Copyright for this story is held by the author known as DesDownUnder at firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal one-off copies are permitted for private, non-commercial use. Any copying or use of this story or any portion of it that renders anyone monetary gain or profit in any form is prohibited without written permission of the author.
Edited by Bart Vogelzang (2011).
See more poems and stories by DesDownUnder at Codey’s World: http://www.codeysworld.com/desdownunder/.
She was so awake. ‘Twas the day before Christmas and she had a thousand things to do. Why had she left everything to the last minute? Every Christmas it was the same. Carol Cage worked long hours, right up to Christmas Eve and then finally had to rush around to get everything done.
She got out of bed and went to her en suite bathroom. She changed her mind and went to her bedroom door and opened it. She had made a habit of closing it to avoid overhearing her son and his friend in bed again. She had heard them that first night some three months ago, when they came home late from the movies. Her son, her illegitimate son, was in a relationship with another boy.
She told herself it didn’t matter. She was almost not surprised. After all she had been through, what else could go wrong for her?
It was eighteen years ago that her boyfriend had gotten her pregnant and then left her; left her alone to fend for herself. She never heard from him again, leaving her holding a baby boy that she never wanted. Despite that, she had worked hard and succeeded in building up a business that provided a nice income for her and ‘the kid’, as she thought of him. Of course she never wasted money on him, only buying the essentials he needed for school. She was hardly the best mother in the world, but she fed and clothed him, giving him everything except the one thing he needed.
“Robert!” she yelled, from her now open bedroom door. She never acknowledged her son’s friend. It was like he wasn’t there. “Robert it’s time to get up.”
Robert and his friend, Jim, were jarred awake.
“Does she have to yell like that? What time is it Bobby?” Robert insisted on being called Bobby. He hated being called Robert, but he couldn’t stop his mother from using the name she had assigned to him.
“It’s seven a.m., I have to get up. Sorry Jim, but you know I have to do whatever she wants. It’s the only way I can get to go to college.” He leaned over his boyfriend and kissed him on the lips, and he asked him, “What are you doing today?”
“Waiting for her to finish with you, of course. Have you spoken to her about tomorrow yet?”
“No, not yet.” Bobby looked guilty as he made his confession. Jim wanted him to spend Christmas day with him. He had his own apartment a few streets away and longed to spend an entire day with Bobby. The two boys had never been able to manage an entire day alone. Bobby’s Mother had always seen to that, even though she never said anything to him.
“Robert!” yelled his mother, yet again.
“Robert,” mimicked Jim, “Mother calls. Why does she call you Robert? Everyone calls you Bobby.”
“That’s why; she knows I prefer Bobby, so she calls me Robert. Now, let’s get out of bed before she starts pounding on the damned door.”
The boys quickly showered together and dressed. Jim left forlornly, knowing he wouldn’t be fed, and Bobby went into the kitchen. His breakfast was waiting for him on the bar where they had all their meals. His mother’s perfectly good dining room was never used.
“Hurry up and eat Robert, I need to be out of here in ten minutes,” she said.
“Yes, Carol,” he said. He was not being disrespectful calling his mother by her first name. She insisted on it. She did not want to think of herself as a mother, at all.
Fifteen minutes later they were at her shop. Carol’s Flower Shoppe.
“Now Robert, I want you to sweep the floor again, and then tidy the store room. You know I must be able to see the stock. After that you will need to enter the deliveries into the computer. They should arrive by eleven.”
They worked hard all day serving many last minute customers and often Bobby had to make deliveries.
‘Twas the end of the day before he grasped his courage, “Carol?”
‘What?” She snapped at him.
“I was wondering, if I, err…”
“What is it? We don’t have all day. I have to get home to do the accounts.”
“Well, tomorrow is Christmas, and I wondering if I could, I could…”
“Spend it with ‘what’s his name’, I suppose. Is that what you’re trying to ask?”
“Please. It’s only one day,” he said.
“And what about the shop? Who’s going to take care of the plants?”
“Please, Mom, it’s Christmas.”
“Don’t call me that.”
She looked at him and for a moment felt a twinge of motherhood rearing its ugly head and for some unknown reason she relented as she looked into his eyes. “Oh all right, I’ll see to them, but be sure to mop the work room before you leave tonight, do you hear me?”
“Yes, I will.”
“All right, then you can go,” she said, with a slight hesitation that did not go unnoticed by Bobby.
“But will you be okay?” he asked his mother suddenly feeling some concern at the thought of her being alone on Christmas Day.
“Don’t worry about me. It is just another day as far as I am concerned except for fewer customers. But you have a good day with your friend, and mind you’re early the day after.”
“I will, and Carol?” He paused until she turned and looked at him...
“Merry Christmas, Mom. Ho, Ho, Ho!”
Bobby quickly turned and ran into the work room. His mother grimaced and sighed as she left the shop, muttering to herself, “Merry Christmas, stuff and nonsense…Ho, Ho, Hokum.”
Carol’s grimace changed into what might pass as a smile in a different time, as she walked home. She could have asked Bobby to drive her, but she didn’t want to waste the extra fuel. As she walked along the street she noticed a kitten in a window of a pet shop she had not seen before. She stopped to look at the playful kitten, wondering what its fate would be when it was no longer cute. She looked up the sign over the door, “Shoppe of Christmas Pets.” “How peculiar,” she thought, “that anyone would open a pet shop just for Christmas Eve.”
Unexpectedly, a man carrying a thin grey complexion appeared at the door. Carol felt his presence and turned her head to gaze upon him. She thought he seemed familiar, and it made her vaguely uncomfortable, but she dismissed it, until he spoke.
“Hello Carol,” he said.
“Marty? Is that you?”
“Come inside,” he commanded, as he turned and held the door open for her.
Carol entered the shop and was amazed to see it was empty, with rows of cages along each wall.
“It is you, isn’t it, Marty?”
“Yes Carol, it is. I have wanted to talk to you for ever so long, but they wouldn’t let me.”
“They?” she questioned, “Who are “they”, and what happened to you? You disappeared without warning me.”
“I know I should have; I would have let you know, but I only was offered this position recently and thought, no, hoped, I would run into you. I couldn’t visit you or go looking for you since I cannot go further than the awning over the door.”
“Oh, you’re not making sense, Marty, but then you never were much good at making sense. All you ever wanted was to…”
“…to make money and look after you and the baby. I could never have made sense or anything worthwhile, not that I did; my greed was my undoing.”
“What on Earth are you talking about, Marty, and what about this pet store with all its empty cages? You must be doing quite well if you’ve sold all your stock of cats and dogs. Do you have birds too?”
“No, birds aren’t meant to be in cages, Carol. Cats and dogs get set free in their new homes but birds are usually kept in cages. But these cages are not empty due to the sale of what was in them. Each of those cages represents one Christmas.”
“You are mad,” said Carol.
“Yes, I was, but I see things differently now. Look upon those cages over there,” Marty said, as he pointed to one wall of cages with locks on them. “Each of them is a Christmas passed; ones I missed having with you and Bobby.”
Carol was becoming a little afraid. She began to think that Marty might have escaped from a mental institution, but she couldn’t work out how he could then have a shop.
“What about those cages over there? They have locks on them too, are they also yours?” she asked.
“No, those are the cages of your Christmases; all the ones you missed sharing with others. And before you ask about these unlocked cages along the other wall, they are the cages of your Christmases yet to come.”
Carol was now really becoming frightened by Marty, and his words. Edging her way towards the door she tried to distract Marty with, “And what about the kitten in the window?”
“The kitten is waiting to see if it has a home this Christmas, or not.”
“Marty, can I call someone for you. I think you need help,” said Carol.
“Carol, I am not the one who needs help. I am beyond help. This is the only thing I have ever done to help you, or anyone other than myself. I am trying to show you that your life is going to be an empty cage unless you open up your heart to those who love you. I didn’t, and it has left me terribly alone.”
Carol swayed a little from the intensity of Marty’s message. She could hardly believe any of this was real, let alone aimed at her. Marty could see she did not believe him. With his hands, he gestured towards the door.
“Carol, if you do not want to save yourself then look at how your miserable life will affect others.”
The door to the pet shop flew open and a small figure of a young man staggered in. He fell to the floor, shaking and shuddering, blood stains around his mouth, his eyes vacant, glazed and turning lifeless. His skin was becoming as grey as it was pale.
Carol looked away. Marty grabbed her by the arm. “Look Carol. Do you know who this is?”
“No,” she quavered, “I’ve never seen him before.”
“Look again,” insisted Marty.
“No, I don’t I know him.”
“Carol, please,” pleaded Marty. “Please, for our son’s sake, come closer, and look deliberately upon the face of this boy.”
Hesitatingly, Carol approached the figure lying on the floor boards of the shop. The wind whistled through the spaces between the floor boards, and a freezing wind gusted through the door, dropping icy crystals on the boy’s threadbare clothing. She leaned down and almost fearfully touched his hand, shivering from the reality.
“It’s Robert’s friend, Jim. But Marty, what is he doing here?”
“He is going to die, Carol. He will die because you will drive him away by ignoring our son’s love for Jim.”
“I wouldn’t do that, I have never stopped Robert from being with him.”
“But you never make him welcome either. You have barely accepted our son, and never his friend; you just ignore him in the hope that he will go away, leaving you to your greed. This boy is who Bobby loves,” said Marty as he pointed to the frozen figure on the floor. “This boy loves our son and if you drive him away he will die. He will fall ill and die from a broken heart. Need I tell you what that will do to Bobby?”
Marty raised his hands again towards the door.
“Stop!” cried Carol. “Don’t show me, just tell me what I have to do.”
“I cannot tell you Carol, you must work out what is right and do it. Look to see me no more,” intoned Marty as the body of the youth grew paler and faded away; Marty himself faded as a white mist filled the room.
Carol heard the kitten mewling and rushed to pick it up.
The sunlight streamed through Carol’s bedroom window, but it was the sound of a kitten meowing that had awoken her. Quickly she rushed to the window and opened it. She saw the next door neighbour’s boy riding a new bicycle that he must have gotten for Christmas.
“You there, boy,” she called out.
“Me ma’am?” he called back.
“Yes, you. What day is it?”
“Yes, today. What is it?”
“Why…it’s Christmas day of course.”
“Thank you,” she said, “and boy? Merry Christmas to you.”
She looked at the clock, it was nine a.m. She’d have to hurry. Quickly she rang Robert on his mobile phone.
“What did she want? I suppose you have to rush home or to her shop,” said Jim.
“No,” said Bobby, “She wants us to meet her out front as soon as we can. She wants to take us to lunch for Christmas.”
“Us?” asked Jim.
“Yes, both of us, and…”
“…and she called me Bobby.”
Happily Jim did not fall ill and he and Bobby are still together. The kitten adopted them, and has grown into a beautiful cat that sleeps with them both on the foot of their bed in Carol’s house.
Carol eventually found Marty’s grave where she placed a floral tribute. She still doesn’t understand all that happened that night in the Shoppe of Christmas Pets. She makes sure to celebrate the spirit of Christmas every day and will always remember Marty when he spoke to her on that Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Day, Carol embraced Jim’s and Bobby’s love for each other, and when Jim looked into Bobby’s eyes he wished out loud, “May our love be accepted by everyone.”
The cat purred contentedly on top of the bed, not a cage to be seen.