“Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring …”
“That’s because no one is here to stir,” Maggie mumbled bitterly to herself while watching the children in the cartoon prance across the television in another of the never-ending reruns that fill the television schedule during the holiday season.
She sat at the old kitchen table, peering around in the dim light that flickered with the TV. The dark wooden chair backs peered over the cluttered table like silent ghosts. These quiet uncomplaining figures were her only company these days. They didn’t care if Maggie neglected to turn on a light. Like the other ghosts throughout the large empty house, the chairs seemed to understand that the days of light were over.
Finding the remote control, she shut off the happy Christmas rerun and slammed it back on the table. She set in the darkened room letting her fingers trace over the scars that were worn onto the top of the table. A smile flittered briefly over Maggie’s face. The gouges and groves on the old table were her best friends. Each one held a special memory of years past when children ran through the house full of energy and bursting with excitement. It was amazing that the table still stood – what with all the scissors that had passed over its top; the crayons that had missed the paper and colored the lines of its fine grain.
“Those were horrible days,” Maggie muttered to the chair backs. “Kids constantly running around and fighting. Couldn’t do what they were asked to do. Nights like tonight I wouldn’t be sitting here all nice and quiet.”
Grabbing her empty tea cup, Maggie stood up from the table and walked to the kitchen sink, flipping a light on with her elbow as she walked in. “Oh no,” she continued raising her voice louder as if still speaking to the chair backs. “I would be fighting them. Never would go to bed on time. Half a million times they were up to go to the bathroom, get water, and then go to the bathroom again. Every time I’d go to set out the presents under the tree, here another one would come! It was exhausting.”
Setting her cup down in the empty sink, Maggie looked around the spotless room and felt its emptiness. Those Christmas Eve’s did not end once the children were asleep. After they all were finally snoozing with thoughts of Santa running through their heads and the tree was properly decorated with the bounty of presents, there were still final touches needing to be done in the kitchen. The turkey had to be stuffed and readied for its slow cook in the oven. The glasses that the kids used earlier in the evening for their Christmas eggnog needed to be cleaned and the cabinets had to be wiped down.
Those nights, by the time she had finished her Christmas Eve tasks and sat down to have a glass of eggnog herself, it was already Christmas morning. If she got any sleep at all it would be on the couch with a crocheted afghan thrown over her body.
If the truth were told she had always been excited as they were. What would they think about their gifts? Would the pretty dresses and shiny new shoes fit? She would toss and turn all night waiting for them to wake up. Eager to share in their excitement, she would instantly forget about her sleepiness and jump up to get the day going the moment one of them poked their heads into the room.
Maggie turned on the faucet to rinse out her cup, letting the water hit the metal sink fast and furious. She wiped the tears from her eyes and listlessly ran the cup back and forth under the water.
“I used to love Christmas” she whispered turning to face the chair backs.
She raised her voice. “They would wake up in the morning laughing, screaming. They were so excited to get to the present unwrapping that they always argued about eating breakfast. And forget about washing the dishes. I was lucky if they bothered to clear the table after they gobbled the food down.”
She turned back to the sink, shutting off the water and grabbing her dish towel. “But those days are gone.” she murmured. She dried the cup and placed it next to the stove ready for morning. She thought of the day ahead. While other families would be opening presents together, she would be sitting in this house all alone except for the ghosts. Maggie threw down her towel and faced the table once more.
“Now,” she yelled, walking over to one of the chairs, “I have to spend my Christmas Eves alone – with just you for company.” Wanting the anger more than the pain, she pushed the chair, sending it toppling onto the floor.
She leaned down to pick up the fallen chair, but instead of lifting it back up to its normal spot, she folded down beside it sobbing; pulling the chair back to her chest holding it as if holding a loved one close. “It isn’t fair.” She cried out to the chair. “I shouldn’t be here all alone. I shouldn’t be living without them.”
The clock chimed, rousing Maggie out of the stupor that her tears had left her in. Listening to the number of chimes echoing through the house, she groaned. Midnight, already! Leaning onto the fallen chair, she pushed herself off the floor. Then she dragged the chair up and placed it back where it belonged.
Walking into the living room, she plugged in the large Christmas tree and stood back as it began to twinkle. For this brief time, she allowed the Christmas tree to glow, its bright lights trying their best to fill the room with Christmas cheer while casting out the misery of what-ifs.
“The children would have loved this tree,” she thought to herself as she watched the bright lights flicker on and off.
Ornaments hung off its boughs. Not one was store bought. Each had been made throughout the years of school. The kindergarten ornaments displayed bright gapped-teeth smiles and eyes that shimmered with the excitement that only a 5 year old can feel. Each ornament was more complicated and better constructed as the children got older and the love that had been shared through those years filled the tree with a brightness that outshined the lights.
Maggie raised her eyes to the angel that was sitting on top. Her arms were opened wide, each holding one flickering light. “Your watching over my babies tonight, aren’t you? She asked as the tears ran down her face.
Finally she glanced down at the three roses that were under the tree, one for each of her children. Leaning down, she picked up the only item that was under the tree with the roses. She turned the bottle over so she could read the label. “Jack Daniel’s Old Time Quality Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey.”
Twirling away so that her back faced the tree, she carried the bottle into the kitchen. “Last year” she told the chair backs, “It was vodka. The year before last it was rum. I wonder what it will be next year.”
Maggie carefully carried the bottle to the sink. She placed the dish towel in the bottom and laid the whiskey bottle on top on it. She had one last task to perform this early Christmas morning before she could lie down on the couch and give into the feelings of anger and grief that filled her heart.
She opened a cabinet drawer and pulled out her heavy hammer. Raising it far above her head, she let the hammer fall, shattering the bottle of whiskey much in the same way that her life had been shattered three Christmas Eves ago when her doorbell rang late.
“Your name is Maggie? Maggie Carrow?
“Your children were with your ex-husband tonight?”
“Ma’am I have bad news for you. There was a driver who had been drinking ….”