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Merry stories for a not-so-merry year

In the before times, the holidays were a time of year when most Whistlerites worked long hours to cater to the whims of the visitor. While much of the world gets some time to unplug, recharge and connect with loved ones during the holidays, by far our busiest period, Whistlerites tend to be far from home and the people that matter most. And yet, we have never failed to find ways to celebrate and raise a cup of eggnog (or stronger) with the friends and coworkers who, over time and innumerable après sessions, grow to become as close to family as we’re going to get without hopping on a 747.  

It’s this resilience, this sheer commitment to our own happiness that has always made Whistlerites a unique breed, and it’s a well we are all going to have to draw from this improbable Christmas season. We won’t have the same opportunities to gather and carouse as in years past, and yet, something tells me we will once again find a way to milk every last drop of joy and meaning from it all. Because we always have.

So, in this time of isolation and uncertainty, Pique is offering up a selection of some of our favourite Yuletide tales from over the years, in the hopes that, if we can’t get together physically, we can still huddle around the figurative hearth and connect through the stories we tell each other. Because we always have.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from our makeshift Pique family to yours. Be sure to make it count. 

- Brandon Barrett

 

Surprise me ... no don’t

By G.D. Maxwell

The question was as simple as stepping through a minefield... in the dark... blindfolded... with huge clown shoes on.

“World peace,” Matt muttered.

“Don’t be silly,” his wife said. “I want to know; what do you want?”

There were really only two answers to that loaded question. The straightforward answer, “I want X,” was so far outside his psychic comfort zone it was, quite simply, impossible. As a young boy, he’d learned a bitter lesson: The quickest way to not get something he wanted was to ask for it. Why? Years of therapy hadn’t adequately answered that question and he’d given up trying to figure it out, chalking it up to what he cynically called family values.

The other answer was, “Surprise me.” He’d used that answer only once. And the lesson on that occasion was, while not bitter, poignant: Never again.

His aversion to holiday surprises had started a decade earlier with a pleasant visit from an old friend. Zach was the last surviving member of the Peace Through Whole Grains commune, which is to say the only one still scratching out a living milking goats, harvesting anemic crops of organic veggies and, as they used to call it, moving a bit of product on the side. He was in town pursuing his other main source of hard currency—teaching school children about caring for animals.

Zach had a streak of Dr. Doolittle in him; he could talk to the animals and, seemingly, they could talk to him. It was a gift, one he’d quite likely had since birth. He’d brought the core of his performing menagerie with him to wow the elementary school kids: Gretchen the German Sheppard, Pete the parrot, Xavier the coatimundi and, of course, Suds the monkey.

Xavier did tricks like a dog, but with his pointed snout and raccoon tail always confused the kids as to exactly what kind of animal he was. Pete spoke good English, a bit of Spanish and could be coaxed into singing a sea shanty or two.

But the stars of the show were Gretchen and Suds. Gretchen wore a small, dog-size howdah, usually draped in some colourful tapestry and Suds had a cowboy suit, a miniature lariat and a homemade hat that made him look like some kind of deranged Roy Rogers.

Since it was so close to Christmas though, Gretchen was decked out like a reindeer. Suds was dressed like an elf, complete with tiny white beard. Pete the parrot had a small Santa hat on and Xavier bore Rudolf’s red nose. It was too precious. No, really, it was.

Instead of doing faux cowboy tricks, for Christmas, Zach outdid himself. Suds rode around with a hobo’s sack, handing out penny candy to the children. It was too precious. Oh, I said that already.

Away from the spotlight though, which is to say back at my house, Suds’ best tricks happened when a joint was being passed around. He’d watch to see which way it was going and clamber onto the shoulder of the next recipient. Then he’d intercept the pass and smoke the thing with the enthusiasm of an old Afghani.

That’s when his socialization broke down. It was bad enough he’d bogart the joint. Unforgivable, really. But he’d also turn into a bully, instinctively singling out the one person most ill at ease with him and getting in their face, shaking his monkey fist at them and acting like he was going to beat them up. As long as you weren’t that person, it was hilarious. Or maybe it was the weed that made it seem so.

Zach’s visit was epic and very festive. It obviously made quite an impression on Matt’s not quite, live-in girlfriend, who showed up four days before Christmas with his surprise present—a capuchin monkey.

To say he was speechless is an overstatement. He was stunned. Shocked. Nearly catatonic. His lifestyle, attention to detail and, truth be told, love of animals was stretched to the breaking point just taking care of his antisocial cat, Fartin’ Franklin. Franklin had been a rescue of sorts. He’d found him on his doorstep, starving and near death. He offered him a home, food and even an expensive trip to the vet. In return, Franklin mostly hid under the bed, emerging only long enough to eat, defecate and, whenever company was over, walk into the living room and expel the sort of gas that made grown men cry.

His girlfriend, no heavyweight in the common sense department, had brought the monkey over in the kind of flimsy cardboard box you might use to transport a sick kitten. When she opened the box to show him his present, the inevitable occurred. The monkey made a break for it. What happened next wasn’t pretty.

If the basic stress reaction is fight or flight, the monkey was adept at both. It scampered around the living room, knocking over lamps, an open beer, several breakable knick-knacks and his turntable, which crashed to the floor, breaking into more pieces than he thought possible.

It raced up the curtains, pulling them and their rods down, ran across the room, jumped up onto the dining table and from there up onto a high shelf, from which it proceeded to evacuate its bowels and fling monkey poop at both of them.

At this point, Franklin wandered out in response to the commotion. Upon seeing the cat, the monkey apparently thought he’d make a good hostage, leaping down off the shelf, grabbing the startled cat under one arm and high-tailing it into the bedroom, accompanied by cat howls, hisses and sounds generally only heard when cats are mating.

Finally cornered, the monkey used the cat as a shield, a wasted move as they were both ultimately able to get a firm grip on his squirming torso, though not before suffering scratches, bites and blows.

“Jesus Christ,” he said, as they struggled to get a collar and leash she’d at least had the farsightedness to buy on the beast. “What were you thinking?”

“I thought you’d like him. I thought he’d be like Suds,” she sobbed.

He wasn’t.

Matt spent the better part of the next day building a dining table-size cage for the monkey out of 2x4s and wooden dowels. Needless to say, the monkey didn’t like it but eventually settled down, passing his time in fits of autoeroticism, feces throwing and middle-of-the-night howling.

In the days leading up to Christmas, the monkey managed to thoroughly disgust—generally by throwing poopballs with remarkable accuracy—everyone who dropped by. They agreed the monkey had to be taken back to the “pet” store from which it was purchased. He practiced a speech in anticipation of the resistance he was sure he’d encounter, given he’d concluded the owner was of questionable scruples. Lawsuits and arson figured prominently in his prepared remarks.

And then, around noon on Christmas Eve, a remarkable thing happened. A friend, a former girlfriend actually, dropped by with her four-year-old son. Davey was, at a time it was still socially permissible to say so, retarded. Born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck tight enough to starve his brain of oxygen, Davey was slow to develop in every way and faced a severely limited future.

But as soon as he walked into the room the monkey calmed down, fixed his gaze on the boy and became simultaneously docile and intensely curious. Davey walked slowly over to the cage and the two of them stood silently for some minutes, as if locked in a kind of telepathic link.

“Unbelievable,” Matt said.

After briefly explaining the horror show that was the monkey, the two of them slipped gingerly past the cage and into the kitchen to prepare a pot of tea. Davey and the monkey continued their empathetic communion.

As time passed, the monkey started making soothing sounds. Eventually the two touched each other’s hands, an embrace that eventually led to the monkey sitting on Davey’s shoulder, albeit still securely tethered to the cage. It was a touching, if implausible, scene.

Ever hopeful, he leaned close to his friend and whispered, “Wouldn’t you like to give Davey a monkey for Christmas?”

“Are you offering me your monkey?” she whispered back, smiling.

“I’ll even throw in the cage. Look at the two of them; he’d love it.”

“Let me think about it,” she said, looking pensively toward the ceiling. “Not a chance,” she said, before she’d even taken a breath.

“You want me to ask Davey?” he queried.

“You want to be on crutches for Christmas?” she replied. “I’ve got a seven-year-old daughter, Davey and a husband unable to cope with the fact the only son he’ll ever have is retarded. And you want me to take your head case monkey?”

“Point taken,” he said, firm resignation escaping with his voice.

After they’d gone he called his whacko girlfriend, donned his thickest gloves, stuffed the fighting monkey into the cat’s crate, picked her up at her house and headed for the pet store. Upon seeing them enter the store, the owner seemed to scan the premises for a magical escape route, sensing exactly what was about to happen.

The refund, grudgingly given, was easier than he expected. On the way to the car, his girlfriend said, “So what would you like for Christmas?”

“No surprises,” he said. “No surprises. Never again.”

 

This story originally appeared in Pique’s 2014 Christmas issue and is reprinted with the author’s permission. G.D. Maxwell is a long-time Pique columnist who attests that “virtually all of this story is both autobiographical and true. I shit you not. I’ve still got psychic scars from that damn monkey.”    

Abishag, Hodesh and Rizpah throw a party

By Katherine Fawcett

One night, a very long time ago, a brilliant star appeared suddenly in the Eastern sky and shone through a crack in the stonewall of a wise man’s compound. The hair on the back of his neck pricked up, he dropped the bird feather he had been cleaning his teeth with, and clutched his chest. He rushed out into the courtyard and looked toward the heavens, hands shading his eyes from the glare. He knew that the celestial illumination was a sign that a miracle of miracles was about to occur.

Or, it had just occurred.

Or it was occurring at this very moment.

He buttoned his velvet cloak, laced his leather boots and bid farewell to all of his wives. He knew that the other wise men would be doing the same with their cloaks, boots and wives.

“Do not try to stop me,” he said, thrumming his bejeweled fingers towards the women like he was playing a harp. “The time is nigh.”

They had not tried to stop him.

In fact, the wives were quite a bit happier when their wise man wasn’t around, with his maps and charts and scrolls and compasses and pages upon pages of calculations strewn all over the table. Things were less stressful when he was gone. And tidier.

As he adjusted the angle of his hat, the women whispered that perhaps they should have a few people from the village over once the wise man had rounded the corner, past the grove of wild pomegranate trees.

The wise man gazed at his reflection in a looking glass, smoothed his beard and eyebrows and said, “The brilliant star shall no doubt lead me to a destination of opulence and dignity, befitting the arrival of The Messiah.”

The wives snickered: Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the star shone over a pigpen or a cattle stall?

“Why are you laughing?!?” roared the wise man. “This journey is too important to put into words. I know not how far I shall travel. I know not when I shall return. But I know that my quest is part of a story that will live forever.”

“Okay. Well, see ya,” said Hodesh, the youngest wife. Hodesh had eyes of hazel and breasts like loaves of fennel bread, with nipples as succulent as olives. The wise man knew he would miss her the most. He took Hodesh’s hands in his and attempted to put it into words anyhow. “Tonight, the heavens reveal that which the world has awaited, according to the prophecies of Daniel. Glory to God on this holiest of nights.”

“Sure. Happy trails then,” said Rizpah, the middle wife, resting her head on Hodesh’s shoulder and chewing on a chunk of her own hair. This hair-chewing was a habit the wise man outwardly despised, but inside he thought it was endearing. It kind of made him want to stay. But, no! Star of wonder! Star of night! Star of royal beauty bright! He’d spent his entire life studying and preparing for this night.

Oops! He almost forgot. A gift.

Surely the wise man could not arrive at whatever palace or divine monastery lay ahead without an offering of riches. He opened the lid of a box carved from fine walnut-tree wood and scooped handfuls of gold coins into his travelling purse.

“Oh, ho ho. No you don’t,” said his first wife. Abishag had beady black eyes like those of a mole. On her chin and cheeks were the whiskers of a rodent. She was currently ripe with child, although for the life of him, the wise man couldn’t recall fornicating with her in the past year.

But pregnant or not, the wise man didn’t appreciate being chastised by the wench. “Wife! I must bring something! Forsooth, would you have me arrive sans gift on this auspicious occasion?”

Abishag felt a wash of heartburn rise from her gigantic womb. “Fine,” she said, frowning at the sour taste in her throat. “Take something if you must. But not the gold.” She chucked him a lump of myrrh. The wise man caught the resin, lifted it to his face and inhaled. It smelled pleasant enough. This would have to do. Besides, he was in no mood to spar with his eldest wife. He was to meet his two fellow wise men under the pistachio tree in lower Galilee within the hour of the star’s appearance. Evening spats with Abishag typically lasted until dawn of the following day.

The wise man poured the coins of gold back into the box, turned without a word and walked out into the night. As light from the new star illuminated his way through the courtyard, past the grove of wild pomegranate trees and into the rugged hills, his eyes filled with tears of joy and anticipation.

Once the wise man was out of sight, Hodesh, Rizpah and Abishag became giddy. While it was true that on occasion the three were bitter and competitive with each other, the star seemed to bring out a spirit of celebration, generosity and levity.

In their festive mood, the wives laid the table with bread, wine, roasted grain, raisins and fig cakes. They invited the wives and children of the other wise men to join them. Shepherds and tax collectors heard the merry noises and joined in as well. Soon the place was filled: Fine boys with drums. The daughters of stressed innkeepers. Carpenters. Prostitutes. Beggars and thieves. Musicians, fishmongers and priests. It seemed everyone had stepped out that night to witness the light of the new star. And eventually, everyone made it over to the wise man’s place, even though he was somewhere else, searching for divinity.

Within the courtyard walls, people discarded their differences and sang together. They danced. They played board games and did jigsaw puzzles. They laughed and ate, argued and drank, gossiped and smoked. They shared dreams of peace and spoke of happy times. They marveled at life’s miracles and remembered loved ones long gone.

As the night wore on, Abishag started feeling badly about the gold coins, and the sharpness with which she had spoken to the wise man before his departure. “What good would the coins do anyone sitting in that wooden box?” she asked her sister-wives. Hodesh and Rizhah could not think of an answer, so at the end of the evening, the travellers, neighbours, strangers and friends were each given a piece of gold before they headed home.

“It was a good party,” said Hodesh as they were tidying up.

“We should make this a tradition,” said Rizpah, swiping some hummus with her finger.

Abishag lay on a pile of cushions. Her feet were swollen, her cheeks flushed red, and her lower back ached. Her hands rested upon her middle, when suddenly there came a flutter of kicks from her unborn child.

“Come! Feel this!” she beckoned. The younger wives placed their hands upon the first wife’s mound and felt the baby turn and kick and wiggle about. They oohed and aahed. Abishag smiled. Usually, she didn’t like to be touched, but on this night she didn’t mind.

They stayed like that for a long time—Hodesh stroking Abishag’s belly, Rizpah curled up on the cushions chewing on a chunk of hair, Abishag thinking of baby names—until they all fell into a deep slumber.

If the wise man had been there, he would have seen the women, their serene faces awash in radiant starlight, basking in the afterglow of community and love. And perhaps then he might not have felt so inclined to seek out a different miracle.

 

This story originally appeared in Pique’s 2018 Christmas issue and is reprinted with the author’s permission. Katherine Fawcett is a Squamish-based author of four books. Her latest, The Swan Suit (Douglas & McIntyre, March 2020), is a collection of adult short stories that examine transition, betrayal, truth and sacrifice through a feminist fairy tale lens. Fawcett is also a musician; she teaches at the Whistler Waldorf School and the Squamish Waldorf School.

Merry Christmas, you bastards

By Braden Dupuis

It was Christmas Eve morning—typically the most hectic day of the year at the North Pole.

But something was off.

Santa knew he should be checking his list twice, saddling reindeer and barking orders at elves, but he could only sit and stare at his newly purchased phone.

He couldn’t bring himself to actually look at it—he could only watch it vibrate incessantly on his fireside table, and wonder at what vulgar obscenities it was stockpiling now.

The notifications started slowly at first, but before long the sound of ringing bells was echoing nonstop through the cozy, North Pole lodge. Santa was forced to switch the phone to silent after an hour.

For years, Santa had resisted joining the world of mobile phones and social media, opting instead to stick with his legendary omniscient powers to stay up to date on the thoughts and moods of the gift-craving public.

But in recent days he was forced to cave to the pressures of time and technology. His powers were great, and greatly coveted, but they did not afford the luxury of following these newfangled “hashtags.”

And after a particularly bad couple of weeks, jolly old Santa, much to his chagrin, had become just another hashtag.

SANTA MEETS THE PRESS

It started, oddly enough, with NASA.

A report out of the renowned space agency found an unusual spike in greenhouse-gas emissions directly over the North Pole.

An investigation revealed horrors the world could not easily comprehend.

A massive, sprawling reindeer farm, stretching farther than the eye could see, reindeer packed body to body without a single inch to move or breathe.

The methane released from this disastrously unethical farm had singlehandedly pushed humanity past the tipping point, NASA confirmed — climate change was now guaranteed to kill hundreds of millions of people in the next two decades.

And it was all Santa’s fault.

For the first time in his honourable and beloved legacy, Santa would have to face the press.

“So...” one reporter asked after 10 minutes of pointed questioning, tears bunched up in the corners of his eyes, “does this mean the reindeer we all know and love—Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, and so on—they’re not always the same reindeer?”

Santa looked deeply into the reporter’s eyes with the wisdom of 200 grandfathers.

“Of course they’re not!” he spat in exasperation.

“Reindeer don’t live forever—that’s just stupid!”

The assembled reporters exchanged confused glances, but nobody bothered with the obvious followup.

Santa sighed.

“Flying around the world in one night is not as magical as it seems,” he continued, trying to stay calm.

“It’s terribly stressful on the reindeer, and a single Christmas will see us use multiple teams of nine reindeer. And of course, accidents will happen...”

Santa’s voice trailed off as his powerful memory took him back to the great disaster of 1969, when a tremendous gust of wind steered his sleigh into the side of a mountain, instantly killing all nine in his team.

Backup team Alpha was delivered to his location immediately, and Santa was back in the air in minutes. But he would not easily forget the sounds of his dying comrades’ screams...

He shook himself out of the horrific flashback, back to his new terrible reality.

“The farm is used as a sort of training ground—the strongest reindeer are groomed for flight, and the very best of the best will take on the esteemed titles of Santa’s Sleigh,” he explained.

“And... and what about the rest?” another reporter asked.

“Oh, we kill them and serve them to the elves,” Santa replied. “With a little bit of green dye their skin makes great elf outfits, and the meat can be used to make just about anything.”

Most of the assembled press looked as if they might be sick.

“Santa... this is a disaster,” one reporter said, not bothering to hide the disdain in her voice.

“WELL WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?!” Santa roared in frustration, cowering the throng of press before him.

Santa’s rage was a sight to behold.

“The whole damn world wants their presents, they want ‘em on Christmas morning and they want ‘em for free! How the hell am I supposed to do that without my goddamn reindeer?!”

A man holding a microphone in front of Santa’s face began to sob loudly.

Santa removed his tiny, frosted glasses from the tip of his rosy, red nose and rubbed his temples deeply.

“I’m surrounded by morons,” he sighed.

Santa’s first press conference did not go well.

#NotMySanta

The backlash was swift and brutal. Within hours, Hollywood celebrities were publicly denouncing Santa and his reindeer farm, and the hashtag #NotMySanta was Twitter’s No. 1 trending topic worldwide for days.

Even the Pope spoke out against Santa.

“Santa’s treatment of millions of reindeers is totally not cool, #NotMySanta” he tweeted from the official Vatican account.

“Very weak, Santa. Super lame. #disappointed.”

Santa’s reclusive lifestyle had been respected for hundreds of years. For the most part, the public just let him do his thing. Most people didn’t even believe in him!

But once the news broke about the farm, Santa was public enemy No. 1.

Every aspect of his life became a scandal.

Santa was bashed publicly for his rosy cheeks (is he an alcoholic?), his jolly belly like a bowl full of jelly (how many reindeers did he eat to get that fat?), and even the one thing he took the most pride in — delivering presents to the people of the world.

All at once he was hit with millions of lawsuits and charges — hundreds of millions of cases of break and enter, invasion of privacy and even indecent exposure (more than a few little Jeremys had walked in on Santa leaving a Yuletide log in the bathroom when the eggnog became too much to bear).

Santa knew it was over, but he could feel the end coming long before the public turned on him. The trend had been noticeable for some time.

The world had simply become too cynical a place for jolly ol’ Saint Nick in the age of social media. It was as if everyone had forgotten what it meant to actually care for each other, and instead spent their time spewing empty outrage into the deep, dark void.

Santa took out his favourite ink and quill, unfurled a sheet of parchment and set to writing one last poem.

“We give gifts, we break bread with each other in warmth, for the world is too often so cold.

We lean on each other, in sickness and health, from infancy right into old.

I brought happiness, hope, brought you kindness and joy, brought you wonder in wonderless times.

Now you’re thankless and spoiled, caught up in the toil of arrogance, anger and pride.

You spat and you shat, you egged and hashtagged, you built fires of hatred, and fought.

You alienated each other for years, and yes, you deserved what you got.

Yes the world will soon end, but let’s not pretend Santa Claus pushed you out on the ledge.

Your ignorance, laziness, penchant for greed is what put you here, right at the edge.

So you won’t see me slide down your chimney this year, your Christmas trees shall remain bare.

No stockings will fill and no milk will be swilled, but I can’t say that I really care.

I’ve got better distractions than your waspy whining, it’s boring and I’ve no use for it.

So Merry Christmas, you bastards, you ungrateful pricks, let’s just say I’m too old for this shit.”

Santa put down his quill and smiled to himself.

“Merry Christmas, you bastards” he said, as he tossed his phone into the crackling fire.

 

This story originally appeared in Pique’s 2016 Christmas issue. You can read the sequel at piquenewsmagazine.com/cover-stories/stocking-stuffer-stories-2509022. Braden Dupuis is Pique’s senior reporter who is probably getting a lump of coal from Santa this year.

Going home for Christmas

By Angie Nolan

On Dec. 24, 1979, the prognosis on the children’s ward at Silver Banks Hospital (SBH) would have been that Christmas was on steroids. Doctors, nurses, desk clerks, cleaning staff were all decorated in festive attire—Santa hats, ugly sweaters, tinsel necklaces, jingling bells and anything that glimmered in hope. It was Christmas Eve after all, and the overriding wish of every child on the ward was to be able to go home for Christmas. Some would get their wish. Some would not.

Little Josephine Pyne still wasn’t sure if she would be lucky enough to wake up at home on Christmas Day or not. She had been feeling so much better lately. Josephine, or Jojo as most would call her, hadn’t been too hot or too cold in a few days. The blankets didn’t stick to her body anymore, like the cotton baton on the construction paper cards her Grade 4 classmates had made for her. Jojo’s fever blisters were almost all gone and she was able to eat macaroni and cheese again. She told her favourite nurse, Nurse Kelly, that one of her Christmas wishes was to never eat soup again. Well, Nurse Kelly must be magic, because for breakfast the next morning she brought Jojo a bowl full of warm mac and cheese with extra cheese on it!

“Merry Christmas, sweet Jojo,” said Nurse Kelly. “I hope all your Christmas wishes come true.”

“Do you think I’ll get to go home?” asked Jojo.

“There’s a good chance you might if your appetite keeps up and the fever stays away today,” Nurse Kelly reassured her.

“Home?” spoke a weary voice from across the room.

Nurse Kelly walked over to the bed and opened the curtain. “Well hello, sleepyhead!” she said. “Would you like some breakfast?”

“No,” replied the weak voice.

Nurse Kelly gently buzzed around a girl in the bed. She was 13-year-old Tessa Dawn, who had been at Silver Banks for an entire eight months. Six and a half months longer than Jojo.

Some days, Tessa Dawn would be bright and cheery, shuffling through the ward telling Jojo and the other kids silly jokes or stories of her exciting trips to Hawaii and Disneyland.

Some days, she wouldn’t get out of bed at all.

On the good days, Tessa would also strut around with a brand new device called a Sony Walkman. Some kind stranger had given it to her because they felt bad she had to be in the hospital for so long. It was like a mini-stereo that she could play cassette tapes on. Her favorite singer was Billy Joel and she played his tape over and over and over again. Sometimes she would let Jojo and the other kids listen on her headphones. The song she played the most was “Only the Good Die Young.”

“So be as bad as you can be, you’ll live longer!” she would exclaim.

Many adults and staff on the ward didn’t think it was a very appropriate song, but Jojo and Nurse Kelly knew that it somehow made Tessa Dawn feel better.

“Tessa Dawn, sweetie, it’s Christmas Eve day. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit up and see the sunshine?” Nurse Kelly coaxed.

She opened the blinds on Tessa Dawn’s side of the room and let the day blaze in. It was a glistening morning with bluebird skies and sparkling snow.

Tessa Dawn only replied in soft moans. “Home?”

Jojo watched in hesitation as Nurse Kelly wound up Tessa Dawn’s bed until the patient was partially sitting up.

“Home?” Tessa Dawn gurgled again.

Nurse Kelly pulled down the bed’s sidebar and sat next to Tessa Dawn, stroking her duck-fuzz hair.

“We’ll talk to your mom and dad when they get here. OK?”

As if on cue, Christmas carols began their barrage of “in-your-face festivities” over the hospital’s loudspeaker. Jojo watched in delight as the staff danced down the halls, in and out of rooms, skipping through their morning rounds, dropping a little love at every child’s bed along the way.

Parents, who hadn’t stayed the night, started to arrive in droves and Tessa Dawn’s were the first. Jojo pursed her lips together nervously as she watched Nurse Kelly sweep them out of the room immediately.

Now, Jojo didn’t always understand the inner workings of adult secrets but she knew what bad news looked like. A mother’s palm cradling her mouth, sometimes her chest; a father’s fists jamming into his coat pockets hard enough to punch the entire world out through the bottom of them if he could, accompanied by the incessant throat clearing of a grown man trying not to cry. She’d seen her own parents do that when she first arrived at Silver Banks, and in that moment she knew Tessa Dawn wouldn’t be going home for Christmas.

Jojo managed to get herself out of bed and over to Tessa Dawn. She climbed up into the bed and cuddled into her frail friend.

“I wish Santa and all the Christmas angels were here right now so I could ask them to make sure you get to go home today,” said Jojo.

Tessa Dawn turned her head towards Jojo’s.

“Can you do something for me?” Tessa Dawn whispered.

Jojo nodded. Tessa Dawn then whispered softly into Jojo’s ear.

Jojo pulled back and looked at her for a moment, scared and confused. Tessa Dawn reassured her that everything would be OK.

Jojo’s parents arrived shortly thereafter, wearing smiles bigger than crescent moons. Maureen Pyne carried a pink and purple convertible ski jacket that Jojo knew was the perfect size for going home in. Her dad, Teddy Pyne, was giddy and bursting like, well...like a kid on Christmas Day.

“We get to take you home sweetheart!” he announced, “Isn’t that just wonderful?!”

Yes, it was wonderful, Jojo thought, but how could she possibly go home and leave Tessa Dawn at the hospital? It just didn’t seem like the right or fair or Christmassy thing to do. Like, at all.

“Could we have Christmas Eve here with Tessa Dawn and her family and my other friends too?” Jojo asked, cautiously.

Maureen and Teddy were quick to find reasons why they couldn’t stay.

“But we waited so long for this and...and we’ve decorated the house just for you,” Maureen stuttered.

“There are so many presents and goodies waiting for you at home, sweetheart,” Teddy pleaded.

Jojo was torn. The eagerness in their voices landed hard on her heart. They had all been waiting for a long time for this, but Jojo knew Tessa Dawn and her family had been waiting longer. Maureen noticed her daughter gazing over at Tessa Dawn and her parents. She understood the situation immediately. A mother knows another mother’s pain.

Under a stifled sigh, Maureen suggested, “You know what, you’ve made some wonderful friends here Jojo. It might be a nice idea if we all spend Christmas Eve together before going home.”

Once the decision had been made, Teddy and the other fathers, looking for any kind of task to keep them from punching the world through their pockets, rallied to gather all the things required for a much needed injection of joy on the children’s ward today. This meant quick trips home to grab portable stereos, cassette tapes, photo cameras, Santa suits, unopened presents, eggnog and all the things fathers know make Christmas extra special.

The hospital staff gathered cots, beds, blankets and pillows to make sure everyone had somewhere to sleep. Jojo was quick to point out to Nurse Kelly that this would never happen on any other night of the year! Nurse Kelly told her she was right.

The night swelled into a magical soiree of tall tales, caroling, dancing and an endless supply of twinkling moments.

Amidst the revelry, Tessa Dawn smiled, soaked it all in and stayed awake as long as she possibly could. When Jojo noticed her friend starting to fade, she grabbed the portable cassette player that Teddy had brought in. Shuffling stealthily over to Tessa Dawn’s bedside with it, she slowly turned down the Bing Crosby’s Christmas Classics cassette that was already playing. Jojo then gently placed it on the bed next to Tessa Dawn, ejecting Bing Crosby and carefully replacing him with Billy Joel. Miraculously, the tape was already set to Side B, Song 2. Jojo pressed play and turned up the volume.

As “Only the Good Die Young” echoed throughout the room, their parents reacting in varying degrees of disbelief, laughter and confusion, Jojo wrapped her tiny hand around her friend’s fingers.

“Merry Christmas, Tessa Dawn.”

Tessa Dawn smiled, lightly looped her fingers into Jojo’s and whispered, “Thank you. I guess I’m a good one.”

And there, held in the bosom of moonbeam blessings and wrapped with the light of love in its rawest form, Tessa Dawn said her goodbyes and went “home” for Christmas.

 

This story was originally published in Pique’s 2019 Christmas issue and is reprinted with the author’s permission. Angie Nolan is a Vancouver-based writer, director, actor, educator and award-winning filmmaker.