by Tammy Cox
She sat there alone watching television and flipping through a Family Circle magazine that she picked up at K-Mart earlier that day. She glanced over at the tree that her grandson, Cody, had decorated that Saturday. He didn’t do too badly for an eight-year old. Christmas was less than one week away, and she still had no spirit.
Crystal got up off the black, velvety, worn couch which used to be overstuffed but had been sat on and played on so much that the stuffing was nearly flat. She walked over by the tree and flipped the switch to see how the lights looked in the darkened living room. Every year, the tree was placed in the same corner, on a table, across from the end of the couch. She stood there, staring at the flashing bubble lights.
“Yup, it’s nice,” she said as she patted Wow-wow on the head, “Cody did real well. At least it’s a distraction from all that clutter.” The little brown chihuahua cocked his head to the side and sneezed in response. “Stupid dog,” she said as she sat back down to read.
A few minutes passed and Wow-wow started to whine. “Do you gotta go pee?” she asked the dog.
He shook his head as he sneezed again, his usual response that was always interpreted as “No.” He looked at her, darted to the end of the couch, and whimpered towards the Christmas tree.
Crystal looked to see what was bothering him. “What the...?” Crystal couldn’t believe her eyes, but she had to because the dog was seeing the same thing. Gary was standing beside the Christmas tree, staring up at the star.
“Hello Effy.” That’s what he always called her, Effy which he considered short for Ethel. It was his chosen nickname for her, just like she called him ‘Vern’. “I came to see how you were doing.” Gary looked at the fully lit Christmas tree. His green eyes seemed to change colors as the lights blinked. “Who decorated it?”
Crystal sat there dumbfounded at his visit. “Ah...ah...” she stuttered, “Cody did.”
Gary looked up at the star that shined on the top of the tree. “The star is crooked as usual, but the boy did good.”
Crystal still didn’t know what to say to her husband. She was in complete shock, not only because he was there, but because she didn’t see him come in. She thought about ignoring him like she did at Thanksgiving, but Wow-wow remained with his forepaws on the arm of the couch as his tail wagging and whimpering became more frantic.
“I really liked that little tree that someone left for me.” Gary removed his bright orange hunting cap so he could scratch his grayed head. “Just one problem... the presents were empty.”
“Tammy left it for you. She bought it from the store and made sure it had a gold star on the top. The presents are only fake ones on a stick. She wanted you to know that she’s not leaving you out of the holiday celebrating.” Crystal sobbed uncontrollably as the dog came over and licked tears off her wet cheek.
“Tell her thank you, I loved it. Tell her thanks for the flashlight too.” He had always been afraid of the dark, even though he never admitted it. Gary stood there and watched his wife as she cried, yet he made no attempt to hold her. “It’ll be okay Effy. You’ll manage just fine, you’ll see. It’ll all be alright, darlin’.”
“I... I know, eventually,” she said as she hiccupped from the crying.
“I’m going to leave for now, but I’ll be back someday to visit you again.” He waited for a response. “I hope you all have a nice Christmas.” Then he left.
Crystal managed to calm herself and began to wonder why he came back to see her again. His first visit, during Thanksgiving, seemed more dreamlike. She didn’t carry on a conversation with him at that time, but he did say he hoped they all enjoyed the turkey.
Months went by and Gary didn’t come back for a visit. Crystal had thought he might have a few times because Wow-wow whined at the bedroom door a few times. When she got up to look, nobody was ever there.
Easter had finally rolled around and it was celebrated with everyone except Gary. Crystal’s three children and all four grandchildren came and exchanged baskets. Crystal hadn’t slept at all the night before because holidays just weren’t the same. Sure, Gary could come and go as he pleased, but it was different. Traditions had to be restarted which made everyone uncomfortable.
That night, after everyone left and all the dishes washed, she took a bath and headed to bed early. She climbed into the king size bed, picking up the little dog so he could sleep there too. She fell asleep easily.
It was around 2:45 in the morning when something woke her. She thought Wow-wow had left her feet to cuddle into the small of her back because his small size made him feel the coldness of the bedroom more. The lack of extra hair didn’t help him either. She moved her feet and the dog growled in protest. All of a sudden, the blankets moved up and she felt an arm cover her waist. Fingers gently caressed her plump naval area.
“Hold me, Effy.” Gary was back. Yet again his entrance was unheard. “I’m cold, please hold me.”
Crystal didn’t move. By now she had begun to feel uncomfortable with his silent, nighttime visits that occurred while she was alone. It was definitely a strange time to be close. Affection used to be somewhat limited until he went in the hospital.
“I know something.”
“What is that?” she asked, still not turning around to face him.
“One of our grandchildren is gonna be a guitar player when they grow up.”
She scrunched her eyes as she began to wonder. “Who is it?”
“I can’t tell you which one, but you’ll be surprised at who it is.” His voice carried eagerness to the prediction because it meant someone would finally carry on a family tradition. Gary’s family had all been musically inclined and all sang very well. One of his brothers even made a record.
“Why can’t you tell me?” she asked as she tried to prod the answer from him.
“I just can’t. But I do want to talk to you about something.”
Crystal remained silent as he took a deep breath to prepare for what he had to say.
“You can tell Goober,” he said as he referred to his oldest son, Christopher, by his nickname, “I don’t want no damn deer on my headstone. No doe or buck. I want a guitar. I want my name, the dates that are supposed to be there, and you can add whatever you want. And you can tell those freaking plot people I said thanks for burying me so far away from my mama.”
Crystal sat up. “I think I’m going to go sleep on the couch now.” With that said, she left the bedroom with the dog tagging along behind.
Gary had died back in October, just before Halloween. He still came to visit though, usually when Crystal was alone. She was told by her daughter that his visits may have been his way of thanking her for enduring the constant battle with doctors, and putting up with his death crusade and stubbornness. Her other explanation was holidays meant a family gathering was in order, and he wouldn’t dream of missing the festivities.
Copyright © 2005 by Tammy Cox