Friday, December 14, 2012

A Perfect Christmas

by Colleen Sutherland

(This is my last depressing Christmas story of the year.  Next year I intend to put all of them into a book.  Those who have been following along will by now realize though each story stands alone, they are interconnected as well. They are meant for those who really don't like the holiday and they are legion. CS.) 

       Joe was snoring out big beer breaths. It had been another one of those nights with the boys, but why did it have to be Christmas Eve? The kids were sleeping so Janine still had a chance to give them that perfect, memorable Christmas.

       Janine had big plans for Christmas 2012. She had lists of things to do, checklists to be checked and consulted. Her plans seldom worked out but this day would be different. There were places the family had to be, relatives to visit, church services to attend, and above all the riotous opening of presents under the tree. 
      So Janine planned, beginning with Black Friday.  She had her lists ready and was waiting at the front of the mall at 3:00 a.m. She must have broken her wrist when the door open and the crowd charged but she never broke her stride. She threw her purse over her shoulder and grabbed little Freddy by the other hand. She found Joe's gift in the electronics department, a doll for Eloise on a special display rack. She even nabbed a Shooter Scooter from under the Santa throne at the mall while Freddy was on Santa's lap. Maybe that old guy wanted that gift for somebody he thought special, but store employees shouldn't hoard the good stuff anyhow. The doctor said the cast would be off by New Year's.

       She never slowed down. The minute the kids left for school, Janine took off for the stores. Joe claimed she spent too much on Christmas. They only lived on what he made as a deliveryman for local stores whenever their own crew was too rushed. He was an independent contractor with his own van. Christmas was his busiest time but the rest of the year he worked as a mover. Somehow they got by. Janine told him how much she had saved on each item she bought but hid the credit card statements.

       Janine figured that on Christmas morning with the family still sleeping, she could put the presents under the tree and fix that one set of lights that refused to go on. She started by setting her alarm clock. She never set the alarm. Either the cat wanted to be fed or Joe wanted his breakfast so she never got to sleep late even on Mother's Day. She wasn't even sure if that clock worked. But she had to get up early to prepare for that perfect Christmas so she set it. It was almost midnight when she joined Joe in bed.

      On restless nights, Janine heard every noise in the neighborhood: cars going down the street, some animal in the trash can, the cat moving around the house and of course, Joe snoring. She never slept all that well. On this sacred night, she listened to a party across the street that was going on far too long with some rock instruments and singing. She couldn't make out what the singing was about. She tiptoed downstairs, stood next to the Neighborhood Watch sign at the front window and peered out, but the snow was falling and she couldn't make anything out. She listened to the racket for a while and finally called the police and asked them to check on it. There might be drugs involved. You never knew. It was a dangerous world out there.

       She crept back to bed to give it another try, but gave up on sleep an hour before she usually got up. She would be tired the next day but it would be worth it to give her children that perfect moment under the tree. She slipped out of the bed and went down the stairs barefoot, being careful so she wouldn't wake Joe. He was mean when he had a hangover. Let him sleep late.

       It wasn't until she had the first cup of coffee that Janine remembered she never turned off that damned alarm clock. She tiptoed back up the stairs into the bedroom and clicked off the alarm, stubbing her toe on the cat sleeping next to the dresser. He was old, deaf and going blind so he didn't notice things the way he used to but that woke him up.

       He followed Janine downstairs demanding in his loud wail to be fed and not cat food either. He knew there was a platter of leftover turkey in the fridge and turkey is turkey, cat food is cat food. He yowled. Rex was a half-Siamese mongrel foisted on her by a relative. He didn't speak normal cat, just howls in Siamese. He must have driven his non-Siamese mother nuts.

       “I am a slave to everyone in this family, including that cat,” Janine said to the empty kitchen.  No matter, Rex got his way. She didn't want him to wake the kids.

       She messed with the lights on the tree for a while, trying to find the bad bulb. She finally gave up, figuring that it would be morning sunlight when the kids got up anyhow. The needles were already falling, so in a day or two the thing would come down. “Damned fire hazard,” she said.

       Janine got a step stool to haul the presents out of the tallest kitchen cupboard. A good place to hide things she thought, but she noticed the wrapping had been slightly torn and there was more tape on them than there should be. Darned kids. Or maybe it was Joe. He was always trying to figure out how much she was spending.

       “I'll think about that tomorrow,” she told Rex. “Christmas is important.” There even was a present for him, a little catnip mouse.

       She arranged the presents under the tree. That's when she realized she forgot batteries. All those battery ads on television about being prepared and she forgot. She carefully re-opened the packages and made a list of what would be needed and went to the kitchen to look for the batteries. There weren't any. She realized Joe had swiped her stash for some damned project. She would have to go to the convenience store three miles away and hope they still had batteries.

       She was flagging. “I need a shower to wake myself up.” She brought her second cup of coffee into the bathroom and climbed into the tub. The soothing hot water ran over her body though she was very careful not to get the cast wet. It felt so, so good. With a second wind, she toweled off as she drank her coffee. 

       She congratulated herself on having the forethought the night before to layout all her clothes in the downstairs bathroom so she wouldn't have to wake Joe up by trying to dress in the dark upstairs. 

       No bra. No panties. Damn. She climbed down the narrow steps to the basement laundry and pulled a dirty bra and panties out of a basket. She waved them around for a bit, smelled them again, then Febreezed them.

       Back in the bathroom she dressed, top to bottom until she realized her shoes and boots were still upstairs. She tiptoed back to the bedroom. Joe was still snoring. There wasn't a sound from the kids. Good. She came back down.

       The cat, who seemed to be suffering from Alzheimer’s, decided Janine had just woken up and yowled for more turkey. She ignored him. She grabbed her purse and keys and went out to start the car. That's when she discovered that Joe's big delivery van was in the driveway behind her car. It would have to be moved. The music down the street was still going on. “Hallelujahs” seemed to be the prominent motif. It was Christmas or she would have gone down there and cursed them out royally. Instead, she went back into the house. The cat went into his full scale my-God-I-am-dying routine.

     “You'll wake everyone up,” she screamed as quietly as she could. She gave in and fed him more turkey.
Joe's keys were not where they were supposed to be on the keyholder in the kitchen. She stole back up the stairs and searched his jackets until she found a set and while she was at it, checked his wallet. He wouldn't notice if a few bills were missing. He rolled over and groaned. She held her breath until he was well and truly asleep again.

       It was getting late. The sun would soon be up. She wanted to hurry but when she came down that demented cat was at it again. He hadn't remembered the two previous meals. She didn't take time to argue, he got more turkey.

       She tore out to the dark driveway, unlocked the van and climbed in, bumping into the rear view mirror and throwing it out of whack. Never mind. That perfect Christmas was only an hour or so away and she didn't want to miss it.

       She backed the van out of the driveway and crashed into a patrol car cruising down the street. Both of the horns started blaring. That's when she remember that she had called the police about suspicious happenings, possibly drugs.

       Officer Craig crawled over the police car's computer gear, pushed open the passenger door and crawled out as he called into the station for backup. Joe came tearing outside in his jockey shorts. So did the True Christians from down the street who had been having some kind of all night party to greet Jesus. So did the kids in their pajamas. So did that damned cat who escaped and ran onto the street. It was at that moment that the a second patrol tore around the corner. The squeal of the squad car's brakes was equaled only by the cat's final Siamese yelp before it was cut short.

       The kids were screaming, Joe was yelling at her and Officer Craig gave her a ticket.

       It wasn't the perfect Christmas Janine had imagined, but it certainly was memorable.

       I'll try again next year, she thought. At least the cat had three last meals. 

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