Christmas was in her Heart
22 December 2015
Ally reached her childhood home late and knew her parents would be worried. She could not tell them that it was because she had spent so much time trying to convince her husband to join her at least for this Christmas gathering. They would not understand. “Why waste time on those vultures living off my money” he had jeered at her before getting upset as she pointed out that she was sending them money from her own earnings. Unabashed he had grumbled that it would still be the same as his own money as it was the couple’s money she was sending that would be better dedicated to their own household.
“Be back in time for the Christmas gathering in my CEO’s house. You know how important this is” he had yelled at her while she was driving off. She hated the Christmas parties at his CEO John’s place. Everyone was fake and would get drunk in no time putting on a forceful cheer and they all despised her courteously because they thought she was being a snob. Not only did she not drink making them feel awkward before the wine’s fumes had overpowered their brains but she also had great difficulty pretending to laugh at their coarse jokes. She did not think any amount of wine would get her to enjoy them really.
The strain of those five years of marriage in between fights about who would pay which bills and forceful cheer in trash Christmas parties was getting the better of her nerves. She felt particularly nervous and downtrodden tonight but from the corner of her eye she could see her parents rushing across the dining room to open the door for her as they had spotted the car from the open window. She hastily painted a cherry red Christmas smile on her lips and struck a dance to her feet as she walked gaily towards them, the breathing picture of happiness.
- Mom, Dad, I missed you so much she gushed, holding them close to her heart – and this was no pretence.
They hugged her back, giving a sidelong look to the car as they did and her heart fell. She disengaged with regret from their embrace and asked her dad for some help with the gifts all the while chattering mindlessly about how Robert was so sorry that he would miss yet a fifth Christmas party but his bosses had extra work for him – not really a lie she thought to herself – and he would have to represent the brand again so could not accompany her this time as well. As her dad took out some large gifts out of the trunk she pointed out cheerfully that those were from Robert for all of them – a flash of how he had scowled as usual when she bought such presents with her own money crossed her mind’s eye and she shut it off fiercely. Her parents were beside themselves with joy at Robert’s usual thoughtfulness and generosity and her mother kept cooing about how lucky her daughter was to have found such a perfect husband.
Now the next small glitch she thought while entering the house. She had never got on really with her younger brother who always had ratted on her for every little thing while they were growing up but it had become worse since she got married and had left the house. Every time she was back, he would treat her with a distant hostility although it had been quite okay the first Christmas that she had come over with Robert just after their marriage. Whenever she visited, he would not make her feel welcome, to the contrary even and would pointedly keep treating her as a guest, as if she did not belong there. He had even made it a point to take over her room so she was never able to stay over when she visited – not that she would have been able to as she rarely travelled to see her parents anyway but it would have been comforting to know her room was still there for her, which it was not.
As she entered the home, she caught a glimpse of her younger brother rushing up to her/his room, as if to lay a claim again on his captured territory she thought slightly irritated this time. Christmas dinner had started early as had become the tradition ever since Robert stopped accompanying her – right from the second year of their marriage actually – and her parents realised she would have to go back home and prepare a Christmas dinner for him too at home, for when he would be back from work. Little did they know!
At last they were all seated in the small dining room which was bright with love and Christmas carols that everybody kept bellowing to, adding to the growing confusion and happiness that rang through the room. A single neighbour, now an adopted son for festive occasions, was banging away at the piano before her mother decided it was “time to put some goodies into all of us”. They had barely set about cutting the turkey when the phone rang. Her mother told her it was Robert so she rushed expecting something terrible had happened or he would not have disturbed that brief moment with her family.
Something terrible did happen, yes, Robert told her breathlessly over the phone. It was something to do with a burnt turkey – the CEO’s wife, Linda, had for once wanted to prepare a home-cooked meal for Christmas – and Robert and his “resourceful wife” were being called in to help save the situation so they would need to be there much earlier. Linda had no idea where she could get something which resembled a home-cooked turkey so Ally was the obvious solution for her to “fix the Christmas spirit” as Linda coined it. Apparently Linda had not discovered Google or Bing yet and Ally was her google in town.
She started out whispering that she could not leave so early and had to at least have the turkey to which her husband answered some colourfully unpleasant remarks about “fat turkeys” at his expense. As her mother stood in the doorway for a while she added in a stage whisper that the whole family was delighted at the gifts he had thoughtfully got. Her husband gave a nasty chuckle telling her she was being a fool continuing to pretend and that for all he cared she could tell them right out that he thought they were just vultures and he would not dream of giving them any costly gifts and specially not to that sullen younger brother of hers who was so silly trying to make friends with him. All really very simple folks who did not understand much about how it was important to be seen with the right people and as far as he was concerned, they were definitely not the right people to be seen with.
He scoffed at her for trying to make her younger brother like him the first Christmas by buying him an exorbitantly expensive telescope – a gift her brother had always dreamed of but never dared to ask for – which she had passed off as a gift from Robert while she just got him a comic book. The following years she had stonily kept this lop-sided approach to gifts as she had first desperately wanted her family to like Robert and then she had got caught up in this huge lie which she felt she could not get out of without hurting her family. She hung up promising she would do her best while her husband was still chuckling at how silly she was and did not realise that the efforts at keeping people happy were best employed with people who could help you achieve something, which her family clearly could not and she should follow his guidance as he had gotten rid of his own family and their demands a long time ago.
She walked back to the dining room thinking of an excuse to come up with, some spices she had forgotten, a stuffing she had not thought of, a second turkey for the neighbours when she stopped dead in her tracks as she saw her younger brother coming down from his room. In his hand was the handheld phone which was paired with the main line. Just a look at his face and she knew he knew. He was looking at her very intently. Her mother popped her head through the dining room door again asking if everything was okay. She started telling her that perhaps she would have to go because she had forgotten… before she finished her brother cut in “Ally will not tell you the truth mom because she wants to keep you happy” – her heart fell and her mind screamed inwards, no please – “but her husband is not well and she has to leave early to be with him so she was she just saying she forgot something not to worry you” continued her brother, his eyes still focused on Ally.
Her parents packed her off with some turkey and other home-made goodies together with a lot of kisses and hugs but her younger brother had disappeared. As she reached the car, she caught a glimpse of someone emerging out of the shadows in the parking lot and realised it was him. Tom, she started but he just reached over stepping into the light as he did and squeezed her hand, his eyes ablaze with a light she had never seen there before. He inched towards her and then fully embraced her, his head resting on her head as he did. They stood for a few moments. Neither of them spoke. Make sure you stay the night next Christmas, said Tom giving her a shove at the shoulder. He had not done that since she was 9 and he was 5. It had been their favourite challenge years ago. I will she said shoving him back at the opposite shoulder with a grin. Your room will be ready said Tom. He smiled at her and squeezed her hand again. She smiled back and the Christmas cherry red of her lips kept twitching upwards as she drove off towards a burnt turkey and a blonde wreck to tend to. Of course she would be able to “fix the Christmas spirit” she thought. She felt the warmth pervade her. Christmas was in her Heart.
This story was written based on Ronovan writes Friday fiction (a bit delayed as I did not have my laptop and it is difficult to write a lot on an android so I could not write my second story).
Ping back and rules here and I am aware what I wrote is not exactly a flash fiction 😀
King’s College Cambridge 2008 #10 What Sweeter Music John Rutter