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Yuletide stories

For you and yours

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'Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, and all that jazz.

It's also, if we're being honest, the season of cringeworthy family dinners and overimbibing at staff Christmas parties.

Here at Pique, we love to give back. That's why we've lovingly curated the following holiday short stories for you to leaf through while your weird uncle drones on about his troubling political theories. Or maybe you need something to distract from the shame you feel, hungover as a sailor, the day after that Christmas party that got a little out of hand. We got you.

So, from our Pique family to yours, we wish you all a joyous holiday season full of cheer, beer and the people you love (along with some you don't).

 

The Christmas Coat

By Angie Nolan

Eight-year-old Nikki prances around in her newly unwrapped Burberry wool duffle coat. It's a brilliant red with tan, black and orange-red tartan lining. Although it's a tad big for her, she has already practised undoing and redoing the buttons up a number of times this bright Christmas morning. Twisting the wooden toggles in and around her fingers with great care, making sure she gets faster every time. Nikki wants to make sure she looks like a professional Burberry coat-wearer in time for the traditional family dinner and Christmas skate this very night. All the cousins and extended family will be there soon. So will those friends who don't quite have their own families to celebrate with. It's always quite an extravagant affair, and Nikki can't wait to be the belle of the ball in her new digs.

By 1 p.m. in the afternoon, Nikki still hadn't taken off the coat. She even ate her syrupy Christmas waffles wearing it, ever so carefully leaning her face close to the plate and scooping very small bites, one at a time. Her father comments on how silly she is being, but Nikki's mother, Cindy, shoos him off.

"Pat, it's Christmas, just let Nikki enjoy her new coat" her mother says in defence.

At 3 p.m., the guests start to arrive, and Nikki makes sure to answer the door every single time. As the snow blusters in with each new person, Nikki is quick to mention the weather and how she will fare just fine in her new threads.

"It's like it was made just for me," she shares with her cousins, Emily and Jack, imitating how the older ladies talk.

"It's really pretty," says Emily.

"I know," states Nikki, confidently.

After stocking up on snacks and hot chocolate, the troupe of 20 or so head out to skate. There's some kind of magic in the air when families and friends traipse through the snow in large gaggles.

"We're like a Christmas gang and, and...we only do good things," proclaims little Jack.

"Yeah! And I'm the leader of the gang because my coat is bright red and that's the colour of Christmas," Nikki announces.

With that, she skips ahead of the troupe and leads them down the street to the park like the grandmaster of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. She's sure to keep her chin up and knees high, since it's an important job for a girl now as elegant as her.

Bob Clark Park is a holiday heaven, with its Dr. Seuss-like trees lit up bright and twinkling as Bing Crosby festive classics bellow from the loudspeakers. The rink is crowded with kids big and small. Nikki and her cousins race to put on their skates. Jack wins and charges to the rink with the girls not far behind. The snow falls in big lofty chunks as Nikki and her cousins spin and skip their way around the ice.

"Hey, Emily!" Nikki shouts, "Emily! Let's pretend that I'm the beautiful Christmas Queen and you are my unicorn! We are on a mission to save the presents that were stolen by the mean old man who lives in the forest. Jack, you can be him."

"Uh, no thanks," muffles Jack as he skates away.

"Why can't I be the Queen?" asks Emily.

"Because you don't have a Queen's coat. Your jacket's old and dirty. It doesn't have the same magic as mine," brags Nikki.

"Fine! Unicorns are more magical than Queens anyway. Everybody knows that!" says Emily.

"You can't be more magical than me! My coat is like a cape that has special powers," Nikki assures her cousin.

"You're not better than me because of your stupid coat," argues Emily.

Nikki gets nose-to-nose with her cousin. "You're just jealous because you're too poor to get a coat like this!"

As soon as the words tumble out of Nikki's mouth, she realizes it was the wrong thing to say. Too late! Emily shoves Nikki to the ice and skates away crying. Nikki gets up quickly, brushes off her coat and continues to skate around the rink as if she's the star of her very own ice-dance show. Twirling and spinning like a preening show pony. She makes one full round of the rink before almost skating into her mother. Cindy is not happy at all and drags her daughter away by the elbow."Did you just tell your cousin she's too poor to have a coat like yours?" Cindy seethes. Nikki shrugs. "I worked an extra shift so we could buy you that darn thing!"

Nikki digs chunks of snow out of the ground with the toe of her skate.

"Not very Christmassy behaviour, Nikkolina. I'm very disappointed in you. Now get those skates off, we're going home," Cindy huffs and puffs in the cold night air as Nikki dejectedly slips off her skates.

The Christmas Gang of Do-gooders glides home amidst giggles and sparkling wonder. Except for Nikki. She drags her heels far behind the pack, not feeling so fantastic after all. Up ahead she sees Emily leading the pack, galloping like a glimmering unicorn.

Suddenly, Nikki has a wonderful idea. She scoots past the revelers, weaving around them in shuffles, ending up next to Emily, who is now way up front.

"I'm the leader of the gang now Nikki, not you," Emily states quite frankly.

"I'm sorry I said you were poor, Emily," Nikki says, ashamedly. "I didn't mean it."

Emily doesn't answer her, but stops and begins to dig snow with the toe of her boots. Nikki does the same. As marshmallow snow falls around them under the light of a nearby street lamp, Nikki begins to undo the toggled buttons of her beloved coat. She slides it off her shoulders, shivering at the sudden sting of cold. She holds it out and offers it to Emily.

"You can borrow it if you want. It's meant for the Christmas Gang Leader to wear anyway. We can share it." Nikki smiles at her cousin and Emily smiles back. Emily slides off her less-than-fancy ski jacket and hands it to Nikki. Nikki quickly slips it on and giggles.

Emily slides on the red coat and strokes her arms in the sleeves as Nikki helps her do up the buttons. Emily faces forward with focused purpose in a very regal sort of way. She begins to march with Nikki not far behind. Chins forward and knees up high, both girls lead family and friends straight home for a scrumptious holiday feast. For the entire evening, Nikki lets Emily wear the now forever-famous, bright red, Christmas Gang Leader Burberry coat.

Angie Nolan is a Whistler-based writer, actor, educator and filmmaker.

 

Christmas Comes But Once a Year ... Thankfully

By G.D. Maxwell

It was the day after the day after something. And several days before Christmas. Oh yeah, it was the day after the day after the final, final exam of the semester and I'd both commenced and hastened my temporary, holiday amnesia in the very comfortable confines of Baca's bar. Overstuffed tub chairs, dim lights, an ancient German Rococo-carved mahogany bar, $1 draft and a quickly disappearing $10 bill brought the first glimmerings of holiday cheer.

The day after the day before, which if you're following this was the day after celebrating at Baca's, I was with friends up on the mountain outside of town tubing down a snowy slope while falling down the rabbit hole of psychotropic self-medication. It was snowing heavily and as the day progressed—slide down out of control, walk back up numbed to the cold, repeat as necessary—it dawned on our collective consciousness that we were slowly going blind. Panic began to set in until someone with still working synapses had an aha moment and informed us all it was just getting dark.

"Happens every day," the genius said.

I won't go into detail about the rest of the day's socially reprehensible behaviour, except to say the only responsible thing we did was put the chains on the Volkswagen before we drove down the mountain, through the canyon and, somehow, safely home. It was a different time. Not an excuse, just an explanation of another event I hope my children will never find out about.

The phone was ringing when we got back to the house. Being the first to comprehend it was, in fact, the phone, Jack answered. "E-Ric! Happy holidays. What's wrong?"

As the rest of us invaded the kitchen like hungry locusts, Jack listened silently, but with growing concern. We ate peanut butter from the jar and forgot he was even there until he hung up the phone, turned to me and said, "We're going to Seattle for Christmas."

"Awesome," I said. "Who's Attle?"

"Seattle, idiot. As in Washington... State."

"Why are we going there? It's a long way away."

Turned out E-Ric—a friend who insisted on being called E-Ric, notwithstanding his name was Eric, because he was an electronic whiz kid who got a job with Boeing designing cutting-edge electronic stuff he needed a security clearance for and couldn't discuss with us without serving jail time—was depressed as hell and insisted we come spend Christmas with him or else he didn't know what he'd do but it'd be on our heads and haunt us for the rest of our lives. Genius? Probably. Drama queen? Certainly.

And so, the day after tubing, with no sleep and little preparation, Jack and I, two sleeping bags, 46 cassette tapes, a pound of beef jerky, a mickey of JD, six pounds of weed taped under the backseat to help pay for the trip, a bag of nose candy to keep us awake and four cases of Coors beer—which E-Ric insisted we bring along since he couldn't buy it in Seattle, not that it was worth drinking in the first place—were ready to head north.

Seattle is roughly 1,450 miles from Albuquerque. Any route you take crosses several mountain ranges. The forecast, had we known it, was not favourable to winter travel. But the VW had great snow tires, we now knew how to put the chains on, and we'd left the bathtub tap dripping and a 10-pound bag of cat food open on the kitchen floor along with a promise from a friend to check in on the cats occasionally.

We stashed the beer in the rear footwells, the only place it would fit. If you remember VW Beetles, you probably remember there were heater outlets in the rear footwells. Unfortunately, we didn't.

It was dark an hour after we left. Neither of us had slept in a day and a half. We cranked up the tunes and cracked open both the windows and the JD. What could go wrong? We were on a mission to save a friend's Christmas.

Three hours later, drowsy but unable to sleep, we voted to pick up a guy trying to hitch a ride at a gas station we'd stopped at. He was grateful, notwithstanding there was no room for his feet in the footwells. We thought having an extra person would help stave off sleep. He thought he was grateful for a ride.

Two hours later, he told us he wanted to get out. "Change your mind?" we asked.

"No, you guys are just crazy," he answered.

"Usually it takes someone longer than two hours to realize that," one of us said.

But he was adamant. He complained the car smelled like a brewery, which was true, and he was pretty certain driving through a snowstorm—it had started as we climbed over the first mountain range—drinking Jack, smoking weed and snorting coke was a recipe for disaster. We thought it was pretty normal. Another thing I hope my kids never discover.

Shortly after he left, disaster hit. It took the form of a compilation cassette spooling out of the player and piling up on the floor before we realized Bon Jovi was beginning to sound like Donald Duck. Irreparable damage, to both the tape and the player.

"This is a disaster!" I yelled.

And it was. The only radio stations we could get—intermittently at that—were either dripping with Christmas carols or evangelists.

What else could go wrong?

That's when we saw the red lights. Fortunate, they were in front of us. Unfortunately, they were attached to several hundred cars that weren't moving. At all.

If you're not moving in an air-cooled VW in the throes of winter, you can freeze to death. In a mountain pass. In a snow storm. That's why we had sleeping bags. And JD.

As usual, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a blizzard, it didn't take long for a street party to erupt, or in this case, a highway party. Everyone brought out whatever food and drink they had, cranked up a cacophony of music and got to know each other.

That was when we discovered why the car smelled like a brewery. Notwithstanding VWs were not known for their heat output, about 40 per cent of the cans of Coors had gotten hot enough to start oozing from their pop tops. Oops. E-Ric is not going to be happy.

We restacked them on top of the backseat, tossed some of the more oozing ones in the snow, and when they'd gotten a bit cooler than boiling, passed them around to people who had questionable enough taste to want one. Fortunately, traffic began to move before anyone had scalded their tongue and we were, slowly, on the road again.

"If I hear 'Little Drummer Boy' one more time, I'm going to...." It was the first sign of fatigue and frustration. But it was also Sunday and there was no way to replace the tape player. Ten more hours of Bible thumpers or sappy carols.

When we finally pulled into E-Ric's driveway, the first thing we did was grab a couple of rags and wipe off the tops of the beer cans. "Maybe he won't notice. It's not like this beer is any good anyway."

Bracing ourselves for the miserable, depressed friend we expected to answer the door, we were shocked when it was opened by a beautiful, curly-haired blonde in what kind of looked like an elf outfit. "You must be E-Ric's friends from New Mexico," the elf said.

I couldn't imagine what she thought. Twenty-seven hours of driving, three days without sleep, two apparitions each holding more or less two cases of smelly beer is, I'm sure, not what she, whoever she was, was expecting.

"Uh...." was all that came out. Well done. That was impressive. Try a word.

"Hi," I said. "Where's E-Ric?"

He appeared as if by magic, dressed—really?—like Santa, but in undershorts. "Hey, glad you made it," he said with way too much happiness for a depressed guy.

In the 30 or so hours since his plaintive phone call, E-Ric had found himself an elf who found him attractive, struck up a meaningful relationship, or what passed for one in those days, popped out of his depression and was left with his two closest friends, both of whom looked like the Ghost of Christmas We'd Rather Forget, bearing gifts of previously boiled Coors beer.

Turned out to be the jolliest of Christmases after all. Too bad the kids'll never hear about it.

G.D. Maxwell is a longtime Pique columnist and all-around humbug.

 

Stocking stuffer

By Dan Falloon

I miss my mom a lot right now. She hasn't been around for the last few lights or darknesses, and the man who sometimes comes to our home hasn't been around either. Some lady comes by to give some food to my brother and I once a light. She gives us both a little scratch on the head and behind the ears, but she doesn't stay very long, even when I nuzzle up against her leg and say I need a little more. I hope she's not my new mom.

My mom can't be gone forever. Can she? She'd been gone for a few lights and a few darknesses before, but always came back. Even though she comes back, it's sad when she goes.

She must be coming back. I know it's the cold time of year outside because I shiver when she walks back in, and because she put a big plant close to where I have my naps. She also left some socks hanging near the ledge where I like to look out and see if she's coming back. Before she left, some of the socks were getting bigger and bigger all the time. Eventually, she will dump the socks out and my brother and I tear at what's inside because it smells amazing and we both lose control. I think she and the strange man have socks, too, but I don't really look that closely. Actually, I might remember, I think the strange man put something in her sock last time and now we see him even more.

There must be something magical about the sock, where if you put the right thing in then you get to spend more time with that person.

It's not easy finding the perfect thing, though.

You have to select the right thing for the right person to show them what they mean to you. Sometimes that thing can be pretty hard to track down.

What do I even put in there? Pretty much everything I have is something that she has given me ... and nothing is in good shape. I don't think she eats the food that I eat, and besides, the only way to get it into the sock would be to carry it with my mouth, and nobody really seems to like it when I put my food someplace else either.

I wandered all around the house thinking of something—anything—that would make her stay. Everything there is hers already. I leaped up onto her nap spot to see if there was a better view, anything I was missing. If so, I'd drop it into the sock right away since I didn't know when she would return; if not, well, it was definitely time for a nap.

I circled the nap pad once, then twice. Nothing.

But then, out of the corner of my eye, a little bit of fuzz and fur was zipping to and fro. My instincts kicked in and I knew I had to get it. Mom hated when these fuzzes were running about, but seemed to never be happier when they stopped. I roared onto the floor and gave chase, but the fluff seemed to know right away I was after it and started going faster. It looked like I was going to trap it, but it darted at the last second, turning a corner. It was going towards my food and I couldn't have that! It bounded toward my bowl and I took a swipe at it, but instead I smacked the bowl. I jumped and twisted as the bowl landed with a clang, allowing the fuzz to move the other way. It was headed toward the waterfall room, my favourite place in the house.

When mom was there in the waterfall, I would sit right there above the bowl pool, enjoying the warmth and steam and dreaming away to the tap, tap, tap of the water drops. Then when the sound stops, nothing feels better than being touched with her warm hands. I had to get her that present!

The fuzz ducked under the mini waterfall and I batted at it, but just couldn't quite reach. I squeezed my body down to give myself more room, but it was on its way again.

I wriggled out and saw it dash away in the direction of the big waterfall. I picked up speed, and so did the fuzz until it bopped into the side. It wasn't moving. I had it!

I put my face down and picked it up with my mouth and marched back towards the socks. I just needed to drop it into the one that belonged to mom. The biggest one must be hers, since she was always putting more and more things into it.

I hopped up onto the watching ledge and softly dropped it into the sock and could do nothing more than wait for her to return.

I grew excited every time I felt a whoosh of cold air, but it was just the same strange lady. A couple more lights and a couple more darknesses later, it was her! She was back! And so was the strange man. She was happy to see me, giving me a scratch on the back and behind my ears. The strange man quickly did the same to my brother before grabbing two socks, giving the small one to mom and keeping the big one.

No!

He reached in, looked at mom and said, "Now what did Santa Claus bring me? ... Oh, I think I asked for this!"

He pulled out the fuzz and I howled. He yelled and tossed it at the plant.

I ran over to find it, picked it up and brought it to mom.

"Oh, that's nice of you," she told me, rubbing my back before putting the fuzz in the big bucket next to our food so she could, I assume, keep it forever.

Dan Falloon is Pique's sports editor. His cat once vomited into his girlfriend's (now wife) Christmas stocking.

 

Abishag, Hodesh and Rizpah Throw a Party

By Katherine Fawcett

One night, a very long time ago, a brilliant star appeared suddenly in the Eastern sky and shone through a crack in the stonewall of a wise man's compound. The hair on the back of his neck pricked up, he dropped the bird feather he had been cleaning his teeth with, and clutched his chest. He rushed out into the courtyard and looked toward the heavens, hands shading his eyes from the glare. He knew that the celestial illumination was a sign that a miracle of miracles was about to occur.

Or, it had just occurred.

Or it was occurring at this very moment.

He buttoned his velvet cloak, laced his leather boots and bid farewell to all of his wives. He knew that the other wise men would be doing the same with their cloaks, boots and wives.

"Do not try to stop me," he said, thrumming his bejeweled fingers towards the women like he was playing a harp. "The time is nigh."

They had not tried to stop him.

In fact, the wives were quite a bit happier when their wise man wasn't around, with his maps and charts and scrolls and compasses and pages upon pages of calculations strewn all over the table. Things were less stressful when he was gone. And tidier.

As he adjusted the angle of his hat, the women whispered that perhaps they should have a few people from the village over once the wise man had rounded the corner, past the grove of wild pomegranate trees.

The wise man gazed at his reflection in a looking glass, smoothed his beard and eyebrows and said, "The brilliant star shall no doubt lead me to a destination of opulence and dignity, befitting the arrival of The Messiah."

The wives snickered: Wouldn't it be hilarious if the star shone over a pigpen or a cattle stall?

"Why are you laughing?!?" roared the wise man. "This journey is too important to put into words. I know not how far I shall travel. I know not when I shall return. But I know that my quest is part of a story that will live forever."

"Okay. Well, see ya," said Hodesh, the youngest wife. Hodesh had eyes of hazel and breasts like loaves of fennel bread, with nipples as succulent as olives. The wise man knew he would miss her the most. He took Hodesh's hands in his and attempted to put it into words anyhow. "Tonight, the heavens reveal that which the world has awaited, according to the prophecies of Daniel. Glory to God on this holiest of nights."

"Sure. Happy trails then," said Rizpah, the middle wife, resting her head on Hodesh's shoulder and chewing on a chunk of her own hair. This hair-chewing was a habit the wise man outwardly despised, but inside he thought it was endearing. It kind of made him want to stay. But, no! Star of wonder! Star of night! Star of royal beauty bright! He'd spent his entire life studying and preparing for this night.

Oops! He almost forgot. A gift.

Surely the wise man could not arrive at whatever palace or divine monastery lay ahead without an offering of riches. He opened the lid of a box carved from fine walnut-tree wood and scooped handfuls of gold coins into his travelling purse.

"Oh, ho ho. No you don't," said his first wife. Abishag had beady black eyes like those of a mole. On her chin and cheeks were the whiskers of a rodent. She was currently ripe with child, although for the life of him, the wise man couldn't recall fornicating with her in the past year.

But pregnant or not, the wise man didn't appreciate being chastised by the wench. "Wife! I must bring something! Forsooth, would you have me arrive sans gift on this auspicious occasion?"

Abishag felt a wash of heartburn rise from her gigantic womb. "Fine," she said, frowning at the sour taste in her throat. "Take something if you must. But not the gold." She chucked him a lump of myrrh. The wise man caught the resin, lifted it to his face and inhaled. It smelled pleasant enough. This would have to do. Besides, he was in no mood to spar with his eldest wife. He was to meet his two fellow wise men under the pistachio tree in lower Galilee within the hour of the star's appearance. Evening spats with Abishag typically lasted until dawn of the following day.

The wise man poured the coins of gold back into the box, turned without a word and walked out into the night. As light from the new star illuminated his way through the courtyard, past the grove of wild pomegranate trees and into the rugged hills, his eyes filled with tears of joy and anticipation.

Once the wise man was out of sight, Hodesh, Rizpah and Abishag became giddy. While it was true that on occasion the three were bitter and competitive with each other, the star seemed to bring out a spirit of celebration, generosity and levity.

In their festive mood, the wives laid the table with bread, wine, roasted grain, raisins and fig cakes. They invited the wives and children of the other wise men to join them. Shepherds and tax collectors heard the merry noises and joined in as well. Soon the place was filled: Fine boys with drums. The daughters of stressed innkeepers. Carpenters. Prostitutes. Beggars and thieves. Musicians, fishmongers and priests. It seemed everyone had stepped out that night to witness the light of the new star. And eventually, everyone made it over to the wise man's place, even though he was somewhere else, searching for divinity.

Within the courtyard walls, people discarded their differences and sang together. They danced. They played board games and did jigsaw puzzles. They laughed and ate, argued and drank, gossiped and smoked. They shared dreams of peace and spoke of happy times. They marveled at life's miracles and remembered loved ones long gone.

As the night wore on, Abishag started feeling badly about the gold coins, and the sharpness with which she had spoken to the wise man before his departure. "What good would the coins do anyone sitting in that wooden box?" she asked her sister-wives. Hodesh and Rizhah could not think of an answer, so at the end of the evening, the travellers, neighbours, strangers and friends were each given a piece of gold before they headed home.

"It was a good party," said Hodesh as they were tidying up.

"We should make this a tradition," said Rizpah, swiping some hummus with her finger.

Abishag lay on a pile of cushions. Her feet were swollen, her cheeks flushed red, and her lower back ached. Her hands rested upon her middle, when suddenly there came a flutter of kicks from her unborn child.

"Come! Feel this!" she beckoned. The younger wives placed their hands upon the first wife's mound and felt the baby turn and kick and wiggle about. They oohed and aahed. Abishag smiled. Usually, she didn't like to be touched, but on this night she didn't mind.

They stayed like that for a long time—Hodesh stroking Abishag's belly, Rizpah curled up on the cushions chewing on a chunk of hair, Abishag thinking of baby names—until they all fell into a deep slumber.

If the wise man had been there, he would have seen the women, their serene faces awash in radiant starlight, basking in the afterglow of community and love. And perhaps then he might not have felt so inclined to seek out a different miracle.

Katherine Fawcett is the author of The Little Washer of Sorrows (Thistledown Press, 2015). She lives in Squamish.

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