Holly Jolly

A story a day until there’s a sleigh! This holiday season, I’m sharing a new flash fiction piece inspired by a holiday song every day of December until Christmas. Today’s story is inspired by A Holly Jolly Christmas.

Holly Jolly was tired of waiting. She’d spent nearly an hour underneath the giant faux mistletoe hanging in the foyer of the Forest Park Mall Macy’s expecting her so-called secret admirer.

Max the plain clothes security guard whose mustache couldn’t hide the fact that he was a retired cop had already passed her twice on his rounds and was now approaching for a third time.

“If you’re so desperate for a kiss, sweetheart, all you gotta do is ask,” he said, puckering his lips at her.

“I told you I’m waiting for someone,” Holly shot back.

“Yeah?” Max said. “What’s his name?”

That was the thing. Holly didn’t know.

“I’m waiting for none,” she said instead.

“You’re waiting for a nun?”

“I’m waiting for none of your business!”

Max clasped his hand to his chest like he’d been wounded. “For a girl named Holly Jolly, you sure are mean.”

“Get out of here, Max,” Holly said.

The last thing she needed right now was for some wise guy to tell her she wasn’t jolly enough. It was bad enough being named Holly during the holiday season, but the expectations for a Holly Jolly were too much for any one woman to bear, especially for this fifty-something divorcee who couldn’t remember the last holiday season she didn’t want to gouge her brains out by time the calendar rolled around to the 25th of the month. It didn’t help she worked in retail.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Todd Pendleton, a frequent customer in the home goods section where she worked, approaching. He wore a gray wool coat which matched his close cropped hair. Holly thought him handsome, and more than once, she’d taken longer than strictly necessary to ring up his purchases in an attempt to string out their conversation. Could he be her secret admirer?

“Can you help me…uh…Holly,” he said, obviously looking down at her name tag. “I can’t seem to find the perfume section.”

False alarm. Holly pointed him in the right direction and then returned to her waiting. Whoever this secret admirer of hers was, he sure had some nerve not showing up on time. Her shift had ended over an hour ago, and she was due back at six in the morning for a double on the much dreaded Saturday before Christmas.

The notes from the secret admirer had first started coming in late October. Holly had found the first one on the keyboard in her check out station early one morning. It was addressed to Ms. Holly Jolly and asked if she was looking for a partner for “cuffing season.” Emma, a college student who worked part time at the Macy’s, assured Holly that this wasn’t a threat but rather a sexual overture.

The missives from her secret admire came infrequently at first, and Holly thought it best to ignore them in case they were, as Emma had described it, “an elaborate catfishing scheme.” But the past twelve days the notes had come every day, and each day, they included a drawing.

The first day it was a pear tree with a man sitting in it who closely resembled David Cassidy (a.k.a Keith Partridge from The Partridge Family). The second day the picture was two doves whose wings came out from under turtle shells. On the third day, Holly found three hens in berets, one holding a baguette and another smoking a cigarette. Today she’d received a picture of twelve drummers drumming, all wearing Ringo Starr glasses. The note had said to meet her admirer here after her shift right under the giant mistletoe.

Another man, a stranger, approached, causing Holly’s heart to stir, but like Todd Pendleton, he too was looking for the perfume department. Holly silently judged him for his lack of originality while telling him where he needed to go.

Holly’s feet were aching from the long day of work. Waiting around like this was ridiculous. She started walking toward the escalator but heard a voice call her name out behind her.

There standing under the mistletoe was Greg from Men’s Suits. He was easily twenty years her junior, and Holly had never considered herself the cougar type, but she walked back under the mistletoe anyway.

Greg leaned toward her and pecked her on the cheek.

“You’re my secret admirer?” Holly asked.

“What? God no!” Greg said, taking a step back from her. “I mean, no I don’t know what you’re talking about, but Max, he told me I should come give you a kiss on the cheek.”

At the mention of Max’s name, Holly blew up. Of course this was an elaborate catfishing scheme. Max and his security buddies were probably up in the office with all the security screens laughing their stupid heads off at her expense.

Holly stormed off toward the escalators again and took the one going down. As she descended, she caught site of Max at the base of the escalator.

“You have some nerve, buddy!” she yelled, attracting the attention of the Macy’s shoppers riding the escalator: a mother with two young sons and a group of teenage girls.

“Holly Jolly, listen to me,” Max said as she stepped off the escalator.

“You played me for a fool. It isn’t funny.”

“I swear, I didn’t,” Max said. “Here look.”

From the pocket of his khaki pants, he pulled out a piece of white paper folded into fourths and handed it to Holly.

She unfolded it and saw a picture of the giant mistletoe with her and Max underneath it embracing with their lips nearly touching. He was her secret admirer.

“Look, I know I talk a big game,” Max said. “But I’m a shy guy, Holly Jolly. I wanted to do this big gesture, but then I chickened out. I’m sorry I made you wait.”

“I was up there for an hour,” Holly said. “You kept coming by.”

“Yeah, but you don’t take me seriously,” Max said. “You kept looking for some other guy. Anyway, I won’t bother you with this stuff anymore, okay?”

Max tried to pull the paper from her hand, but Holly Jolly kept hold of it.

“How about we go get a Cinnabon?” she asked.

“Yeah, sure,” Max replied. “I love cinnamon rolls.”

“Me too,” Holly said.

Maybe this would be a holly jolly Christmas, after all.

Love is on the way

A story a day until there’s a sleigh! This holiday season, I’m sharing a new flash fiction piece inspired by a holiday song every day of December until Christmas. Today’s story is inspired by People Look East.

The pain felt like death–probably because it was death. Margaret’s kidneys were functioning at 20% capacity. Without oxygen, she gasped for breath. With oxygen, her breaths were gurgled with acid reflux rising in her throat. Her wrinkled skin was tinged corpse gray.

“Organ failure,” the nice doctor had told her during one of her lucid moments. “We’re looking to make you comfortable.”

Margaret pumped the button on her opium drip and felt the rush of relief swelling up like a dream–her worn and battered body resting on a cloud.

She wondered who would come for her. Her mother had seen a great aunt. Her father had been visited by his own father. “Daddy,” he’d called out like a little boy. Her sister had been ushered to the beyond by their grandmother. “Granny’s here” were her final words.

Margaret thought most likely her brother, Jim, would be the one to come to her. He’d been killed in action in France–blown apart by German shrapnel–when Margaret was just thirteen leaving a void in her heart.

The last of the family left living, no heirs of her own, Margaret was technically dying alone, but she believed in her heart she wouldn’t be for long.

Love was on the way.

The Gap

A story a day until there’s a sleigh! This holiday season, I’m sharing a new flash fiction piece inspired by a holiday song every day of December until Christmas. Today’s story is inspired by Linus And Lucy

Darryl knew this about himself–he could keep a beat with his hips better than most Christmas light displays set to electronic music. His sense of rhythm kept him confident on the timpani in the orchestra and, so far that night, confident on the dance floor of the Starry Brook High School Winter Formal.

But in his most vivid dreams, and he had many at that age, he could have never imagined his confidence resulting in this: the rear of his long time nemesis, Cindy, bouncing to and fro, mere inches from his own gyrating pelvis.

Sure, Cindy had yet to say hello to him nor had she looked him in the eye once, but over the course of the evening, as one bad pop song wove into the next, she’d drawn closer and closer, starting at first across the gymnasium and then one dance group over from his, then across from him in his circle of orchestra friends, and finally, when couples had paired off, she’d backed up to him like this–reversing like a truck to a loading dock. 

She danced close enough that Darryl may have been able to smell her shampoo if it weren’t for the fact that he was covered in his own sweat and other crusted on funk. Yes, he was definitely regretting not taking his mom’s advice to “maybe shower once this week, Darryl.” 

One song ended fading seamlessly into another with a similar bump and grind beat. Cindy didn’t pause her hips but threw a look over her shoulder at him. Darryl swallowed hard. His body wanted desperately to close the gap, but his mind was focused on the many ways Cindy might reject him if he was reading the situation wrong: calling him a litany of names like she often had when they were younger. 

Despite his misgivings, he edged closer to her, turning inches into centimeters and still making sure no part of him touched her–a torture as delicious as spiked egg nog pie. 

In the end, it was neither Darryl nor Cindy who bridged the gap, but the indirect force of a fumbling flautist, who’d indulged in one too many shots of Peppermint Schnapps in the parking lot. She tripped over a discarded stiletto and careened into Daryl who was thrust forward so that the entire front of his body connected with the backside of Cindy. The flautist fell to the floor, but Darryl and Cindy stayed upright and connected as if by hot glue straight from the gun. 

The bump and grind song ended and a slow one came on. Cindy turned toward him–the moment of truth, but instead of calling him a butt head, she said only this, “Merry Christmas.” 

It certainly was. 

Silent Night

A story a day until there’s a sleigh! This holiday season, I’m sharing a new flash fiction piece inspired by a holiday song every day of December until Christmas. Today’s story is inspired by Silent Night. You can read more about the origins of the song here.

Franz sat upright in his usual spot behind the organ, his back straight as a conductor’s baton, watching in horror as the two guitarists dressed in their Christmas finery mounted the steps to the altar. The musicians stopped midway up the stairs, faced the crowd, and started strumming in unison. The choir rose, and Franz didn’t know whether his heart could bear their betrayal. Not one of them would meet his gaze.

Father Joseph, a young upstart from a neighboring region who Franz would never have chosen to lead the parish, beamed from his elaborately carved wooden chair on the altar and spoke to the crowd.

“And now an original song in honor of our Lord, Jesus Christ, whose entry into the world in a manger centuries ago marked a new phase for mankind and brought hope to all.”

Instinctively, Franz channeled his anger onto the foot pedal of his organ, the organ he’d been playing for every mass for nearly thirty years. He pushed his foot down hard on the pedal and water gushed out, soaking his leather boot. The floodwaters had been cleared out of all other areas of the church in time for the Christmas mass, but poor Franz’s organ remained in disrepair because “there wasn’t time.”

The choir began to sing, “Silent Night. Holy Night.”

Franz smashed his foot down against another organ pedal. He knew there was nothing holy about guitars! They were but the most pedestrian and secular of instruments!

More water spurted out of his battered organ, and riding along the wave of liquid, like a surfer, was a small mouse.

Franz suppressed a shriek but the mouse quickly scurried toward a row of pews where the Schmidt sisters, all five of them, sat with matching dresses and pinned back braids. One by one each of the girls squealed and jumped to their feet, rustling their skirts to discourage the wayward mouse from climbing up their undergarments. Their mother, a weathered woman, worked to quiet them while their father gently brought his boot down on the mouse and then toed the body under the pew in front of them.

The commotion temporarily halted the guitar players and choir, but once the Schmidt sisters sobs turned to muffled tears, the guitarists began strumming again. Father Joseph had risen, but he sat back down in his chair, his oversized robes and the sheen of the wood making him look like a smug boy king on an oily throne.

Again the choir, true Judas’s each and every one of them, began signing, “Silent Night. Holy Night.”

Only the music wasn’t the only thing Franz could hear. The painful strumming of the guitar and the no longer angelic voices of the choir were accompanied by the high pitched squeaking of the dying mouse, who must have been only temporarily stunned by the smash of Mr. Schmidt’s boot and then escaped to somewhere else where it could lend its voice to the dreadful hymn.

There was only one instrument in the church that could have drowned out the mouse’s moans, but it sat in front of Franz inert, a true sign from on high, if there ever was one, that God did not regard guitars as holy.

Corona Pt. 36

The Questions
I'm a Moderna like my parents. 
Sarah Moderna!
My husband will be a Pfizer soon. 
David Pfizer!
I know some Johnson & Johnson's. 
One and done. 

The questions we ask each other now: 
Which shot? 
How'd you book it? 
Any side effects? 
How long was the needle
  and did you look? 
When's your second dose? (if applicable)

This time last year 
It was all beginning--
The two week lockdown
That turned into months
  of wondering: 
When will this be over? 

We still don't know

But we're starting to ask questions
We've waited so long to ask: 
When can I see you? 
When can I hug you?
When can I put my face next to your
  face and breathe? That may be a while. 

Corona Pt. 35

This is how I wash my masks
In the kitchen sink
Under warm running water
Two at a time. 

Squeeze a dollop of soap
On one mask
Rub it against the other. 

Little soapy bubbles 
Squish squish squish
Through three layers of fabric. 

Rinse and rinse 
Till water runs clear. 

Hang to dry
On a sun soaked rack.  

Corona Pt. 34

The Hate Look
Two old men walk into
A local market and stop
At the dessert case near the door. 
"We're too late," they say together,
"All the peanut butter cookies are gone."
They come here every day.  
One man wears a mask on his face, 
The other on his wrist. 
They keep chattering on
While the rest of the customers (the limit is 5)
Look at them aghast.
The cashier intervenes.  
The wrist masked man realizes his error. 
"So that's why you're all giving me the hate look." 

Corona Pt. 33

Subject: 100,000 Deaths
Just a quick update
To let you know
The grim projections I discussed
In my poem last month
Have been realized. 
100,000 more COVID deaths, 
400,000 to 500,000 in the space
Of a little over a month. 
I write to you this way
Because I have more experience
Composing sensitive emails 
Than I do writing poetry. 
No need to reply. 

Corona Pt. 32

Almost Booked It
The way my Dad described it
Was for a brief amount of time 
He believed he might book a vaccine appointment. 
There was an open slot. 
He woke my Mom at 1am, "Let's Book!"
By time they filled in the questionnaire
And hit submit, though, it was gone. 
They've stumbled on a bit of luck since then: 
A friend who knew of some openings at a pharmacy. 
Again, false starts--unrecognized submissions
But eventually they triumphed. 
My Aunts were not so fortunate.
Tomorrow they'll roll the dice again,
Play all the sites,
Until they hit the jackpot: 
A little box that says 4:40pm. 

Corona Pt. 31

Spam Risk
It's not enough that my parents
Can't find an open vaccine appointment
Now that they're eligible. 
They also have to deal with me, 
Their oldest daughter, 
Phoning and texting them at all hours
Asking if they've booked anything yet. 
My mom didn't answer my call today
Probably because her phone company's
Started labelling me 'Spam Risk.'