General Fiction posted November 29, 2014


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A Christmas story

Twelve Days of Magic

by Spiritual Echo

Christmas Story Contest Winner 


"You really shouldn't have."

Coming from anyone else, the comment might be interpreted as humble gratitude, but hearing it from my mother's lips usually meant a lecture was about to be delivered. "I mean it, Deborah, you shouldn't have."

The first clue to her displeasure was calling me Deborah. She calls me by my formal name when she's climbing up on her soap box. If she's really pissed, she'll add all three names that appear on my birth certificate. Sure enough, there was no surprise when Mama began her diatribe, right there in my brother's living room with all the family watching.

"Deborah Emily Lee, you've done it again. You've spent far too much for everyone's Christmas gifts. What goes on in that little head of yours? You can't afford this type of nonsense on your salary. Wasn't it just last July that I bailed you out, helped you with the rent? Never mind, I'll return this on Monday and put the refund towards what you owe me."

With that said, Mama turned her attention back to other family members, gushing over the gifts they'd bought her, leaving me embarrassed once again.

That was the scene last Christmas, a replay of so many others. I can't remember if she's ever appreciated any gift I've chosen for her. She's tough to buy for, and I admit, I haven't put much thought into her Christmas presents the last few years.

"What can I get you as a Christmas gift?" I asked her a few weeks back and received the usual response.

"I don't need anything. Don't spend your money foolishly. There's nothing I want. Just get me a card. A card would be nice."

I tried that once, even slipping in a few lottery tickets, but after she opened the card, she looked up expectantly, and I felt my skin crawl.

"How nice, Dear, and so thrifty. Did you buy the card at the Dollar Store?"

I'm in a no-win situation and its ruining Christmas for me. I used to get all excited about the Holidays; I loved every part of the season. When I moved into my apartment, I decorated everything, even putting a wreath on my door. It was stolen, of course, but I know better now. Living in New York City is exciting, so many things to see and do. It's like a living, breathing thing, with a pulse and so many opportunities.

Sure, Mama was right. I don't make much money at the advertising agency, but they're starting to let me write some ads for clients and I know I'll do better. It's just a matter of time. She's been down on me ever since I left home five years ago and I don't know how to make it better--no matter how hard I try.

When I was younger, still at home, Mama and I did a lot of things together.  Things were good between us when I lived in Hartford.  We laughed a lot, no matter where we were; at the supermarket or the salon getting our pedicures. Mama insisted her feet were the ugliest part of her body.

"Look at my toenails. You best be looking after your feet or they'll be looking like mine--cloven hoofs."

Thinking about it made me feel a little homesick. I decided to call my brother. Maybe he knew what Mama would like.

"She likes to complain about you. Don't deny her the pleasure," Billy said. "It doesn't matter what you buy for her, she'll find a reason to bitch."

"Ah, come on, Billy. You have to help me. What are you getting Mom?"

"A skydiving experience."

"You're not!"

"No, I'm not, but I finally figured it out. She misses being a mom, especially since Dad died. I'm handy, so she shows up with food and does our laundry. You're not local, so she complains. It's her new hobby."

I set Billy's comment aside to think about later. "So? What are you really getting her for Christmas?

"Theatre tickets. Marnie and I are getting her tickets to see a Broadway play. And seeing as you're in New York, guess what? You're the one taking her."

"Huh?" I was bewildered.

"She misses you, kid. We're going to put her up in a hotel, pay for dinner and a spa treatment for both of you. The best gift we can give her is time with her daughter."

Wow. How can I ever compete with that? Billy interrupted my thoughts.

"Yeah, Sis, I guess I ruined the surprise. It's your gift too--time with your mother. But there's something else.  I'll let you in on a secret, but promise you won't let Marnie know I told you."

"What?"

"We are giving Mama a rattle."

"Nice sarcasm, bro. What? Aren't you going to include a piece of chain?"

"You're such a dingbat, Debbie. We're having a baby. And aside from the obvious, that you'll be an aunt, Mom will have a baby to fuss over. She'll lay off you pretty quick once she has another baby girl."

Another baby girl...

I was genuinely excited by the news, but a part of me felt the sting of jealousy. Was that what Mama really wanted, time with me, time with her baby girl? Was she on my case because I didn't need her anymore?

The news made shopping for Marnie and Billy easier, but I had some thinking to do about Mama's gift.

It was while I was enjoying the free Christmas concert in Rockefeller Square that the idea smacked me over my head, like being whacked with a two-by-four. Mama wanted experiences and time, and I had the perfect solution to drive my mother crazy. That's what she always said to me when I was growing up. "You're driving me crazy!"

I had a plan. I'd need my brother's help, but what the hell, I was central to his NYC Christmas gift. The least he could do was deliver my present to Mama. I was determined to give her back her little girl--one more time--before I was replaced.

I was tickled with my idea and headed to the Dollar Store. Yeah, I might as well buy Mama a cheap card as well. This Christmas gift was not going to cost very much at all. A final trip to the craft store and I was set to go. When I got home, I laid out my purchases on the coffee table and got to work on my project.

With Christmas music playing in the background, over the next few evenings, I glued, knotted and wrapped each of my projects as I finished. I had as much fun imagining Mama's confused surprise, as I did making the gifts. When everything was completed, I sent the parcel to Billy with specific instructions on how to deliver the presents to Mama.

Billy confirmed he dropped off the first gift, leaving it unwrapped on Mama's porch, right next to the daily newspaper she had delivered, but neither one of us heard a thing until the third day.

"Is there anything you want to tell me, Debbie?"

"Like what? Everything is just hunk-dory. How are things with you, Mom?"

There was a pause on the phone, then without explanation, Mama said she had to go.  I collapsed in laughter. Of course, the gifts were driving her nuts, and she had a pile more coming her way. I called Billy to see if he'd faced the anticipated interrogation.

"She called, all right," he said, joining my laughter. "I know she's trying to figure it out, without admitting she's stumped. But she rode circles around the question without asking."

On the sixth day, the phone rang. Call display showed Mama's number, but I couldn't pick up. I let it go to the answering machine. My manic laughter was fuelled even more by the sound of her voice.

"Debbie, it's really important that you call me as soon as you get this message. Something very strange is happening and I need to talk to you about it. Call me!"

For the last five days, Billy had delivered a gift to Mama's doorstep each morning. I was inspired by the Christmas carol 'The Twelve Days of Christmas,' and I made a gift for each day; a silly gift that should have made anyone smile, but Billy and I were getting most of the laughs. When I finally calmed down and felt I could control myself, I called her back.

"What's up, Mom? Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?"

"Debbie, if you found a fake Christmas tree with a pear hanging from a branch and a stuffed bird wired to the top, sitting on your doorstep, what would you think?"

I took a deep breath. "Someone sent me a cheap floral arrangement? I don't know. Who sent it to you?"

"That's just it--I don't know. And every day it's something else. I found two bars of Dove soap with a chocolate glued to the top--you know the kind--they're shaped like a turtle."

"Too weird, Mama. What do you think it means?"

"I have no idea. Two days ago, I found a French flag with fake chickens glued to it, hanging out of my mailbox. I don't know anyone French."

I couldn't believe my mother, a woman who could do the NY Times crossword puzzle before her coffee got cold, didn't get it. I gave her a clue. "So I guess that would make the fake chickens French hens."

It went over her head. "Whoever is doing this has a thing about birds. I was left a cheap toy telephone--the kind toddlers like to play with and make pretend phone calls to Grandma. There were four canaries tied to the handset. Not alive, fake ones; oh, I'm flustered now."

I couldn't hold it in. "So that would be four calling birds," I spit out, before I convulsed with laughter.

"There's nothing funny about this situation, Deborah. If you're not going to help me figure out what's going on, I'm calling your brother. At your age, you should know better than to laugh at people. I have a problem. I'm being stalked by someone with a bird fetish and you find the whole thing is funny."

Billy and I talked each night, like cohorts involved in an international conspiracy. "You've outdone yourself, Debbie. The Barbie doll in the maid's outfit was a classic."

"And she still doesn't get it? Not even with the necklace made with eight coffee creamers hanging around the doll's neck?"

"No," he laughed," she couldn't put the maids-a-milking together, anymore than she figured out the seven boxes of Swan Kleenex tissues or lords-a-leaping. She told Marnie she found ten toads with crowns on their heads. But Marnie was cool. She asked Mom if she was drinking."

"They were frogs--not toads. Oh, for God's sake; she read me all those fairy tales and she can't remember the prince had a spell cast over him by a witch? He was hexed, turned into a frog. Geeze..."

"If nothing else, it's kept her thinking about her daily gifts and distracted. I'm not sure if I could have kept the baby a secret if she was over here poking around. But you Deb, have completely pulled the wool over her eyes."

"You know, Billy. Maybe you should print out the words to the Christmas carol and include them with the last gift. I don't want her to feel foolish."

"Twelve drummers drumming?"

"Just twelve Christmas tree ornaments, but they're drums. See you tomorrow. I should be home by early afternoon, plenty of time to get to your house for Christmas Eve. Don't forget to print those lyrics."

By the time I got into Hartford the next day, it was almost four o'clock.  I was tired from the drive that should have taken two hours, but took twice as long because of fender-benders that plugged the highway.

Mama was upstairs when I came into the house. She called out to me that she would be down shortly. I could hear her in the bathroom and it gave me a moment, time enough to see my projects all lined up on the dining room table. Good to his word, Billy printed out the song sheet to the Christmas carol. The paper was covered by the drum ornaments.

"I was beginning to worry about you, Debbie." Mama said, coming down the stairs. "Rough drive? Would you like a glass of wine before we leave? Of course you would. I need some too. I have to talk to you before we go out."

Mama seemed nervous, chattering, forgetting to hug me as she usually did, then halfway across the room, she turned back and gave me a quick embrace before dashing back to the kitchen.

After she handed me the wine, she hurried back to the dining room. I watched her hide the sheet of lyrics, but turned away when I realized she didn't want me to know she'd needed the blatant clue to figure out the puzzle.

"Did you see the gifts I've been receiving?"

I nodded, "Did you figure out who was sending them?"

"Yes, I did. They're a parody, you know? Yes, they're symbolic gifts from that Christmas song, you know, The Twelve Days of Christmas."

"Mom, are you okay?" She was gulping her wine and I swore her matriarchal armour was shattering. My mother was fidgeting and wound up, uncomfortable in her own house, as if she was a spring about to explode.

"It's Billy."

"Billy?"

"He's been dropping off the gifts on my doorstep each morning on his way to work."

"Hey, Billy goes to work before six in the morning. You never get up before nine. How do you know it's Billy?"

"I sat up all night. That's how I caught him. I dozed off, but the headlights woke me up and I saw him, clear as day. It was Billy delivering the present."

"Well then, you have to give him credit for creativity. Think of all the TIME he spent thinking up and MAKING those gifts. Very, sweet, wasn't it?"

I was enjoying this. I had a final card to give to Mama tomorrow to take credit for the gifts. This was fun. While she thought Billy was responsible, I could feed her all the sentiments that I expected her to repeat when she realized I'd done the work.

"Sweet? I suppose so, but--brace yourself, Deborah--I think Billy's trying to tell me he's gay."

I almost spat out my wine. I thought I'd used up my entire reservoir of laughter over the last two weeks, giggling with Billy, but I was wrong. We hadn't spoken so often, and never had as many laughs together as we did over my project. But the thought of Billy being gay--with a baby on the way--sent me over the edge. I couldn't stop laughing and Mama started to get angry.

"I'll prove it to you."

She hurried into the dining room and returned with the mobile I'd made. Using images of a young Mikhail Baryshnikov in different costumes, I ran the file through Photoshop, adding a flute to each pose before cutting out the pictures of the dancer. Eleven pipers piping.

"Look, these are pictures of Billy wearing tights. He's trying to tell me...he's trying to tell me...something."

"That's a famous ballet dancer, NOT Billy."

"It's Billy. I'm telling you. He's taken these pictures of himself and strung them up here with fishing line. I don't know what to say to him. How can I face him on Christmas Eve, of all nights, knowing he's been living a lie. He should have told me, Debbie, not marry that sweet girl. It's so unfair to Marnie."

"Mama, I'm going to make an appointment for you with the optometrist. I'm sure you need new glasses. Those pictures look NOTHING like Billy."

I called a cab. There was no way I could allow Mama to drive. She was a wreck and I had every intention of having several drinks. Billy was sure to join me when he realized he'd 'come-out' to Mama.

Billy and I let Marnie in on the joke. We had to. After I told Billy about my conversation with Mama, both of us continued to set each other off like  relay racers, passing the laughter back and forth, but unable to move past our childish hysterics. It was Marnie who decided we should let Mama open the two big gifts early; the admission of my orchestration of the daily gifts and the baby rattle. The New York adventure could wait until Christmas morning.

After dinner, I stood up and asked Mama to listen while I read her the Christmas card I wrote for her.

"You mean it's not from the Dollar Store?" Her weak smile was meant to reassure, not mock me.

"You'll get that one tomorrow. This one was written by your daughter, the copywriter."

She settled back in her chair and picked up her tea. All eyes were on me.

"And on the last day before Christmas
With love I give to thee
Golden rings, French horns and calling birds
A partridge, geese, hens and swans aplenty
Milking maids, dancing ladies and leaping lords
Pipers, drummers, but most of all
I give to thee, dear mother, our mama
My eternal love"


I paused and glanced up at Billy. He nodded, urging me to continue.

"The answer to this riddle
As you must plainly see
The gifts, each one
They came from me
Your daughter
Deborah Emily Lee"


Tears streamed down my mother's cheeks, but there was still confusion in her eyes.

"Billy was my courier. I made the presents and Billy delivered them. Billy is a great mailman, but he is DEFINITELY not gay. "

She rose and wrapped her arms around me. "That was the most beautiful present I have ever received. I love you dearly, child. You'll always be my precious girl."

'Well maybe you'll get an even nicer gift. You know that brother of mine always does one better when it comes to surprises."

Mama cried as much as Billy and I laughed together during Christmas. She understood the meaning of the rattle right away, fussing over Marnie and praising God. She insisted I pack up every single one of her doorstep gifts and take them to Billy's house on Christmas Day so that all the visiting cousins and distant relatives could admire her present.

"It was the best Christmas of my life," I heard Mama tell a guest, but I know that she'll say the same thing again next year, and she'll be just as sure it couldn't get better--but it will. And we'll have a precious new baby girl who will share the wonder of Christmas through her innocent eyes.

We learned that sharing tears, love and laughter binds us together in a way that can't be gift-wrapped, and we'll never need the excuse of mistletoe to say I love you.





.







 


Christmas Story
Contest Winner

Recognized


Although all characters in this story are fictional, the story was inspired by a true life event. A friend's sister, Connie Burnett, actually recreated items from the song lyrics, fun gifts that were delivered anonymously each morning for the 12 days leading up to Christmas, much to the delight of the recipient, her mother.

The Twelve Days of Christmas


On the first day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
A Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the third day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the fourth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the fifth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the sixth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the seventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the eighth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
8 Maids a Milking
7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the ninth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
9 Ladies Dancing
8 Maids a Milking
7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the tenth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
10 Lords a Leaping
9 Ladies Dancing
8 Maids a Milking
7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the eleventh day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
11 Pipers Piping
10 Lords a Leaping
9 Ladies Dancing
8 Maids a Milking
7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

On the twelfth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
12 Drummers Drumming
11 Pipers Piping
10 Lords a Leaping
9 Ladies Dancing
8 Maids a Milking
7 Swans a Swimming
6 Geese a Laying
5 Golden Rings
4 Calling Birds
3 French Hens
2 Two Turtle Doves
and a Partridge in a Pear Tree







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