Hi folks. Here's a short story that I wrote for a contest sponsored by Dave Long, acquisitions editor at Bethany House (www.faithinfiction.blogspot.com ), and Fuse Magazine ( www.fusemagazine.net) .
Dave suggested that everyone post the story somewhere so we could all read one another's work. So here's my Christmas offering to you all. There are more stories at my website - www.vinemarc.com
By Marcia Lee Laycock
Sulking and soaking. For me, the two always go together. I know when I’m not fit to be around people, especially the people I’m mad at, so the bathtub is the best place to be. I run the water as hot as I can stand it and stay there until I feel like I can be civil again. That night, the night before Christmas, I thought I might be there till dawn.
Tim had dropped the bomb when he came home from work two days before we were to go home for the holidays. Somehow he’d managed to mess up making the flight reservations. How could he mess up something so important, so essential to my sanity? Bad enough he’d talked me into coming here, to the end of reason and any sign of civilization, just so he could have a "real northern experience." Bad enough he didn’t once compliment me on how I’d bravely been enduring the minus fifty degree temperatures. Bad enough we still had five more months to endure life in this town on the edge of the universe. Now we were stuck here for Christmas.
Even if we drove south till the temperature was warm enough for planes to fly, there weren’t any seats to be had. And what was his excuse? He thought he’d told the travel agent to book it, but he had only asked her to give him the details. When she didn’t hear back from him, she assumed we’d changed our minds but didn’t bother to check. There are too many people in this town who definitely aren’t the brightest bulbs on the tree.
And speaking of trees. To try and pacify me, Tim dragged a tree home the day before Christmas. I caught him going out the door, downed from neck to ankle, a toque on his head and wool scarf wrapped about six times around his face. When I asked him where on earth he was going, he said something unintelligible and walked out the door. Three hours later I heard him stomping around on the porch. I poked my head out, the cold hitting me like a slap. All I could see were his eyes. They were laughing. He tugged the scarf down long enough to tell me to wrap up and come out for a minute. Curious, I pulled on my parka and went outside.
He stood there like a little boy who’d just bagged his first bird. Only it was a Christmas tree he held on to. Or rather, it had been a Christmas tree. My mouth fell open and I sputtered through a mouth full of scarf. Tim pulled his away from his mouth and grinned.
"Just call me Charlie Brown," he said.
The tree was almost bare. Tim described how the needles rained down with every blow of the axe. What else did he expect at fifty below?
Then we tried getting it inside. The few needles left on the branches showered the linoleum in the kitchen until it looked like a forest path. We stood it in a corner and stepped back. Tim glanced at me sideways just as I did the same and we both burst out laughing.
"I’ll go buy an artificial one," I said. Tim didn’t argue.
I trudged off to the only store in town, but of course they were sold out of Christmas trees, artificial or otherwise. Then I went to the grocery store to buy a turkey. No turkeys left either. No cranberry sauce, no fresh vegetables. They had some Caribou steaks on special. Whoopdeedoo. By the time I got home I wanted to scream, "Baaah Humbug!" That’s when I locked myself in the bathroom and tried to soak away the frustration.
The next morning I wished Tim a halfhearted "Merry Christmas," then told him his present was waiting for him at my parents’ house. The house that would be decorated so beautifully, with a six foot tree. The house that would be filled with the smell of roast turkey and pumpkin pie. The house where all our family would gather to sing carols by the fireplace. My pity party was complete when he told me my present was waiting there too.
I was choking down tears when the phone rang. A cheery voice said, "Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas." I handed the phone to Tim. I heard his voice go up a few notches the longer he talked. He kept glancing at me, then finally said. "We’ll be there," and hung up. When he told me we’d been invited to his boss’s house for dinner, I just turned and walked into the bathroom.
He gave me an hour to soak, then tapped on the door. "They have eggnog," he said. "And it’s warmed up to minus forty."
I sniffled a bit, dried off and opened the door. "Okay. Why not?"
We dressed in our Christmas best and arrived at the house just in time to see a dog sled scrape to a stop. Tim’s boss, Jerry, waved us over. "The Yukon version of a sleigh ride," he said. "Hop in."
Tim and I crawled under the down blanket and I let him wrap his arms around me as the sled jerked forward. The dogs trotted easily and the sled slid with a sighing ssshhh over the snow-packed ground. Jerry gee-ed and haw-ed and within minutes we were on the river. It seemed like we were floating now, whooshing around ice sculptures heaved up by the force of water and carved by wind. I rested my head on Tim’s chest and watched the reflection of a rising moon glint on nature’s statuary. By the time we got back to the house I was breathless with the thrill of the short ride.
Inside, Jerry’s wife, Sonya, handed me a hot spiced apple cider and, as we joined several others in the living room, I realized I almost had what you could call the Christmas spirit. The smell of roasting turkey helped. Sonya had decorated with impeccable taste, but my heart sank a little when I saw there was no Christmas tree. There was a rather odd shape draped in a sheet in one corner, but everyone seemed to ignore it, so I didn’t ask. I even sang along with the others as someone led the carols accompanied by some light finger-picking on guitar.
The meal was wonderful, the laughter and constant chatter enough to bring the spirit of the season into full bloom. But I was not prepared for what happened when Jerry tapped his glass and told us all to follow him back into the living room.
Sonya was behind me as we went. She leaned forward and whispered. "This is always the best moment."
I followed the group and stood on tiptoe to see what the big secret was. I couldn’t see anything remarkable. In fact, all I could see, as everyone formed a semi-circle, was that we’d been led to the corner with the strange shape draped in a sheet. I held my breath.
Jerry turned and Sonya excused herself through the crowd to hand him a book.
"This has become a tradition for us ever since we moved north," Jerry explained. "We gather our friends, feed them, entertain them, and then we read a bit." He flipped the book open and adjusted his glasses. This is the book of Luke, chapter two, verses one through twenty. "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree ..."."
As the story unfolded, I watched the faces around me. Some were intent, some looked bored, but there wasn’t a sound in the room - just the words of an ancient story told with simplicity and grace. It thrilled me to know the story was true. Tim stepped to my side as it came to an end.
Jerry closed the Bible, looked around at everyone and smiled. "Now we unveil the tree."
Sonya slipped through the crowd again and the lights went out. I heard the soft sound of the sheet falling to the floor. Then the room burst into white light. Before us stood, not a decorated Christmas tree, but a spindly birch. Thin branches reached up toward the ceiling. Each branch sprouted groups of bright green leaves. The leaves glowed with the twinkling of tiny white lights.
I stopped breathing and started crying at the same time. The sight filled my eyes with a color they’d been hungering to see and filled my soul with a light that made me forget about myself. I reached for Tim’s hand.
"We don’t like to cut down an evergreen for the sake of tradition," Jerry said quietly. "So we grow one." He waved toward the birch. "It seems to suit the spirit of Christmas, the Spirit that teaches that the birth of Christ was a point of new beginnings."
Sonya stepped to her husband’s side. "Jesus was an ordinary man, nothing special to look at, the scriptures tell us, like this little birch, but he was also the Son of God and he brought new life and light to a dark world."
Jerry’s eyes gleamed in the reflection from the tree. "Merry Christmas," he said.
The words echoed from all the lips in the room, including mine.