various containers, explaining as she went what needed to be done. 

“You got no tree!” young Ricky exclaimed in the living room, outrage in his voice.   “How can you have Christmas without a tree?  You got no decorations at all!  Don’t you believe in Christmas?”

“Does that mean Santa isn’t going to stop here?”  His little sister cried over his parents’ frantic shushing noises.  “How are we going to get presents if he doesn’t stop here?”

“Children, children, he’ll leave the presents at our house, like he does every year!  We just have to wait until the storm is over, and we’ll be able to get home and get your presents.”

“But the lady here won’t get any presents!” their oldest boy Jody complained.  “Why didn’t she get ready for Santa?” 

Christie came out of the kitchen to meet the children’s accusing faces.  She fumbled for an explanation.  “I, uh, I just got here.  I didn’t have time to put anything up.”

Tim peered out the window around the blinds.  “I’d volunteer to go get a tree, but not in that storm!”

Mack looked out the other window.  “Yep,” he agreed with a nod.  “Just going to have to make do this year kids, till we can get home.  If we did have a tree we could make popcorn strings and our own decorations, but looks like that’s a bust.”

Beth came out of the kitchen, holding a tray of cups.  “I remember sharing my first apartment with four other girls.  There was no room for even a tiny tree, and we wound up hanging a paper tree on the wall, and stringing yarn to hang paper ornaments.  It wasn’t half bad.”   She offered everyone a cup of hot chocolate before returning the tray to the kitchen.  She and Edith came out holding their own cups and finding seats on the big roomy couches and chairs in the living room.

“The food should be ready in a few minutes,” Edith told them, and sighed with satisfaction as she sipped her cocoa.  “Hot cocoa and a fireplace and a comfortable seat.  Just what we need on a night like this.”

The children weren’t satisfied.  “We need to make a paper tree,” Jody decided.  “That wall there doesn’t have anything on it.  We can hang a big one there.  You got any paper, lady?”

Christie almost told them there was no way they were going to mess up her good wall with tape and tacks, until she realized how stupid it was to care about her wall when she was planning to kill herself.  “Why don’t you just draw a tree on the wall?  That way we can save the paper I’ve got for ornaments.”  The adults protested, but Christie waved her hand dismissively.  “Let me find the kids’ – I mean, some pencils and coloring pens or something.”

She ignored the looks the adults gave each other as she hurried to her children’s bedrooms.  She had to stop inside the boys’ door to pull herself together.  She had not been able to come in here since that night a year ago, and everything was unbearably familiar.  Hurrying to the desk against the wall, she grabbed the trashcan and put all the drawing and coloring utensils she could see into it.  She found some paper and tacks and tape and put those in as well.  Her little girl’s room had glue and glitter and all sorts of stickers.  She found yarn and beads and other craft materials and threw them in.

Taking the can back to the living room, she handed it to the children.  “See what you can do with this.  Don’t worry about making a mess, it will clean up. Excuse me; I have to check on the food.”  She headed for the kitchen.  The sight of the children digging through the materials just like her children always had tore at her heart.

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