Breaking the Christmas Curse 2012/12/24Posted by Sandra Ruttan in Uncategorized.
Several years ago, as I began to seriously try my hand at adult fiction, I entered a contest at The Cynic online, with the topic of a not-so-cynical Christmas story. Breaking The Christmas Curse received an honorable mention.
“We bought the annual family lottery ticket,” I added as I stood, reaching for my coat.
“Waste of money, if you ask me.”
“Oh, you never know, we might get lucky.”
His eyes narrowed. “You’re unusually chipper, Leah.”
“I’ll try anything once.”
“Well, there ain’t no such thing as luck,” he said, snorting. “People make they’re own luck. If they think somethin’ bad’s gonna happen, they jest find a way to make sure it does. Jest like them horrorscopes. People see what they want to see.”
“Horoscopes,” I corrected, stifling a sigh.
“Whatever.” His eyes narrowed as he stared at me for a moment. “I thought you had to go.”
“I do,” I said. “Are you coming?”
His whole face wrinkled. “I suppose. Don’t know why you trouble yourself over this, though. Maybe you should have kids. You’d forget about all this fussing and nonsense then.”
I held up my hand before he could launch into another tirade about the fact that women weren’t raising families anymore and that the whining on talk shows was the direct result. He thought the answer to poor daytime television program was procreation.
Six months ago, when my doctor had given me the news, I hadn’t had the heart to tell Grandpa Joe. I wondered now if I should have. At least he might stop bothering me about having children if he knew.
Glancing at my watch, I scurried across the sidewalk to my car, groaning. If I didn’t hurry I wouldn’t get to the vet’s office before it closed. Then I’d have to deal with an unhappy puppy and a kenneling charge in the morning.
The hail had stopped but the uncertainty lingered. People crawled hesitantly along the streets, glancing up at the heavens in case another assault was imminent.
“If you’re that worried about a storm I’d think you’d be in a hurry to get home,” I said as I bit back the urge to curse as the weather-watcher in front of me sped up just in time to make it through the intersection, but not soon enough for me to get through. “Come on, come on.” I watched the other lights closely, waiting for the warning orange light to signal the change. It did and I moved my foot to the gas.
“Meeeeeeeeeeep,” a horn blared as a half-ton pick-up truck swerved around a Toyota that had stopped at the intersection, and raced through the red light like a blur of blue lightning traveling horizontally across the sky in front of me.
“Meep meep.” The sound from behind jolted me as I caught my breath. I cautiously stepped on the gas, wondering why there was never a cop around when you needed one.
I ran up the steps and hit an icy patch at the top, sliding forward with my arms flailing, searching for something to grasp to break my fall. Instead, I ended up pancaked against the glass door of the veterinary clinic looking like one of those stuffed cats people stuck to the rear window of their car with suction cups. The receptionist had just left the counter to lock the front door when she saw me, her shoulders sagging slightly.
“I was just about to close, Mrs. Tanner,” she told as I stepped inside. Her face always looked like she’d just sucked a lemon, with her lips puckered disapprovingly. “You’re lucky.”
That’s what you think. I smiled apologetically and shrugged. “It’s this time of year. We get a little hail and suddenly everyone forgets how to drive.”
Wanda arched an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. Instead, she went to get my dog.
“How much?” I asked as she handed me the leash.
“$247,” Wanda said. Her face looked as cold as the driven snow lining the sidewalks.
“Ouch.” I reached into my wallet for my credit card.
“Dr. Cross found a few other little things. De-worming medicine and a steroid shot for his irritable bowel.”
I glared at her as I passed her the card. “Perhaps he should have called me to discuss this. Chance only came in for routine shots.”
“He did try calling. Your phone must be dead.”
She took the credit card and I reached into my pocket. Sure enough, the cell phone wouldn’t respond to my efforts to resuscitate it.
“Aunt Marge left a message and said that if Joe is coming…” My husband, Seth, gave me a knowing look. I rolled my eyes.
“This is ridiculous. Why is it that every year while the rest of the world is reveling in holiday cheer, my family has to rekindle old arguments? The best Christmas I ever had was when I was one.”
Seth glared at me. “You can’t remember that Christmas.”
“Which is why it remains the best I’ve ever had.”
“We could fly to Cancun and leave them here to sort out their differences,” Seth suggested as he wrapped his arms around my waist. His wide eyes appeared to be striving for an innocent look but his lips were twitching upwards slightly at the corners of his mouth.
“And very tempting. Look, you have a busy day tomorrow. Go relax in a hot bath while I make dinner.”
I opened my mouth and then forced it shut, smiling. For once, I decided not to question Seth’s motives and just accepted the offer.
“And phone Miranda. She left a message.” Seth’s voice trailed after me as I walked into the bedroom.
Once I’d settled into my soaker tub I pressed 1 on the speed dial.
“Are you sitting down?” Miranda asked, dispensing with a greeting, something caller ID had eliminated the need for.
“I’m lying down, actually.”
“You aren’t sick are you?”
I laughed. “No. I’m enjoying a nice, hot bath while my husband makes supper.”
“Seth cooks? Since when?”
“I don’t know but you can’t possibly be more afraid than I am. What’s up?”
“It’s about time.”
“Is that all you have to say?”
Greg and Miranda had been living together for two years, dating for three before that. He’d asked me to help him pick out the ring so this was hardly a surprise.
“I’m very happy for you. Really.”
“You’re about as happy as I’d expect you to be.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Stop crinkling your forehead. You’re going to get wrinkles if you keep screwing your face up like that.”
I sighed, unconsciously smoothing the bumps out of my skin. Miranda always joked that I smiled half-heartedly but frowned with my whole face. She said I had more creases than a shriveled prune.
“Miranda, I am happy for you.”
“Greg told me about the ring, so I know why you aren’t surprised.”
“I don’t think there’s anything that can surprise me anymore, Mir.”
“Not even Santa sliding down the chimney with a sack full of goodies for you?”
“Bah humbug to you too. You really know how to suck the yuletide cheer out of anyone.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sorry. It’s just…”
“This time of year. I know. You think it’s cursed.”
“Well, all things considered…”
“Just because Grandpa Joe almost choked on his dinner roll and spit his false teeth into your aunt’s glass of wine last year…”
“Don’t forget the year before.”
“When Uncle Ken tried to take the turkey out of the oven with a mitt that had bourbon spilled on it and it caught fire when he touched the burner? Or was that the year before?”
“That was two years ago. Last year was the puppy.”
“I don’t remember this one. But it’s got to be good. Your Christmas disaster stories always are.”
I shook my head, relaying the incident. I’d been in the bath, like I was now, but the door to the hallway hadn’t clicked shut. I had slid down to rinse my hair, stiffening as I lifted my head out of the water. There was a sound of movement coming from the hall.
Whatever was moving had stopped right outside the bathroom door. For a split second there was nothing but the sound of my heart thudding rapidly and then the door creaked open.
When I saw my ten-month-old husky at the doorway I’d started to relax, but only for a second. He turned and dashed down the hall.
I jumped from the tub, sliding on the linoleum as I grabbed a bathrobe and ran after him. Chance had discovered the cats, who he thought were snack food, and was giving chase. I was too late to cut them off as he chased Marbles into the kitchen. In one tremendous leap Marbles sailed up to the counter and landed in the pumpkin pie. Scrambling to get out of the filling the pie crashed to the ground. Chance’s stomach overrode his interest in the chase and he stopped to devour the pie, giving me a chance to grab his collar and remove him.
Glancing down the hallway, I could see that the latch to the door was broken, which is why Chance had been able to get out of the foyer. I shoved him into the bathroom and closed the door.
After fixing the latch and cleaning up the kitchen I had returned to the bathroom to get Chance. I turned the handle and pushed, but the door didn’t open. I tried again.
That was when I realized what had happened. Chance had been pawing against the door, wanting out. We had bought an old house and the bathroom had a sliding lock on the door. Chance had managed to slide the latch across.
Seth had trouble hiding his amusement when I called him for help. “People break down locked doors all the time,” he’d said. I’d pictured him at that moment, waving the guys over, getting ready to tell him the latest thing that had happened to his crazy wife…
“That’s on TV.”
“Then you’ll have to break in the window.”
“Thanks a lot.”
I’d hung up, annoyed. I knew, as Seth did, that the window was nailed shut. We had only lived in the house for a few months and hadn’t dealt with the windows yet.
I tried side-checking the door. My first attempt was too gentle, so I rammed the door, bouncing off and rebounding against the hall wall.
Then I was mad. I gave a good, hard shove and the door flew open. Chance, who’d been busy enjoying my bath and had shaken dry afterwards, darted past me. I slid on his wet footprints on the hardwood. This time, he’d detoured through the living room where, with one quick snap, he’d bitten the head off the angel on our tree.
But he was cornered. I dragged him back down the hallway to the foyer, angel head and all.
The next day at our annual Christmas dinner Aunt Marge had commented on the store-bought pie and the decision to use a star on our tree.
“It doesn’t look right. Especially on that little stump you call a tree. You need something taller than four feet, dear.”
I’d been too busy avoiding Seth’s twinkling eyes to offer a retort.
“Admit it. It’s a funny story.”
“It might be, if it had happened to someone else.”
“Just think of all the joy your life brings to your friends.”
“And I thought I was the rain on your parade.”
“Every silver lining has to have a dark cloud.”
“Can I bring anything tomorrow?”
“A referee’s shirt.”
“It won’t be that bad.”
I sighed. “You just wait and see.”
“What did you do to me?” I groaned. It was 5 AM and I had just crawled back into bed.
I didn’t think I had anything left in my stomach to lose.
“I didn’t poison you. If I had, wouldn’t I be sick too?”
“Your stomach could digest a horseshoe without protest. I can’t be sick. Not today.”
“Try to get some sleep. You’re probably just stressed out because of the usual holiday nonsense. It’s a good thing you planned to have this dinner a few days early. Maybe you can recover in time to enjoy Christmas.”
“We should have gone to Cancun,” I moaned.
Three hours later I dragged myself out of bed and into the shower. By the time I’d dressed I knew one thing for certain: It was going to be a very long day.
“We can cancel the dinner, you know,” Seth said as he arched an eyebrow. “You’re pale.”
I shook my head. In my head, I told him he was overreacting before the room went dark.
“Just stop fussing! For once, stop worrying about making everyone else happy and just concentrate on yourself.”
I’d woken up in the examination room at my doctor’s office. My first complaint had been that I had a million things to do to get ready for the dinner.
Now I was wondering why I was here. “I meant here, as in the doctor’s office, instead of the hospital, if you’re so worried.”
“The doctor’s office phoned. Dr. Bairstow wanted to see you right away.”
She whisked into the room then, motioning at me to stay lying down. After a cursory inspection she let me move to a chair.
“Why did you want to see me?” I asked her.
“You remember those tests I ran last week?”
I frowned. “Am I missing something?”
“But that’s not possible.”
“Virtually impossible is still, technically, possible. Improbable but not impossible.”
“How did this happen?”
“Do you really want me to explain?” Dr. Bairstow asked with a sly grin. Then her lips straightened out and she looked serious. “Does it matter?”
A slow smile spread across my face. “I guess not.”
I was still riding the euphoric wave as we walked in the door. I hadn’t even thought about the turkey that wasn’t in the oven yet and the potatoes that still needed to be peeled. None of it seemed to matter much anymore.
The kitchen was already humming with activity. Marge was tra-la-laing along to the Christmas carols on the CD player as she stirred pot after pot of bubbling entrees. To my right, Miranda was lighting the candles on the table.
“Now Leah, don’t you worry about a thing. Seth said you weren’t feeling well and we’ve got it all under control. Haven’t we, Marge?”
“As soon as Joe gets back here with the Bordeaux we’ll be perfect,” Marge said, glass in hand.
“We had some…” I started.
“That’s right. Had.” Marge giggled, waving the empty bottle for effect.
“You didn’t put that in the sauce, did you?” Seth asked.
“Why would I waste a perfectly fine beverage in the dinner when I can have it before?”
The door opened and Marge’s eyes glimmered at the prospect of refilling her glass. She sailed across the room to the door just as Joe was trying to walk in, intersecting right under the mistletoe.
“Merry Christmas Joe,” Marge said, throwing her arms around him and kissing him on the cheek.
“It’s a good thing she’s from the other side of your family,” Seth murmured in my ear.
I elbowed him in the ribs but I didn’t protest when he led me to the living room, insisting I stay off my feet.
“You look exhausted.”
“But it’s a good kind of tired,” I said as Seth sat down at the breakfast table beside me.
“Another week of morning sickness and I doubt you’ll be saying that.”
I gave him a wry smile. “We had so much fun last night we forgot to check the lottery tickets.”
“Imagine that. Fun at the Tanner family Christmas dinner.”
“I know, I know… Did we win anything?” I asked as he checked the numbers in the paper.
He crumpled the ticket into a ball. “If we’d had it scanned I’m sure it would have come up saying dead people have better luck.”
I smiled. Seth had heard me say that a thousand times and I knew he was mocking me but I didn’t care.
“I refuse to let you rob me of my will to live, Seth Tanner,” I said, throwing one of his usual retorts back at him. “Not only are we the luckiest people alive or dead on earth, but this is now the best Christmas ever.”
Author’s note: Post publication is always the greatest time of illumination. I sent this story in, thinking it was complete. When it went live online, the typos seemed to jump off the screen at me. This story is a fair bit more optimistic than much of what I write, and has a lighthearted feel under the grumbling, but it’s a nice holiday story, and I wanted to share it this Christmas. For those who’d like to listen with a touch of Christmas cheer, I offer a personal favorite: