Bedazzled by Teresa Karlinski
Dolores studied the bedraggled excuse for a tree. Branches drooped instead of bouncing proud and wide. What once passed for needles, the sparse boughs presented bristles and wire. The bottom limbs collapsed tired and spent, sweeping the floor like broken wings. She had not bothered decorating for years, yet Dolores dragged the box out of the garage a week before Christmas as if driven. Husband long dead and children and grandchildren scattered over the map, she had no one with whom to celebrate. A hand to her cheek, she paused, lost in forgotten memories. What had come over her? Why had she hung on to this sorry fake? What did it matter? No one would see it but her. You’re a disaster. If it wasn’t so much trouble taking you down again, I’d trash you now.
She jumped at the urgent thump on her door, reverie shattered. The Bulova watch on her wrist—her long-dead mother’s—showed 4:30 p.m. What difference does the time make? I’m not expecting anyone. Indecisive about answering the door, curiosity propelled her forward. A cautious hand on the door, she opened it a crack. No one there. The sound registered before she noticed the four crimson-cheeked children, huddled together on her step—three girls and a boy—who burst into disjointed caroling.
Deck the Halls with boughs of holly…
Dolores opened the door wider, a smile warming her face. No sooner had the carol ended when the quartet began another, each singing a different song. The smallest girl raised a hand and said, “Stop. Did you forget already, Jingle Bells is next?”
Arms crossed hugging herself, Dolores shivered in a stir of wind but waited until the children finished. “It’s freezing. Care to share a hot chocolate inside with me?”
The pixie child shook her head. “Not allowed. We came to see if you’re okay. Are you?” A tiny arm fluttered upward and dropped.
“Wait. I have something special for you.” The children shouldered each other, rocking to keep warm or in anticipation of the offer. “Please wait.” Frozen limbs purple-stiff, she swerved back into the house on wobbly legs, the door left ajar.
“We singed enough. I wanna go home.” Nose dripping into his scarf, the boy turned to leave.
“Is Christmas about you? No.” The fairy child bobbed forward. “It’s about shut-ins and lonely people. Peace on earth and good will to man and woman and child.” She slammed a purple mitten to her mouth.
“Wait. Thank you for your sweet carolling. I have these old and fragile Christmas decorations from long ago, when I was your age—some before my time.” She dropped a single red-tissue wrapped package into each of three Ziploc bags. The last she unfolded. “This one is for you, little sprite.”
The girl’s face glowed with delight. “Pretty. Are you sure?”
“This angel is hand-blown glass, over seventy-five years old. Delicate like you.” Dolores rewrapped the ornament with infinite care. Each child removed a glove, even in the cold, grasping a corner of plastic bag to transport the windfall home. They scrambled down the stairs chanting thank you, thank you.
The tiny girl turned back. “You look like the grandma I wish I had.”
“You don’t have one?”
“I never met the one that lives far away and the other one died.”
“How old are you, child? What’s your name?” Dolores shivered in her thin sweater.
“I’m seven—Sara.” Her companions had stopped to listen. “That’s my brother, John—he’s five. My friend Janie is six and her friend Lily is six, too.”
Dolores swallowed and swallowed again, a hard knot grew in her throat. “I’m Mrs. Tucker. Come back anytime—and bring your mothers.” She rushed inside. Rubbing aching hands for warmth, she leaned against the door. A flutter in her chest rose like an opera; her blood roared; her spirit rose. For the first time in forever, she was glad to be alive.
She opened the rest of the decorations and dressed the tree, humming. Dang, this scrawny thing doesn’t look bad—not grand, but it will do. Next year I’ll buy a new one.
I have cookies to bake and neighbors to visit. Maybe some will come for tea. Silly woman. I wasted a year in this house in my self-imposed solitude. It’s going to be a Merry Christmas after all.
* * *
Teresa (Tess) Karlinski is retired and the lucky grandmother of two delightful granddaughters. In addition to cooking (and eating), she enjoys reading, writing, and blogging. At this time in her life, she should have more time to read but there is never enough.
She has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines (links available on her blog: how the cookie crumbles).
Blog – how the cookie crumbles
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter – @TeresaKarlinski