Harry Grivens had inherited it from his mother. An obsessive excitement about all things Christmas. His mother, Mary, would start her Christmas shopping January every year, her secret way of accruing all the magical gifts that dwarfed her illuminated pine tree every 25th. of December. From her meagre budget she miraculously produced gifts for her children, her husband, her relatives, friends, and even homeless people she had struck up conversations with on the street.
Harry always said he’d found the spirit of Christmas in her eyes, which brimmed with tears of joy as she handed out her gifts to each and every one. He called her Mary Christmas.
Now here he was, a boy grown into a man, an old man, rushing around his little rented apartment with all the enthusiasm of his youth. It was dawn of Christmas morn and all his gifts for those nearest and dearest to him surrounded his little electronic tree in the living room. As he manically prepared the turkey, roasted the chicken, and cut the ham into generous slices, he wondered who’d be the first to show up at his door. Everyone had accepted his invitation with such surprise and enthusiasm that he laughed wondering how his little apartment would hold them all. He knew somewhere, in that other country, that thinly veiled dimension, his mum was smiling at him and proud of the efforts he’d made to duplicate her day of giving.
He was betting that his son, Jamie, would be the first to excitedly knock on his door. Harry hadn’t spent a Christmas with him in eighteen years. He stopped carving the ham as he froze in the stunted memory of where all those years had gone. A tear appeared in his eye as he thought about what a wonderful Christmas gift it’d be if God gave him back all those years. He had made so many mistakes. Not out of meanness or not caring but just because so much had happened 18 years ago to pull the rug out from under his established life that he’d had no experience in how to think straight in such circumstances. His successful and envied life had come to an abrupt end at the peak of his ability when he ended his partnership with a man he no longer trusted and who seemed hell-bent on self-destructing, taking all those who rode with him along for the nosedive. Harry had thought he was doing the noble thing by getting rid of this man. Yes, he was standing up over a principle and although he didn’t expect to be lauded a hero, he certainly hadn’t anticipated the trauma and devastation that awaited him and those he’d loved.
He looked down at the cold wet sensation of his wrist and realized he’d cut himself with the carving knife. He hadn’t even felt it. Perhaps he was numb to everything when he thought of those wasted years. Perhaps his only way of dealing with the loss. His business partner fine-printed Harry out of his fortune and assets until he had nothing but his integrity left. But Harry was to learn that such a high moral ideal meant nothing to anyone if you had no money and a tarnished reputation by association. They judged winners by who got away with the most money. Harry realized he’d have to wait for a much higher judgment if he wanted an acknowledgment for doing the right thing.
Harry unsteadily sat on the nearest chair and looked down at the blood dripping from his hand. He thought of Pontius Pilate washing the blood from his hands rather than making a decision to save the life of another: and Pilate’s terse remark to Jesus when the prisoner mentioned truth, “What is truth? …Your truth or mine?” Harry’s body started to jerk uncontrollably now as he bowed his head and sobbed for the naïve, good man he once had been. After eighteen years in the wilderness Harry strongly doubted that he’d ever stand up over a principle again. He couldn’t afford to. Everything was gone you see? The work, the money, the house, the marriage, the child whom he’d loved more than life itself, and, now, finally Harry. Looking down at the pool of blood at his feet he realized how deep the cut was and knew he was bleeding to death. The blood was draining from his body and he was feeling weak. Numb. Even more numb than usual. The thought of that ignited something in him and he rose and kicked the chair into the next room narrowly missing breaking many of the gift wrapped presents piled high around his $13.99 electric Christmas tree. He grabbed a napkin from the table and pressed it down hard against the wound. He turned off the oven, made it down the stairs and hailed a taxi to the ER of his nearest hospital.
When the nurse on duty saw the blood soaked napkin Harry was immediately admitted deemed unsuitable for waiting. He was rushed into a room where a nice Indian doctor sowed up his cut and made jokes that Harry laughed at without really hearing. He was concerned, no, distressed, that his son may’ve shown up at his door to find him not home. And that he’d think his father had let him down again. He wanted him to know that he didn’t do these things on purpose and that some things are beyond your control. They just…happen. They just happen. The kindly doctor, aware of Harry’s anxiety and, to him, incoherent rambling about his son, administered a sedative and had a nurse escort his patient to an outside cab rank.
As Harry climbed the stairs to his apartment his inherited Christmas spirits rose again and he found himself calling out, “Jamie are you there?…Here I come!…I had a stupid accident that’s all….You know me!… Accident prone…Your silly dad, huh?…Don’t worry, just give me an hour and you’ll have the feast of your life!…” But reaching the top floor he realized he was talking to himself. He looked down in hope to see if there were any tell tale signs that his son had come, waited, and gone. But no. There’d been no visitors from what he saw. None at all.
With some difficulty he inserted the key into his lock and opened the front door. He was home. Whatever that meant. A new enthusiasm energized him when he looked at the clock and realized it was still only 10.30am. What an idiot he was. His guests hadn’t arrived yet because it hadn’t reached the appointed hour. Hope sprang eternal again. He turned on the oven and looked around at all his preparations and felt the joy his mother had felt all those years ago, knowing what a wonderful day awaited the cherished ones.
At 2.45pm Harry found himself sitting at the head of his small table, wearing his Christmas hat, and staring at the perfectly roasted turkey, chicken, sliced ham, rustic potatoes and other goodies worthy of a king on a budget. In the background Christmas music played on endless repeat and now he was listening to Bing Crosby, his mum’s favourite. He turned off the pot of boiling water bringing life to his plum pudding and caught a reflection of himself in the shiny salt and pepper shakers. He looked ridiculous. He wearily took his Christmas hat off and went to sit in his living room to gaze at all the unopened gifts.
He’d been hoping to have a beautiful bonding Christmas day with his son which explained his anxiousness about every detail of it being perfect. He’d wanted him to experience the type of Christmas his dad had known when he was young, and his mother was still alive.
Harry’s ex-wife had not allowed their son to spend one Christmas day with his dad in eighteen years and even when Harry had gone to a woman lawyer, who was appalled at the situation and sent Harry’s ex several very serious legal letters, Jamie’s mother defused the situation by agreeing to allow Harry and son a Christmas. But unlike Christmas, it never came. There was always a reason. Harry wondered how someone could hurt another so cruelly. Had he treated her so? Or was she just bitter that the money and the expensive trinkets all went away?
She had also told his son lies. Told him Harry had deserted them both. Left them with nothing. Never paid alimony. Lies, lies, lies. Trouble was, how could Harry set the record straight without telling his son his mother was a liar? He’d attempted to explain the real story one day but it ended bitterly with another two precious years wasted in not talking.
The truth was that eighteen years ago Harry’s career had finished in his homeland. Although he’d taken action to get rid of his business partner, those facts were buried deep beneath the guilty by association tag that was so much easier for people to remember. In the end he was advised by his lawyer, friends and wife that it’d be easier to resume his career in Los Angeles where he was still highly regarded. Over there the only thing that lived was the work, not the innuendo and cocktail gossip. In fact, his wife, so convinced it was the right decision, eagerly drove him to the airport. He’d realized later that she’d wanted him gone as she had a more promising option awaiting his exit. Harry had left her everything his business partner hadn’t taken, mainly a big mansion and everything in it. The sale of it intended as a big one lump sum payment to her and the welfare of their son. In contrast, Harry walked through the airport departure door with a suitcase, the clothes he was wearing and enough money to last him a year in L.A if he lived like a monk. Then one year became two, then three and so on for nine years that seemed to go by like nine months.
Harry sat on his couch and thought that perhaps he deserved this Christmas. He couldn’t wait until New Year’s Eve to pledge that he would never stand up over a principle again; or love something too much lest it be taken from you.
His only ambition now was a simple one – he just wanted his son to know the truth and how much his dad had loved him, and…everything.
Then he looked up and saw his mother standing by the electronic flashing Christmas tree. Her eyes were filled with that all too familiar Christmas joy and her accompanying smile not only warmed Harry’s heart but healed it.
“Have you been a good boy, son?”
“Yes mum, I have tried so hard to be. But I feel old and weary from the trying.”
“What do you want most this Christmas, Harry? And I’ll see if I have it for you.”
Harry’s voice trembled as it always did when he got too emotional, “I want to be home, mum. I’ve been trying to get back there for so long but I think I took the long way. And got lost somewhere.”
Harry felt something and realized his wound had reopened. Maybe they all have to be reopened before one can truly begin again?
No one was in Harry’s apartment to see him go. So many had wanted to be there but things just got in their way. But that was Life, huh?
(c) 2015 Frank Howson