My Christmas Eve
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~
My parents got their divorce the summer I was fifteen and sold the house we lived in. My mother, my little brother, and I moved into a small, four-room flat in an old apartment building downtown. It was on the fifth floor and there were no elevators, so that meant we were constantly walking up and down the stairs.
The flat wasn’t big enough for me to have my own room, so we moved my bed into a little space off the kitchen, which was originally meant to be a pantry. It was tiny and cramped, but the best thing about it was that I had my own window with a good view of buildings and trees far off in the distance. I liked to lay in bed at night and look out at the sky. The best nights were when there was a full moon. When there were thunderstorms, it felt like the lightning was going to come in through the window and zap me into oblivion.
Now it was Christmas again, or almost. Our first Christmas in the apartment. Our Christmas tree stood in the corner of the front room, aglow with multi-colored lights and loaded down with tinsel and ornaments, stacks of presents beneath its branches. A sprig of holly hung in the doorway into the kitchen. On the front door was a wreath that would probably be stolen before Christmas morning ever arrived.
My little brother Georgie, age six, jumped up and down on the couch and screamed. He was wholly invested in Christmas. It was snowing out, he didn’t have to go back to school until after New Year’s, and he believed that Santa was going to be especially generous with him this year.
“You’d better calm down,” I said. “Santa will pass you by if he gets word that you’ve been bad.”
“I haven’t been bad!” he screeched.
My mother came in from her bedroom, where she had been putting on makeup and fixing her hair. She was afraid I was going to divulge the great secret that Santa doesn’t really exist.
“What did you just say to him?” she asked, looking at me threateningly.
“I didn’t say anything,” I said. “I just told him he’s giving me a headache.”
“Get down from there, Georgie! You know you’re not supposed to use the couch as a trampoline! The couch is for sitting, not for jumping.”
“All this Christmas stuff is making me puke,” I said. “A person can only take so much.”
“Well, it’s too bad you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be excited about Christmas,” she said. “I guess you’ve grown too sophisticated for your family.”
“He’s grown too sophisticated!” screamed Georgie.
“Shut up!” I said.
“When do we get to open the presents?” Georgie screamed.
“For the eighty-seventh time, we will open the presents on Christmas morning after we’ve had a good breakfast.”
“Why do we have to wait so long?”
“Because I said so, that’s why!” She sat on the other end of the sofa and patted her hair in back.
“I want to open one now!”
“No! We’ve been all through that a dozen times. You have to wait like everybody else.”
“Tomorrow’s Christmas and we haven’t heard anything from daddy yet,” I said.
“No, and you probably won’t, either. He’s probably laying up in some hotel room, drunk as a skunk.”
“Drunk as a skunk!” Georgie screamed.
“I thought he’d send at least send us a present.”
“You’re old enough to know you can’t count on him for anything.”
“We always had a good Christmas with him,” I said.
“I know, but those days are over. Your daddy is out of the picture now. He was the one that wanted the divorce.”
“I’m going to the movies tonight,” I said. “It’s a Christmas Eve horror double feature.”
“I don’t care what it is,” she said. “You’re not going to the movies on Christmas Eve. You’re going to spend the evening with your family.”
“But I’m meeting someone.”
“Call whoever it is and tell them you can’t make it.”
“Is he going to be here?”
“He has a name, you know.”
“Is Regis going to be here?”
“Yes, he’s going to be here in time to eat dinner with us and later we’re all going to church.”
“I don’t feel like going to church.”
“You feel like going to the movies but you don’t feel like going to church?”
“Church gives me a headache.”
“If I am, I get it from you. Insanity runs in your family.”
“I think Regis is going to ask me to marry him.”
“Why would you want to marry Regis?”
“Why shouldn’t I marry him? He’s the sweetest, kindest man I’ve ever met and he’s got a good job.”
“He sells washing machines in an appliance store.”
“Someday he’ll be manager. There’s really good money in that.”
“What about daddy?”
“What about him?”
“You’re going to marry Regis without telling daddy first?”
“You’re a smart boy, but you just don’t seem to understand. There is no longer any connection between me and your daddy. We are kaput!”
“What does that mean?”
“Your daddy and I are finished with each other. All ties are severed.”
“All ties are severed!” Georgie shrieked.
“If you marry Regis, does that mean we can move out of this crummy apartment?”
“Not right away. Regis will probably move in here with us. His business hasn’t been so good lately. He’s a little strapped for cash at the moment. He expects things to pick up next year, though.”
“If Regis moves in here with us, I’m moving out.”
“Why don’t you like Regis?”
“He belongs to a bowling league.”
“A lot of men belong to bowling leagues.”
“He wears cologne that smells like bug spray.”
“I’ll get him to stop wearing it after a while.”
“He has hairs sprouting out of his ears. Haven’t you ever noticed that?”
“Of course, I’ve noticed it. His grooming isn’t the best. That’s because he lives alone. All that will change after we’re married.”
“I think you should check with daddy first before you marry Regis. He might want to come back. If you marry Regis, it’ll be too late.”
“Your daddy is not coming back. Ever.”
“You might be surprised.”
“It’s time for you to face reality.”
“I am facing reality and I don’t like it.”
“I think I see Santa way up in the sky over there,” Georgie said, standing at the window.
“You’re hallucinating again,” I said.
“It’s too early for Santa,” mother said. “He won’t come until we’re all asleep. He doesn’t like for people to look at him.”
“I can certainly see why,” I said.
“I hope he remembers everything I wanted,” Georgie said.
Mother went back into the bedroom and in a little while came back out in her red Christmas dress that in my opinion was too tight. She had dowsed herself in perfume. When she saw me lying on the couch staring at the ceiling, she decided I needed something to do.
“I want you to go down to Friedlander’s market and buy a carton of eggnog for tonight,” she said, digging in her purse for some money.
“I don’t like eggnog,” I said.
“Well, are you the only one here? Regis says it’s not Christmas without eggnog.”
“Regis says. Regis says. What else does Regis say?”
“Can I go to the store, too?” Georgie asked excitedly.
“No! You stay here and help me wrap Regis’s present.”
“Regis, Regis, Regis,” I said as he went out the door. “He’s certainly a big man around here, isn’t he?”
The snow was falling heavier now. Cars made hissing sounds on the pavement as they passed by. Last-minute shoppers were still keeping the stores busy. With the setting of the sun, Christmas Eve had officially arrived.
The store only had one carton of eggnog left, so I grabbed it and went and stood in the long line to pay. When the cashier smiled at me and wished me a merry Christmas, I gave him a sour look.
When I got back home, Regis had arrived with presents for all of us. He was throwing Georgie up near the ceiling and then catching him on the way down. Georgie squealed with delight. Mother stood at the stove and beamed her approval.
Regis had brought Georgie a stuffed elephant and some other toys. My present from him, still wrapped in a big box with a red bow, was at my place at the table. Before I sat down, I picked up the box and set it on the floor.
“Aren’t you going to open your present from Regis?” mother asked.
“I’ll open it later. I have a headache now.”
When we were all seated at the table, mother insisted we join hands while Regis said grace. Regis’s hand felt clammy and unclean in mine. When he finally let go, I wiped my hand back and forth along my leg before I touched any food.
While we ate, I could see that mother was wearing a diamond engagement ring. This, of course, would be her Christmas present from Regis. So, it was official, then. He had proposed and she had said yes.
Regis talked about his day at work and laughed while we ate. Mother didn’t say much. Georgie kept looking out the window for signs of Santa. When Regis seemed to have run out of things to say for the moment, mother looked at me and said she had something she wanted to tell me and Georgie.
“What is it?” I asked with a sick feeling.
“Regis has asked me to be his wife and I’ve consented. We’re going to be married on New Year’s Eve.”
“What’s the rush?” I asked.
“I think it’s so romantic to be married on New Year’s Eve,” she gushed. “It will be a new start of a new year for all of us.”
She turned and looked at Regis. There were tears in her eyes. Regis took hold of her hand and pulled her in for a kiss. I knew he was getting ham grease all over her.
“I think I hear Santa’s sleigh outside!” Georgie said.
After we finished eating, mother told me to go put on my dress pants and a white shirt for church. She would help me with my tie before we left for church.
Except there wasn’t going to be any church for me. I grabbed my coat and hat and ran out the front door before she had a chance to see what I was doing.
The snow must have been five or six inches by that time. I still had on my tennis shoes and I could feel the snow soaking through to my socks after a few steps, but I didn’t mind. I needed to talk to daddy.
I knew that Colson’s Drug Store, about four blocks down from where we lived, had a pay phone. I had a pocket full of change especially for that purpose.
Right after the divorce, daddy gave me his private number where I could reach him any time. If I ever needed him, all I had to do was give him a call.
There were a lot of people at Colson’s, mostly at the pharmacy counter. Nobody paid any attention to me as I went all the way to the back, where the pay phone was.
I was sure he would answer. He would probably figure it was me calling on Christmas Eve.
The phone rang ten or twelves times, but finally he answered.
“Hello,” a little groggily.
“Daddy?” I said. “Is that you?”
“Who is this? Is this Evan?
“Yeah, it’s me. Evan.”
“I couldn’t hear you very well at first.”
“Can you hear me better now?”
“Yeah, I hear you fine now.”
“Well, since it’s Christmas Eve, I wanted to call and wish you a merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you, Evan!”
“Do you know where we’re living now?”
“In an apartment downtown, on the fifth floor of an old building.”
“I’ve been wanting to come and visit you and Georgie, but I wasn’t sure where you were living. How’s Georgie?”
“He’s fine. Waiting for Santa to bring him everything he asked for.”
“Where are you now?”
“I’m in Colson’s Drug Store, near where we live. Do you know where that is?”
“Yeah, I’ve been to Colson’s a few times. Don’t you have a phone in the apartment?”
“We do, but I didn’t want mother to know I was calling you.”
“How is your mother?”
“She’s fine, but she’s the main reason I wanted to talk to you.”
“She’s not sick, is she?”
“No, she’s not sick. She’s getting married on New Year’s Eve.”
Daddy was silent for a moment and then he laughed. “Who is she marrying?”
“His name is Regis. He’s a creep. He smells funny. I don’t like him.”
“Maybe that’s because you don’t know him very well.”
“I want you to come and get me.”
“I said I want you to come to Colson’s Drug Store and get me. I want to spend Christmas with you.”
“Wait a minute, Evan! I’m afraid that’s not possible. I’m not living in a very nice place. I don’t even have a tree.”
“That’s all right. I don’t need a tree.”
“If your mother doesn’t know where you are, she’ll be worried.”
“I’ll call her from your place.”
I started to cry like a blubbery crybaby. I hadn’t meant to cry, but I couldn’t seem to help myself.
“Is it that bad?” he asked.
“Mother just isn’t herself. I don’t want to be around her. She acts like Regis is some kind of a god. They make me sick.”
“All right. If it’s that bad, I’ll come and get you.”
“How long? How long will it take?”
“Give me a half-hour or so.”
“Colson’s Drug Store. I’ll be waiting outside for you.”
It was still snowing, harder than ever now, but I didn’t mind waiting in the snow for a half-hour. People coming in and out of Colson’s looked at me and then looked away. Maybe some of them thought I was going to try to rob them. I tried leaning back against the building, crossing my legs and putting my hands in my pockets. I tried to look casual, but I felt conspicuous.
I wasn’t sure what kind of car daddy would be driving, but I looked at every car. One of them would be him.
The half-hour passed and then an hour and then two hours. I was determined to wait as long as it took. I would wait all night. I would still be waiting on Christmas Morning if I had to. My fingers and toes were numb. I could no longer feel them. I wasn’t sure if they would ever work right again or not. I didn’t much care.
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp