It’s been a few weeks since I had the spare moments I need to cobble together a story in my head. I use the word “cobble” because that’s how it felt to get my family ready for Christmas this year. Other applicable words would be “triage”, “minimize”, and “damage.” This story started slow. It took three weeks to marry the two main plot elements together in a fashion suitably holidayish after starting with an alliterative title.
I would like to thank a band named The Airborne Toxic Event for their wonderful song, “Something New.” I listened to it a couple hundred times as I wrote this story. Even now, it still provokes chair dancing.
In good fashion, it is also a response to a challenge set out by Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com.
And so, happy holidays. I hope you enjoy this tale.
We were in my mother’s attic when the roof cracked a thousand times and peeled away.
Only a minute before, we were searching for a misplaced box of childhood Christmas ornaments. I’d glanced at Jon’s face in the flickering light. The wind was so loud outside. Somewhere nearby, a tree cracked like it had fallen over. We quickly came to the same conclusion.
“Run, Janie!” Jon shouted.
e only made it halfway across the dim space. The next thing I knew, I fell. Jon threw himself across me, his weight anchoring me to the tenuous sheets of dirty plywood laid across the beams as the pressure shifted. The deafening roar gave way to a cacophony of splintering wood and the light went out. Was this how it would end?
For days, he’d dared me to pick a fight. Abandoned coffee rings and dirty socks, his leather jacket shrugged onto the floor by the front door, a bag of toiletries bypassed every trip up the stairs. Neglect. It was all too much.
I set the grocery bags down in the kitchen. Jon was eating a Christmas cookie. “Hey.” He took another bite. Red and green sugar fell from his lips.
A discarded sticky note sat beside the red tub decorated with candy canes. “Did you not see this?” DO NOT TOUCH was clearly visible in black sharpie ink.
“This is a damn good cookie.” He popped the last of it in his mouth.
“They were for work! How many gingerbread men did you eat?”
“A few. I couldn’t stop eating them once I started.” Jon brushed the stray crumbs from his t-shirt. He sidled up behind me and began to massage my shoulders. “I bet you taste just as good,” he whispered.
I stepped back. “Not now.” Beyond him, the milk rested on the floor, warming up. I picked up the groceries.
“Oh, baby. Don’t be like that.”
After I put the milk on the refrigerator shelf, I found Jon eating the pink marshmallows I bought to make treats with, straight from the bag!
“Janie, come back.” Jon followed me into the living room. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled behind him as he popped another marshmallow in his mouth.
“You see this?” I gestured around the magnificent room to the tree with twenty strands of lights and glass ornaments, the stockings hung by the fireplace draped in holly, the coordinated holiday pictures of us from years past among miniature red poinsettias on the book shelves. “I did all this by myself.”
He swallowed. “It looks great, sweetheart. You really knocked yourself out this year.”
I grabbed the bag from his hands and emptied it over his head. The soft pink globes bounced off his shoulders in slow motion, then fell to the hardwood floor. A single marshmallow peeked at me from the collar of his shirt. I plucked it out and pushed the squishy pink globe into his mouth. His eyes widened.
“We’ve talked about this. I’m done.” I turned on my heel. Stepping onto the first stair, I reached forward to pick up the bag of toiletries.
It was a peaceful hour before Jon came into the bedroom. I continued typing on my phone.
“Are we going over to your parent’s house tonight?”
Sigh. Mom asked me to search for a box in the attic tonight. I looked away from the list. I turned the phone off.
In the car, I didn’t say a word. It was a relief not to have to speak.
My father welcomed us in. We climbed into the musty attic. Jon pulled the cord of the jerry-rigged switch. Dull yellow light spilled across stacks of partially labeled boxes. Rusty nails protruded several inches through the roof. Pink insulation laid in-between the floor beams like unsettled snowdrifts.
I started at the far end of the attic since the box of gold spray-painted pasta and cheerio ornaments would have been found if it was close to the pull-down stairs. The wind picked up outside as I settled on one stack. I gingerly opened the flaps to find old family photos. I moved it to the floor and opened the second box. It held old clothes. Good gravy, what else was up here? The box on the bottom was larger. It was full of paperback books, Dad’s science fiction collection from the 1970s. Did they get rid of anything? Wind whistled through the soffits. It was so loud I couldn’t hear Jon behind me.
“Was it supposed to storm tonight?” I yelled above the noise. He shrugged and held up a Fisher-Price toy. Then the tree cracked and the sucking wind stole the breath from my lungs. The world shifted.
Silence. Jon’s grip loosened and he lifted himself off of me. I sat up and took in the sight around me. Weak green winter daylight lit what was left. Most of the roof was gone. The floor of the attic remained, perhaps held down by all the boxes. Bits of pink insulation the color of faded cotton candy floated down. They settled like snow on everything.
Jon picked a piece of insulation out of my bangs. He held it between his fingers, turning it this way and that. Jon smiled that mischievous smile I fell in love with. With exaggerated chewing motions, he pretended to eat the puff of pink insulation. Sirens wailed in the distance.
“Make snow angels with me.”
We laid back into the drifts and moved our arms and legs back and forth. How crazy was I? It didn’t seem to matter. Neither did the list. Daily life was just that. Daily. All that mattered was Jon.
“Up you go.”
He pulled me with a hop to my feet. His arms slipped around my waist as he laid his chin on my shoulder. We stared at the clumpy snow angels until I noticed a box marked “ornaments” above them.
I laughed until I cried. It was almost Christmas.