[This story was published in this year's christmas edition of SOFTWHISPERS MAGAZINE. My first published story! Yikes! Have fun!]
“No, I won’t have any of this! And what kind of Christmas is that anyway? You folks are nuts!” Christina jumped up, angry, and only seconds after the door slammed behind her. The rest of the family looked at each other over the old round oak table.
“Gods, now that again”, complained Susie. For her six years, she was very grown-up and easily annoyed by teenagers. “What’s wrong with inviting grandma over? She’s crazy.”
Mum put her slender hand on Susie’s tiny, chocolate-smeared paw. “Deary, don’t say such a thing about your sister. It is a difficult age.”
“Oh.” Susie thought about that. “I am going to skip that whole teenage stuff, if you don’t mind.”
The parents smiled at each other over the table. The candles in the middle of the gleaming wooden surface made their eyes shine, although the room was rather dark. It smelled of bee wax, winter spices and freshly cut fir tree. The room had been thoroughly decorated, Christmas stuff on every room that had been unoccupied up to now.
“Why doesn’t she like your mother, anyway?” asked Mum after a silent minute.
Dad shrugged. “I don’t know. They seemed to get along so well before… you know. Maybe it upsets her that Ma won’t go to church with us anymore?”
“You’re probably right. I will go and talk to her later. Now, let’s see that we get everything planned and outlined and the invitation on its way. There’s a gratin in the oven that doesn’t like to wait, you know.” And she smiled at him sweetly. After all these years, their marriage was still strong, and she had never been bothered by her mother-in-law. She looked at the photos on the mantle, over the dancing flames that cast coiling shadows on the small round of old-fashioned pouffes where the family liked to gather during the dark season to tell each other stories and drink tea, hot chocolate and the occasional spiced wine for the grown-ups. In honor to the time of the year, there were blood red and dark green blankets and cushions everywhere.
“Now, is there anything special you would like to do this year?”
Susie raised her hand, and a chocolate stain became visible on the tablecloth. It obscured one of the tiny silver snowflakes that had been embroidered upon it during another long winter season, when Mum and Dad still were young and just waiting for their first child to be born, all excited and insecure about how things would turn out. Dad looked at it and contemplated how lucky they were. Nice kids, great jobs, a nice house not too far from everything – shopping malls as well as forests and rivers – and good family ties. That after all these years his wife would go to so great lengths just to have his mother here as well…
“Yes, Susie, what is it?”
“I will play a tune on the violin. After dinner. When everybody is telling stories, before the games start.”
“This sounds lovely.” Mum mustered a smile. Susie hadn’t been playing the violin all that long – only two months – and every sound she had gotten out of that instrument so far had been torture. But she was so enthusiastic, and surely the family could endure a little lopsided tune for love’s sake.
She wrote it down in her careful, neat handwriting. “Is this everything that is to change?”
Her husband looked at her affectionately. “Why should we change a celebration that has brought so much joy to the family over the years?”
“You’re right, Darling.” Once more she smiled at him sweetly. Christmas was always a bloody lot of work, but she didn’t mind. In fact, she rather liked the whole decorating and Christmas gift shopping and the cooking and planning. She loved to make her home the best possible place for her family, and she enjoyed it when friends of them or their kids showed up spontaneously to catch a bit of this special kind of warmth. It seemed that this was not as usual as one might imagine. Of course, she too had read the statistics about suicides indicating that around the shortest day of the year, an above-average amount of people decided they couldn’t stand it and jumped off something or… she shuddered and determinedly pushed that thought away as far as her conscience would allow.
“Now, then let’s get prepared.”
“Do we need Christina for this?”
“No, three people should do nicely. Besides, I don’t want to let your Ma wait any further. She will think we completely forgot her this year.” Mum turned her head. “Susie, Deary, will you pass me the Ouija board? Now, take each other’s hands and think of our beloved grandmother….”