I need a little Christmas
‘Grandma Josie always knew how to throw a Christmas celebration. 1993’s was no exception. It was one of the best and one of the worst.’ He paused, looking at the diary wondering if that was a good beginning. Maybe I shouldn’t do it this way. The counselor said that writing was therapeutic so, I guess I will. Looking around his sparse white stucco bedroom in Lafayette, he sighed. I wonder if it will get better. It was certainly a mess. A vision formed of the drive up there and a truth that changed everything.
My head leaned on the window glass; it bobbed and bumped as the black van with gold racing stripes wandered down the interstate towards her house. An ever-present blur of trees and buildings shot by, dulling his senses from the 14 hour ride. Uncle Tad drove quietly as Mom remained focused on finishing the wrapping of the presents.
“Dyna, you are still not done? Tad called back, a bemused look shining. She looked up from her pile of cut ribbon and paper rolls, putting beside the clear tape. “Yes. I’ve one present left. It’s for Grandma Josie.”
“I see,” he smiled. “What is it?”
“A pashmina. She wanted one so I found a cheap one.”
Chuckling filtered back as mom smiled to herself. Then as she gathered up the various parts into a bag, she walked to the passenger side and sat. “Is she coming?” She asked softly, Tad knowing who she was. He looked at the chunky tan car phone. “She called me saying she was going to the hospital yesterday. They have this number and Grandma Josie’s.” He spoke with a somber tone. Suddenly, the phone warbled. Mom grabbed it, and answered.
A long pause as she listened while Uncle Tad drove. The van turned off the interstate to a 7-eleven® outside Rochester, NY. Finally he took the phone. Mom looked at him after he parked, nodded and he handed the phone to her before he got out. The side door slid open and the smell of snow and gas filled the van. Cool breeze bit my nose as I climbed out bundled up tightly. The last words heard before the van door shut was: So you are coming?”
I stood quietly in my grey parka and mittens frowning at the gently floating diamond motes caressing everything. Another inch was predicted before it finished. Still snow held a soft beauty. Cold, sparkling and beautiful. Just like Shelly, who would be coming. Tromping to the doors, a small grin formed. It wasn’t mine. The baby would be heading to the Darri household after the new year. Opening the holiday bedecked doors, a blast of warmth filled with coffee, hotdogs and the mixture of cleaners, air fresheners and hope slapped me hard. Time to get some food for the road.
The clerk dour in his red and black polo leered at me from behind the overloaded counter. Hands in my pockets, I ran to the rollers and scooped up a dog. Uncle Tad walked over holding an odd thing to find in any 7-11: a Starbucks®. Mostly out on the west coast, I learned of them not because my teenage mind craved coffee but because of the mermaid in green. Mermaids were beauty and joy. They however didn’t sit on rocks and sing sailors to death. No, they did far worse things, like lie about who they were on the surface. My mermaid was never honest even when she sat on that bench in the cafeteria crying about one of those ignorant jocks who trampled on her heart.
She only told me the truth when I caught her in the school swimming pool one night. Me and tall, thin horse face Joe came to superglue the pom-pom together and tack them inside the field house when I snuck into the natarium to wet them. She burst through the surface, black hair a wet stripe down to her aquamarine tail. We both froze. Her arms immediately moved to her bust, hiding ample assets scaled over and now the same color as her tail.
A gorgeous tribal tattoo ran down the sides of her neck. It swirled and swooped around thick black blocks that blended perfected with her moist olive skin. Slits along her collarbone fluttered briefly before shutting as she inhaled heavily.
“Shelly?” I asked all those months ago.
A soft frown creased her lips. “You weren’t supposed to see me in my true form until I told you.” Fear widened her eyes as she glanced around into the darkness. Only fitful emergency lights poked holes in it. “Why are you here?”
“I could ask you the same thing but I know the answer.” A big smile consumed my face. “I can keep a secret.”
The musical sigh I ever heard rumbled from her. “I have no choice. Promise me.”
Swift nod bobbled my head. “Always. I will never betray you. How?”
Bitter laughter swam around me making my smile stupid. If any other girl especially one of those Titan cheerleaders did it, my fists would ball. Right now I grinned like a fool. “I was born this way. This is the real me. My people live on the ocean floor. Those of us blessed to monitor and interact with the surface people live up her. My house is one of the chosen. The others remain below in their own houses or pods depending on their level.” She waved her hand, dismissing me. “We will talk during lunch tomorrow.” She dove back under, hovering until I left. I defiantly stood for five more minutes as she swam around always looking up to see if I left. Horse face Joe ran into to me as I left, the dry pom-pom bag scuffing the tile behind me. He shrugged and we finished.
As I took the used coffee cup from him, I smelled it. Seaweed, salt and fish. All merpeople, they call themselves the Assembly I learned, smell of the ocean and fish. Like they rolled in it, if they aren’t careful. The cup was hers. Smiling at him, I turned around and knocked a Slurpee® right from her hands. Shock poured over both of us as we stared at each other silent for an seeming eternity. Finally, I wrapped my weak arms around her. “I’ve missed you so much. Why did you go?”
She chuckled, no longer frosty at my incessant questions. “There’s one place we give birth at. I showed you, remember?” She whispered in my hood covered ear. Her puffy pink parka and thick pink woolen mittens hid her belly well.
Rubbing her face, tears glistened. “Can I see?”
“When we get there. We always meet wrong.” She sighed again, more amused than irritated. “I named her Aria, after your great grandmother.”
Uncle Tad smiled at us, hearing the name. Snagging my dog out of my hand he went toward the Slurpee® machines.
“You and your bad food.” She faux scolded me as she pushed off. “I need another drink now.”
“Like Slurpees® are any healthier.”
A pout formed on her ruby lips as stared. “Healthier than you eat.”
“How is everything else?” I glanced sheepishly away before looking into her smoky chocolate eyes. A sad grin told more than words did. “You know I should have graduated last year. I didn’t for her and you. Now…” She wiped the tears from her eyes, “…I graduate same as you. After, Samuel and I are going to live with my Uncle Lee in Lafayette, Louisiana. You met him, remember.”
How could I forget? Big, broad, powerful man with skin of burnished onyx. He wore a jade green three piece suit and carried a tan tube that to my untrained nose smelt of sea salt. “So then LSU?” I grinned, thinking I still had a chance with my mermaid. The words only made her sad. “You think he would accept you over his nieces father?”
“You don’t know it was him. You refuse to have the test.” I gripped her hand squeezing it. The promise ring still rested on her finger.
“I can’t have that test. You know why. If you want to attend LSU, I can’t stop you. You need to convince him not me.” She wiped pooled tears with her other mitten just as Uncle Tad walked over with two Slurpees®, two coffees and our dogs. “I got you a replacement,” his gruff voice said kindly. “I take it there’s an arrangement?”
“Yes. We are coming and he,” she poked me in the chest, hard. “Is going to LSU.” She pulled her Slurpee from the carrier. “We will work out the details then.” A peck on the cheek and she sashayed away.
Uncle Tad looked at me, concern in his hazel eyes. “Nothing changed?”
I simply nodded my head. My mermaid still refuses to be honest with me. I love her anyway. I will love her daughter as much and more because I believe she is mine even if I never know the truth.
Full of Slurpee® and hot dogs, I listened to the silence again. We were back on Interstate 90. The blur and roar of the road returned. Only it felt more somber than it did before.
“She had a girl; a beautiful baby girl who has her eyes.” Uncle Tad answered the unspoken question. The wistfulness echoed.
“She chose her path.” Mom reminded him. “Is she coming or is she still in the hospital?”
“She’s coming. Her, Samuel and the child. She named her Aria.”
Mom nodded. He looked at her. “Was there any word from your parents before we left about Christmas?”
The frown she made could be heard from the back seats. “No, they are still angry that I moved to Columbus with you rather than to Albany with them.”
“Are we going to see Nanny and Papaw?” Jessa, who was 8, asked from the back seat.
“Yes, dear,” she said with upbeat cheerfulness. Yet there was silence until we arrived there three hours later.
The old two story Victorian house with the sash windows and oak front porch was all lit up with an array of twinkling points. Blue, green, red, orange and white flashed like winterized fireflies all around. Even the massive oblong shrubs running the sidewalks and porch were lit. The light post along the walkway held a Christmas wreath around the globe. Santa and his sledge were parked on one side of the lawn and a manger on the other side. Only this manger held a sight that perplexed many passersby. Beside the wise men stood Ariel and Eric the prince. Equal in size, they bore crystals in their plastic hands. On the snow flecked hay in amongst the lamb and camel was Sebastian the crab. It immediately warmed my aching heart.
“I’ll be horn-swaggled, grandma did it. She has the little mermaid in the nativity.”
Mom shook her head. “I will never understand you,” she said to me as I grinned stupidly.
Uncle Tad laughed heartily. “Well, Brad, I hope your other wish comes true.”
Me too, Uncle Tad, me too.
A cheer seemed to suffuse the place. So when Grandpa Jim, in tan slacks and a green woolen sweater, stood on the porch with a steaming mug of cocoa, smiling, everything appeared well. Not so.
“Welcome. Nice of you to show, Dyna,” He remarked with a sip.
“It’s Christmas, Dad,” She said back as the children fell behind her.
“Indeed it is. Children, run on inside. Nanny has presents for you.” He stepped aside allowing them to run by. Dyna nodded and they took off, whooshing up the stairs and inside the rustic entry hall.
“Have you changed your mind?” He asked bluntly.
“No. They need to be away from the chaos. Columbus is good for them,” she said defensively.
“And Albany isn’t far enough? I understand. You loved Greg. Still why stay with his brother who is a young adult?”
“Thirty five isn’t young. Besides we will be alone. Brad’s going to LSU next fall.”
Grandpa Jim turned his laser gaze on me. “That so?”
“Yes, sir.” I gulped.
“And your girl? She’ll be there too?”
“Yes, sir. She’ll be here shorty.” He furrowed his brow pointing to the Jeep Wrangler behind me. She stood out, leaning in the car and wiggling. After about a minute out came a baby carrier filled with a wiggling bundle of joy. Pink seahorses festooned the blanket masking the infant.
“At least she’s punctual.” He shook his head and grunted. “Go in, boy. Or go help her. Standing still won’t gain anything.”
Nodding, I did exactly that. I went inside. Towards a brilliant Christmas tree filled with white lights, popcorn strings, tinsel and red bulbs. Wrapped gifts rested beneath it. Around were the trappings of a 1950’s family show. Staring at the presents, I knew my mermaid would be all mine one day. Shelly walked up behind me, giving me a hug. “It’s all going to work out. Trust me.”
I nodded, the foolish, lovesick guy I was. I just wanted my mermaid for Christmas even if it meant being a father way to early.
Placing down his pen, he stared up at the wall. A Little mermaid poster hung there. Its tag line read ‘Love crosses all boundaries.’ It was time to go to Aria’s sixth Christmas. Every year I always see a bright smile around this time. Finally, I will have my mermaid as she turns 25 in 15 days. She becomes queen and she will choose me. I know it. All I need is a little Christmas.