A Second Christmas Story
For This Year Too
© James J. Doyle, Jr.
“I was sitting right over there a-way.” The old farmer raises a large heavily veined hand and points a calloused finger at the worn recliner facing the TV. “I was minding my own business in this, what’s-ya-call-it, chair. That’s when I saw it.”
Frankie waves his other hand at the china cabinet built into the wall behind the armchair.
“Well, I just a-stared. That there china cabinet door was, in-other-words, open. So, I stood and closed the how-ya-say-it door, sat down and picked up the controller to switch the channel. For some reason, I turned my head and the door was sure-as-fiddles open again, just like before. Can you imagine that?”
“And this wasn’t the first time that it happened?” Terese, Frankie’s sister-in-law, asks.
“Now, I’ve been thinking on-and-about-that.” Frankie’s eyes move from the chair to the cabinet and back again. “It’s seems to me that towards the evening time, when I take a sit-down-and-rest here after a long day of work, that’s when I notice the door’s open.”
Terese scans the den and adjoining kitchen area. “When did you say it started?”
“The week after, in other words, just after Mom died.”
“That was October fifteenth.” Terese remembers the funeral. It was a Czech funeral. Kin from all around this part of Texas. Most everybody was there. Frankie’s mother was well liked. She’d outlived her husband, Frank Sr., by a number of years. Frankie Jr. never married, stayed home and cared for his mom.
“It would be open.” Frankie keeps talking. “Then, how-ya-say-it, I’d close the door. Sit, rest and, by-the-by, that door is open again.”
“Have you noticed anything else?”
Frankie walks into the kitchen and stands beside the wall phone.
“I was talking on this, what’s-ya-call-it, phone. My back was turned like this, in-other-words, to the table there behind me. That’s when I heard it.”
“What did you hear?”
“Well, it seems I heard a swishing sound. You know, like Mom used to make when she swished anything we put on this-here table. This was her space, and if we put it down, she swished it off. Just like that. I heard the swish and my pen was on the floor.”
“Pen? What pen was that, Frankie?”
“When I came in and that phone rang, I had a, what’s-ya-call-it, ball-point pen in my hand. I set the pen on her table and grabbed for the phone. Something hit the floor. I turned and there was the pen. It was swished, in-other-words, to the floor like she used to do when we set anything on that-there table of hers.”
Terese studies the room. “Frankie, this is an old house. Things aren’t perfectly level anymore. Probably never were.” She sets her hand on the table. “That pen could have rolled off.”
“I sure thought I heard that there swishing sound.” Frankie touches the tabletop.
“We all miss her, Frankie.”
They walk back into the den. Terese opens and closes the china cabinet door. She examines the latch and strike plate. Pushing the door inward, she hears a slight “click” as the latch settles firmly into place.
“That should do it.” She turns to Frankie. “The latch and plate aren’t perfectly aligned. It just needed a little extra effort. I pushed it in good. It shouldn’t open again.”
* * *
“And that was the last time that, what’s-ya-call-it, china cabinet door opened, in-other-words, on its own.” Frankie counts out the bills for his purchases and hands them across to the shopkeeper.
Near closing time, the general store is empty except for the two men. Most folks are down in Waco at the big mall doing their last-minute Christmas shopping.
“I’m sorry about your mom.” Bill hands the change to Frankie. “Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Say, why don’t you come over to the church for the midnight service?”
“Mom always loved that, what’s-ya-call-it, midnight service. It was her favorite.”
“Join us, Frankie. We’d all love to see you.” Bill places the new pants and shirts in a bag. “I’m singing in the choir. In fact, some of us will be out caroling earlier. Tell you what, we’ll stop by your place. And later, for service, that red plaid cowboy shirt you just bought sure would look mighty fine for Christmas Eve.”
“That’s right nice of you to say and ask, Bill.” The older man pauses. “You know I took Mom to Christmas Eve service last year.”
“I remember.” The shop owner hands the bag across. “We all remember, Frankie.”
“Right and how-ya-say-it? ‘Ho, ho, ho. Who wouldn’t go . . .’” Frankie’s voice trails off in a sad smile.
“’. . . with good Saint Nick.’” The tradesman finished the verse for his friend.
Bill comes around the counter and places a hand on the back of his long-time customer. They walked together to the front of the store, where the owner holds open the large glass-paneled door.
“Tomorrow night, Frankie. The carolers and I will be by earlier, to remind you.”
Closing the door and locking up, the shopkeeper glances out. Through the glass, Bill’s follows the marks of his friend’s footsteps in the newly settled snow.
The light dusting of white coats the surface of the empty sidewalk and reflects the colored holiday lights of the town’s quiet storefronts.
* * *
“Hope you don’t mind.”
Frankie arranges the clothes on his mother’s bed.
“Just, you know, until tomorrow.”
He touches the hand-made quilt with its many-colored pieces.
“It’s always so neat in here. But, don’t worry,” he quickly adds. “These are all new, from the General Store.”
At the door, he pauses, his hand on the handle.
“Bill says ‘Hello,’” he announces over his shoulder.
He closes the door.
* * *
Draping his jacket over the back of the armchair, he wonders where the day has gone.
“Well,” he chuckles, “isn’t that the life of a farmer.”
Glancing down the hallway, he sees the closed door to his mother’s room.
“Holy cow! Those, what’s-ya-call-it, clothes. I plum-and-all forgot about them clothes.”
He rushes down the hallway and opens the bedroom door.
“Got to remove the tags and check for threads.”
With his pocketknife, he snips a tag.
A soft chiming catches his ear.
Tilting his head, he listens.
“Where’s that music a-coming from?”
He moves to his mother’s clock radio on the bedside table, lifts it and puts his head close. The switch is off.
“No sound here.”
In the hallway, he opens the door to the next bedroom, his room. He checks his alarm.
“Nope, nothing here.”
Outside, in the hall, the sound is louder.
“Carolers? Could that be Bill and the rest from church?”
He heads toward the front door.
Passing the guest bedroom, he hears music from inside. Poking his head through the open doorway, he scans the room. To the right is the old-fashioned vanity table with its tall mirror and the low bench with a flower-upholstered seat. Around the rest of the room, boxes litter the floor. Papers and cartons cover the bed.
Then he sees and hears it.
On the corner of the dressing table, the tiny silk flowers inside the glass cylinder move around in a circle as the music box in the wooden base plays a song.
Leaning against the doorframe, he watches and listens.
His mother would lift the tall thin terrarium and wind the small handle underneath. She had a new vanity in her room, but she liked to use the old vanity in this room. The piece had been her grandmother’s. His eyes find the old comb and brush resting on the hand-crocheted runner. She’d sit there and brush her hair, the music playing and the red silk flowers spinning. The musical terrarium had been a Christmas gift from Terese.
The tune comes to a stop.
Frankie hears distant singing from outside.
He stops and carefully lifts the terrarium. The ring of dust below the base is thick and undisturbed. Rotating the cylinder above his head, he can see that the only fingerprints on the wood and glass are his own smudges. He touches the little handle of the music box. On impulse, he tightens the mechanism. When he releases the switch, nothing happens. No music sounds.
“It must be a-jammed.”
He starts to tap the little handle when “Deck the Halls. . . .” bursts into the room from the front of the house.
Frankie sets the terrarium on the vanity and rushes to the front door.
* * *
“Bill.” Frankie calls after the carolers. “Hey, Bill. Can I talk with you a second or two, here-and-there, if you have the time?”
The storeowner separates from the other singers and trudges back through the snow. “Sure, talk away. I bet you need my advice on which shirt to wear tonight.”
“No need for that. You, how-ya-say-it, gave me that last night.” Frankie’s smile turns serious. “Could you listen to something?” He motions with his hand for Bill to enter the house.
“This was your mother’s?” Bill asks.
Frankie lifts the music box off the vanity and jiggles the handle.
“Yes. It was a Christmas present from Terese, my sister-in-law.” Frankie taps the side of the base. “It seems to be sticking, for some can’t-say-why reason here.”
The music begins to play.
“There it a-goes.” Frankie smiles widely and sets the terrarium down. “I was a wondering if you might, in-other-words, recognize this-here song?”
Bringing his ear closer, Bill starts to tap his fingers on the edge of the vanity and nods his head. When the music ends, he says, “I’m sure I know the tune. Yes, that’s the one.”
“The ‘one’?” Frankie asks.
“The song. It’s by the Beatles. They recorded it back in the ‘60s. The lyrics to the music are timeless, especially this part here. It’s really the best part. If you had the words with the tune . . . it goes something like this,
‘I love you, I love you, I love you
That’s all I want to say
Until I find a way
I will say the only words I know
That you’ll understand
I love you, I love you, I love you’’’
“I love you?” Frankie’s voice is low, the question barely audible.
“Yes, those would be the words.” Bill’s tone is certain. “That’s what the song is saying.”
“That’s what the song is saying.” Frankie repeats the words. He lifts the terrarium and winds the music box, stopping when it’s tight.
“You say that it just started playing?” The owner of the General Store watches his friend. “No one was in the room?”
“The song just started.” Frankie sets the terrarium down, not noticing that the music does not begin to play.
“Well, isn’t that something.” Bill pauses. “Will we see you at church tonight, Frankie?”
A laugh lifts the corners of the old farmer’s eyes. “Yes, Bill, I wouldn’t miss the singing. Mom always loved the songs.”
* * *
Clear and dry, the road into town and back made the drive an easy one, snow glistening to each side, off and across the fields.
The music was worth the trip, the country church warm, welcoming and full of family and old friends.
Back home, the only light is from the lamp behind his chair.
The rest of the house is dark and still.
Soon it will be Christmas day.
In the worn armchair, he sees the open door to her room.
He thought he’d closed that door before he left for midnight service.
Pushing out of his chair, Frankie walks down the hall and firmly shuts the bedroom door.
As the latch clicks into place, the song starts from the terrarium on the vanity in the next room.
Frankie stands unmoving.
The melody plays through once and stops.
As the last note sounds in the empty house, the quiet farmer lifts a rough finger and wipes a tear from the worn and creased face.
In a clear unhurried voice, Frankie says aloud, “Thank you, Mother. I know you have to go. Before you do, I will say the words I know you understand. ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’”
May Your Christmas Be Filled With Those You Love
And All Those Who Love You Too
Wherever They May Be