Next Christmas, Last Christmas, by Walt Giersbach
Merrill didn’t give a damn about his hair, what little was left. Like the dishes piling up in the sink, the fall yard cleanup that could — should — be done, bills that got paid at the last moment. Linda had always trimmed his hair because, Christ, how was he supposed to see in the back?
Worse yet, he’d blown off Thanksgiving and now bloody Christmas meant he had to crawl around the mall looking for something for three grandchildren, a son and a daughter. Fuck the former neighbors and co-workers, he’d send them cards.
He poured a Scotch and settled into the recliner, trying not to think of Linda’s betrayal. It was a small whiskey because Linda used to give him the fish eye and, when he wasn’t looking, slurp half his drink to save him from his own vices. The light switch was the loudest noise in the silence of the house. The news was as banal as ever, but at least the TV gave him something else to rail against. Something besides Linda’s absence. He had always told her he’d go first and she’d be well cared-for with his pension and 401(k). Her death was disloyalty. What good was money if there was nothing to do with it?
And, pulling the wool blanket over his shoulders, he drifted into sleep. Or did he? Because when he looked up he saw Linda sitting in her usual place opposite him in the Cogswell chair.
“You didn’t do the dishes or vacuum, did you Merrill?” And she sighed. “Why must you pity yourself? Don’t you ever think of anyone but yourself? Our children rely on you, and with the holidays coming….”
“Linda,” he started, but she looked so misty and evanescent, slightly out of focus, that he didn’t know if it were really her. “I thought you…”
She smiled and ran a finger behind her ear, pushing back the hair that was turning gray. “Don’t you remember our last Christmas? You wanted the tallest tree, one that would touch the ceiling except for the angel topper. I almost fell off the ladder putting the angel up.”
“It was a good tree. The best.” He didn’t remember smiling at the memory, but he supposed he had. “And the kids came home, all of them.”
“They won’t,” she cautioned. “Until you stop acting up. And unless you look in the mirror and see how badly you need a haircut.”
“Stay,” he said to the woman who seemed to be getting dimmer, unless it was his cataracts. “Stay a bit longer.” His eyes were wet and he was embarrassed to be caught weeping.
“You don’t need me. You have the children. And they have you, if you’ll allow them into your heart again. Pick up the phone and call them. Tell them they’re invited for Christmas — or you can take a plane out to see them.”
Then she was gone as he sat forward, knocking the glass from its perch on his knee. There was no one else to mop up his mess, but isn’t that what she had said?
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Tags: family, loss, relationships, Walter Giersbach