Written by C. A. Keith
“Wake up Dad! It’s Christmas Eve,” said Aaron.
“Mmm, what time is it? Oh my God Aaron. It is only six! Go back to bed. Give me one more hour,” Dan said.
“Ah, Dad. Why don’t we get up and make Mom breakfast for a change,” said Aaron. He was 10 but acted a lot older and wiser than his age.
Dan rolled over in his bed. He was a bit stiff from labour intensive work at a manufacturing plant; day in, day out. He was exhausted and wanted to sleep in for a change. He tugged the blanket up to his chin and nestled the pillow over his head to cover his eyes.
“Morning sweet pea, where are your brothers?” Annette said as Aaron bent down to kiss his Mom good morning.
“They’re sleeping. They won’t wake up either!” Aaron said with disappointment. He was so excited that tomorrow was Christmas Day. Later today they were going to visit Dan’s parents; Steve and Louise. Tomorrow was what he was looking forward to. They were meeting their cousins at Mom’s parents for supper then ice skating on their pond. It was frozen and Grandpa Clark, cleared all the snow yesterday. It was just the right temperature. Aaron was very excited because Grandma Betty and Grandpa Clark made such a big deal about Christmas. They would drink hot chocolate and marshmallows. Their Uncle James would always tease the children and they would laugh. They loved their silly Uncle James and Auntie Helen.
Annette slipped into her pink fluffy slippers. She reached into the wardrobe for her ragged house coat. She slid her arms into the sleeves. She wasn’t willing to throw it out even though it could now be used as dust rags. She closed the bedroom door so her husband could get more sleep. Just one day she wanted to sleep in. She wished that Dan would say, “Stay in bed honey. Let me bring you breakfast in bed.” She shook her head and knew that would never happen, not even on Mother’s Day. She paused a moment longer and she trudged down the stairs, one thud after another. “It was too early!” she yawned.
Aaron roused 8-year-old Kyle and 6-year-old Adam. He picked up one random toy after another and tossed them in the closet, out of sight. Aaron picked up odd socks, tee-shirts and jeans and chucked them in the washing bin behind the door. He didn’t want to give his dad a reason to kick off. Aaron willingly sprinted throughout both bedrooms picking up loose toys, clothes and anything that could be spotted on the floor. Aaron opened the middle drawer forcefully and tossed things, in a heap, and slammed the drawer shut. He did a once over, satisfied that both rooms would pass a Dad inspection.
Kyle was already staring wide-eyed where the tree used to sit. He was envisioning what his parents might leave him for Christmas. He knew it wouldn’t be much because money was tight. He knew there wasn’t a real Santa a few years ago.
Dan could hear chipper voices and clanking of pots, pans and cupboard doors. He rolled over again and slapped the pillow back over his head. His arms cradled another pillow nestled up against his chest. Dan made it clear that he didn’t want his kids believing in some crap and left disappointed. Annette always took over the shopping as she knew that if it was up to Dan, a few bobs would be all they would get for Christmas. Annette and her family made a much bigger deal of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries.
“Bah humbug! Oh what I’d do for a few days to do what I wanted. I wish I could have a few days to myself. No wife, no kids, none of this responsibility. Just me…,” and he drifted off peacefully again. His daydreams whirled like a merry-go-round.
He was a teenager at a game store recalling the new game he wanted to buy. Young kids were screaming to their dads, “I want, I want…,”
“Pfft! Kids! Can’t ever escape their bickering. So annoying!” and he walked out of the store.
He saw himself sitting in his dad’s old Chevy, “Mmm, the smell of leather, petrol, case of beer, …open bottles in the back…”
Back to pre-Christmas at his parents. No tree, no decorations. Dad storming through the house, “Fuck Louise! Why did you spend so much?”
Dan’s head was whirling with crazy patchy memories. He sighed and tossed the other way in his bed. Pillows tightly readjusted; sighed again and memories took hold.
Louise quietly lowered her head. A tear trickled down her cheek unnoticed by Steve.
“We don’t have the extra cash. I got them socks and pajamas. Why did you buy them skates?” he growled and clenched his jaw angrily.
“All of their friends are getting skates. They want to play hockey with them?” she said softly.
Dan could see himself peeking behind the door. He remembered that day. Dad came home from work angry again. Dan remembered walking on egg shells every day when his Dad came home from work or the pub.
His mind whirled with one memory after another like snapshots from a camera.
He startled and realized he was dreaming. Dan opened his eyes and jumped back when he saw someone at the foot of the bed. “Who, who are you?” he stammered.
The eerie pasty white ghost suddenly floated and appeared above him. “I am the ghost of Christmas past. Come now!” he demanded.
“I’m not going anywhere with you. Be gone, let me sleep! I am just dreaming. I am just dreaming?” Dan yelled repeatedly. Pans clattered noisily in the background.
The ghost grabbed Dan’s night shirt and lifted him off his bed. Blankets fell back to the bed in a messy heap. Dan was dangling from the ghost’s clammy skeletal fingers.
In a blink, they were in front of a window staring at a scene before them. Snow dropped heavily on Dan’s shoulders. Around him was a foot of fallen snow. It felt cold beneath him as he didn’t have shoes or a coat on. His cotton pajamas didn’t feel near warm enough.
He blinked to clear the sleep from his eyes and rubbed his arms briskly to shake off the cold snowflakes. Dan peered through the window at his Grandparents old poky house in the country. He saw Granddad Bill shovelling coal into the fire. In a flash, they were inside the toasty warm house beside the fire. He missed his Nanna. “Nanna! Wow I missed you!” Dan said and tried in vain to wrap his arms around her.
“They can’t hear you!” the ghostly figure snarled and glared down at him.
“Why bother? Let’s skip Christmas Carol. We can’t afford it. It’s a big sad waste of time and money,” Granddad Bill said. He was wearing his work trousers with suspenders over top a white plain tee-shirt. His hair was firmly slicked back in place.
“Well, if you didn’t just spend every last bit on a few pints last night we could buy Steve some new boots for Christmas. Steve’s worn clearly through them,” Carol said firmly then with softness.
“Put extra socks on. Put a bag in his boots like I did when I were a wee lad. Kids are so bloody ungrateful these days. I trudge through every bloody day at work. Day in, day out and you guys still want more and more. All I want is a quiet pint or two after work and I get nothing but bitching and twining. Why bother? I’m going to the pub. See you later,” he grumbled. He picked up his coat and hat from the rack, slipped his boots on, and slammed the door angrily.
Dan’s heart sank. He watched as his Nanna Carol wept into her hands. Her body shook. Dan ran to her and tried to put his hands on her. A tear fell from Dan’s eye and he wiped it away. With a poof, his Nanna had disappeared, the tree disappeared, the house disappeared. Dan was back outside in the cold. Snow was coming in quickly and he saw his Granddad sliding down the back street in his old Chevy.
After Dan, his Dad Steve made sure Louise never got pregnant again. Daily he reminded Louise what a waste of space kids were. Dan could understand now why his Dad was a mean old man because his Granddad Bill, was just as mean and nasty. Dan’s heart sank for his Mom and Nanna. He was doing the same thing to his dear wife Annette and their children. He did love her and his heart softened a little. He smiled and a tear gently trickled down his cold red cheeks.
Violently he fell to his bed and shook. “Wow that was a bad dream!” he thought. He closed his eyes and seconds later he was roughly roused by another figure looming beside him.
“I’m the ghost of Christmas present. You will have one more spirit after me,” the figure spoke.
Dan grabbed the pillow and slammed it over his head.
The figure grabbed him, and with a poof, they were standing in the mall. The kids were a few years younger and they were lining up to see Santa with Annette.
“Do you remember this day?” the ghost said to Dan. Each word spewed with fiery flames at him. Yet, it was as if the fire was blowing out ice.
Dan felt an icy chill blow through him and his bones clunked against each other. He tried in vain to remember.
He could see Aaron standing beside Annette. Ryan and Kyle were holding Annette’s hands. She was anxiously looking at her watch then looked around. Here eyes darted from one end of the mall to the other.
“Wait for it!” the spirit angrily yelled at him. His pointy skeletal finger poked him in the chest with force. Dan yelped and rubbed his chest. The ghostly spirit sneered and fire spewed from its’ nose.
Dan could see himself storming towards Annette and the kids.
“I told you one hour. I’ve been waiting in the car for twenty minutes. It’s poker night. You know that! Or are you too stupid to remember every Saturday night I go to the pub to play poker. What time does your watch say?” Dan snarled.
Annette put her head down. “Santa’s late. Probably feeding the reindeers. Can you give us 10 more minutes? We are second in line. I want a picture to give to my Mom,” Annette said very softly trying not to rile Dan.
Dan paced, tapping his feet on the floor– his hands folded angrily across his chest. “Fuck! Why bother? Come on let’s go!” he glared.
“Um, there’s a lot of kids here. Careful what you’re saying,” she said nervously. Other parents anxiously awaited what was bound to transpire.
“I don’t fucking care Annette. You know as well as me that Shaun from the Hardware store is dressing up as Santa this year. He’s shite in my opinion. Let’s go! Now!” he demanded.
Annette knew better than to argue. “It’s Ok Mom,” the eldest said carefully and took his Dad’s hands in his and reached out to Ryan.
“At least one person is smart in our house!” he angrily barked grabbing Aaron’s hand. They took a few steps away from the long queue.
“It’s ok Mom. We will come another time,” Aaron looked back at his Mom with a tear trickling down his cheek.
Annette bravely grabbed hold of Adam and Kyle’s hand.
“But Santa will be here in one minute. Daddy can we wait for Santa please? How will he know what I want for Christmas?” Kyle pleaded and held his spot firmly in the queue.
Annette unwillingly inched forward to follow her husband. Many parents and kids looked nervously at both of them.
“For heavens sakes! There is no such thing as Santa. Suck it up. You are old enough not to believe in that crap anymore. If my dad were here he would have grabbed you by the ear and slapped you all the way to the car for embarrassing him,” he screamed as others gasped and tried to reassure their children.
“NOOOO!” Kyle screamed as loud as he could and pulled his hand from his Mother’s grasp.
Annette gasped with fright.
Dan grabbed the little lad as everyone watched with mouth agape. Dan threw Kyle over his shoulder and he kicked and screamed. “Stop! You are embarrassing me. Wait till you get home. There is no Christmas this year. I told you that if you didn’t behave we wouldn’t have Christmas. Aaron sorry, but your brother just blew it for all of you!” Dan said viciously.
Dan stood there watching Annette bravely walk by him with tears welling. Everyone stood there in awe as Dan walked out of the mall. He was screaming. “See what happens when you don’t listen. Shopping is over! CHRISTMAS IS OVER!”
Tears welled in Dan’s eyes as he watched himself storm off screaming at the children. A tear trickled down his cheeks. He wiped the stray tears away with the sleeves of his pajamas.
“You remember? You cancelled Christmas! You pulled the tree down that afternoon and tossed it to the curb. Those children didn’t get to open their presents until the New Year. Poker night? Kids? You broke their heart. Your wife? You’re slowly destroying her. You better change your ways or you will lose them all!” The spirit declared vehemently. Fire singed through the ghosts ears and nose. The spirit slammed his foot on the ground and in an instant they were in the hospital.
The furious spirit and Dan were standing beside Annette. Annette was holding the newly born Ryan. Aaron and Kyle were tucked up beside their Mom admiring their new brother. Dan looked at himself admiring his family. He was smiling boastfully. Dan watched himself reach down to scoop up the wee little babe. He cradled the baby in his arms and kissed his beautiful tiny mouth.
Dan stood by the spirit and looked up at him.
The ghost looked down at him with rage, “Look at your family! Look! See — you did love them. Then you changed and became a mean and nasty man. You are slowly destroying them you selfish man! I don’t care why, they don’t care why. Change or else you will lose them!”
Dan reached forward to touch Annette’s face. His heart warmed. He still loved her but life stresses got in the way. The spirit slammed his foot on the floor and the floor shook. Dan was thrown harshly to his bed.
Dan’s night shirt was soaked with sweat. He wiped his brow. He tried to put the pillow over his eyes. He knew it would be but minutes before the final ghost would arrive showing him what his future would look like. He threw the pillow across the bed and sat up.
“OK, I get it! I need to change or they will hate me. Just leave me to think about it. I get it!” Dan screamed.
Smoke slowly oozed under the door and an eerie chill came over Dan. The withered ghostly figure was before him. He was weighted down with chains.
“You know the story — Ebenezer Scrooge. Your life is no different. He was stingy; you are mean to everyone around you. You know why I’m here you selfish, selfless man. I am here to show you what your life will be like in 20 years if you continue on your path!” the hunched over ghost proclaimed. He looked like he wore his battle wounds on his shoulders for hundreds of years.
The ghost slowly moved towards Dan. “I bear the weight of all my bad deeds, as will you. Don’t choose my path. You can change,” the ghost continued.
“I get it. I know I’m ruining their lives. I will change, I promise. Just let me go and I will change. I promise,” Dan pleaded. He tried to back away from the ghostly figure but it trudged closer to him.
The ghost’s chains scraped the floor as it dragged behind him.
“No. You made your bed; you lie in! Look what has become of them!” the figure blasted at Dan.
Suddenly they appeared in a poky small apartment. The furnishings were bare. There was a small settee and dining table in the room. Annette was sitting at the couch trying to read. She was about 20 years older and her grey hair scruffily hung from her shoulders. Stress had aged her.
“She was once a beautiful lady. How could she have let herself go like that?” Dan asked with sincere sadness with his shaky voice. Dan moved closer to look at her. “Where are our kids?” he said. “Why is she so sad? Tell me? Tell me?” Dan screamed with frustration.
In an instant, they were in a hospital. They were standing in front of a door and Dan peered in and saw a young boy in a flimsy gown. The boy seemed to be in his 20’s. There was only a bed and a night stand table in the room. Dan and the figure appeared before the young man who was rocking on his bed. He stared unblinking into space.
Dan looked into his eyes. He knew that boy was his Ryan. “Is he sick? What’s wrong with him? Did he have surgery? Why isn’t Annette here to help him get better? Where is Adam? Where is Aaron?” Dan pleaded again.
“We are in the hospital on the mental health unit? Ryan is getting treatment for severe depression. No one knows where Adam is. Adam ran away a few years ago. You did this to your family. You broke them until their spirit was completely broken!” the old ghostly figure declared with anger.
In another instant, they were standing in a cemetery.
“I don’t want to look! Don’t make me look! Please I beg you! I promise I will be nice!” Dan begged and pleaded on his knees to the ghostly figure before him. He screamed as he knelt before the gravesite and opened his eyes. There lie the stone of his beloved Aaron.
“What did I do? What did I do to my little boy?” Dan screamed and whimpered. “I’m so sorry Aaron. Oh my little boy, what did I do to you?” Dan slammed his fists to the ground and sobbed uncontrollably.
“What did I do?” he looked up to the spirit with regret.
“You continued drinking and berating all of them. They never felt like they could do anything right in your eyes. Everything they did was never good enough. You took away Christmas and never wanted to celebrate again. Just because your Dad and Granddad were miserable and nasty, didn’t mean that you needed to be like that too. You choose your own path. Aaron was so sad, he took his own life. Aaron’s suicide crushed Adam and Ryan. Their big brother left them behind and they didn’t want to live either. Luckily, Ryan was found on time. He was strung out on heroin dying in a ditch. No ones heard from Adam in a long time. You left town years ago, fed up with your disgrace of a family. You left Annette for a young girl named Susan, that worked in the office with you. You left Susan after she got pregnant. You are an alcoholic somewhere. Drinking in one random bar after another. Your Annette was totally gutted and everyday is a struggle for her. That’s what you did to your family!” the spirit scorned.
The spirit turned away — chains shredding the grass behind him.
“No! I’m sorry baby! I’m so sorry. Look what I did to you.” Dan blubbered.
Dan was suddenly weighted down with heavy chains on his hands and feet that clunked when he stood up. The metal scraped loudly as they moved against each other. Dan wobbled from the weight of the chains as he stood up.
The spirit turned to look at Dan, “This is the cross you bear. To be bound for life with the weights of the world on your shoulder for the torment you caused. You will have to live with what you have done,” the spirit slowly turned around and walked away slowly dragging the chains behind him. He disappeared into the darkness as an eerie fog blanketed the ground.
A cool breeze nearly blew Dan over. Dan was held to the grave site with the chains around him.
“No please. I want to go home. I promise I will do better. Please do not take my babies away from me! I promise I will treat them with respect. I will give them all my attention. Please give me one more chance! Please!” and he slumped to the wet damp ground with a loud thud.
Violently, he crashed to his bed. “My bed, my bed. Oh my God my bed! Oh thank you, thank you! I promise I will change. You will see. I promise. I will not let that happen to my children. I promise I will love my wife as much as the first day I saw her at the ice cream store!” he smiled.
He sat up on his bed. Wiped the sweat from his brow — fixed his hair — took a deep breath. “Dream or reality; he was not ever going to hurt his family any more!” he smirked to himself. His heart warmed and he held back a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes.
“Aaron! Ryan! Adam! Get up here this instant!” he yelled. He laughed hysterically and tried hard to hold in his explosive excitement to his newly found freedom.
Annette heard Dan’s screams coming from upstairs. Annette knew that tone. Someone likely didn’t make their bed, or toys on the ground –toothpaste — “Oh dear,” she said to herself with fear.
“I will be right behind you. It’s Ok!” Annette shakily spoke and followed behind the boys nervously. Their hearts were pounding through their shirts.
Ryan slowly creaked the door open and anxiously inched through the door scanning his Dad’s facial expression. “Yes Dad?” he wavered.
“Get in here! All of you. We have to talk. All of you sit your butts down here right now!” he screamed.
Aaron, Adam, Ryan and Annette carefully sat on the bed with a good distance between their Dad. Annette was closer to Dan to protect her little babies.
“Aaron here, Adam right here, Ryan there,” he directed the boys to sit on each side of him. He reached forward and squeezed them so tight.
“I love you boys, so so much. I’m so sorry I’m a crap dad. So here’s what we are going to do. Annette did you start breakfast?” he turned to her and she said she was cleaning up first.
“Right then! Get dressed. We are going out for breakfast. Your mother shouldn’t have to cook all the time. Then we are going to buy the biggest, bestess tree anywhere. We will decorate it and then pop in Grandma Louise’s house and come back. Why wait till morning? Let’s call Grandma Betty and Grandpa Clark to see if maybe they will let us sleep over tonight. We can wake up with them and go skating and open presents and have hot chocolate. From this day forward I’m going to be the best Dad ever. I promise. Pinky swear!” Dan declared barely catching his breath. He held out his pinky fingers to the boys. The boys sat there with mouths agape.
He reached forward and pulled Annette to him. “I’m so sorry baby. I love you with all my heart,” he smiled and a tear trickled down both their cheeks. Dan’s finger wiped up the tear and kissed her on the cheek.
“OK, come on. Get dressed and pack your bags we are going to Grandma’s. Maybe Grandpa Clark will let us skate tonight. I hear Santa’s coming tonight. I know I told you there is no Santa. I was wrong. There is a magic to Christmas and it’s starting right here. Right now! Let’s go for breakfast, we have some shopping to do!” Dan laughed as the kids scurried off.
“I promise baby, I will try harder. If I ever belittle you again, please pinch me. You didn’t deserve my mean spirit. I love you!” he said and kissed her harder. “Now, pack up. I will call your parents. I know that’s where the magic of Christmas is. Starts right here,” he said and tapped his heart.
The doorbell rang and Dan walked downstairs to answer it. There was a parcel delivery. He took the parcel and stared at it with confusion. He didn’t order anything — he wasn’t expecting anything. He opened it up and read the card from his Mother.
“I’m sorry Dan. I let your Dad walk all over me and you. When you came by last night I saw what years of torment did to you, as your Granddad did to your dad. It has to stop now! For years, I’ve squirrelled away this money that I made at my other job. I didn’t tell your Dad about this bank account for fear he’d drink the money away. Please don’t do to your family, what your Dad did to you. Do right by your children. I think it’s time. I hope you will use this money in good spirits. Please buy nice things for your children and buy the biggest Christmas tree ever. Maybe plan a vacation with the family? Please do this for me, for Aaron, Adam and Ryan. It is time to change, Dan. I ask you one thing. Don’t disappoint me OR the children and please do not mention one word of this to your Father!” the note from his Mother said.
Dan stood in awe. He really was going to get his second chance. He stared down at the cheque for $50,000.00. He was completely shocked.
When he went to his parent’s house with the kids, he hugged his mother so tightly. “Thank you Mom. I’ve always loved you. I had the worst nightmare ever last night. I give you my word that from this day forward my family will come first. Thank you, thank you!” he whispered and she beamed.
Louise hugged her little boy tightly.
Shortly after Christmas, Dan’s father passed away. He died with an attitude just as miserable as every day of his life. Even the few short days that he was in the hospital, he griped and complained and snarled at his wife and the hospital staff.
Life for Louise, was finally getting better and a light was lit in her heart. The Grandchildren started coming over more often and Louise couldn’t be happier. She was glad to be the Grandma that she always wanted to be.
Annette didn’t know what happened the morning of Christmas Eve that changed Dan’s attitude. She thought it was better not to bring it up. She was walking on a cloud and didn’t want to break the magic. They had the best family Christmas they ever had in years.
A few weeks later, Dan told Annette about his bad dream and about his Mom’s Christmas present. Dan was happy that he finally felt at peace. He was finally the father that he always wanted and needed to be. “Let’s take my Mom and the kids to Disneyworld. We need a family vacation as bad as my Mom. She’s never been away anywhere,” Dan suggested.
Aaron, Adam and Ryan finally had their Daddy back and they were glad. Life was turning around for the better. Dan felt that he was given a second chance and he was not ever going to let him or his family down ever again.
Happy Holidays to all. Whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Winter Solstice, Chinese New Year, Sinterklaas and Black Peter, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Ded Moroz and the Snow Maiden, something else, or not celebrating anything at all — Use this holiday time to reconnect with those that you love. Life is short; don’t lose the precious moments to regret, anger, or disappointment.
Choose the best present of all; your presence!!