Thursday, December 17, 2009

Turtle Doves: A Christmas Short Story

      Genevieve Taylor knew it was past time to trim the poor excuse for a Christmas tree but after eighty-five years couldn’t someone else give it a go?  As she lifted the tree skirt from the box of decorations, a frame photograph crashed to the floor.  Flustered, Genevieve rested in her rocker and clasped her trembling hands together.  When the tremor lessened she picked the broken frame up off the floor.  She gazed into the eyes staring out from the black and white photograph of Lloyd in his Santa hat.  Oh, how she missed that smile.
          Avoiding the broken glass, Genevieve held her cane in one hand and the photo in the other as she made her way over to the window.  She peered through the frosted window pane. Clear skies and bare grounds.  Such a shame.  “Doesn’t seem there’ll be a white Christmas this year, Lloyd, she said to the photo. 
When Anabelle entered the apartment, Genevieve could tell she noticed the lack of holiday cheer and décor.  How was she supposed to decorate with garlands, ornaments, and lights when she couldn’t even put out a tree skirt without breaking something? 
 “How are you doing Ginny?” Before Genevieve could respond, Anabelle noticed the broken picture frame and the glass shattered on the floor.  Without a word about the apartment or the picture, she cleaned up the mess.
Sweet Anabelle.  She had always been like a granddaughter to Genevieve and Lloyd.  She had spent her summers in their greenhouse watching the couple work side by side.  As a little girl, she would beg her mother to sit with the Taylors at church.  Genevieve would bring her candies and Lloyd would tease her that she reserved her brightest smiles for him.  When Lloyd’s battle with cancer ended, Genevieve could see how strongly his absence had affected Anabelle.
  “Would it be okay if I help you hang the ornaments again this year?” asked Anabelle. 
After a moments hesitation and a sigh, “Oh sure, honey.  I guess it’s now or never.”  The look on Genevieve’s face suggested that maybe never would be preferable; however, her expression quickly changed to one of determination.  “Well, let’s get that old tree to sparkle with some Christmas cheer.  We wouldn’t want to disappoint Lloyd.”
“No, we wouldn’t,” Anabelle said.  She turned on some holiday tunes then she retrieved the boxes of garland, beads, flowers, and trinkets. 
With unsteady hands, Genevieve lifted the turtle doves by their green ribbon and perched them in her palm.  After running the ribbon through her fingers, she smoothed her hair.  Genevieve dismissed a notion to tell the story.  No stories this year.  Remembering was just too painful.  She passed the crystal birds to Anabelle.
“Aren’t you going to tell me the story?”
“I can’t remember it,” Ginny lied.  Maybe time would go faster if she didn’t have to remember how great it used to be.
 “You were seventeen when you met Lloyd at the Christmas dinner.  Your mom made you a red dress and you wore this green ribbon in your hair.”  Genevieve tried to silence her with a glare, but Anabelle continued as if she hadn’t noticed.  “All the girls were jealous when Lloyd asked you to sit by him.  To be polite, you asked him what he was getting for Christmas.  ‘A kiss from you, if I’m lucky,’ he said. You told him he was very charming, but you were all out of kisses.  Instead, you took the green ribbon out of your hair and tied it in a promise knot around his wrist. What was it you said to him?”  Anabelle urged.
Genevieve couldn’t help herself, she said, “’I promise if you stick around for a year, I’ll have some kisses for you then.’” 
Anabelle laughed. “He held you to that.”
“He sure did.  And after a year of dating, he still had my green ribbon.”  There was love in her voice as she spoke of his sentimental gesture.  On the wave of emotion, she continued the memory aloud, “I can still remember the nervous look on his face as he fumbled with the gift under the tree.” Genevieve looked toward the bare tree and then to the empty space in front of her as if Lloyd was there now. 
“He knelt in front of me, waiting for me to open the box.  The doves were sparkling so much that I didn’t see the ring at first.  But when I did, he said he no longer wanted just the promised kiss; he wanted eternity.” Ginny smiled and looked directly at Anabelle.  “And when a guy like Lloyd Taylor wants eternity; you promise him eternity.”
 The room was silent—both women were overcome.  Every time Genevieve recalled their love story she felt so blessed.  She recalled the love notes, caresses, and looks of admiration from Lloyd.  He was better than any Prince Charming she had ever read about.  His expressions of affection never dwindled even in the years when he had fallen ill. 
“I can’t believe you two dated a whole year and never kissed,” Anabelle said.
“Times were different then.  Love was different. Don’t even get me started on how all you whippersnappers wouldn’t know romance from a fly on your nose.”  She laughed, and her smile erased some of the years from her face.
“Whippersnapper? Ginny, I’m near 30.”
“And that’s plenty young, sweetheart.  Now let’s get to trimming this tree.  It is going to take all day if you make this old lady tell you all her stories.” 
The two women spent the majority of the day hanging ornaments, lights, garland, and beads, as Genevieve told the stories related to each trinket. 
Anabelle was completing the final task of positioning the star on top of the tree, when Genevieve said, “That was always his job, you know. Even if he wasn’t able to be home to hang the other ornaments, I always saved the star for him.  I told him no one could light up my life the way he did.”
The women hugged and looked at the full tree.
“He hasn’t come this year,” Genevieve confided.  “I’ve been waiting, and waiting. But—”
“He will.  He always comes.  He couldn’t miss Christmas with you,” Anabelle said.  Genevieve had shared with Anabelle her belief that Lloyd had spent every Christmas with her since the year they met—even the ones after his death.  Anabelle seemed inclined to believe her.  “Now don’t you worry yourself sick over this!  You get some rest, and I’ll be back in the morning for our Christmas breakfast.”
“You’re right dear.  He’ll come,” Genevieve agreed, but she couldn’t erase the doubt from her voice.  “You shouldn’t worry about being here for breakfast.  You should be with your family.”
“I’ll see them for lunch.  Besides you’re family. You’re welcome to join us for lunch.”  Before Ginny could protest further, Anabelle said, “See you at eight o’clock.  If you’re good maybe Santa will leave you something nice.”  With a kiss on the cheek and a hug, Anabelle bid her farewell.
After her friend’s departure, Genevieve turned off the overhead light and allowed the glow from the tree to fill the room.  A tree full of memories and she felt so empty.  She should be thankful that her mind was clear enough to recall those memories, but somehow it only emphasized the void she now felt.  Why hadn’t Lloyd come to be with her this Christmas?  She knew it was selfish—some would say crazy—to believe he could be there with her, but she never doubted that the comforting voice she heard year after year was his.  All the lights and all the ornaments were meaningless without him.
          Before closing the blinds, she took one more glance out of the window.  Still no snow.  Still no Lloyd.  She settled into her rocking chair.  From the radio she heard the King belting out the lyrics of Blue Christmas.  This Christmas was blue without Lloyd’s holiday cheer.  She closed her eyes and massaged her arthritic hands.
          The disc jockey made announcements about Santa being spotted in the Tri-state area and cheered that in a few short hours it would be Christmas.  It didn’t feel like Christmas.  Bing Crosby began singing White Christmas.  Genevieve opened her eyes wishing for white flakes to create a blanket outside, but she was certain nothing was there.  She shut her eyes again.
          “Genevieve?” It was a whisper—a sweet melody to her ears.
          “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said in almost a sigh.  The tears of pain and relief could be heard in her voice, and a few escaped from the corners of her closed eyes.
          “I know, my love.  I am so sorry it has taken so long.”
          “You’re here now.  How long can you stay?”
          “I’m afraid I can’t.”
          “Oh, please Lloyd, don’t leave me here.  I can’t bear it.” Genevieve was so afraid of being separated again.  Each year the burden of separation was harder, and she was too old to do it again.
          “Has this year been so bad?”  His voice seemed remorseful.  “I should have come sooner.”
          “Why didn’t you?”
          “I had preparations to make.”
          “I recall a certain girl promised me eternity.  It is getting pretty lonely up here alone.”
          “You mean—” she was unable to finish as the realization of his implication filled her heart.
          “It’s time for us to be together, dear.  Eternity has been mighty lonely without you.”
          Genevieve smiled through her tears and released a sigh. 
Anabelle entered the apartment quietly when no one answered the door.  After setting the cinnamon rolls on the counter, she opened the blinds so Ginny could see the snow when she woke.  Ginny was reclined in her rocker with her quilt tucked under her arms.  Anabelle set the table for two; the noise didn’t seem to disturb Ginny’s slumber.
As she crossed to wake the sleeping woman, she noticed Ginny’s pale face.  There was no rise and fall in her chest.  When Anabelle lifted a lifeless hand to check for a pulse, an envelope slid to the floor.  Struggling not to cry, she replaced the hand to Ginny’s lap in reverence, and bent to retrieve the fallen envelope.
She gazed in wonder—it was addressed to her.  She removed the letter.  It read:
Dearest Anabelle,
He came.  My Lloyd made it. We’re together for Christmas.
Your love and kindness has meant more to us than you will ever know.  As a token of love and gratitude, please keep
our turtle doves.  We love you.
          Merry Christmas!
Genevieve and Lloyd
          The simple note said it all.  Anabelle wiped her eyes.  Noticing the green ribbon on Ginny’s lap, she lifted the crystal bird and held them to her heart. She leaned over to press a gentle kiss to Ginny’s brow and whispered, “Merry Christmas, Ginny.  I love you, too.  Go enjoy eternity.”

Thank you to Meagan and L.T. for your help.

4 Awesome Reactions:

L.T. Elliot said...

A beautiful, touching story, Amber. Merry Christmas to you. Thank you for sharing this.

V. S said...

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas! The story was beautiful!

Becca said...

Great Story! Love it. Merry Christmas!

M. Gray said...

I remember this from LDSP's contest. I liked it then and like it even better now! Great work! Gave me chills! My Grandmother passed away this year and I know my Grandfather would love to join her--he misses her terribly but fights to endure. Thanks for writing!