This was the quality Christmas had: Mom working on her plans of escape. Dad with his closed-door dreams. The Christmas angel drunk on top of the tree. Dad had recently come to think of Mom as a threat to his happiness.
I imagined the cold stable where Jesus nursed at the bosom of his mother, a mother who probably liked being there with the horses and sheep.There were stables here in our town. Mostly, they were inhabited by cows who seemed perfectly friendly, yet trampled people for walking too close to their babies.
I felt snug with Dad on the sofa, his arm around me, where Mom should have been.
Near Christmas, it rained every day. Bonkers would follow me around the coffee table and then out to the back yard and over to the neighbor’s field.
I’d stand there and imagine being confident enough to sing Christmas carols to the cows. I made up a quiet Christmas carol about all of the places that mom could go to and feel happier in.
For example, she loved the idea of Scotland. I wrote a private carol about Mom, living the high-life in Edinburgh, taking tea with Scottish Quakers. People she’d respect.
I remember just a few years before this one. Mom and Dad hugged a lot and I thought “We are a Christmassy family”.
The hugging went on and on that Christmas. But later, when I was older, Dad said they had been experimenting with taking mushrooms, and that was why things seemed so friendly.
About my quiet Christmas carols to the cows, it must have been obvious, perhaps our neighbor thought that I could use a bit of company. He walked out of his house holding a bowl of water for the dogs.
“Hello you,,” he said. “Merry, merry, and all of that.”
His wife had died a few years before and he had four very old dogs.
“Merry Christmas,” I said. “Are you keeping most of the dogs inside now?”
“Well, the brothers have been on a tug, getting into fights,” he said. “You are most welcome to visit us, we’d all like that.”
“Maybe later,” I said, and smiled. I tried not to show him that I knew how hard it was for him, all alone. It pierced me, the way nobody seemed to be having a good time on a day when everyone was supposed to be ecstatic. I scampered back home, where the tree lights were on.
I knew Dad was writing to another woman on his phone. I saw one of the emails, knew how he felt about her, and I figured that he was thinking about her even in his dreams.
Mom was humming, baking cookies in the kitchen. At this moment, this is where I wanted to sleep—where the good smells were coming from. The kitchen can be my stable I thought.
Anyway, it wasn’t a terrible Christmas. Dad appeared handsome because of his happy new love. The lopsided angel on our tree looked like she’d come to accept the idea that she’d never stand up straight again.
Meg Pokrass is the author of five flash fiction collections, two novellas-in-flash, and is the recipient of the Blue LIght Book Award. Her work has been internationally anthologized in New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018), Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015), Best Small Fictions – 2018, 2019, Wigleaf Top 50 List (multiple times), and has appeared in over 500 literary magazines including Electric Literature, McSweeney’s Smokelong Quarterly, PANK, Craft, The Center For Fiction, Tin House, Hobart Pulp, and Passages North. Meg currently serves as Flash Challenge Editor for Mslexia Magazine, Series Co-Editor of Best Microfiction, and Managing Editor for New Flash Fiction Review.