Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Annual Holiday Pod Story

I had wanted to have this written in time to post for Friday Fiction last week, but unfortunately things have stayed a little too busy for me to finalize the idea and get it written before today.

Through the series of Pod books, Christmas has a special significance to the members of the Pod. This is largely due to the efforts Josh takes to make it special for them the first couple of years, building on what they had experienced when the Pod was still living and learning in the Nursery with Dr. Marcel.

This story takes place “behind the scenes” in the Pod Holiday Story from last Christmas,
“Finding the Magic.” That story focuses primarily on Marta’s POV, and I felt like it would be good to see some of it from Josh’s POV. Merry Christmas, and I hope you enjoy this gift.

The Santa Stigma
By Rick Higginson

He found the box in the island store room where he’d stashed the stuff from the house that he had wanted to keep. It wasn’t as dusty as when he’d removed it from the garage at his house, but it still seemed to have accumulated more than it should have in the short time it had been in the new location. He blew the dust away with a well-directed breath, and read the writing on the top. His father’s blocky print listed the contents, and for a moment Joshua Cardan felt again like a little boy holding his parents’ treasures.

The box had been sealed since the winter before his mother died, packed away when joy had still filled their old home. The following year, when Josh had brought it down from the attic, his father had just left it sitting unopened in the living room for a few days, before taking it back to the attic. Without her beside him, he had seen no point in celebrating. By the next winter, Dad was again beside Mom in the adjacent grave.

When he’d sorted through his parents’ possessions before putting the house on the market, Josh had not been able to bring himself to donate the box along with so many other things. Though it had remained unopened, he had stored it in his new house, and then brought it out to the island.

He carried the box to his new office and placed it on the desk. With his pocketknife, he sliced the tape across the top flaps, and with an almost guilty feeling, opened it. The plastic bags inside were all still sealed, and he lifted the first from the box. The old book showed its years of use, and when he removed it from the bag, he thought he could still smell his mother’s favorite lotion lingering on it. I never grew tired of hearing you read this one, Mom. What I’d give to have you here to read it just once more.

With the book set to one side on the desk, he removed the box of special ornaments and placed them safely aside, and then reverently touched the clear bag that was next in the stack. The crimson fabric within had not faded over the years, nor had the memory of the conversation he’d had with his father the year the suit had been made.

Santa Claus, Dad? Santa has to be the cruelest hoax ever foisted on kids.

Whatever do you mean, Josh?

Look at it, Dad. You know what some of the kids at the Country Club are like, and even though everyone knows they’re not good kids, they’re going to get more toys from ‘Santa’ than any ten kids ought to get. Yet, Diego’s siblings are all good kids, but his parents can’t afford to buy anything near the number or quality of gifts. How do you explain to someone like Diego’s little sister why she was good and got so little, while an obnoxious spoiled brat got everything she asked for and more?

You already know the answer to that, son. We can’t really explain away the stigma that goes with the Santa story, but that’s not the point of Santa Claus at all.

So what is the point? Why spend so much getting a custom Santa suit made to wear to this charity event if even you can’t make sense of it all?

What makes you think I can’t make sense of it?

You just said we can’t explain away the stigma of the good and bad disparity.

Josh, what is Santa all about?

Scaring kids into being good, so they get gifts on Christmas.

No, Josh. Maybe that’s what it looks like too often, but what Santa Claus is really about is the magic of giving with no expectation of receiving. The man that the legends started with did that, and it follows the whole theme of the original Christmas story. I’m not going to put on a Santa suit to scare kids into behaving. I’m going to put this on so I can get into the character of someone who gives gifts, not exchanges them.

I never thought about it that way, Dad.

You would never have thought about the disparity between your gifts and Diego’s a few years ago, either. You’re growing up, Joshua. You’re developing empathy and a sense of fairness. Someday, the Cardan business is going to be yours, and I hope you find the opportunities to use what you have to give to others.

I could do that without wearing a silly red suit, Dad.

Yes, you could, but I hope you never grow so old that you can’t find a little magic in being Santa Claus.

He lifted the Santa suit from the box. I can’t fill this suit the way you did, Dad. I’m not sure I could even wear it without getting it altered to fit me, but I found the magic. He opened the bag and removed just the hat, placing it on his head with a growing smile. I wonder if you and Mom can see me. What would you think of the Pod, Dad? Would you find Marta as delightful as I do?

He separated the large red bag from the rest of the costume, and resealed the plastic around the suit. With a shake, he opened the bag and began transferring decorations into it. It’s Christmas Eve, Dad, and I’m going to be Santa Claus. I don’t care about the stigma any more. I don’t care if some people don’t like Santa, or if they think he represents all that’s bad about the commercialization of Christmas. He grabbed a tissue from the box in the side drawer of his desk, and wiped his nose.

It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m really looking forward to giving with no expectation of receiving anything in return, Dad.

With the decorations and some candy in the bag, he placed the book on top and pulled the drawstring tight. The bag with the tree was already waiting near the ladder to the Pod’s cavern, and while the utility tunnel was no chimney, it seemed completely appropriate that Santa should arrive that way.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Friday Fiction for December 11, 2009

For the second Christmas themed Friday Fiction, I decided to post one of my favorites from last year’s Christmas themed Challenge Entries. I really enjoyed writing this one, mostly because it’s the kind of thing Nancy and I would pull.

Friday Fiction this week is hosted by Karleen over on Homespun Expressions. Be sure to find MckLinky there for some great reading.

Card Games

Topic: Christmas Cards

Challenge Entry, week of November 6, 2008

Highly Commended, Masters Level; #6 in Editor’s Choice

The long weekend was over. The refrigerator was full of turkey leftovers, the kids and grandkids had left the house looking like a riot had taken place, and the only one that seemed to have gotten enough sleep was the cat, who had mooched more turkey than any three cats should have been able to eat.

Worse, the company had sent her husband off on another emergency overseas business trip. He’d left in the wee hours of the morning on a red-eye for the coast, where he would catch the overseas flight out of Los Angeles.

She gave the cat a farewell scratch, which earned her a purr, a turned up chin, and a puzzled look when she stopped, before she walked out the door. Opening the car door, she set her purse on the passenger seat, and with the stiffness the cold weather always brought, settled in.

A red envelope rested on the steering wheel, its corners tucked into the elastic of the steering wheel cover. With a smile, she opened it and read the card. The preprinted message was romantic and slightly suggestive, followed by her husband’s handwriting. “I wanted to be sure the first Christmas card you received this year was from me. I love you, Nina. Roy.”

She started the car, feeling a little less of the post-Thanksgiving let-down, and backed out of the garage into the cool morning air. The drive to work was less stressful than normal, and it seemed many people had extended their weekends into Monday. The office, likewise, wasn’t as crowded as normal, and she grabbed a cup of coffee from the bagel cart on her way to her desk.

A group of her co-workers stood around her cubicle as she approached, and shot her curious glances. “Okay, Nina,” the nearest one said. “What’d he do?”

“Pardon me?” she asked, and then saw the flowers on her desk, with a large green envelope taped to the front. This card was still romantic, but lacked the suggestive aspect. She appreciated that with her co-workers straining to read over her shoulder. “Just in case you missed the other card. I’m looking forward to another Christmas with you. Love, Roy.”

The teasing from her co-workers couldn’t diminish the warm feeling all day, particularly when the electronic card from her husband arrived in her e-mail that afternoon. “There’s nobody I’d rather meet under the mistletoe,” this one read.

No matter how rude the drivers were on the way home, nothing dampened her mood that evening. She walked into the house, sorting through the mail, and found a yellow envelope. This card was silly, but the message still made her smile grow. “No matter where this life sends me, I’ll always send you my love at Christmas and every day.”

She opened the freezer for some vegetables to go with her leftover turkey, and found the white envelope inside a freezer bag. “I love how you thaw me out on cold winter days,” he’d written in that card.

Dinner in hand, she opened the entertainment center to watch her favorite television program. Another red envelope was taped to the front of the TV. This card’s message said, “It’s a Wonderful Life with you as my wife. (See? I can write poetry)”

After her program and taking care of the few dishes she’d used for dinner, she slipped into her robe and retrieved a clean towel for her bath. A blue envelope rested just under the top towel. The illustration on the front of the card showed a puddle of water, with a few pieces of coal and a carrot in the middle. “Thinking of you in a bubble bath has the same effect on me,” Roy’s handwriting read right below the humorous Christmas greeting.

In her flannel nightgown, she sat in the bed and unzipped the cover of her Bible. Another card was tucked in the pages, and she opened the envelope to find a classic depiction of the Nativity. “Of all the gifts God has given me, Christmas lets me celebrate the two best – our Savior, and you. I thank God for the love He has demonstrated in my life through both of those gifts, and I pray that I’m able to be even a fraction of the blessing you’ve been to me.”

With the card setting on the night stand, she fell asleep wondering how he was enjoying the cards she’d hidden in his luggage.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Friday Fiction for December 4, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Karlene, at Homespun Expressions. Be sure to look for MckLinky there, and the other wonderful submissions for the first Friday Fiction of the Holiday Season.

For the next three weeks, I plan on following the holiday theme for FF, and I decided to start off with the one that was my first ever 1st place entry from the Weekly Challenge on Faithwriters. This one wasn’t really fiction, but a somewhat stylized telling of a real event.

This is a snapshot of our first Christmas together as husband and wife. In so many ways, it cemented us together, and Nancy has often said that she has since felt if we could get through that time, we could get through almost anything. I entered Emanuel Hospital in Portland Oregon on Nov. 23, 1980, and was discharged on Jan. 2, 1981.

Counting the Drops

By Rick Higginson

Topic: Countdown to Christmas/Advent

Challenge Entry, Week of October 23, 2008

1st place, Advanced level; #10 in Editor’s Choice

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The slow, metered drops in the I.V. tube counted the time as much as the second hand on the clock did. Perhaps, more so, since after a certain number of them, the nurse would be in to change the bag.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The tube had carried his Thanksgiving “dinner” into his system, and unless his non-functioning digestive system started working again soon, his Christmas dinner would likewise enter his body through his veins.

The television reminded him often that Christmas was fast approaching. The commercials for all the latest “gotta have” gifts were bad enough, but the ones for all the holiday foods were almost torture.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Happy families on television carved turkeys, hams, and passed around slices of pie. Candies and beverages were touted as essential for Yule gatherings, and the occasional joke was made about weight gain. The odd fluids trickling into his body were barely adequate to maintain his weight, and the doctors were worried; he’d already been lean for his height when he’d arrived, and he’d since lost nearly twenty pounds.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

This wasn’t how their first Christmas together as husband and wife was supposed to have gone. Sure, money was tight and gifts would have been modest, but they’d already bought an inexpensive tree for the apartment and some budget ornaments. When he’d first gone to the Emergency Room with abdominal pain the weekend before Thanksgiving, he hadn’t even imagined he could still be there on Christmas.

No one was optimistic about it now; their first Christmas together was going to be spent in the surgical ward. No cantatas, no singing with the choir, no Christmas Eve service, and no sitting beside their first tree, watching each other’s face while they opened their gifts.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Cycling through the channels on the T.V., he looked for something better than the annoying sit-com. The hospital staff had brought a hide-a-bed chair into his room so that his wife could spend the nights in the room with him, rather than alone in their low-rent apartment. She was off taking care of other things, though, so he hoped for something to take his mind off the boredom.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The image of a church building came up on the screen, and the sound of people singing Christmas carols. He set the remote aside and watched, wishing for the world he was free of the tubes that ran down the back of his throat to his stomach and beyond so that he could sing with the program.

There was no sales-pitch accompanying the program, and no promotions; just unseen people singing. He listened, carried away by the pure spirit of the season, untarnished by any undertones of commercialism.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The drops rolled from his cheeks to the gown, the moments until Christmas marked by the fluid passage of life both into and out of his body. The program lasted for nearly a half-hour, providing a touch he so desperately wanted. Christmas would come, even to a hospital room in Portland, Oregon.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Christmas would come, and she would be there. It would still be their first Christmas together, and God had just shown him that His Spirit would not be kept away, either.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come,” he had sung many times. The Messiah had been born in less than ideal circumstances, and the birth had been joyful. The joy could still be felt despite the situation.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

He would just keep counting.