Candy, My stocking Is Stuffed With
Somehow or another I was able to slip out through the sliding glass door just off the kitchen without waking anyone up. Come dawn, some restless aunt or third-cousin-twice-removed would doubtless make it her chirpy morning mission to get the coffee going, start the cooking, and indulge the pets with crudites from this evening’s feast. But at this time and on this night it’s just me and the moon. And a chilled westering breeze. By the time I strike my Zippo and grab my first puff of the last three hours, a veil of powdery snow, like a ghost of ashes, drifts across the lawn then gets caught in the creaking trees.
It’s Christmas in Tennessee and I can almost hear the moisture freeze each time I breathe. I venture away from the house, away from the shadow of this evening’s cacophony of relatives who know each other only through this ritual gathering in Gatlinburg at the timeshare-cabins that everyone chips a little in for.
I’m not sure why we all celebrate Christmas but for tradition… my side of the congregation consisting mostly of atheists and nobody inside the cabin is at all particularly religious. I suppose we gather to celebrate that another year’s done gone without anybody being taken from us. We share cheap, gallon-jug, red wine and participate disinterestedly in the 5,000 piece puzzle strewn across the coffee table in the den.
There’s a yule log in the fireplace and beside it is hot-apple cider marked either “grown ups’” or “kids’”. This year the music is more for persons of a particular age: velveteen Bing Crosby or Ella Fitzgerald, sprinkled here and there with Vince Gauraldi.
Of course we all unspokenly rejoice in the very real comfort of a-whole-nother year passing with no one in the family going insane. This family is as gilt in genius as we are wrought in pain. From childhood through-on to centenarian, some part of our inheritance will come whirling dervishly at us. My son once when he was younger awakened both myself and his mother at two in the morning with howls of fear and imminent pain. But when we opened the door we found him still sleeping – upright on his futon bed, eyes wide, arms at his side, and we could not wake him. The next day we rang his pediatrician who explained it with nonchalance as “night terrors”. As if a two year-old child could have anything to be scared of besides missing a nap now and then. And five years ago my cousin Jamie, just then recovering from rape, while we all played White Elephant Gift Exchange, wandered outside to just about here when she’d stopped to exclaim: “GETTHEFUCKOFFME, GETTHEFUCKOFFME!!”.
Childish of me to wonder if the smoke I exhale might disturb the Jade Rabbit. Could my wishes be heard by the stars. But what then could they do for me? All pasted in place. So sad and alone, so beautiful. So distant.
“Starlight, starbright,” I catch myself whispering.
Suddenly the peace of this utterly silent night is shattered by the remote stirrings of some creature about three yards out. A mouse or a shrew out rummaging about within this selfsame spot for what – two minutes – four? It seems like forever; it may well be just a couple of seconds
− peep peep!
− … … PEEP
− (even the beats of his silence sound desperate for answer)
It may be that he’s broken his leg or something and he’s calling out for help.
That lie. That greatest lie a man ever told: that sweet relief to hear that everything’s gonna be alright. That from one moment to the next to the next there will exist an unbreakable continuity which God Himself – should I be so bold? – could not and would not break. As if the details of our days either matter not – we are so minuscule – or, paradoxically, are such vital gears in the works of God’s greatest timepiece – so we’d best wind on unafraid and ever forward. Either nothing really matters or everything counts! So why be so timid? Why would a coward die a thousand deaths if he could die but once? Surely, there must be some explanation waiting for us at the end of our road to perdition that must be some answer, some apology for all of life’s great deprivations, humiliations & indignities?!
As if his friends & family, like mine, just inside, might hear his pleas for help and come rescue him from extermination. Right. Maybe his leg is fine. Could it just be that like me he’s left the dank den for some air on this full-moon night to gather his thoughts? Or maybe he’s wishing on those sequined stars up above us. It could well be that his wood mouse squeaks might be more a Pater Nostra than an S. O. S.? Or could it be that I’ve read waaaay to much into this?
It could be that this year my family won’t have my sanity to celebrate. He squeaks until I smoke my whole cigarette; Five? Six minutes – start to finish? Then another full minute longer… the intervals between each new peep sound more resigned to fate, yet so much more utterly desperate.
Then from above me and just missing my right-sholder and ear
a BIRD like a torn-off limb simultaneously lands and uplifts: a great-horned owl, I’m certain.
The whole world once again returns to ice crystal silence except for the breeze being torn through the arthritic knuckles of the dagger-like trees.
Next morning I’ll rise with the biscuits and reach in my stocking all but certain only coal there awaits me. A daily, if repressed, pang of involuntary knowing: we are all blind here and slowly rushing toward a cliff we know not how far away.
I slide the door back in place as my restless son, who’s awakened by my own awakening wanders up. I bend to lift him and kiss him and bring him back to bed.
“What is it, daddy?”
“Nothing, Otis. Everything’s okay.”
But is it?