In Natali Domini, short story by E. S. Slater at Spillwords.com

In Natali Domini

written by: E. S. Slater

 

The hunkering-down mood of the Christmas season began early, not because of the shops and food emporiums, but because of the freezing, bitter November dark, and Thanksgiving falling only four days before the first of December. Thus Henry began his preparations off-kilter, crankier than usual about the burdens of the holiday, the festive tasks that had formerly brought him such joy and had, when younger, enveloped him in what he so desired, some sort of Christmas Spirit. He had been borne along by his embrace of this spirit for many years now. There had been years full of excitement, some of yearning, some occasionally actually spiritual, often Dickensian, always nostalgic, with his missing of the dead and their social gatherings, years of facing down Christmas cynicism and blame, of seeking out ritual and tradition. All increasingly more difficult as he slogged through his sixties.

Henry was recently retired, whatever that meant. For the past twenty years, at any rate, he had endured his job as a somewhat unhappy and useless- feeling college administrator. On December third, a Tuesday, he said to his wife “Christmas Eve is three weeks from today.” She had to effectively orchestrate two Christmases, theirs and that of her elderly parents, and had scant time for either. As a child Henry had enjoyed the split-up Christmas Day of his own divorced parents, the double everything, but in the present day he chafed at driving thirty miles with his adult children and dog to put on yet another lavish meal, dictated, down to the smallest detail, by his in-laws.

Henry began the month dutifully notating in his calendar all the music on offer at Memorial Church: Gloria in Excelsis Deo on the third, Compline Service on the following Friday, the much-loved Christmas Carol Services on the subsequent Sunday and Tuesday. An Advent Service presided over by the least tedious of the ministers, a young woman who stuck to scripture and left off the canting. Then there were the parties, although invitations to these had dwindled in number. There were menus to compose, wish lists to request, an inglorious amount of housework, the unpacking of the decorations and ornaments, the purchase of a tree; never before had Henry felt as if he was going to have to do most of this alone. Another foray into seasonal mystery.

One of the first things Henry did every year was to unpack his Christmas music. Some years he preferred one genre, some years another, but he had his expectations for everything, and how they affected his Christmas mood.
Henry had a lot of Christmas music and he was disappointed in their collective failure to usher in the old Christmas spirit for him. Some merely annoyed him. What did Frosty the Snowman have to do with Christmas? Why is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” considered a Christmas song? Or “Let It Snow?” The movies, he supposed. For that matter, when he was brooding about it, Santa? Santa had become too big for Henry, too many Santa songs, all the drunken and badly behaved Santas, ho ho ho, was the problem. He put on some Anonymous 4, and undertook some decorating.

Henry and his wife had always set up their motley crèche (No Joseph, two Moors, a few extra Kings, a three-legged lamb, a couple of obsequious shepherds kneeling with their hats in front of them ask if asking for spare change, a Mary and Jesus familiar from his childhood) on their front hall mantel. His wife was with her parents. Henry decided to cover his living room mantel with odd accumulated angels. There was one angel, gifted from some friend of one of his children’s, that especially annoyed him this year, an angel dressed as Santa with friggin’ golden wings! Of indeterminate sex. What was it, an angel with a part-time department store job? A transvestite angel dressing up for the Annual Pearly Gates Office Party? Henry put it with the others anyway. No one else would care or notice.

After adorning the mantel, Henry began to tick off the other tasks that used to impart the Christmas Spirit unto him. He decided to start with a shopping trip to Harvard Square. He drove to the western end of Brattle Street so he could both park and enjoy walking down one of one of the most beautiful streets he knew, in all her Christmas glory, the tasteful sprays of white holiday lights no doubt put up by the resident’s landscapers. Once, when a child, driving down this street with his paternal grandfather, Henry had exulted in the majesty of Brattle Street. “Granddaddy!” he had exclaimed. “Isn’t this the most beautiful street you ever saw!” His grandfather had chuckled.

“Yes it is, Henry. But you should have seen it before the advent of the automobile!”

As Henry walked along the icy sidewalk, he remembered vividly imagining those long-gone days during dramatic snowstorms, with their era-cancelling effects, the concurrent hush, the diminished traffic, and the candle-lights in so many of the rippled, old-paned windows. This evening, however, the sidewalks were treacherous, and he found himself looking down at his feet as much as anywhere.

What does one call a place that remains active and vibrant, yet is filled with ghosts? Not a ghost town. Not haunted, exactly, but Christ! He wished for some of his old haunts. He had loved, as a young man, Christmas shopping at the perfume-fragrant Colonial Drug, at the many vanished bookstores, at melodic Briggs and Briggs, at Clothwear and Marimekko for his wife. He had loved all the inexpensive cafeterias scattered throughout the Square. The Tasty, The Waldorf Cafeteria, Hayes-Bickford, Elsie’s, and Baily’s Ice-Cream Parlor, the latter for chopped ham and pickles, peanut butter and bacon, and date-nut bread and cream cheese sandwiches.

Above all, he missed the bars. It had been a tradition in his crowd to meet upstairs at the Wursthaus cocktail lounge, (the polished bar presided over by red-vested, bow-tied bartenders and their distinctly Mitteleuropean vibe) after Christmas shopping, or the Club Casablanca, or Cronin’s. And although he missed all these and many more, there were none he missed so well as Cronin’s Restaurant, that family-run, sprawling, orange-glowed, red-wallpapered, wooden-boothed and wainscoted, linoleum-floored paradise! He thought of Jim Cronin himself, that most Fettzwiggian of saloon-keepers (if Fezziwig had become an Irish-American teetotaler with a cigar permanently installed in the corner of his mouth) the proprietor of hospitality central, of the warmest and most convivial seasonal refuge in Harvard Square. Long gone, now, even the building. One couldn’t find an older, bow-tied, aproned bartender anywhere, just young men and women more interested in their phones than their calling.

There were still plenty of places to pop into for a drink or a coffee, but they seemed aggressively one-note, everyone seemed to be wearing black parkas with red circles on the shoulders. For all Cambridge’s talk of diversity, everyone looked the same. The casual class rubbing of elbows in the cafeterias and cafes and saloons had disappeared.

Henry longed to hear the ringing of the Salvation Army bells, wanted it to be snowing, as it always was in Christmas movies, wanted the old-timey decorated windows reflecting winter. There was no snow on the ground apart from unnavigable remnants. Instead of the steady ringing of a bell, there was a small booth, in the pit, where ancient Cambridge socialists handed out bowls of mush that Oliver Twist would have recoiled from, to young people with knapsacks and rolled sleeping bags. Ah yes, the old Christian charity, without Christ, assuring the masses that salvation would come from the Marxist gods.

Henry walked around, finding himself unwilling to spend money on anything unpractical. He bought chocolates and stuffing stuffers at the fancy and still extant Cardullo’s, some cosmetics for his wife, sisters and daughter at some new shop, masculine gee-gaws at the tobacco-redolent, and also still extant, Leavitt and Pierce, for his son, some house-hold items at Dickson Brothers Hardware, but mostly he yearned to join someone somewhere. The ghosts of his old friends seemed palpable entities, as if he could see them flitting in and out of tragically altered meeting spots, doomed to endlessly look for everyone else.

Thus Henry trudged along, at a loss to where he could nip in for some cheer. He ended up in a bar in a little house, like all the little houses in Harvard Square now converted into a restaurant. At least there was a cheerful fire. This felt like sitting in someone’s kitchen he didn’t know, with the off-kilter tables and rickety chairs that seemed to be reminding him not to loiter. Henry drank a decent martini, then another. He watched young people eat oysters. Hadn’t Scrooge blamed the transformation of his doorknocker on a bad oyster? Henry had known families and their beautiful daughters who had lived in this warren of houses, and other larger ones in Harvard Square, and he disliked watching the other customers sitting in their former rooms.

Despite his longing for a third drink, he needed to be outside in the lovely part-autumn, part-winter air, which brought him considerably more pleasure then the cramped bar. Henry walked into Harvard Yard, a pleasing transition into a previous century. All was dark and quiet, except for the usual line of disgruntled tourists and college-visitors complaining, as they descended the broad Widener steps, about being denied entry. “It is a library!” he wanted to say to them.

He walked to Memorial Church. He knew some sort of music was about to happen. He had read the church flyer at home. What was it? “Songs of Farewell: Choral Music from the Renaissance to the Twentieth Century.” Not Christmas music, but music. He ducked behind the Pusey Library and smoked a little gifted pot from a friend who had a card, medical weed the strength of which he was simultaneously pleased and dismayed by. The pot and the gin served to aggravate his discontent. Being outdoors was splendid, though the possibility of some sort of musical interlude was irresistible.

Once inside he found a seat in the surprisingly crowded Church. Was it possible that the promise of no sermon was a draw? Yes. He glanced at the program. The cover illustration was a reproduction of Casper Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog,” a famous painting Henry had once seen in the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Friedrich’s German, nature-besotted Romanticism was most commonly used as a symbol of the romantic archetype, and more specifically, Lord Byron. “Byron in the Alps,” Henry had thought the first time he had seen the painting. What, exactly, this painting had to do with the music they were about to hear eluded Henry.

They were to begin with Charles Parry (dead one-hundred years), as the program seemed to be commemorating the End of The First World War, before hurtling back to of the beginning of the Thirty Years War. Then it was to be Heinrich Schutz and his contemporary Thomas Tonkins, whoever they were.

Henry was uncomfortable. After all, he was in a pew in a crowded church sitting with people he had taken an instantaneous dislike to, with their purple sweaters as if following the dictates of Jenny Joseph, their air of people who gobble up the free samples in shops, and their nodding. It was simply physically disappointing to be inside. The church lights were mystery-defyingly bright, unlike how he had imagined. He wished for his fellow attendees to be shapeless smudges. He recoiled at the number of grey ponytails, snaking down backs like eels.

There was this one piece of music that impressed Henry, though, by a woman named Madalena Casulana (c. 1544-1590), not surprisingly hitherto unknown to him, and likewise the (anonymous) text. The singing of this seemed to Henry to be a new way to think about lyric, about poetry, the manner in which the singers sang around and over and repeated the same lyric in two different ways. Or was this the weed? He struggled to read the program without his glasses, which described these as “an intricate set of five madrigals.” What was a madrigal again? Apparently Casulana was the first woman to publish sheet music. Well, talk about the right place at the right time.

The martinis and the marijuana, as was customary for Henry, made him antsy, desirous of more drink, and, for that matter, louder music he could really abandon himself to, preferably in candle-lit darkness. He began to think how much he would have enjoyed seeing The Rolling Stones on the altar playing “Winter,” a desire, like most, unlikely ever to be satisfied. He squirmed and readjusted and annoyed his pew-mates, behaving as if Increase Mather had just been going on for five hours on some fine point of anti-Christmas theology. He toughed it out for a bit, but was yearning to be outdoors, which he awkwardly and apologetically managed during a brief lull in the music.

Henry gloried in the open-air nighttime charms of Harvard Yard, and, above all, the stillness. The evening rebuked his mood. He wandered in the general direction of home. He wanted to talk to someone, to exchange the greetings of the season, and he knew no one was home. He walked along Massachusetts Avenue, glancing into a few bars, then stopped and descended into a place he used to go to some Thursdays to see a bartender acquaintance, long gone, as was so often the case with male bartenders over fifty. How he missed the professional bartenders of yore!

The place was dark and uncrowded, maybe six or seven customers. The bartender was a young woman with heavily tattooed arms and a supercilious air. Henry considered the uninspiring tap selection, and ordered a martini. He gamely attempted to make conversation with the bartender, a quaint custom from his youth. “Merry Christmas!” he said when his drink came, toasting his glass in her direction. He thought this would be allowed because Christmas music was playing on the bar stereo. The bartender looked at him as if she was trying to figure out exactly where to place him on the “square” spectrum. “Happy Holidays,” she said. “Ten dollars.” Henry reached for his wallet, and put a credit card on the bar.

“I’m sorry,” the bartender said. “Our machine is down. Cash only, there is an ATM machine in the corner.” Long-suffering tone. He looked in his wallet, and saw to his dismay that he had only three one-dollar bills. Henry got some cash. The bartender was bustling around, avoiding eye contact, despite the smallish crowd, because so many bartenders have abandoned the concept of actually conversing with their customers. Henry sat, stewing, feeling acutely his solitary status. All the joys of popping in for a quick one were obsolete, no chat or smokes, no twenty-minute bit of joie d’vivre. Henry realized he’d be having more fun sitting in his back yard with his dog, all bundled up, anonymous if not invisible in the night, listening to the music of the city. The bartender was smiling into her phone, held close to her face. He put a couple of dollars on the bar, and walked home.

***

The following afternoon Henry wrapped some presents for his absent children, wishing they were home, that his wife was home, that the house was full and merry. He hung a few balls on the tree, drank a good Christmas beer, and sang along to a version of “Good King Wenceslas.” His dog was interested in his rendition. He paced around, his dog in her master’s steps she trod. His children, as children, had loved singing all the verses to this carol. Henry began to feel little pleasurable fragments of his past struggling out of his consciousness.

He thought of his mother’s annual Christmas Eve Open House, about the only time teenaged Henry socialized with his adult neighbors, usually for an hour or so before hurrying outside to drink beer in the snow with his friends. One Christmas Eve his mother had invited a new family who had moved into the house behind theirs, on the next street. Henry’s little sister, fourteen, had been babysitting for them. The McKinleys. They were the first black family to have moved to their neighborhood, if not their town. “Guess who is coming to Mom’s Christmas Eve Open House?” Henry had joked to his sister Susan.

Henry’s maternal grandfather, whom he called Grampa, but everyone else called Mac, was a large, vigorous man who smoked cigars, liked Scotch whiskey, ribald humor, and needling people, particularly Henry. At their Thanksgiving dinner that year, he and Henry had had a spirited discussion about miscegenation, a concept his grandfather was not in favor of. Mac was a combat veteran of the First World War, fighting in most of the major American actions, including Chateau-Thierry and Saint-Mihiel, and then again as a staff Colonel to MacArthur, awarded a silver star for disarming three armed Japanese soldiers with only his sidearm, just after V-J day. A formidable opponent for Henry, despite all his youthful outrage and impatience with his grandfather at times.

On this Christmas Eve, of course, Mac’s good nature and party bonhomie was in high gear. Henry felt he was almost looking forward to meeting Mr. McKinley. Mac was dressed in red tartan pants and a loud Christmas tie, wielding his cigar like a weapon. Their kindly neighbor Bill was dressed in similar plaid pants, with his customary Cameron tartan bow tie and tweed suit jacket. It was something like the gathering of the clans awaiting the arrival of a foreign dignitary from the colonies.

The dining room table was covered with chafing dishes filled with cocktail franks, cheesy dips, and goulash. Bowls of candy, Christmas cookies, mixed nuts and potato chips were everywhere. All the adults were drinking Scotch or spiked eggnog. Mac’s huge laugh filled the living room. Everyone was smoking. Then Mr. McKinley came in with his pretty young wife. Henry was cringing with apprehension. His mother and sisters swept Mrs. McKinley away into the kitchen. Mac asked Mr. McKinley if he wanted a drink, and introduced himself.

“I’m Charles, but everyone calls me Mac,” he said.

Mr. McKinley, tall, handsome, and ready to match pleasantry with pleasantry, said “Nice to meet you, Mac. My actual name is Mack!”

Everyone laughed. Henry felt enormously relieved. All the men were standing.

“Get Mack a drink,” Mac said to his grandson. Henry poured Mr. McKinley a generous pour of Scotch over a few cubes, and shyly handed it to him.

“Thanks, Henry, said Mack, tousling his hair. Most the men clinked glasses, exchanging Merry Christmases. Henry watched. It seemed to him that Mack was cut from the same cloth as his grandfather, up for a good time, laughing loudly, although not as loudly as Mac, and clearly prepared to give as good as he got.

“Please don’t use the word Negro,” Henry silently prayed. “Please don’t talk about the riots.”

Mack was talking. “Susan is wonderful with my son. He loves her. And your daughter’s family has been just wonderful.” Henry knew this had not been the case with many of their neighbors. Mac looked at Henry.

“Make him shovel your driveway,” he said, and all the men laughed.

“You know Mac, he did last week. I hired him and his friends. They did a great job.”

“Him?” said Grampa, laughing explosively, and gesturing with his cigar. The ever-gentlemanly Bill asked Mack about what he did for work. Frank Sinatra was singing “God Rest You Merry Gentleman,” Henry’s mother was passing the cheese balls, and Henry was thinking about joining his friends for a little beer-fueled caroling around the neighborhood, always a laugh riot.

“Henry quit the football team,” he heard his grandfather saying, shaking his head. “Just up and walked off in between double sessions in August.” Mac had played for the University of Michigan in the early nineteen twenties.

The adult men began to discuss how the game had changed. It was clear that his grandfather liked Mack, and approved his joshing-with-the-guys-scotch-drinking personality. How it began, back then, Henry thought, sitting alone in his living room in the present day gazing at his Christmas tree. With the races. Whenever he heard adult black men and adult white men talking about the other race, there was usually a caveat made for the black person or the white person they knew personally. The mutual curiosity and fascination was just too much for them.

Henry, when an adult himself, had become horrified by the idea that most of what the races knew about one another was from television, as if the people in all the ridiculous shows were representative of…what? Human beings? All the angry faces on the news. All the nuts. So Christmas was a meeting place of sorts, Henry had learned from Christmas Eve at his childhood home. What had happened to all those people, these ghosts of Christmas past? His grandfather had died at 94, in a hospital surrounded by black nurses he was always talking about. The McKinleys had moved, downtown, and eventually his mother moved to an apartment. Her ornaments were hanging from his tree, her Christmas angels festooned his mantelpiece, and Henry still had her stocking. She had died a couple days before Christmas thirty years before. He poured himself a Scotch, put on Frank Sinatra, and sat alone missing everyone.

The next day Henry called Constance. She was an old friend of his late father’s, 85 years old, an accomplished academic who knew everyone and was a genius at behind the scenes “meddling” as she called it. Henry attended church at least annually with her, part of his Protestant cultural atheism project, always at Memorial Church. The annual Christmas Carol Service was a favorite of theirs. Besides the readings from Luke and Matthew, the service was primarily musical, choral and congregational carols, no droning clergy, no advice about consumerism and seasonal charity. Adestes Fidelis was sung in Latin. This year there was a carol by Dorothy Sayers. Two commissioned carols, blessedly apolitical, despite one being written by someone born in 1968. Stille Nacht in German, Silent Night in English, in honor of the 1914 truce, people glancing at the names of the Harvard war dead on the wall.

Having eschewed medical marijuana and gin before this service, Henry was as comfortable as one could be in a pew, and apart from wishing as always that the lights were lower, was at peace with himself. Constance could actually sing, and did so in her strong, though gentle, voice, whereas Henry mumbled along at a very low register. Especially during the carol sung in Welsh. The choir was magnificent, the organist was superb, and the readers were gifted as to timbre and modulation.

Henry thought of past services he had attended in his life, mostly Masses with his Catholic friends, sometimes at midnight. All the various St. Hims and Hers, spread across town, divided up according to whether they served Irish, Italian, or French–American Catholics. The Italians had the best Christmas food afterwards.

The service was coming to an end, with a rousing everyone-can-sing-this-one “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.” Henry very much liked that all the verses of this carol were covered, and that the carol recorded all of Jesus’ titles: “New Born King,” “Christ,” “Everlasting Lord,” “Off-Spring of the Virgin’s Womb,” “God-Head,” “Incarnate Deity,” “Emmanuel,” “Jesus,” “Prince of Peace,” and, of course, “King.” So much riding on his little shoulders. So much human yearning. Jesus, simultaneously King, Lord and Prince. The Trinity? Henry smiled. Constance said “What?”

Henry said, “Transient bliss.” Constance laughed. Following the Postlude people began to talk and gather their coats, when a minister took the podium.

“Let’s have a hand for the choir!” he said. Constance grimaced.

“I’m going to have to have a word with him,” she said. The minister, following the applause, continued. “And let us all remember to make a donation on the way out to support our choir!” Constance shook her head. So here it was, always at Christmas, the manna grubbing, the beseeching for alms that would have been offered anyway. They left the church and walked over to Grafton Street and drank large white wines and grumbled about the minister sullying the service.

***

The Christmas spirit continued to be slow descending upon Henry. He lost himself in menus, gift purchasing, whiskey and wine choosing, housework, and long, solitary walks with his dog in the clean Yuletide air. He visited his paternal grandparent’s grave in Mount Auburn cemetery. A Weeping Higan Cherry drooped bare branches over their tombstones like a caution to his pride. His Nana had been born on December 23 in 1893. He would return on that day and lay a wreath, as he did every year. He attended several Christmas parties. He tried scotches he had never heard of and whose names he couldn’t pronounce. He listened to Motets and Antiphones, Responsorial singing and Noel chants by Greek monks. He listened to Jazz (vocalists, mostly), Rhythm and Blues, Country, and Solstice music. He listened to The Rat Pack and Greek Byzantine Choir Music and Maronite Chants and Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass. This music put him in one mood after another, but uncharitable, somewhat bitter, regretful ones. Christmas movies annoyed him. He especially couldn’t stand the depressive, woe-is-me-I’m-sad-and-blue-anti-holiday music, and he couldn’t bear the secular fluff.

At some point, overnight really, the house was provisioned and ready, and most happily, the children, adults now, came home. They were instantly busy though, occupied doing the things he had always done at their age, the very things he could no longer do, apart from drinking too much. His children threw a little party the Saturday before Christmas, about thirty people coming and going bearing craft beers and good bottles of wine and one fellow, bless his soul, a bottle of Jameson’s. Henry enjoyed his house full of young people, as well as a handful of his old friends, but he was aware he was simply a figure for their future Christmas memories, like Grampa and Mr. McKinley, merely an older man swigging their excellent seasonal ales and allowing them all kinds of marijuana and cigarette license. Henry felt like The Ghost of Christmas Not To Be Around All That Much Longer, Really. His Nana had died in 1973, yet was as alive to him, in a Christmas sense, as anyone wearing green and red clothing playing darts in his dining room.

The next afternoon, the Fourth Sunday of Advent (a service Henry did not attend due to partying with Millennials) he and his son went to Harvard Square for some last minute shopping, both of them preferring the stores that had a certain from-the-old-days vibe. They had espressos and pastries, and walked around. They had brought their dog, who was indisputably in the Christmas spirit what with having her entire pack home and many of the shopkeepers generous with the canine treats. At one point, as they stood outside on Dunster Street discussing shopping errands, a couple with two young children approached them.

“Is it okay if my daughter pats your dog?” the father asked them. The mother was holding a toddler to her against the cold.

“Yes, of course,” said Henry. “She is wonderful with children. She might give you some kisses, though.”

“Her name is Etta,” said his son. The little girl, about six, looked longingly at Etta.

“Ed-da,” she said, entranced. She and Etta exchanged greetings. “Merry Christmas, Edda,” she cooed. Etta gave her a few gentle kisses. “She kissed me!” said the little girl. “She loves me!” She then embraced Etta, her head on Etta’s back. Etta, stood, a model of tolerance. The girl looked at Henry. “I want a dog for Christmas,” she said.

Her father quickly said, “We’re going to get one after the holidays. After we move. In a few months. We don’t have room now.” His daughter looked at him scornfully.

“I want one for Christmas,” she said. Her father smiled.

“We’ll get one soon, Hannah,” he said. She had heard this before. The father looked at Henry. “We’re staying at the Charles Hotel. We came in for the weekend to shop.”

This unleashed a new flood of memories for Henry: Granddaddy and Nana staying at a Boston hotel, meeting them for lunches and dinners and teas, loading presents into hired cars, hot chocolates, Nana’s fur coats. The little mink heads on her stoles. The furtively slipped cash. The store windows. All while his Mother was carefully counting up her Christmas Club cash.

“I want to go shopping for a dog,” said Hannah, still hugging the ever-patient Etta.

“When we first got her she was only twelve weeks old,” said his son, bent down to their level. “Four days before Christmas. She was so little! But we had to get our house ready for a new puppy. It sounds like when you move into your new house, your parents will get you a new puppy.” Hannah looked dubious.

“There’s always some reason why we can’t,” she said.

“We’ll get one, sweetheart,” said her father.

“But not for Christmas,” she said, already prepared for this disappointment.

Henry’s son smiled at her. “Maybe you could buy your new puppy some Christmas presents,” he said. “You could put them under the tree, and then save them until you move.” An expression of exhaustion crossed her mother’s face.

“That’s a great idea!” said her father.

“Look,” said Henry’s son, reaching into a bag he was holding, and pulling out a Christmas-y dog’s chew toy. “Don’t tell Etta,” he said, covering his dog’s ears. “I was going to give this to her, but I know she would like you to have a present for your new puppy. I’ll get Etta another one.” He removed his hands from Etta’s ears. Hannah took the toy, and looked upon it with wonder. Etta was interested as well.

“Thank you, Ed-da!” she said.

“You don’t have to do that,” said her father. Henry’s son smiled.

“It’s my pleasure. Merry Christmas to your new puppy!”

“Merry Christmas,” Hannah repeated, shyly, and then threw her arms around Etta. “Merry Christmas to you, Ed-da!”

Elliot Slater

Elliot Slater

E. S. Slater is a 69-year-old writer living in Cambridge, MA. He has recently completed a novel, Just This, and is working on a number of thematically connected stories based on his childhood and adolescence in a town outside of Boston, and in Maine. He is also working on a series of Saki inspired, pandemic-themed, comic short stories. He has published poetry, and short fiction.
Elliot Slater

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This publication is part 65 of 70 in the series 12 Days of Christmas