This short story was published in the Spring 2014 Edition of Analekta Anthology, by BOHO Books and is available on Amazon & B&N.
“Ouch, dammit, I can’t get this out.” Chester sucked on his torn thumb.
Valerie leaned over and took the plastic piece from him. “Here … let me try,” she said. “Why are you taking this section apart? You just put it together.”
“Because I was supposed to put this door-jamb in first. I should have sent it back as soon as I saw ‘some assembly required’ written on the box. Look at these instructions. Can you read them? They were probably written in Hindi and translated by a Croatian. Oh, dammit, now I’m getting blood all over them.” Chester sighed. “I wish Grampa were here … he’d know how to put this thing together, and besides he’d have a bandaide in his wallet.”
Chester Morgan sat cross-legged on the living room carpet, sucking his wounded thumb, surrounded by more than half of the original 482 pieces of the doll house that would be the highlight of Kellie’s Christmas, even if this year Grampa wouldn’t be there when she came running downstairs on Christmas morning.
He picked up a piece of the doll house’s living room wall, turning it over and over trying to figure out where it went in. “Hey, Val, look how that silly tree gives all these pieces these weird colors.” Across the room the tree – a cunningly crafted seven foot faux noble fir with a prominent ‘made in China’ label – glowed with a purple aura and undercoated everything in mauvie tones. Kellie and Valerie had opted for pink and lavender – there were only two colors on Kellie’s three year old palette – and their trip to Michaels in the mall had produced $85 worth of pink plastic ornaments, lavender tree lights, and pink and lavender plaid ribbon. Chester had pantomimed ‘gag me with a spoon’ when he first walked in and saw the display, while Kellie bounced up and down in self-satisfied glee.
“I miss him too, Honey.” Valerie knelt behind Chester and wrapped her arms around his chest. “Christmas just won’t be the same this year without Grampa. Can I get you a bandage for that?”
He pulled his thumb out of his mouth just long enough to look at the cut. “Yeah, I guess I should put something on it … it won’t quit bleeding.” It was beginning to throb and he couldn’t concentrate on the instructions.
“I can’t believe he’s not here. He’s always been here and it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t always be.”
He looked up. “Oh, listen, Val, that’s Grampa’s favorite.” Valerie’s mix of holiday songs had been shuffling all evening, and now Eartha Kitt’s ‘Santa Baby’ came smoldering out of the I-Pod sitting on top of the unemployed piano in the far corner. “Grampa always said that Eartha Kitt could get him into bed with that song. He brought such enthusiasm to Christmas … his favorite time of the year.” Chester shrugged and rummaged around in the pieces on the carpet. “Have you seen the tiny little curtain rod that goes over the living room window?”
“Here it is.” Valerie leaned over, handed him the piece, and kissed him on the cheek. “You know what I can’t understand … with his contempt for religion, how come the big deal over Christmas?”
“Oh, that’s easy. It’s the winter solstice. He’d’ve sacrificed a goat to Odin if the Humane Society wouldn’t have objected, and if people want to brighten up the season with a 2000 year-old fairy tale as an excuse to go shopping, that’d be OK with him too. He loved the decorations, the music, the excitement in the air … but you know what turned him on the most? …. shopping for Christmas presents for all his grandchildren.” Chester paused and glanced towards the top of the stairs. “And now, a great-granddaughter.”
Chester sighed and looked at all the lovingly wrapped packages under the pink tree. “You know, Val, he never admitted it, but I think he was just a little disappointed when we all grew up and really wanted money or gift certificates instead of those dopey toys he used to order on-line. His favorite website opened with ‘Hello, Grampa Richard, what can we put in your basket today?’ and he especially loved the ‘educational’ toys….” Chester held up his fingers in the quotation mark sign “… that would turn us all into little geniuses.”
Valerie stretched, swiveling at the hips with her back arched and her hands up in the air. “Yeah, I wish I had known him then. He bought this doll house for Kellie last summer, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be here to put it together; and he was so excited when he called to tell me that he had found it on the internet and that FedEx would have it here in about a week.”
“Oops, look out!” Doll house pieces scattered in all directions as Kellie’s new calico pounced on the round pink plastic ball she had stripped from a bottom branch and had dribbled across the living room rug. Valerie laughed as she scooped up the kitten with one hand and the surprisingly intact ornament with the other. “Hey, these plastic ornaments are great. Gramma’s glass ones would have been in a million pieces with this cat on the loose.”
Chester used a forefinger to nudge the doll-sized queen bed in the master bedroom to the right a quarter inch to make room for a bedside table, knocking over a miniature lamp in the process. “Damn … I’m such a fumble-fingers.” He turned to Valerie. “Do you think Kellie will be OK with Grampa not here when she gets up in the morning?”
“Oh, I hope so,” sighed Valerie, spreading a postage stamp-sized hooked rug on the den floor. “She’s pretty solid, but she’s so darned deep. Sometimes I don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on in that little mind of hers. I guess we’ll just have to …..”.
The phone rang. They looked at each other and Chester looked at the clock over Valerie’s shoulder. 1:34 AM. He jumped up on the second ring, realized that the phone was nowhere in sight by the third ring, and found it on the couch under a pile of red and green wrapping paper by the fourth.
“Hi, Kiddo, how’s it going.”
“Grampa … where are you?”
”We just cleared customs at Orly, and I’m trying to find us a cab to take us downtown. I can’t wait to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up for Christmas.”
“How was your flight?”
“Great … uneventful … the best kind. Gramma wanted to turn around and come right back home because she misses you all so much, but I’m going to love every minute of Christmas in Paris. It sure will be different. Did you get the doll house put together OK without me?”
Chester didn’t quite know how best to answer this, but before he could come up with an answer, Grampa Richard came back on. “Oh, oh …here comes a cab. Give Valerie and Kellie big hugs for us, and do me a favor? … call everyone and let them know we got here safely?”
“OK, Grampa, we’ll do that. You have a wonderful time, and Kellie’s gonna love the doll house. We love you and we miss you, and oh, happy winter solstice.”
Chester punched the off button on the telephone, leaned over to Valerie and kissed her lightly on the lips. “Well, I guess we’re on our own. Now, where did I put that little coffee table I had a moment ago?”