The following is a piece of short fiction by Scott Nagele that was originally posted on a website or blog for fiction writing.
The First Thin Ray of Christmas (originally posted on Musings of Mistress of the Dark Path – Christmas theme)
Mr. Skelari sat on the couch in the dark family room, staring at the bay window. There should be a Christmas tree in front of that window, lighting up the whole room with the festive glow of its colored lights. It was nightfall on Christmas Eve. If they hadn’t put up a tree by now, it wasn’t likely they were going to.
Christine always loved decorating the Christmas tree. He just couldn’t have a tree this year to remind him of that. He and Mrs. Skelari hadn’t discussed it, hadn’t made the positive decision to forego the tree; neither had said a word about it. They had both just let time pass, without mentioning it at all.
Even without a tree, he couldn’t help remembering. Staring at the dark spot before the window, he seemed to remember every single tree they’d had, and how she’d decorated them all, from the time when she was just a little girl to her senior year of high school. He dropped his head into his hands. He used to love this time of year, and now all it did was hurt.
Crissy should be home from college now. She should be here now, sitting in front of the tree she had decorated, telling her parents about all her adventures from her first months away from home. Dammit, she should be here.
Why? Why did she have to get into that car with that boy? She wasn’t drunk. Why didn’t she take his keys? She could have driven. Why didn’t she just call home? One of them would have come and picked her up. Why couldn’t one little thing have been different? One little thing was all it would have taken. He’d counted up the thousands of little things that might have been different a thousand times, so he knew this to be true.
As always, at this point in his questioning, he recalled the image of Jerry Toomey in an orange jumpsuit, looking scared and confused before the judge. Mr. Skelari ground his teeth together, remembering how badly he had wanted to jump up and tackle that kid and just keep punching until that little bastard understood how many lives he had ruined. Damn you, Jerry Toomey! Damn you to hell for taking my little girl away from me.
Mr. Skelari unclenched his fists and rubbed his palms to get the soreness out. He went to the kitchen to get his car keys. Mrs. Skelari was sitting at the kitchen table, listening to the news on the radio. She liked the company of the newscaster’s voice. In past years, she would have been listening to Christmas music.
“I’ve got to go for a drive,” Mr. Skelari told her.
She got up and kissed him on the cheek. “Okay,” she said. “Don’t be too long.” He went on a lot of drives these days. She no longer tried to persuade him to stay at home.
“Okay,” he said, trying to wipe his face without letting her see.
He didn’t go far. His habit was to drive around the different neighborhoods near their house, and try to replace the anger with comforting, familiar sights.
Today, he went a way he hadn’t gone in a long time. He didn’t know why. It was hard to let go of the anger amid all the houses lit up so brightly with the joy of Christmas. It only served to highlight the contrast between all those families who got to live on in happiness and himself.
Something made him stop in the middle of the street. At first, he didn’t know what it was. Looking around, he saw a house that stood out from the rest. He knew this house. He knew the people who lived there. The house was famous for being the most overdone with Christmas lights and decorations every year.
Today, it stood as if in a shadow. A modest Christmas tree could be seen through the front window, but that was the only sign of the season about the entire property. No attempt had been made to recapture the glory of past years’ Christmas triumphs of illumination. In the midst of all the neighbors’ festive colors, a pall had fallen over this house.
Mr. Skelari parked at the curb and stared at the house for a long time. He’d never considered how this house would be changed. Most of the windows were dark. The only light came from the little tree and a lamp in one of the rooms behind it. Mr. Skelari watched, in a trance, only moving enough to breathe.
There was movement within the house as someone passed near the tree. The movement stirred Mr. Skelari to action. He got out of the car and came up to the sidewalk. There, he stopped and looked back at his car, unsure of which way he should go. He took a few, uncertain steps up the walk and stopped again. Taking a deep breath, he made himself go on.
He climbed up the steps and stopped at the door. For half a minute he stared at the doorbell. His finger shook a little when he finally raised it to the button. He pressed lightly, then made himself press again harder, to be sure the bell rang.
It took a minute, but finally the door swung open. A man, roughly his own age, stood on the other side of the threshold. The man looked tired and haggard. At the sight of Mr. Skelari, the man started a bit. His eyes showed confusion, and then wariness. The man took an unconscious step backward.
“Mr. Skelari,” the man said in a hoarse, unsure voice. “I didn’t expect to see you here.” It was clear that he didn’t know what else to say.
“I didn’t expect it either,” said Mr. Skelari. “I’m not sure myself why I’m here.”
There was a strange silence.
“Maybe . . . maybe this is why I’m here,” Mr. Skelari continued. “I know it has to be hard for you, with your son not able to be home with you for Christmas.” He looked down at his shoes. “I know . . . I know I said some things at the sentencing, but I was hurting. It hurt so bad.”
Mr. Skelari wiped his cheeks with the palms of his hands. “I want you to know that I know Jerry has always been a good kid. Crissy treasured his friendship. Good kids sometimes make dumb mistakes, ya know? That’s why they’re kids.”
Mr. Skelari felt himself rambling. He shook his head to help him get to the point, only he didn’t know what the point was. The words came from somewhere, but it was not his mind. “I wish you would tell Jerry, next time you talk to him . . . I wish you would tell him that I forgive him.”
Mr. Toomey mouthed the words, “I will,” but no sound came. He looked as if he were about to stumble. He fell into Mr. Skelari and threw his arms around the visitor. “That will mean the world to him,” Mr. Toomey choked out in between sobs. “He’s prayed for it every day.”
On the stoop of Mr. Toomey’s house, the two men clung to each other, shaking like frightened children finding comfort in a kindred soul. They said nothing. They only sniffled into each other ears, and in this usually unpleasant sound there was comfort.
At last they found the strength to let go of each other. Neither abided a man’s normal instinct to hide his red eyes or wet cheeks. “Will you come in for a coffee?” Mr. Toomey asked.
“Oh, no. My wife worries about me a lot these days. I’d better get home,” Mr. Skelari answered.
Mr. Toomey nodded. He understood.
Mr. Skelari got into his car. He wanted to go to his wife. She deserved his whole heart tonight, and he finally felt strong enough to open it up to her.
Just the tiniest little bit, it was beginning to feel like Christmas.
©2012 Scott Nagele