It was the day after Thanksgiving. The warning for several weeks that Black Friday would offer us an inexpensive way out of Christmas only caused me to brace myself against the irrational day. Refusing to be threatened by commercial magnates that way, made my whole day at work, a place to grumble at my fellow employees. “The only thing it really offers us,” I complained, was a way to buy things for ourselves, not others. After all, who is going to go out and buy a car, or a flat screen television for somebody else but themselves?” “Don't you like Christmas?” One of my coworkers asked, who obviously didn't agree. I decided to drop the subject. It seemed silly to belabor the point, so I finished off by saying, “I just wish that this Christmas shows me something different and wonderful, without shopping for video games and flat screen televisions, that's all.” A week went by, and day after day my email box filled with garbage. Sorting the pertinent messages from the nonsense was tedious. Squirreled in between, were important reminders for bills, and notes from people I was looking forward to hearing from. One was a message from my daughter, that I almost missed because it was sandwiched between an ad for cell phone screen protectors and last minute cheap deals for flights to places that weren't a destinations of mine. I tapped out a response to her hope that I had a good Thanksgiving. I typed out that I had cooked up a small turkey and bought a loaf of really good bread. I enjoyed it immensely. I asked her how the cold weather was up the northeast coast. Living out west had it's advantages, my words amounted to bragging. I ended by asking how her family enjoyed their own holiday. I awaited a reply. Each day after work, I sat down at my computer, sifted through the exponential flood of emails; nothing, not even bills. Two weeks went by. My fellow workers had to put up with a bit of unusual grumpiness, and a dour expression that seemed to be plastered on my face no matter how hard I tried to laugh and joke. I couldn't help it, my baby girl was at the back of my mind, and it was almost Christmas. I got a call on the phone two weeks later from her. She was stuck in traffic, and thought it might be nice to chat on her way home. It was early in the day for me, but the end of hers because of time zone changes. “Dad? This is Agatha. Traffic's at a standstill. I thought I would call so I could hear your voice. How is everything going? Are you doing anything for Christmas?” “No sweetie. Gosh it's awful nice to hear your voice too.” I assumed that she really meant it when she told me she wanted to hear my voice. It was fifteen minutes into the call that it dawned on me the call was completely obligatory. But if there was anyone on earth I wanted to hear from, even if it was because she felt it was the right thing to do over the holidays, it was my daughter. There wasn't anyone else. My wife had died about six years back. I did not pursue women. In my mind, I was still married. Good friends were hard to come by because nobody had a tag affixed to them with a description of what kind of friend I was buying if I invested my personal time. I did have an eye on my gorgeous boss, but the idea of approaching her seemed, shall I say, inappropriate? So I just listened to my daughter, and smiled to myself. The pleasure of hearing the voice of one I loved so much, took away the dour expression, at least for a day or two. She had reached her street, and then her driveway. She told me she had to go, but that she loved me very much. “I love you too baby girl, I wish I could be there with you and the family right about now.” I clicked off from the call, but an instant later a fog formed in my kitchen. “Son of a...shoot, I must have left a burner on or something.” I ran into the kitchen, but found myself transported to my daughter's house. “Now here is something that doesn't happen to me everyday.” I thought to myself. I opened my mouth for the first time by trying to call my son in law's name. He was standing in my hallucination right in front of me. “Robert, what's going on?” I asked. Completely ignored, my daughter said to him as she shook off her coat at the back door leading from the garage, “I just got off the phone with my father. He has lost his mind. Christmas alone again. He doesn't want me. He doesn't want the kids. He is so wrapped up in himself, he doesn't want anybody. I yelled as loudly as I could, “That's not true! I love you all very much. You don't understand...” “He went on and on how much he hated Christmas. Here goes another year we won't get a thing from him,” she went on.
“It's your dad, Agatha, the only one you will ever have.” my son in law told her.
“Agatha, what are you talking about? Why are you lying like this?” I questioned and pleaded with the figment of my imagination. At least I thought it was a figment. “My whole life,” she went on, “has been all about him. No love, nothing.” “Agatha! How can you say that? I might not be the warmest person in the world, but I always loved you and your mom. I never once strayed, cheated, or screwed up too badly. I only moved here to start fresh after your mom died. There was nothing there except memories.” “He acted like there was nothing here but bad memories, like we were part of them.” she said like she'd heard me.”
“No...no, that isn't true. I always thought you would come and visit me in this new place. I always thought you knew...”
She couldn't hear me. I was totally excluded from the conversation. I could only eavesdrop.
He doesn't even know his grandchildren. How could he know what their needs are? He will probably send more of all that Christmas candy we used to have at the house every year, trying to control how our holiday is spent from where he is.” “I thought it was a pleasant memory.” I thought “Where are the kids? I just want to eat and forget about it. Ooooh, he makes me so mad!” “I want another chance to show you. I can be better. I'll take time off from work. I'll fly up for Christmas! It will be the best ever, I promise. I wish I could change plans right now.” Just like that, I was home walking back into my living room. Stunned and shaking, I got on the phone with my boss before she went home for the evening. “Miss Radcliff?” I asked when the call was put through to her. “Yes George, what's wrong? Is everything okay?” “As a matter of fact, no Miss Radcliff. Something has come up back east with my family. Because of this, and being Christmas and all, I need to go home and be with them.” “Is it a family emergency?” “Yes, yes it is, and it is most urgent that I fly back as soon as possible.” “Go then. You never used your vacation this year. You have it coming to you. Come back after New Years, is that alright?” “Thank you, I never would have asked...” “Go George. Get out of here. You deserve it. Please keep in touch, you have me worried now. Oh, and George, I hope and wish your Christmas comes out okay.” She said graciously, and hung up. I hung up as well, and immediately went online to book a flight. When I was done, I called my daughter back. “Honey? Dad again. Look, I don't want to spend another Christmas without my family. I made arrangements to come home for Christmas. I need to see my family.”
“What brought this on?” she asked surprised.
“I think I have been selfish, and I want to make things right, if I can. Can you put me up on the couch or something? My boss told me I could stay until after New Years.” “Yeah, I guess that would be alright.” She said it halfheartedly. “Good, Sweetheart. Tell the family I am coming, and I will call when I am within earshot. Don't worry about me, I will rent a car at the airport. I'll see you soon, alright? I wish I was there now!”
as soon as I hung up, another fog came to my kitchen. I frowned, wondering what all this was about, but walked into it a second time.
“You would never believe what that call was. Now my dad wants to come back here for Christmas. He wants to make up for lost time. Doesn't that beat all?” “Grampa's coming here?” Toby, my oldest grandchild asked. Ignoring Toby, she went on, “There goes this Christmas down the toilet. We'll be spending all our time entertaining him. What about our own family? Don't we deserve time alone?”
“But mommy, Grandpa won't be any trouble, we....”
“Shhh, quiet. Daddy and I are trying to talk here.” she hushed my granddaughter Rachel. “Of all the nerve just imposing on us like that!” I was punched in the face. I clamped my hand over my mouth, tears in my eyes. I did not know what to do or how to do it. What kind of cruel joke was this? I wish I was home so I did not have hear this side of them. I would just go home and keep a stiff upper lip. Instantly, I was back at my house, but I couldn't move my upper lip. “This is crazy,” I thought, “I wish I hadn't said anything about my lip, now.” My lip loosened up, ceasing to have it's little seizure, but now I was petrified to think or talk. I was not comprehending how any of this could be happening. What possessed Agatha to say such mean things? I wish I could say something to put a stop to all this.
My phone rang. “Daddy, this is Agatha again. Look, I called you back because I don't want you to waste your money buying a plane ticket. I wanted to catch you before you made a commitment. Why not send the kids something really nice instead? We really had plans that we don't want to cancel. Maybe you could come some time time in the summer, huh? It's better than braving the cold that you are probably not used to anymore. I hope you are not disappointed, but no, we can't put you up with all that's going on.”
“No no no, it's quite alright Agatha. I will be fine. It was presumptuous of me to just barge in like that. I will give you a longer heads up next time. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.” This time when I hung up, tears flowed freely down my cheeks. I sobbed for a very long time. The sobbing subsided, but then I sat in silence dejectedly. I thought to myself, I wish I knew why my baby girl feels this way. The fog opened up again in my kitchen like an invitation for explanations, so I went into it.
I guess I entered midway into the conversation, so I may have missed some things in the translation, but Agatha was still venting at her hubby. My grandchildren were in their rooms. I looked in on them. Rachel was patiently adding color with crayons to a coloring book. She was quiet, but intent on what she was doing. Toby was listening to a radio. Music was playing, and he sat quietly listening, tapping his thumbs and forefingers on a table in time to it. He also was quiet, but intent. Both children had rooms full of stuff to play with, junk really. Both chose something to occupy their young minds over the junk. Both somewhat oblivious to the verbal spectacle going on in the next room. I went back where my baby girl was still venting. She still hadn't come up for air, and for a Christmas season that should have been joyous, almost everything she had to say was venomous. The deep sadness I felt shifted somewhat to sadness for her, but I felt largely responsible for her attitude, I was one of the parents who raised her after all.
“You know Robert, after my mom died, it all became about him. We had to come up with everything to buy this house. He didn't even have the decency to ask if we were having trouble with the down payment. When we were struggling our butts off, did he come to the rescue? Uh uh, not a chance. He just moved out to la la land on the other side of the country to live happily ever after. My mom was the one who paid for the wedding, thank God. If it were up to him, we would have gotten hitched by the justice of the peace.”
“But Agatha, you told me he did everything at home while your mom worked.”
“That's another thing. He worked his little six to two o'clock job while mom went out and slaved her ass off at a real job.”
“But he was home when you got there, wasn't he?” he defended.
She ignored him and ranted, “After mom died, he just took all the money she worked her tail off to save, and shared none of it. Well, he can't live forever you know. I will have the last laugh in the end. I am his only living heir.”
“I wish I didn't have to hear anymore of this,” I said to myself, “This is so painful it's like being at my own funeral.”
In a snap I was home again. I had no clue what caused all this to happen, but I had to fix things somehow. I called the airline to see if I if there was any chance at all I could get a refund on my tickets. They told me that they refund only if there was a death in the family. “There was a death in the family, mine.” The agent didn't buy that one at all. C'est la vie, oh well.
I went online to the many ads pouring into my box, but I didn't find any that related to what I was searching for. I shopped around, instead, and bought a guitar for Toby, a handsome thing, with a case. I made arrangements to have it arrive for Christmas morning, two days away, with a note attached. Then I looked for artists supplies to find an easel, an assortment of canvases, artist brushes and oil paint set. I squared away with the seller to have them them boxed and delivered by Christmas morning as well. If any more time had lapsed, both presents would have had to wait until after Christmas, the first part of this nightmare to make me thankful about something.
After I hung up, I sat and reflected. I tried to think back to how the nightmare itself could have happened in the first place, and nothing came to mind. It was one of those things a person had to take at face value and not say a thing about because the face value would be the cost of a one way ticket to 'the funny farm'. Still, I wish I knew what to do next.
A fog formed in my kitchen, and I thought to myself, “Oh no, what now? Who is doing this to me? What kind of joke is this?” I was afraid to go into it again, but the fog would not disperse. It beckoned me to at least turn on the vent over the stove to suck it out of the room. “Oh alright.” I said to myself, and moved tentatively into it.
I was transported to the office at work. Miss Radcliff was engaged in conversation with Leona, one of the other women there that worked with me in the office.
“It's just that he doesn't even know me as anything other than his boss, you know Leona? And now he has something bad going on, and there isn't a damned thing I can do about it except give him vacation time. What should I do? I see him day after day, and have come to look up to him so much. He's so smart and strong. Did I say handsome? Oh God, I just melt every time I see those blue eyes! All I ever am to him is a boss to be told, Miss Radcliff this, and Miss Radcliff that. He has never once called me Janis. Leona asked sympathetically, “Have you ever made advances toward him?” “No, no I couldn't do that, especially in this day and age. Just once I wish he could see me for who I am, and not as his boss.” I took all this in, and tried my best to process it all. I had always thought her unapproachable. I mean, she was my boss, and a regular employee shouldn't get involved with a boss, even if she was super attractive. But I wanted to say something to her and explain, and found I could not. She couldn't hear me. It was so frustrating for me to have this opportunity to say how I really felt and not be able to do anything about it. “Gosh dang,” I said to myself, “I feel so powerless. This is a time I wish I didn't have to waste.” I was home again, now more confused than ever. I thought about what I wanted to say, because on a telephone I would not have the impact had I been able to talk face to face. But I picked up the phone and dialed anyway. The office receptionist picked up on the second ring. “Good afternoon, Hanagan and Paralegal Associates , how may I direct your call?”
“Sally, this is George. If Miss Radcliff is free, can I speak to her please?”
“Is everything okay, I heard...” “I think everything will be just fine, now Sally, please let me speak to her?” As soon as it took to push the extension button to Janis's office, her phone was picked up. Janis Radcliff's concerned voice spoke on the other end. “George, thank you for calling back,” she sounded relieved, “I have been so worried.”
“It turns out there is not quite the emergency I thought there was, if there ever was one. I bought an airline ticket that can't be refunded, but that's okay. My daughter would rather not have me show up, she tells me. So now I am back at my start line with vacation time on my hands, so I wondered, Janis, if we could get together if you were free? I would rather not spend another holiday alone, even though I was prepared...”
“Yes, yes, yes, any day you want. All the days you want.” “My goodness Miss Radcliff, that's so forward...” “Janis. From now on it's Janis, got that?”
“Yes..Sir! Can we get together tonight after work, maybe get a bite to eat, make plans?”
“You know when we close up, be here to pick me up.”
“What about your car?”
“I can't drive and be with you at the same time now can I,” her voice smiling, “and I have a company space, remember?” “Oh that's right, you're my boss.”
“I wish you wouldn't remind me of that!”
“Oh don't worry, I won't.” I teased. “I plan to not have you think about it once.”
“Really George, that's so forward...” It was an odd feeling, and I have to admit. It was unusual to have any woman, leave alone a beautiful one that I had been stealing glances at every time she left a room, be in my bed when I woke up. It was exciting, rather than comfortable. Comfortable is what I had with my Jenny all those wonderful years. This had something more, and I wanted more of the same thing in the morning, that I fell asleep to. I kissed her cheek, but she turned a smile toward me, and presented full lips instead. The mood was mutual, no discussion needed. In fact, she jumped on top of me before I could say anything. Oh yeah, like that happens everyday!
“Now this is what I call a day before Christmas! I didn't even get to hang a stocking, but I got to take some off!” I remarked when we were laying on our backs, panting, sweating, and spent. We were holding hands, any kind of second wind at all would have started the whole process over again.
“Maybe we should get some coffee, and get ready to go out to get some things to make Christmas, you know, a Christmas.” I said.
“Christmas already came for me.” she said. I laughed at the euphemism.
“Still, let's go buy a ham or something, and go to Walmart. I feel like buying a flat screen TV or something, and maybe some chain so I can keep you here.”
Noticing the house for the first time on the way to the kitchen, Janis said, “You keep a nice house.”
“Please don't give me too much credit. I set it up so I can make believe I still have a woman in my life. I figured out how to be clean, but not real good at maintenance. I have house cleaners come in once a week. They do all the things I would never think of in a million years, like dust off the top of curtains and pictures. It's worth it. It makes me look good. I need somebody to hand me a bottle of window cleaner and ask me to please to do the windows, or trust me, it won't get done.
“Good to know.” She said with a smiley sparkle in he eyes.
We continued that kind of conversation for several hours over coffee, finishing in the shower. There was no shortage of conversation, or pauses for that matter. We never once mentioned work, nor did I bring up the subject of my strange experiences.
“Do you have to go? I mean, do you have plans for Christmas at all?” I asked, dreading an end to the happiest I'd felt in years.
“Well as a matter of fact, I'm all yours. I have been hoping you would take an interest in me, and secretly wished we could somehow spend Christmas together. I was going to try to light some kind of fire under your butt, but then you asked for time off.” She said, the only reference to work, which amounted to a non-issue.
“Do you have family, Janis?” I pried. I wanted to know as much about the woman as I possibly could.
“Nope, orphaned before I could remember anything about my parents. I was farmed out to foster homes, and was a handful until I developed enough sense to buckle down, get educated, and make something of myself. My real parents died in a car accident on Christmas Eve when I was two.”
On Christmas Eve?”
“That's all I know about it, but I feel like they watch out over me. When things get tough for me, I talk to them like they are in the room, and by in large, things work out.”
"Sounds like you have a better relationship with your parents who have passed than I do with my daughter who hasn't”
“I wish I could meet her.”
“I wish you could too.”
Another fog came into my kitchen at that most inopportune moment, a portal, no doubt that would send us to Agatha's home. I ignored it because I was sure I was losing my mind and I was the only one who would see it. That didn't prove to be the case. Janis could see it too.
“George,” she screamed alarmed, “there's a fire in there!”
“You can see it?”
“Yeeeah.” She said incredulously.
“Come on then, I thought I was going crazy.” I took her by the hand and walked into it, instantly transporting us to my daughter and her family.
“What just happened?”
“Believe me, I have no idea, but I am surely glad I'm not the only one this time. The next thing you are going to find out is that they can't hear a word we say, listen.”
“Boy did we dodge a bullet or what? Imagine having him here for a week? What are we going to do about those presents he sent the kids? Toby will make so much noise we won't be able to think straight. What possessed my dad to send him a guitar? And oil paint for Rachel? That's not something you give a kid! The walls will be like graffiti!”
Embarrassed at being exposed like this in front of Janis, I cradled my forehead with my hand, a migraine was coming on, but I said, “I just wish they would give the kids a chance.”
“I don't agree with you Agatha.” My son in law told her. “Rachel colors all the time, with crayons. She's a good little artist, and she has never made a mess. Toby would rather listen to music than play. It is as though your father knew this somehow.”
“Alright, alright,” she conceded annoyed, “Still, my dad had a hell of a nerve making a decision like that without consulting us first.”
My son in law observed, “But you said that your dad hasn't taken any interest in his grandchildren, and here he goes and sends them something so completely personal, and doesn't send us anything.”
“Precisely.” She punctuated, totally clouded and missing the point.
“I wish that you didn't have to hear one more word of this drivel.” I said to Janis.
“I'm beginning to understand what went on here, and I wish the same thing.”
Bam, we were back in my living room.
“Tell me George, why did you call me to join you for the holidays?”
“I was very upset, and I remember wishing I knew what I should do next. The fog led me to you.”
“And did you wish for me?”
“Yes Janis, I did.”
“So did I George, so did I.” She said, and wrapped her arms around my neck.
We gathered our wits, and started for the door to continued our plans for the day when my phone rang.
"Dad?” My daughter greeted me. “I just called to say how sorry I am for how everything worked out, and if you are free, we would love to have you come spend time with us, if you are still up for it?”
“Thank you for the invitation, that's so nice, but right now I have a hot date, and we want to go out to pick up some stuff for Christmas day.” I said, Janis beaming next to me. “Please have yourself a very Merry Christmas, and I love you all very much,” then I hung up.
I hope all your wishes come true this Christmas
Written and sent from