by George Sampras
Jeanie loved Christmas. The tree, especially, with its foresty smell and twinkly lights , magically conjuring beauty and life out of winter gloom. And the children: round eyes, round mouths, round cheeks so kissable in their little round faces mad with excitement and desire and hope. Every year, the same tradition: the selection of the tree, the layering of the decorations (garlands, then lights, then crystal birds and horses and snowflakes, then the shiniest gold and silver ornaments, then, to top it all off, the Christmas angel), the acquisition, wrapping and installation of the presents, the hanging of the green and red embroidered socks (“Sam”, “Trish”, “Mom”, “Dad”), the night of little sleep, as a succession of Santas tiptoed in, to secretly contribute a small wrapped trinket or two to each sock, then the morning, first long and slow then short and fast, with a mad jumble of sweet and salty foods, flying wrapping papers, and instances of joy and disappointment, more or less well concealed according to the maturity and blood sugar levels of the recipient. It was something they had done together, without fail, every year since entering the world, as miraculous as Jesus, one starlit night.
Jeanie hated Christmas. The rawness of the emotions. The vulnerability of so much desire. Expectations, high in childhood, had risen even higher. Of course they were still a family, but it was at Christmas, that they came together, atoms touching, in the same physical space. Here they crowded, like expectant concert goers, in a preordered spot at a preordained time, their hearts tremblingly exposed, exit doors unmarked and too small in case of attack. Where to take cover? There was no cover. It was an act of faith, this communion, an invocation of the spirit of childhood, of family, of love. But such powerful forces, once stirred, never come alone.
Jeanie picked a torn piece of shiny silver wrapping paper off the carpet and placed it in the Hefty bag. Three armchairs had been pushed awkwardly together to make space for the tree, leaving the room off kilter. We are sitting ducks here, she thought.
If lucky she had – what - maybe twenty Christmases left on her celestial time clock? Time, she resolved, to make them count.
George Sampras lives in California. His, novel, The Experience Gift, will be published in 2018.