Between the Holidays, and a shifting focus onto some of the longer works in progress, there will not be a lot of time for turning out new short stories, so instead I shall be posting pieces from those longer works that I hope to publish.
Rachel sat quietly in her room, staring out the window at the bare branches of the tree and the grey sky beyond. Her eyes strayed, for the hundredth time, to the small strand of multi-color lights she had hung across the window. A good many of the bulbs were burned out. It had taken hours for her small fingers to untangle the short strand and they stretched across the middle of the window instead of the top. She could not reach much higher without climbing and she knew better than to try to borrow her daddy’s hammer to have anything but the curtain ties from which to hang the lights. All the same, she was glad she found them in the neighbor’s trash on her way home from school.
Last year, Rachel and her Daddy decorated their whole house, inside and out. They put up so many lights on the tree in the living room that Mommy worried there might be a fire until Daddy laughed and told her they bought LED lights which would not get hot. Last year, Grammy and Poppop visited and marveled at how beautiful the house was. Last year, Rachel got a new, dark green, soft velvet dress to wear to the parties Mommy and Daddy took her to where they worked and at their friends’ houses. Last year there was baking and candy and friends and presents and family. Last year, there was Christmas but that was last year.
When summer faded and the trees started to put on their party dresses Rachel and Mommy and Daddy had to move. Rachel’s daddy was a soldier and a hero and the government decided they needed him somewhere new. Rachel’s Daddy did not want to go, and Rachel’s Mommy cried when she thought no one would see, but Rachel’s Daddy was a good soldier, so they went. They packed up all their things, Mommy’s books and sewing machine; Daddy’s books, tools, and fishing pole; and Rachel’s toys and games and much of her clothes. Somehow even the bear she slept with at night went into the big, carefully labeled boxes which then went into the back of a big truck.
Daddy went on ahead while Rachel and Mommy stayed with Grammy and Poppop. Mommy tried very hard but Rachel heard the crying in the dark when they were both supposed to be asleep. Rachel was a Very Brave Girl, just as Daddy bid her before he left but then, she did not really understand yet.
She hugged her Grammy and Poppop every chance she got. Rachel sat still and did not fidget when Mommy wanted to hold her and watch grown up movies. She laughed and played and carefully got every address of every member of her class and what they brought for thank you cards at her going away party at school. Rachel did not cry, not even when they realized her bear had gone in the big boxes in the big truck. She was a Very Brave Girl and she did not really understand yet.
Rachel and her Mommy took the last of their clothes and the few things that did not disappear into big boxes on the big truck and flew a long, long way from their home, their friends, from Grammy and Poppop to a strange new place with strange faces which spoke words Rachel did not understand.
Daddy me them at the airport and took them to a Base, like the one he worked on before but now they had to live there. Their new house was not nearly so nice. There were no carpets on the floors and all the windows but Rachel’s had plain white blinds instead of rods where Mommy could hang the curtains she made for their old house. Daddy tried but their neatly labeled boxes had not yet come, not even the one’s labeled Rachel’s Room: Clothes or Rachel’s Room: Toys which held her Bear, and Rachel heard through her new, thin, bedroom wall that Mommy and Daddy were not going to have room for all their boxes even when they arrived. Mommy and Daddy never said, but Rachel learned soon enough that there would be little money for new things even if there was room.
Rachel started a new school with many other soldiers’ sons and daughters. She even got some letters from back home. Thanksgiving with just the three of them was strange but Mommy and Daddy made it all right. Mommy had a new job and Rachel’s bed and some of their things came.
Then one day, Daddy was late for dinner without calling ahead, which he never did, and when he got home he could barely smile, not at Mommy or Rachel’s hug or even when he found one of his favorite meals on the table which Momma had managed to keep warm without overcooking. After a very quiet, very strange dinner Rachel was sent to watch television while Mommy and Daddy talked in their room with the door closed. When Rachel’s bedtime came and passed with the door still closed, Rachel turned off the television set, brushed her teeth, and crawled into bed. The sound of her parents’ voices in the next room was too low to understand and soothing until Rachel realized that while Daddy spoke very gently, Mommy was crying.
It was very dark and quiet out when Daddy came to check on Rachel. He helped her out of the plain dress with the buttons she could not quite unfasten herself and into her forested footy pajamas. Then he carried Rachel to sleep with him and Mommy. Three days later, a week from Christmas, he was gone.
It took Rachel some time to understand, listening to the adults and some of the other children whose Mommy or Daddy had gone, too, but now, sitting staring out at the grey sky through bare branches past her colored lights, Rachel knew some bad men were attacking some good people so her daddy and the other Mommy and Daddy heroes had to go do what heroes do and save them, but Rachel knew some other things as she stared out the window.
Mommy was new in her job so she had to work, even on days when Rachel got out of school. Tomorrow, Rachel would spend the day across the street watching strangers open presents until Mommy got home. Rachel would be very quiet and polite. Daddy should get to call, but if he got his chance too early, no one would be there and he probably would not get the chance to call again. Grammy and Poppop were much too far away to visit. Her dark-green, soft-velvet dress from last year was too small and their decorations were in one of the boxes for which they did not have room. There was no tree, no baking, and no parties. Mommy did not have time and energy to cook much anymore and no matter how much Rachel sat there and wished, it was too warm for that grey sky to hold any snow. As Rachel glanced at the sad string of lights for the hundred and first time, she heard her teen-aged babysitter call, “Lunch is Ready!” and wondered if lunch Christmas Day would be sandwiches, too.