By Dani Brown
The miniature nativity glistened on top fake snow on the mantel. Samantha bent down for a closer look. Another new addition since she left to chase her fortune in the city. Three wise men were meant to glitter in gaudy colours over the scene. The figurines stood in plain glass, poking out from plastic garland without any eyes. They didn’t seem in the mood to sing praises to the newborn king.
“Hand-blown,” her mother said.
“I didn’t hear you come in.”
The doorbell rang taking Samantha and her mother away from the nativity and the candy canes hanging from the garland. Those were real at least, in regulation artificial Christmas mint red and white.
Carollers sang with Christmas cheer. Red noses from the cold poked out from underneath winter parkas, but the snow melted at sunrise. Samantha thought she could see pink powder flakes. Perfection was nothing more than a small-town illusion.
This town projected the image of keeping their noses clean, but never too good to look the role of winter caroller. She sniffled. Last week presented some intensity at work in the big city. Her nose itched with recent memories rushing to hit her blood stream and tighten around her chest.
Samantha looked over her shoulder. Her mother stamped on her foot to force her eyes back to the carollers.
Tyler winked. He still harboured his childhood crush. Blue eyes twinkled beneath a reindeer fair isle hat. Knitted by his grandmother, Samantha assumed. She knitted him a new one every year. Beneath his parka, he’d be sweating through a hand-knitted sweater.
She took an elbow to the ribs. Samantha grew soft on fast food and even faster dates in the city while her mother turned her childhood bedroom into a gym. Her mother didn’t really want her to return home. Airs and graces were a display for the small town neighbours.
She couldn’t hear Tyler’s voice amongst the other carollers. They blurred together with no chance of a solo going door-to-door.
Tyler would never leave the town. The only son of the only funeral director. His destiny waited in the family business. Samantha needed more out of life. Always chasing away an emptiness that nibbled on her insides late at night. Displaying lilies on closed caskets with the boredom washed away with one pill per day didn’t offer any chance to find out who she was. Her mother agreed without saying anything.
“Would you like some hot cocoa,” her mother asked the carollers during a break in the song.
Samantha glared at her mother. Her eyes ready to burst out of her head. Don’t invite them in. The carollers accepted the offer. It was only made to sound polite. The same offer made in hundreds of towns just like this one dotted around the country. It could be printed on a postcard. It probably was but with the slush and early winter mud Photoshopped away.
Tyler stepped inside behind the others. His eyes traced over Samantha’s body. Samantha’s mother didn’t have details about the fast city life before buying matching Christmas onesies for the entire family. Samantha tried to pull the door shut but Tyler’s foot stood in the way.
Samantha’s mother ran off to warm the milk and put packaged Christmas delights onto a serving platter, leaving Samantha to close the door and ensure Toddles didn’t get out. The golden retriever’s claws hit the hard wood floors.
Tyler paused to take off his hat. Samantha’s cheeks puffed out with frustration as she fumbled for words. The dog had just been to the groomers. She even smelt nice with a big gold trimmed crimson Christmas ribbon wrapped around her collar.
Samantha tried to close the door but the funeral director’s son was in the way. His icy blue eyes began to melt her frustration and transform into good cheer and instant love. He really grew up in the last few months.
“Goddamn dog,” she mumbled and chased after her.
Tyler watched from the open doorway. Samantha felt him mentally undressing her in the same way upper management made her skin crawl. But Tyler didn’t make her skin crawl. At least, she didn’t think he did.
“Toddles, here girl.”
The dog turned around and wagged her tail. The perfectly groomed tail fur managed to avoid the lawn mud. Just. It already travelled up her legs. Splatters of mud ran off the gold-trimmed crimson Christmas ribbon fastened onto her collar and landed in her fur.
The mud puddle at the bottom of the front yard hadn’t frozen over yet. The slush lit up by the orange glow cast by the neighbours’ windows and streetlamps. Samantha ran in her Christmas slippers and slid. A car drove by. Headlights shone on Samantha sat in the mud.
Toddles wagged her tail, halfway between the giant mud puddle and Samantha.
Tyler ran behind Samantha, his boots splattering more mud. He looked down at her for a few seconds too long before helping her up. The zipper tucked on her onesie. It wouldn’t go all the way up. Samantha held it close as Tyler pulled her out of the lawn mud.
Toddles stood still with her tail wagging and a big fat stupid on grin on her face.
Tyler whistled and the dog ran right up next to him. Samantha shook her hands in disgust. Mud flew. Samantha winced as a big splatter hit Tyler in the nose. She waited for him to be angry, but he only laughed it off.
“Thank you Samantha, I deserved that.”
Tyler smiled. His teeth were straight and very white. They weren’t the teeth of his childhood. Samantha’s eyes went cross staring at them.
“You look a sight for sore eyes.”
His pink tongue pressed against his teeth as he spoke. Samantha didn’t hear what he said. The mud on his nose dripped. The perfect postcard picture moment over, if postcards contained mud instead of snow.
Tyler’s hand rested on Toddles head. Samantha desired nothing more than to punch that grin off his face. He was being so nice, like he wasn’t the same boy that cut off her pigtails in fourth grade. Her own feelings churned around inside her confused and searching for answers. The warm tidings of the season would soon be swallowed by mid-January depression. Would Tyler look as good then?
“Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”
Samantha didn’t have any other choice. It was her house, or more, her parent’s house since she’d be staying in the guest room. Her belongings donated to Goodwill. If she wanted to come home, she’d be force to rent somewhere.
He took off his coat and put it around her shoulders.
“The house is only a few steps away.”
He winked. The mud disappeared from his face as if by magic when she wasn’t looking.
“Don’t want you catching cold now, do we?”
His blue eyes twinkled in the orange glow cast by house lights and street lamps.
It seemed weird to put her arms in the sleeves but she did so anyways, satisfied that she was covered in mud. Enforced politeness ruled the picture perfect town. No wasn’t an acceptable answer to the boy who chopped off her hair. Samantha shuddered remembering the short bob cut when all the girls grew long flowing locks.
He led her up her parent’s path to the porch. It used to be her path and her porch. Home gyms had appeal though. At least the guest room had a new mattress from a box. Orange light changed to a welcoming warm yellow as they approached the open door. Toddles ran in.
Samantha’s heart sank watching the mud covered golden retriever run into the house with freshly waxed floors.
“My mother will make me clean it.”
At least her mother didn’t make her undress in front of the guests. Samantha was finally too old for that. Too far into her teenage years was she expected to strip down by the open door. Mud should be illegal, which is why they lived in what must be the muddiest street in the muddiest town ever.
She wanted nothing more than a shower, but her mother would see that as being rude so she had to sit around sweating in Tyler’s coat. Next to the wood-burning stove as the carollers took up every other space in the living room.
Her mother droned on about imaginings of Samantha’s life in the big city and how she needed to settle down. Tyler wasn’t paying any attention.
“Some of the old crew is back in town,” he whispered.
Everyone was too engrossed in stories of Sam’s imagined life to pay any attention to them.
“We’re having a bit of a soiree later, you should come.”
Samantha turned to look at him. He grew up. He grew into a man with twinkling eyes. Fresh and young. Even the men her age had bags under their eyes in the big city.
“I’m not the same boy that cut your hair. That was stupid.”
His hands clenched and unclenched in his lap.
“Sure,” she said.
It beat sitting at what used to be her home. Curiosity would be satisfied tonight under the mistletoe. Only for January regret.
“Nine o’clock, I’ll pick you up.”
If the carollers would hurry up with their cocoa and packaged Christmas delights, she’d have just about enough time to clean herself up. Presents of socks and soap sets sat underneath the tree in another picture perfect postcard. It would have been a moment if she weren’t sweating through her mud covered Christmas onesie and into Tyler’s coat.
Samantha waited by the door with Tyler’s coat. The car honked.
“Have fun,” her mother called.
“Don’t wait up,” she replied.
The music from her youth blared in the barn. The same bands were still turning out hits and selling out arena tours. The songs still sounded the same, dripping warm nostalgia through the cold night.
She didn’t return home after college. She accepted the first job offer that would take her away from all of this and thrust her into adult life. The little postcard town was so dull its only claim to fame was a presidential candidate that stopped by once. An entire street was named after him.
“Samantha, look at you.”
“Zack’s still loud, I see.”
“No one’s changed. Even after everyone left me here alone.”
A glass nativity twinkled beneath multi-coloured fairy lights. Glass baubles hung from the tree instead of the usual plastic reindeer.
“What’s with all the glass?”
Tyler shrugged. The big department stores were all about colours and plastic this year. Too many glass shards in too many feet after too many glasses of Christmas brandy.
A bottle of weak bear appeared in Samantha’s hands. Just like old times. Samantha wandered towards the nativity. It was the same as her mother’s. She had never seen anything like it before.
The sounds of the party reminded her of high school and a longing for simpler times. Everyone here looked so old beneath the strobe lights, except Tyler, who stayed behind.
The glass shimmered. Samantha blinked. It wasn’t the weak beer. Happy Hour cocktails chased each other six nights of the week. Entertaining clients and signing new ones wasn’t in the job description but she did what she was told.
The party hammered on behind her. Someone gave Emily proper DJ equipment. No sudden changes in volume. The drum loop wrapped Samantha in a cold embrace. An invisible belt tightened around her chest. Surrounded by people she used to know, she was the only person in the barn.
The glass nativity stared without any eyes. Three blank wise men bearing gifts and an invisible belt restricting her airwaves. Emily pressed a button for bottled fog and the strobe light changed colour behind the haystack.
Barn mice ran along the ceiling beams. Baby Jesus stared from a glass manger. His empty eye sockets stole Samantha’s breath. Her lipstick melted down her chin. Blue lips reflected in the glass.
The voice came from so far away.
Someone tugged on her goose down parka.
“Sam. Snap out of it.”
Fingers clicked beneath her nose.
“Samantha, come back to me.”
Tyler came into focus.
Samantha’s breath came in heavy bursts in sync with Emily’s drum loops. Tyler led her outside.
“Oh look, it is snowing.”
Samantha looked up and shuddered.
“What’s wrong Sam, you used to love snow?”
“It doesn’t seem right.”
“Of course it is right. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if we weren’t guessing about whether they’d be snow.”
“Not snow, this snow.”
“It doesn’t seem right. There’s something wrong with it.”
“What’s gotten into you?”
Samantha shrugged. She didn’t know. She was looking forward to escaping the big city and her manager’s unwanted advances for a few days, but now she was back, something seemed off. She couldn’t put her finger on it.
“Come on, let’s get back inside.”
Samantha cast a backwards glance. Sweat and body odour danced in the bottled fog. She let Tyler lead her to the punch.
“Non-alcoholic. I remember when you used to demolish ten beers and still be standing.”
“It wasn’t the beer.”
Some inexplicable need to justify and explain pulled at her insides. Tyler looked at her with a knowing wink and shake of his head. Samantha shrunk inside her goose down parka.
Glass baubles twinkled on the tree surrounded by fairy lights. Glass dripped onto the artificial branches.
Three wise men watched from the fake mantle with no eyes. Their mouths stretched into screams. Baby Jesus’s glass manger melted into the fake snow. Three wise men twisted in their glass robes.
Samantha tapped Tyler’s shoulder. He couldn’t feel her gentle fingers through his winter jacket. Samantha grabbed Tyler’s arm and swung him around.
“Hand-blown glass for you?”
Emily spun records. Bottled fog blocked views of the glass figurines. Tyler pulled Samantha into the centre of the barn to dance the night away, awkwardly avoiding mistletoe.
He didn’t walk her to the door or kiss her cheeks. He gave her a wink instead.
“See you soon.”
Samantha climbed the stairs to the guest room and went straight to bed. She didn’t bother with pyjamas.
Glass faces chased her dreams away. Three wise men with poison glass arrows shot Tyler’s eyes. His insides turned to glass and shattered in the night.
Samantha woke screaming. Her hands felt like ice. Moonlight shone through the window. Frost climbed the inside wall and wrapped around the fuzzy remains of Samantha’s tattered dreams.
Toddles barked from the luxury dog bed down the hall.
Heaviness climbed through Samantha’s fingers and joints. The sounds of glass breaking echoed through the house before Samantha registered her index finger was missing right down to where the knuckle met the palm.
A final yelp dissolved into white noise. Above all the different sounds, the sound of her parent’s bedroom door opening alerted Samantha’s ears.
Three eyeless wise men stood guard from the mantel’s Christmas display. The floorboards squeaked beneath her father’s footsteps.
Yellow light poked underneath the crack in the door.
The floorboards squeaked with her mother’s weight.
“What happened to my baby?”
The bedroom door opened.
“Is this some sort of joke you’re playing?”
Samantha sat up confused. Yellow light illuminated her glass hands. A stiff chill traced her legs. Her father didn’t notice her hands.
White noise dissolved into glass shattering across hardwood floors. Her father left the doorframe to investigate. Mourning combined with intense anger rattled the air. Her father whimpered. Her mother broke down into sobs.
Another finger shattered. This time it didn’t go by without notice underneath the yellow hallway light. She tried to scream and found she couldn’t draw breath.
Designs carved in blue frost crossed the guest room’s walls lit up with warm yellow hallway light. Somewhere in the struggle, Samantha’s blankets landed on the floor. Yellow light touched her glass toes. It didn’t feel warm against the chill.
Samantha clawed at her throat with her remaining fingers until these shattered too. Glass shards fell into her lap and cut her thighs. Blood transformed into glass upon contact with the air.
Her lungs begged for air even though it felt like she inhaled one million serrated knives.
Glass hands shattered up to her wrists. Samantha slit her own throat. Tyler didn’t even give her a kiss. Three wise men stood in darkness with gifts for the newborn king.
The office manager’s chapped lips puckered up. He pulled her into an embrace and grabbed her butt. Do as I say and you’ll go far. You don’t want to go back to that hick town. Samantha backed up, pushing herself with glass knees along her glass butt. The manager’s lips loomed over her. She couldn’t escape, even dying in her childhood home (but not her bedroom).
Her mother’s sobs echoed through the house. The office manager dissolved into the frost on the walls. Three wise men twinkled on the mantle. Glass couldn’t smile.
A siren wailed sliding on ice lurking beneath the slush outside. Glass shattered inside Samantha’s chest and pierced the rest of her skin. Officer Beckett banged on the front door. She could still hear. Frost carved itself into three grinning wise men on the guestroom wall. Death would be slow, even without her heart.
Hallway glass crunched beneath Samantha’s father’s bare feet. She felt every cut, even without feet of her own. Officer Beckett’s radio called in another disturbance from the porch, as her father answered the door. Even with the window shut and every other noise she heard it perfectly.
Windows down the street lit up with warm light. Samantha had a front row seat into the source of every scream and sob. Raccoons chattered and dug through the trash. Someone left meat in their Christmas lobster claw.
Officer Beckett demanded the day shift get out of bed. One officer on night duty was usually enough to drive kids out of the barn and help Tyler’s father scrape auto accident victims off tarmac.
The neighbour next door fell out of her front door and clutched her throat beneath security lights. Raccoons dug through the trash and couldn’t find any more lobster claws.
Samantha’s father grabbed Officer Beckett and shoved his nose into his face.
“My wife…my dog…please…my dog, she just shattered.”
Officer Beckett shook himself free. Bloodshot eyes stared beneath his winter cap.
“This is all just a bad dream. One long bad dream. I’ll wake up and it’ll be over,” the officer mumbled to himself.
Raccoons chattered and dug to the bottom of the trash.
“Please help me.”
The neighbour’s fingers shattered beneath the security light. The first crisscross of glass traced the cellulite and stretchmarks on her legs.
Samantha’s mother’s sobs slowed in the master bedroom. Three wise men with no eyes dropped their gifts for the newborn king. Raccoons fought over broken Christmas baubles in the bottom of the trash. Everywhere else switched to shatterproof colourful plastic. The images came all at once upon what was left of Samantha shattered in the guestroom bed.
The house felt empty without Toddles and her barks. Mud transformed to glass on the wall where she shook herself off.
Slush transformed to ice throughout the small town. Officer Becket lost his footing and fell off the porch.
“You must help me, what do I pay taxes for,” Samantha’s father mumbled.
The porch cracked objections to his weight. Samantha’s father’s feet slid. His fingers shattered when he reached for the doorframe. He didn’t notice his wife stopped sobbing.
Sets of three wise men sat on every mantle in the small town. No one remembered where they came from or even if the nativity was pulled out of bubble wrap and boxes for careful displays in every home and municipal building.
Raccoons couldn’t chatter with their throats piercing through their fur. Their blood turned to glass as soon as it hit the air. Forgotten food found rotting in bins fell from their glass paws. They couldn’t play with smashed baubles anymore.
Samantha’s father eyes shattered outwards and pierced Officer Beckett’s skin. He took out his gun for the first time since the police academy and shot randomly into the air. Each bullet exploded glass onto slush and ice.
Gold trimmed crimson Christmas ribbons turned to glass and fell from wreaths. Frost climbed inside walls, but it wasn’t frost. Not really. The images of three wise men glared from each wall touched by glass.
Officer Becket’s radio broadcasted static into the frosty air. The Christmas sun shone on shattered glass.
Groups of three wise men stood on mantles in every home and municipal building waiting to be taken away by the FBI.