This week I’m sharing original flash fiction (500 words or less) inspired by some of my favorite sad Christmas songs. Here’s one based on Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (the original Judy Garland version).
All I’m saying is you could be more jolly, Mother. That’s all.
Mrs. Hubert Huddleston heard her daughter’s chastisement, but as with much of what Bess said, she let the words roll by her like tumbleweeds in the vast expanse of West Texas where she’d been raised. It was her husband, dead now five years, who’d brought her and the children to this valley in California in hopes of paid work or fecund soil. Though he’d found little of either at first, he’d managed to make a better life for the family before he passed.
Bess kept her attention on the silver tinsel, draping a piece over the branch of the balsam tree just so. She would set each strand by hand like this, a practice she’d learned from her mother, who now sat rocking by the wood stove, the familiar squeak-squeak-squeak of the chair more rhythmic than the holiday ballads playing over the radio.
Her mother was prone to fretting. For years, she’d fretted over the tinsel, admonishing Bess for sloppy workmanship, eventually withholding the box from her. These days, though, her frets were defined by the frequency with which she received Hank’s letters, often at first during his training, still somewhat regularly while he was stationed in England, and rarely since he’d stormed the beaches of Normandy in June. No word since November.
The lights strung on the balsam tree, half thumb sized bulbs of blue, green, yellow, and red, burned hot. Bess worked carefully to avoid scorching her wrist. Like her mother, Bess’s moods were often dictated by letters.
She’d received one that morning from Robert. In it, he’d told her of the Christmas present he’d be bringing home to her—a wooden clock with a bird inside that cooed the hour. He said he intended to hang it in their house after she became his wife.
Surely there was cause for joy in that vision Bess had thought when she’d shared the news, but her mother had remained stone faced and inquired after whether Robert had said anything of Hank. To which, Bess repeated yet again that they’d been apart since boot camp, and to which, her mother, as usual, replied that the army had done a disservice separating two such fond friends as Robert and Hank.
When it was time to put the angel on top of the tree, Bess sought out a chair from the kitchen, pulling it in as close as she could to the side of the tree without knocking off the thin metallic ornaments that would shatter if they fell. The tree’s branches were wide, and the top tall, so Bess had to stand on her tip toes, extending her arm fully in attempt to reach the angel’s skirts over the head of the tree.
Mind you don’t fall, her mother said.
And Bess wouldn’t have, if not for the knock at the door that sounded then.