The Third Christmas Story
For This Year Ending
© James J. Doyle, Jr
Each night in bed, the Husband hands the Wife his personal business card.
In turn, the Wife hands to the Husband the picture of herself.
The Husband places the picture on his nightstand.
The Wife places the card on her nightstand.
They switch off the lights and sink cozily into the soft pillows.
In the morning, the Husband kisses the picture and hands it back to the Wife.
The Wife kisses the card and hands it back to the Husband.
The Husband places the card on his nightstand.
She places the picture on her nightstand.
They rise, dress, share breakfast and separate until the evening.
In bed that night and the following morning, the same exchange occurs.
Years later, the Husband and Wife wake to the sounds of feet padding up the stairs to their bedroom.
A boy and girl burst through the door and jump onto the bed.
The sister tilts her head and stares at the nightstand. “Grandma, why did the picture move? It was on your side last night.”
The brother scrunches his eyes. “And the card was on your table last night, Grandpa.” The lad stands on the bed and points. “I remember. It was there.”
The Husband smiles at the Wife and then makes eye contact with one and then the other of the grandchildren. “At night before we fall to sleep . . .” His tone is low and conspiratorial. “ . . . we trade the card and the picture. After we took you two to your rooms last night, we came back here, got into bed and made the trade. . . .”
“Why?” the boy blurts.
The Grandpa nods his head. “A very good question. Well. . . .” He rubs his chin with an index finger. “We do this to say to each other, ‘I am with you and always will be.’ Every night we do the trade before we fall asleep.”
The Wife smiles at the Husband and then to each of the children. “In the morning before we even get out of bed, I kiss the card and hand it back to Grandpa.”
The Husband lifts the picture of his Wife. “And I kiss the picture and hand it to back to Grandma.”
“Because you’re not going to be with each other during the day?” The granddaughter’s eyes narrow in thought.
“Exactly.” The Grandmother touches her granddaughter’s hand. “You are very smart. We will be physically apart.” She sighs and glances to her husband. “But we will always be together in our hearts. We kiss and return the card and the picture to say, ‘You are in my heart and always will be.’ In our hearts, we will never be apart.”
The Husband kisses the picture.
The Wife kisses the card.
They hand them across, over the heads of the children, who look at each other and spin to hug one and then the other of their grandparents.
A week before Christmas, the Husband and the Wife die.
The daughter, who stops by every morning, finds them together in bed. She phones her three brothers. They make arrangements to gather in their parents’ town.
Christmas Eve morning at 11 o’clock, the church fills with relatives and friends.
On the Husband’s casket, they place her picture.
On the Wife’s casket, they place his card.
At the end of the service, the granddaughter and the grandson stand together and walk to the podium. Taking turns talking, they tell the story of the picture and the card, the story they first heard from their grandparents so many years before.
After the burial, the sister invites everyone to her house for Christmas Eve dinner.
After the meal, crowded together in the kitchen, adults and children agree that this is the best Christmas Eve celebration ever.
Between the tears, laughter erupts when the oldest brother stands on a chair and announces in a loud and cheerful voice that their parents arranged the very best destination funeral ever.
With many kisses and long hugs, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren bid their goodbyes and turn to find their bedrooms or leave for cars to transport them to the hotels that will hold their dreams this Christmas Eve night until the morrow’s morn breaks with a new dawning.
Outside, it is cold and clear.
A sliver of moon lights the lawns and lanes.
Where and when the little ones are finally tucked into their beds, parents breathe a grateful sigh of relief and quietly make room for the gifts all hope will soon arrive.
* * *
The next morning, Christmas morning, they awake in bed.
The Husband touches her picture on his nightstand.
The Wife touches his card on her nightstand.
With a happy young laugh, each turns.
In the bright light, their lips touch.
With the first kiss of the day.
“I am with you and always will be.”
“You are in my heart and always will be.”
May Your Christmas Shine With Surprise