Twas the Night

Word count: 1,256

Here we go again.

Twelve minutes to midnight, December 24 and while I should be sleeping I can’t. I know what’s coming. I pretended to sleep when Mother opened the door. I saw the crack of the light from the hallway spill onto the bed. There was a small thump as she steadied herself on the door jamb, nearly overcompensating and ending up on the floor of my bedroom. It’s happened before, but it’s always best to pretend it doesn’t wake you, because to wake up means to be dragged downstairs, and to be dragged downstairs is to be witness.

She closes the door, harder than a sober person trying not to wake a sleeping child would do, and she trips and stumbles down to the first floor. Now I can sit up, and wait, and listen.

I hear the wind blowing the snow against my bedroom window, tiny ice chips like Morse code tapping out a warning no one but the insane and those living with the insane would understand. I hear the click of the liquor cabinet and the tinkling of the stemware as she pours herself several fingers of the bourbon. It’ll react badly with her medications later, but later isn’t soon enough to stop her right now. I can smell the fireplace and the birch and lavender that burn within. The house smells like the cookies we baked this afternoon, but I won’t eat them. I can’t. I can see the blood on them from the last time, the dark red mixing with the festive green icing. It makes my stomach turn.

That sound is her setting the glass on the end table, obviously without a coaster, though when she was more my mother and less like Joan Crawford on a bender, she would have scolded me mercilessly for the marks left on the wood. Come morning she won’t even see them.

There, that sound is the click of the twelve-gauge opening. She’ll drop two or three shells onto the floor before loading two or three into the chambers. She only needs one but it never hurts to have a back up. Another loud click and it’s loaded. I can see her sitting in the armchair; her hair hangs loose in the curlers that have come free from their pins. Her housecoat is buttoned wrong, but modestly. She cradles the shotgun in one arm while sipping her drink with the other, the merry lights of our tree twinkle off the tinsel, and were it not for the firepower, the scene would almost be sweet. I can see this in my mind as clear as if I was standing down there, but I won’t do that again. I won’t watch her kill him again.

There, on the roof, the rumble and the shaking. The lamp next to my bed murmurs to the alarm clock with a soft rattle. He’s here. I have tried to keep him from coming, everything from having a roaring fire to blocking the chimney with chicken and razor wire, but still he keeps coming. I gather he’s as crazy as my mother. They deserve each other.

Snow cascades from the roof past my chimney, and my body is so taut that my jaw begins to ache.

Not much longer now.

Mother is now sitting in the chair, legs spread and bracing her elbows, twelve-gauge propped against her shoulder. I’ve tried to tell her that the kickback will one day dislocate her shoulder, but she either doesn’t listen or can’t remember. Regardless, I’ll have an icepack and ibuprofen ready for her with her tea tomorrow morning.

whoosh – the fire has gone out.

scuffle like rats past the flue.

Cocked and ready, my mother waits.

I hold my breath and close my eyes.

Here we go again.

I jump at the sound. It’s sounds louder than it really is, but that’s just the acoustics.

It’s over. The blast, the fall of the body to the floor. The hooves on the rooftop prance nervously. You’d think they’d be used to it by now.

She lets out a whoop like she’s just felled her first deer. Now I can climb out of bed and open the door. I creep downstairs, like I used to do when the coming Christmas morning meant being greeted with toys and candy, instead of the blood and the smell of spent ammo.

She points to the body dressed in spreading rubescent felt and milky fur. She hops from one foot to the other, pumping her shotgun to the ceiling and whoops again. She is so happy.

I smile and congratulate her. She got the bastard again. Good on her.

She smiles now and god, she looks beautiful. This is the smile of my childhood and I can almost believe there isn’t a dead man on our floor. You can’t see the scars on her face from her fight with the bathroom mirror or the way her left eye droops and wanders. She is my mother and I almost dance with her.

But I don’t. I gently take the shotgun from her and lead her back upstairs. We step over the broken glass of bourbon and skirt the spreading pool of blood. I let her lead the way upstairs, and take another look behind me at the grisly scene in what was once our living room and is now my living room. Friends wonder why I let her stay with me over Christmas instead of at the institution where she spends the majority of her time heavily medicated and weaving potholders, and I smile and shrug and tell them I want her with me at Christmas. I want to tell them that it’s better that she kills him here at our home, instead of there where she could be badly hurt, but they wouldn’t understand.

The body on the floor stirs and begins to rise, and I hurry my mother upstairs. I don’t want her to think she missed and she needs to shoot him again. I get her to her room and give her pills which she swallows gratefully. I tuck her into bed and kiss her goodnight, our roles reversed one night a year. I close the door, softer than a sober person trying not to wake a sleeping child would do.

I again creep downstairs and the large man in the spreading rubescent felt and milky fur is filling stockings and sipping bourbon from the bottle. He turns to me, his face not red from jolly glee but stern with alcohol. He places a finger to the side of his nose and in a swirl of red and white, he is gone up the chimney, leaving the bourbon bottle on the grate.

I grab it quickly before the fire re-ignites, sort of a sick game we play. I let my mother kill him and he tries to burn my house down. He has left brightly wrapped presents. He always does.

He has also left a sticky red stain on my rug. Another year, another rug. I’ll roll it up and place it in the trash before morning, and it will join the countless others wherever blood-stained rugs go to die, but first…

I check the stockings.

Mine has cherry sours and a bag of gumballs.

Mother’s has a lump of coal. It always does.

I will replace the coal with an orange and a cinnamon stick and toss the lump onto the fire. It flares bright and orange and then disintegrates.

It’s over for another year.

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Black Ink Horror #5, Sideshow Press, 2009, Print
© 2008 MontiLee Stormer
All Rights Reserved