Sometimes life makes more sense when you don't.
The Holiday House
By - Robert Goldsborough
The yard was overgrown with wild grasses and even wilder flowers with vividly mixed heritages. In the hearts of the raging colors sat the lonely edifices of peeling holidays; Santa's in faded reds, plastic pumpkins with no lights, foil turkeys whose wings beat out a metallic tattoo in the breezes. Valentine's day hearts ran together like pools of dried blood leading to the front steps. The porch glittered with its careless disarray of garland that hung like alien Spanish moss. Clumps of old Christmas lights without a single working bulb hid in the cracked and peeling paint. The chips in the paint showed the house's age through many layers of many colors; someone once had painted it sky blue, another wanted bright forest green, and some other distant owner had even wanted it in shades of purple. On the porch the peeling paint was covered with more curling sentiments of holidays long since past. A graying bat danced side by side with reindeer and green leprechauns. Rudolf sat stoic in front of the door looking forever blind through sightless white eyes at strangers that would not knock. The doorbell did not work, but smiled empathetically with a smiley sticker pasted over it; this was work of a careful hand that renewed the smile as often as remembered. I smiled back and knew better than smudging that tiny face with a finger. I stomped twice on the uneven porch and stuck my tongue out at Rudolf.
"Now leave him alone, fucker!"
Kathryn smiled from behind the torn screen of her door.
"You know he's got feel'ns too, even if he can't see you."
I apologized by flipping her off and she smiled even bigger. The door opened just enough to let me in, but I waited. I always had to be asked.
"Damn it Cat get in here, you know you're always welcome here!"
"I know, but I just like to hear you say it."
She threw her skinny arms around me and dragged me into her musty scent. Kathryn always smelled like the dust from a thousand ancient Christmas's and sometimes when I closed my eyes I could see the disappointment she had from them all.
The parade of forgotten decorations had spilled into her house; the floor held Easter eggs she was constantly hiding and finding with no memory of doing so, the fireplace mantle held the same two stockings it always had, and the table still had that dancing Santa centerpiece. I laughed and squeezed her tighter.
"How was your holidays?" She asked and dropped onto the couch.
"Oh, you know. Fireworks and ribbons, reindeer and maypoles."
"Fireworks?!" She sat up and stared into me trying to see the fireworks.
"What new explosions do they have this year?"
"I saw one that went blue to green and shaped like giant hearts. It made me sad though."
"Shouldn't make hearts oughta fire! They always fade too quickly."
I nodded and she stared down at the floor in contemplation. I knew she was thinking about her Easter eggs, she always got that certain look. Somewhere in the house she knew that she had a gold one, one single, shiny gold egg that she had saved from an old pair of pantyhose. Inside the egg was something that she could never remember and she could never remember where that egg was. It had become prime conversation over the years, but she still couldn't find it. I think she preferred the mystery of it rather than the actual find of it, her own special legend.
Then she saw the bag I carried.
"What's that, mister 'I got a secret'?"
"Oh! Yeah! Got you something." I reached into the white plastic and pulled out the black bundle. She snatched it out of my hands and sneered like a self-possessed feline. She shook it open and grinned wide.
"How did you know?"
She sprang at me with open arms; we both tumbled to the wood floor in an embrace. She lay there for a few moments purring on my chest before darting back to her place on the couch. By the time I regained my balance she had already taken off her shirt and was trying to find her way into the new one I had brought. She poked her head playfully through the neck hole and teased me maliciously by slowly drawing the shirt over her bare torso. She saw me watching and sneered at me the way only she can. Than she stood, brazen as a peacock to strut. I asked her to spin and I played the role of fashion judge; looking at her this way and that, hand on my chin with a concentrated look.
"Well?!" She snapped.
"You look great." I smiled back after a few moments.
"I always wanted one of these!" Her fingers traced the orange letters on the front.
"This IS my Halloween costume!" She squealed as she read the shirt out loud.
The rest of the day we sat and watched bad TV and snacked on the holiday cookies that she always baked. She always made me bats and she always made herself snowmen. We always toasted our cookies, as if they were drinks, before we ate them.
A Dance Behind The Holiday House
Kathryn danced in the backyard; twirling until she was so dizzy she fell. She thrust her arms at me as if she was still five. Kathryn will always be five and she will always have Christmas. It never really matters to her what day of the week it is or even what time of year it is. It is always some holiday here and she is just fine with that. It doesn't have to snow for her to want to light a fire in the fireplace and she watches her firework displays on her beat up VCR all year long. I take her hands to help her up, but she pulls me to the dirt and wraps me in ancient cotton that was once a Halloween spider web. She laughs and smears more dirt in my hair. I throw imaginary snowballs and she ducks them perfectly; complaining the whole time how light the snow is (it's late September in Texas, it never snows). She takes off her puffy red winter coat to twirl some more. She is still wearing the 'This is my Halloween costume' shirt. She smiles and runs at me, as if to jump. My knee is still bad from my accident last weak so I cower. She slaps my back instead and drags me inside.
"I want to show you something!" She yells in my ear, her way of whispering. She stands in front of her fireplace and points at the mantle with a wide toothy grin.
"I made a new stocking! You know, for Christmas." I look at the bright red sock scotch taped to the mauled, wooden mantle. In smudged glitter my name sparkles back at me.
"Now, Santa can bring you treats here." Her smile gets even larger and toothier. I smile at her and she blushes.
"Look! There's already something in it!" She digs carefully in the old sock and pulls out something in her closed hands.
"Close your eyes." I close my eyes and feel her put something warm and fragile in my hands. I open my eyes and see one of here famous cookies. Of course, it's a bat, my favorite. She pulls a snowman cookie out of her stocking with a look of forced surprise. She holds it up and closes her eyes tight with thought.
"Oh, I'm no good at this. You give the toast." She has one of her frustrated looks that fold me in half.
"Oh, uh. Okay. May everyday be Halloween." I smile. She shakes her head.
"Silly! Everyday can't be Halloween, than when would Santa come?" I smile back at her and take her chiding. The cookies touch raining down a thin snow of crumbs.
"You like your stocking?" Kathryn says through a mouth full of Frosty. I nod with my own mouthful.
"When will you bring a tree?" She asks spraying more crumbs.
"Kathryn, you have a tree." I say pointing at her large tinsel laden artificial tree that she decorates at least twice a month.
"That's not a real tree. There's no life to it! There's no smell!" More crumbs spray out of her open mouth. I've always loved the smell of a real pine tree too. I give her a small hug and swallow the bat's remains.
"Soon," I promise," I'll get you a real tree soon, but for now how about a pine-scented candle? That will at least help your tree smell more alive."
"Fine." She pouts timidly shuffling her feet. She drags me back outside for more imaginary snowball fights, but she tires quickly; Her system isn't used to her new medicine yet. I hope this medicine doesn't hurt her like that one time. I would hate to think about this world without her unique spark and life. She pulls me into her backyard swing so she can catch her breath. I ask her where her breath would go that she couldn't catch it. She slugs me gently and coughs.
"Sing me a song." She asks leaning on my shoulder. I try to explain that I don't even have a guitar with me. She sighs and pinches my shoulder.
"You don't need a guitar to sing...aca...aca..acapoolco." She smiles and scratches her head.
"Or whatever that's called." I can't help but grin and get another sharp pinch for it. So I sing her a slow song about birds flying and she falls asleep as the sun sets. I wonder what holiday she'll have tomorrow.
Kathryn and the Orange Soul
I left behind me the staggered footprints of my limp in the wet grass of the yard. The old wooden steps creaked as I stepped up and past the plastic, sun-bleached edifices of Christmas past. What was left of the early rain trickled down from the porch roof adding a new glimmer to the old tinsel. The orange bundle was cumbersome in my arms, so I set it near the steps.
"It can't go there yet! It has no face!" Kathryn was staring through the screen door making a pouty mask of her own face. She grabbed the pumpkin from my arms, spun around and went back in to the slapping of the screen door against the frame. I limped in behind her trying to look downcast and penitent.
"You know better than that, I hope. Without a face, Mister jack-o'-lantern is just a pumpkin; and no one knows him and he doesn't know no one. Umm. . .he needs a face first before he can stare at the world." I nodded in agreement and hobbled over to the couch that looked like an ornament that had outgrown its tree. Kathryn glared as I dropped on to the gold brocade and hiked my leg onto the coffee table. She ran out of the kitchen to catch my boot and put a coaster under it.
"Damn! Have some manners. Always use a coaster when you put something on my table, geesh!" I winced and she remembered my knee.
"Oh sorry! I forgot. You okay? Are, the. . .needles still in there?" I laughed at her and assured her that it was better and 'no' there were no needles left in my leg.
"Did you get to keep the needles?" She asked with a look that said she wanted one if I had them.
"No, they only leave them in a while and then they take them out and trash 'em."
"What's the point than? If you have somebody put needles in your leg you should get to keep the needles. They should leave them in your leg and make you walk around with them to teach you not to hurt yourself." She smiled at her own brilliance. I raised my hands in submission.
"You're right as always. I should know by now not to hurt myself. Injuries are really quite a ridiculous thing." Kathryn frowned at my jest and pounded her way back to the kitchen to check on mister jack-o-'lantern's face.
"I need a knife." She said from the kitchen, banging about in the drawers.
"They won't let me have a sharp one here. I might do something crazy with it. Bring me one?" I dug in my pocket for the other part of the present I brought.
"Come here and bring the pumpkin. I brought a fix for it." She carried the orange ball like an awkward baby in her arms and dropped in beside me on the golden cushions. She smiled all the way to her eyes and held out her hand for the expected knife. I put a large black marker in her hand. She stared at her hand and then glared at me.
"What the...this ain't no knife. You can't expect me to give him a proper face with this. This is about as helpful as makeup to make a proper face." I forced a smile to try and avoid a looming argument.
"Well, you're technically right, but for now can't we just paint on his face?"
"No! That's not fair to him or anyone else. How can anyone see his brilliance without the holes? You have to be able to see through him to see his flickering soul. A candle that's invisible is a pointless spark. We're going to have to cut him. We have to empty him out and cut him a personality and then, we have to put a fire in him. Otherwise he's just a painted pumpkin and painted pumpkins don't have visible souls." She stared matter-of-factly at me and threw the marker across the room.
"This just won't do! Tomorrow you will bring me a knife, a sharp one, and than we can make mister jack-o-'lantern smile."
The heater tried its best to keep the car feeling more like autumn rather than the winter that was just outside. I dragged deeply on my ultra-light cigarette; everyday they feel lighter and lighter, god I miss that old buzz. Oh well, there's other ways to catch a buzz. I blew the thick grey smoke out the cracked window and thrummed my fingers against the steering wheel impatiently. Normally on these visits I tried to have the night off from the club, sometimes it takes quite a bit of decompression after a visit. But, today there was no option. Whatever the day brought I would just have to deal with it; maybe it would be a good day. There was a thin layer of snow last week and everyday it feels more like winter, that's a little weird for this part of Texas. We don't generally see anything that even looks like snow until late December or even January. The brief blanket made me long for those deep drifts in Canada. Oh well, no snow today and no more sentimental musings. I honked the horn again and dragged at the shrinking cigarette.
The old plastic figures that usually looked so dull in the summer months had taken on a brighter hue, as if their 'Merry Christmas' motifs were recognized in the knowledge of their coming holiday. Santa smiled broader, Rudolph's nose glowed brighter and all the white paper snowflakes didn't seem out of place in this cold. On the contrary, all the other ornaments of past holidays were muted. I felt a little bad for the out of season leprechauns, mardi-gras banners, and red, white and blue crepe paper.
The screen door slammed open against the slanted porch and a whirlwind of color flew out and down to the yellowed grass. Kathryn had dressed in an obvious hurry; Multiple, painfully bright sweaters were stacked under an orange ski jacket, her skirt ran with vivid patterns of more brilliant colors, and her mismatched socks stood proudly atop her big combat boots in piles. Her smile shone brighter than the Christmas decorations and her outfit entirely. She dropped into the passenger seat of the car with the motion of a flock of birds in ascent. Her arms grabbed me by the neck and she kissed me all over the face with her peach flavored lip-gloss. Today was a different kind of day for her. Today she was going out. That was her second favorite thing to do, next to staying at home. This thought made me smile through the barrage of artificial peaches. She calmed a little (just a little) as I pulled her seatbelt across her overstuffed jacket.
"So where are we going to...you know. Do we have to cut one? I don't want to hurt it! Tell me we're not going to hurt it! Right?!"
I had promised her in October that when the pine trees were set out for sale that I would go and buy her one. She, of course, had insisted on going to choose one, and after careful negotiations with her sister, that's what we were going to do. She was so worried that we had to cut one down; She didn't want us to hurt it, it might get mad and she did not want a mad Christmas tree in the house. Of course, it had to be a real tree also. A fake tree brought no life with it and what would be the point of that? I listened to her rant with her shrill voice and her busy hands and just laughed when I was overcome by her excitement. Today seemed like it would be a good day. I had been worried. Around Thanksgiving she had become lethargic with her medicine change and she didn't even want anyone around. But, today the meds must have been doing what was needed because she looked about ready to explode with excitement. I exploded with laughter about every other minute. When I did, she hit me playfully.
"Oh, yeah! I almost forgot!" She screamed (I almost hit the car in front of us) and dug into her jacket.
"What?" I tried to ask, but before I had finished the syllable there was a bat-shaped cookie wedged in my mouth.
"I didn't want to forget the cookies." She smiled and I laughed out crumbs.
Yesterday, I had driven all over Dallas looking for the most impressive tree lot that I could find. For all I knew she had never seen an actual tree lot and no 'super-market tree lot' was going to be good enough for her on one of her very few outings. Today needed to be impressive for her (selfishly I wanted her to have a memory that she could treasure) and I had found the one we needed. In a rich neighborhood, just outside of downtown, I had found an old stone church that had over an acre of beautiful trees. The houses on the streets seemed to mystify her and her eyes grew at their sheer grandeur and opulence. The church, in its manicured splendor, opened her eyes beyond saucers. Then she saw the trees.
"They have a forest for us!"
She was out of the car before I had it in park and raced past the stoic salesman into the trees. I lumbered slowly after her; the cold was making my recently healed knee sore again. I winked at the salesman, who seemed disheveled by Kathryn's enthusiasm and went in amongst the pines.
"Oh, look at them all! They're all here. All the trees have come here." She was twirling like a small girl who wanted nothing more than to be a ballerina.
"I thought they'd be stacked or something. But, look they're all stand'in. Did they stand up just for us?"
"Yes," I said "The men brought all these trees and stood them all up just so we could pick the luckiest one to stand up for you in your house for Christmas."
Kathryn smiled bigger than I think I have ever thought another human face could smile. She winked at me and said thanks for the sweet lie. I smiled back and couldn't feel the lie.
"So what kind do you want?" I blew warm breath on my hands and stuck them in my pockets.
"Oh, It'll find me." She dashed off again amongst the sweet smelling branches.
The salesman had followed us in and was keeping a close eye on us. Why not? This type of neighborhood wasn't used to a man with a limp all dressed in black and a flighty maniac that dressed the way she acted parading around their world. I smiled at him and tried to make him less comfortable. Every time I would act as if I noticed him and head towards him he would shy away; enough of that game (I had played that too many times to count in my life). I needed to find where Kathryn had run off.
The trees were getting taller the further you went into the acre until the thick green limbs stretched a dozen, or so, feet over your head. It was quite an impressive collection for sale. At reaching, what was probably, the center of forest there was a circular clearing. There, Kathryn was twirling on a single toe of her battered combat boots. She stopped and grabbed my hand when she saw me.
"Here, here it is." Her voice was lowered in a form of reverence.
I expected, being surrounded by such monolithic trees, that she had picked out a tree that not only would not fit in her house, but there would be no hope in getting it there strapped to the roof of my car. I sighed in front of what was probably a thirty-foot tall pine, but followed her hands down to a humble, thin sprig of a thing. She held both of my hands tightly and sighed herself.
"Isn't it beautiful? And, it likes me!" Her face crossed with a certain expression that resembled longing and awe. She stared back up at me and asked,
"Can I take this one home?"
"Of course! Anyone of these trees can come home with you. You know I'd find someway."
"This one. That's all." She stared back at the tree.
It wasn't too much to look at; about six feet tall, thin and a little sparsely bowed. But, it had drawn out that look and that visible emotion from her. I asked her why this little one.
"Because, it tries harder. It knows already that's it's going to die, but it wants to feel and be more with what time it has left." A little tear slid down her pale cheek and she let it fall.
"So, please BobCat?"
"It's leaving with us."
The salesman was very pleased by our selection and our departing. He helped us tie the tree to the roof and waved as we drove away.
I don't think Kathryn was really impressed by all the preparations I had tried to make so this would be a special day as much as she was enraptured by the way she saw herself in that little tree. The drive back to her house was uneventful and we talked very little. I sent her to make more cookies in the kitchen so she wouldn't have to see me trim the tree and cut it to fit the stand. I brought it in and placed it where she asked and then we sat on that big gold couch of hers and stared at the tree. We sat silently and munched down some more cookies (mine always bats, hers always snowmen). When I left, all I could think about was how she was going to decorate it. However it was, I'm sure it will be radiant.
To Be Missed for More than a While
I got a phone call from Kathryn today. She was in tears and I was in shock; Kathryn has never called me (really, she hates phones). So I rushed over to her house off the 'M' streets (for those who know) and ran to the door pounding to be let in. I heard her crying inside and out of pure rage I kicked the door open. Kathryn was sobbing uncontrollably in a wheelchair with her arms crossed and her head down. I rubbed my bruised shoulder and knelt down beside her. Then I noticed that her wrists were bandaged and she was restrained to the chair. I asked her what had happened and she just cried; she couldn't even look me in the face. Her sister came in yelling about what I had done to the door, I apologized and promised to fix or pay for what was broken. Kathryn howled at our terse words. My heart dropped a thousand feet to hear her howl like that. She twitched violently in her chair (I heard muscles and bones popping within their duress).
I asked her sister what had happened and after a few moments she told me; The medication apparently had triggered a suicidal reaction in Kathryn and she had traced long crimson lines down her forearms with the glass from a broken ornament and laid back on her couch to bleed to death. Kathryn heard us and screamed that it wasn't true. I have lost a lot of friends to suicide over the years and have had a different reaction to each death, but I never felt so hurt as I did by the thought of almost losing Kathryn. She felt this in my glare and shoed more into herself. This was not for her, than who was it for? Kathryn loved life more than most of the drones that I had met in my life, so why? I knew that she would not tell me right now, so I would wait. She was worth at least that (And more than my single tear that I fought back). I told her sister that I would spend the night with Kathryn and make sure that she was okay. Margaret grudgingly agreed and left me to it. I untied Kathryn from her chair and sat her on the couch next to me. I played holiday DVDs over and over trying to get her to at least look up. (I even did a BAD Jimmy Stewart impression on one knee, 'Do ya want the moon Mary...') Nothing. So I sat there, with her in my arms, nestled like baby birds waiting their first lesson in flight. In my dreams I saw myself cutting my own wrists and letting everyone know that it was okay, that they would only miss me for a little while and how I would be forgotten and that was for the best, because they didn't need to worry about me anymore. I know that I must have cried, because I was missing Kathryn. But, when the sun came up she was there; tucked neatly up under my arm with a thin silver trail of drool coming from her quiet mouth. I felt her breath against me and I smiled. I smiled and watched her sleep across my chest. Today was going to be a good day.