A stocking full of coal

(Instead of a blog, here’s a Christmas tale for bah humbug potty-mouthed adults who don’t believe in Santa Claus.)

“Are you OK?а Sure you don’t need help?”

“No, I’m jus’ fine. Go on home. I can make it from here.а See? Piece of cake.”

Marlee stabbed the key at the lock in the front door of her tiny rented cottage in Kaneohe, squinting in the faint porch light that cast a deep mustard yellow on everything but the lock.а She scrunched down, peering into the dark.

“Crap, yeah, maybe you’d better come give me a hand,” she growled, waving her friend over who stood watching from the foot of the porch steps. “Can’t see for shit in this light. I think I need glasses.”

Susie, Marlee’s best friend and co-worker in the business office of the Best Kine Kim Chee factory in Waipahu, took the key from a swaying Marlee, shoved it into the recalcitrant lock, twisted, and pushed the door open. She reached in around Marlee, and felt for the light switch inside the doorway.

Poinsettia

“C’mon, I’ll help you get to bed,” said Susie. “You sure tied one on tonight, girlfriend. You’re gonna have a bitch of a hangover tomorrow. Boy, your mom’s gonna shit bricks when you show up hung over for Christmas dinner.”

“Christmas, Smishmas. Who cares. I hate Christmas. And she’s my step-mother, not my mom.” Marlee felt her way into the living room, kicking off one, then the other shoe, before flopping down on the worn brown plush couch next to the small end table where a potted red poinsettia аresided, a little the worst for wear. It was the only sign of the holiday season in the room.

“Jesus, Marlee. When was the last time you watered that poor plant?” asked Susie, who had given her friend the poinsettia in an attempt to inject some holiday cheer into her friend’s relentlessly unfestive surroundings.

“I think it was Sunday,” said Marlee, her face screwed up in concentration. “Yeah, tha’s right. I was sitting right here reading the paper and drinking my coffee.а The coffee got cold, so I fed it to the plant. The best vanilla macadamia Kona coffee it ever tasted.а How ‘bout that?”а

She looked up hopefully at Susie, who had returned from the kitchen with a glass of water that she poured carefully into the pot.а “If you want a pat on the head, forget it,” Susie said. “You’re hopeless. It’s just as well you don’t have a Christmas stocking because for sure you’d be getting nothing but big fat lumps of coal from Old St. Nick. C’mon, let me help you to bed.”

Marlee shoved her friend’s hand away and swung her feet up onto the sofa. “I’m fine. You go on home. I’ll just lie here a while and keep my plant company. Go on.”

Susie looked at Marlee, shook her head, and headed for the door.а “Don’t forget to come by tomorrow. My folks are expecting you. I’ll call you later, OK?”

She opened the door and paused. “Merry Christmas, Mar. And be good tomorrow. Don’t be a brat, OK? They’re your family.”а She closed the door softly behind her.

“They’re not my family. Besides, who cares…”аа

###

Marlee sighed, stretched out on the couch, and pulled a cushion behind her head. аShe looked at her watch and groaned. 9:36 p.m. It’s going to be a long night.а She looked over at the poinsettia, already showing signs of revival.аа

“What’re you so happy about?а You’re gonna be dead before you know it. And stop being so fucking red.”

Marlee glared at the hapless plant and settled back.а Maybe a little nap.а One too many glasses of wine. And the beer. Plus the eggnog with rum. God, she hated office parties. But life-of-the-party Susie loved them. As usual, today she was oozing cheer and goodwill, even for old Chang Lee, the company bookkeeper who counted paperclips and pencils every Friday. The old geezer had actually smiled at Sus’s antics.

Meanwhile, everyone had avoided a scowling Marlee, who spent the time slouched in a chair, knocking back quantities of Christmas cheer.а

Well, that was over with, thank God. All she wanted was a little peace and quiet.

She closed her eyes. “And a nap. That’s what I need.”

But sparkling lights flickered on the back of her eyelids. Then a murky image wavered into view – What? A Christmas stocking? Her eyes snapped open. “What the …? I shouldn’t’ve poured that extra slug of rum in that last eggnog,” she moaned.а

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She closed her eyes. The stocking shimmered again, this time bulging with lumpy shapes.

“What the hell! ” She rubbed her eyes, punched and fluffed the cushion behind her head, then pulled it over her face, covering her eyes.а

Now, the stocking was fat and bulging, with black shiny lumps of coal poking out from the top.

“All right, that’s it!” She flung the cushion across the room and jumped to her feet, almost knocked flat by a wave of dizziness. Now she was pissed. “Lumps of coal, my ass! I’ll show you, Santa-fucking-Claus!”

HOle in sock

She stumbled down a short hallway into her bedroom, lunged for a white dresser and pulled out a drawer. “I’ll show you stockings,” she muttered as she yanked out panties and bras and – ahh, socks!а She rummaged some more until she found what she was looking for – a dirty grey athletic sock whose original white was a distant memory. And even better, it had a hole in the toe. Triumphantly, she slammed the drawer shut, and ran back to the living room.

“Need a thumb tack,” she muttered, heading into the kitchen. A minute later, she staggered back out and made her way over to the end table holding the poinsettia, draped the sock off the edge, and skewered it to the table with the tack. It hung limply, looking pathetic and forlorn.

“Perfect! Now for the finishing touches.”а She raced back into the kitchen.

More feverish rummaging, pulling out jars and packages, and piling their contents on dishes. Gleefully, she piled some high-smelling kim chee into a bowl, a handful of nose-wrinkling cuttlefish on a dish, and a glob of smelly fermented soybean curd onto another dish.

“Hey, hey, Santa. Try this for a Christmas snack!”а

She plunked the array on a tray and carried it out to the table where she arranged them around the poinsettia.а She couldn’t be sure, but it looked as if the plant actually shuddered.

“OK, let’s see how you like your Christmas treat, fat man.”

Pleased with herself, Marlee flopped down on the couch, giggling at her cleverness.а Suddenly, she groaned as she clutched the cushion to her stomach.

“God, I think I’m drunk!”

###

аMarlee felt like she was being shaken by an 8.0-plus magnitude earthquake.

“Ga-a-a-h!а What in Rudolph’s name is this???” a deep booming voice shouted.

Marlee jerked up, her eyes wide open as they struggled to come into focus.а A blast of garlic hit her sensitive nose sending her queasy stomach into roiling protest. “Oh God, what’s that smell?” she gasped. “I’m going to be sick!”

She felt a big, firm hand pushing her back down on the couch. “Lie down. You’ve just had too much to drink. And you think I smell? You reek like a brewery,” said the voice.

She opened one eye and peered carefully in the direction of the sound. A very red, and very plump and indignant face loomed over her.

“Where the hell did you come from?” she demanded querulously.

“Well, you don’t have a chimney, so I used the door,” the intruder exclaimed in an annoyingly loud and jovial voice.

Marlee winced. “Please, do you have to shout?”

“Serves you right for putting out this … smelly, godawful stuff. Is this supposed to be some kind of joke?” the bearded stranger boomed.

kim chee

She peered over at the end table. “For your information, that’s kim chee. And that’s cuttlefish. And that’s soybean curd. You are so white bread! For such a well-traveled guy, you don’t know much about ethnic foods, do you!”

stinky tofushredded-dried-cuttlefish-isolated fa18951614

“I know more about foods than you’ll know in a lifetime,” retorted the now not so jolly fellow, unconsciously patting his quite rotund belly. “And I obviously know more about etiquette than you, which means you don’t give your guests unpleasant smelling food to eat especially when they expect milk and cookies.”а He paused and looked at her curiously. “So, what’s with this anyway? You mad at me or something?”

Marlee shrugged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. I was just trying to make a point.”

“And the point is …?”

“Christmas is for fools. All that peace and goodwill. And if you’re not good, threatening kids with coal in their stockings. You know what?а There’s millions of good little kids who won’t even get lumps of coal. It’s all bullshit.” Marlee looked defiantly at her visitor.

“Is that what happened to you, Marlee?” His bright blue eyes looked at her with compassion.

“No, it did not happen to me. I’m just making a point, remember? And don’t you go feeling sorry for me!а I get along just fine. I just don’t believe all this Hallmark crap that ends up making people feel miserable and left out. It’s … it’s so hurtful!”а Marlee’s defiance faltered as her eyes welled up. “See? I know I shouldn’t have had so much to drink. It just makes you sappy and stupid.”

Tugging at the neck of his red coat, the rotund visitor grumbled, “This is way too warm for this kind of weather. Think I could have a glass of iced water? I’m parched.”

“I’m sorry,” Marlee said, as she got to her feet and headed towards the kitchen. “Where are my manners? Oh, I forgot, I don’t have any. By-the-way, do you have a regular name, since it seems we’re in for a nice long winter chat?”

He laughed heartily. “Just call me Nick. That’s what my friends call me.”

When she returned with a tumbler filled with ice cubes and water, she found him sitting on the end of the couch, thoughtfully fingering the grungy sock with the hole in the toe.а

Marlee pretended not to notice as she handed him the tumbler. “Here you go. One for the road.”

“Trying to get rid of me?а I’m almost at the end of my run, and I’m way ahead of schedule, so I can spare a few more minutes,” Nick said with a twinkle. “Or do you have more pressing matters to attend to … like getting ready for Christmas with your family?”

Marlee snorted as she curled up on the opposite end of the sofa.а “They’re not my family. They’re my father’s second wife and their perky little kids. And my father’s dead, so there’s really no connection.”

“But she loves you like one of her own…”

“I’m not like one of her own,” Marlee’s eyes grew hard. “She never wanted me around.а She acted nice and all, but I knew.”

“What about your mother?” Nick asked gently.

“She’s dead too. Died when I was sixteen. I lived with her after they split when I was five. She never took anything from him all those years out of sheer spite, except that she ended up spiting herself … and me.”

Marlee sighed, her brow furrowed with hard memories.

Nick was quiet, tugging at the white beard that flowed luxuriantly over his chest. “It must have been a hard life for a little girl,” he said. “But your mother must have loved you very much, which must have made up for all the things you didn’t have. And surely, there was your father.”

Marlee was silent for a moment, remembering. “I suppose she did. She was so angry all the time. But she took care of me the best way she knew how. And Dad. Well, she always found ways to prevent his visits till he finally gave up. He gave me a Raggedy Ann doll that first Christmas after the split … the only Christmas gift he ever gave me. I was six. Oh well, the doll’s long gone and so’s he. I learned early on that Christmas only made you want things you can’t have.”

She smiled tremulously, as she struggled to her feet. “Wow, it’s almost midnight. You’ve gotta get going if you don’t want to disappoint all those little kiddies on Christmas morning.” She yawned prodigiously. “I don’t know why you let me go on like that. It’s all ancient history, anyway. And I don’t know about you, but I need some sleep. Remind me not to drink so much next year.”

Nick heaved himself from the sofa. “Oh my gosh, it is getting late. Well, no problem. Rudolph and the gang needed a break – it’s been a pretty hectic season, you know.а This’ll give them their second wind for the final sprint.”

He re-buttoned his coat, and straightened his cap. “Marlee, this is the best Christmas chat I’ve had in a long time. I thank you. Maybe we can do it again next year?а Only next time, no kim chee, OK?”

And with a whoosh he was gone. The room was empty and silent. Marlee blinked and shook her head. If it weren’t for the slight stirring of the leaves of the poinsettia and the swaying of the stocking as if it were hanging out in a gentle breeze, she would have sworn she’d imagined everything.а “Don’t be an idiot,” she told herself. “You’ve been dreaming.”

Suddenly, she was very tired. She could hardly keep her eyes open, as she curled up with the cushion under her head.а “That’s what happens when you drink too much. Weird fuckin’ dreams…”

а###

Something felt warm on her head.а She wrinkled her forehead, then forced her eyes open. A shaft of sunlight from the window fell across her face.

“Where am I?” She groaned as she struggled to turn over. And almost ended up on the floor.

Oh yeah. She fell asleep on the sofa after she got home last night. Susie had dropped her off, tried to get her to bed. But she’d crashed here instead.а The whole miserable office party came flooding back to her. And the booze.а Oh God. Her head was pounding. And her mouth tasted like yesterday’s socks. Tylenol. And coffee. That’s what she needed.

Carefully, she rolled into a sitting position and noticed the lamp on the end table was still on, warming the now perky poinsettia. “And a good morning to you too,” she said. “Ready for some coffee?” She laughed at her joke.а

Her eyes fell on the sad sock hanging from the edge of the table. A piece of paper stuck out from the opening at the top. Puzzled, she pulled it out and opened it.а

“Dear Marlee,” it said. “We finished our rounds in good time, and I discovered that I had one present left over. I couldn’t think of any one else that deserved it more. Your friend, Nick.а P.S. Look under the table.”

She crouched down and peered under the end table. There lay a big oblong box wrapped in shiny red paper and tied with glittering green and gold ribbons. In a daze, she pulled the box out, turned it over, shook it. It was real, all right. а

“Tell me I’m still asleep. This is just a dream.”а

Awkwardly, she untied the ribbons, smoothing them out carefully and setting them aside. Then she unwrapped the rustling sheet of paper, which she folded neatly.а Her fingers trembling, she lifted the lid of the box, pulled away the sheets of white tissue paper. There lay a brand new Raggedy Ann doll.

raggedy-ann-clipart-24


Were all kids at heart.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Wherever you are.



(Written in December 2003 and edited in December 2018. I don’t remember what inspired this tale.)

ай Maya Leland 2014