Terry Christmas, Everybody! a short story by Mark Warrington at Spillwords.com

Terry Christmas, Everybody!

Terry Christmas, Everybody!

written by: Mark Warrington

 

Bells will be ringing the glad, glad news.

“Attention all passengers, route number 2071, Nashville to Chicago, will be boarding in five minutes. Please make your way to gate number C7 and have your tickets ready. Passengers needing assistance boarding, please alert your driver before attempting to board unassisted. Route 2071 to Chicago boarding in five minutes at C7, thank you.”
The announcer spoke so fast it was almost as if he wanted granny to fall off the bus. It’d give him a break from the numbing monotony of his job. Of course, he couldn’t even see gate C7 from his tiny booth at the other end of the building. None of this mattered to Terry Uhlurd, though. He wasn’t going to Chicago, and he probably wouldn’t jump up too quick if somebody did fall anyway. He shifted anxiously in his seat, but just returned to his previous posture with an annoyed face.
He took yet another look around the bus station. It was still bustling. It was also hot, in the same way that all buildings were in December, the same way they were all frigid in July. That grand irony in overcompensating in the quest for comfort that always resulted in people complaining that the opposite extreme had been achieved and was now ruining their day.
Terry’s day was already ruined, however. He’d been at the bus station for about thirteen hours now, and his bus didn’t leave for another seven. He felt dirty, which he was, and tired. Which he also was. But it wasn’t just the physical exhaustion kind of tired, but also the kind that came from sitting too long, inactive, under the nauseating glow of fluorescent lighting. Adding to this was the sun’s futile attempts to penetrate the atmosphere. Terry accepted that the day would just be grey—no ifs, ands, or buts. He listened as the Eagles sang their lone contribution to Christmas music over the PA and thought the only song more fitting would be “Blue Christmas” (Elvis’ version, of course), which he was sure would be along soon enough. The last few hours, the speakers had been feeding him an eclectic mix of easy listening intermingled with Christmas songs. The mastermind behind this mega mix was clearly an amateur, but with the best of intentions. Still, it wasn’t boosting Terry’s Christmas spirit any.
He was in Nashville, much against his will, because his boss had left him in Brentwood, about ten miles south. Technically, Terry had left him, but Terry didn’t see it that way. Their job site had been shut down—temporarily, as they were being told—and Terry knew enough to know that, this close to Christmas, it wouldn’t start up again until probably the middle of January. And since his boss, Sherman, had made eyes with the waitress at the restaurant the night before, Terry also knew he wouldn’t be ready to leave Tennessee yet and go home to his girlfriend. He was begrudged enough just giving Terry a ride to the bus station.
The door opened, and another poor soul tracked in the sloppy, black snow from outside in the street on his heavy boots, joining the rabble who couldn’t afford to fly. Terry thought about his wife, Melissa, and their three kids. He imagined them singing along with the Eagles right then, “Please come home for Christmas,” but adding the always tear-jerking, heart-string-pulling, “Daddy,” that got him every time. He pushed the thought away quickly. He adored his family but worked in a typical, knuckle-dragging environment, so he had trained himself to deny emotion in public. Sherman might sense it and pop out of the fern in the corner at the slightest chance of snapping a pic of Terry looking wistful. His ruthless embellishment of the photo would cement Terry’s place as the butt of some not so clever ridicule till the end of his days. This is my boss, he thought. It wasn’t as though he was in any real danger of missing Christmas anyway. It was only the 18th, and he was only going to Terre Haute, which would probably only be about five hours by bus, he figured. Still.
The seat next to him suddenly shook with a grunt and brought Terry out of his thoughts. The old man that now sat there made very deliberate movements as he adjusted the legs of his jeans, deliberate in that Terry immediately knew he was the kind of person who, whether consciously or unconsciously, wanted everyone to see his every move. The kind of person that generally annoyed Terry. On second glance, though, the guy wasn’t as old as he first thought, just really weathered from probably three decades of chain smoking. In fact, he reeked so strongly Terry was convinced he had a cigarette lit under his dusty Carhartt just to comfort him while imprisoned in the no smoking zone. His leathery brown face reminded Terry of a coat his dad had found forgotten in a trunk once. This guy should definitely sue his tanner he thought.
As he quipped to himself and a corner of his mouth curled upward in a smirk, Terry realized the man was looking right at him and must’ve taken the expression as a hello. His eyes fixed Terry hard and a rawhide hand shot out at him like a mugger pulling a gun. Don’t shoot!
“Orvon Pinker,” the man said with his head slightly tilted, as though he had stroked out mid-sentence.
The announcer shared that the bus to Memphis would be boarding soon, and when the music resumed Terry realized the Eagles had left the building.
“Terry Uhlurd,” he said, gripping the stranger’s hand, quickly dismissing the revelation that this was the first interaction he’d had since arriving at the station.
“Amarillo?” said Pinker.
“Terre Haute.”
“Ah,” finally breaking eye contact. Orvon lit up his smartphone to check his text messages, email, or maybe his stock in Phillip Morris. “Going home for Christmas?” he asked Terry without looking at him.
“Yeah. A little earlier than expected, though. Job got cancelled, and the boss flaked on me.”
“Left you high and dry, huh?” His eyes never left his screen.
“Yeah, well, he…made a friend.”
A stifled laugh shook the older man like a burp as he shot a quick glance at his new pal. “Is that right?” Immediately looking back at his phone, he added, “What do you do?”
“My company’s laying some pipe down in Brentwood. Some higher-ups got into a disagreement over something above my pay grade, so it’ll probably take ‘em a few weeks to straighten it out.”
Terry was never the kind of person to go looking for a conversation with a stranger, but whenever he got sucked into one, he could hold his own. “How about you?”
The courtesy was enough for the man to give his undivided attention to Terry. “Sold my Mustang to a fella on the internet. He couldn’t come down to get it, though, so he says he’ll give me an extra five hunnerd bucks, plus bus fare, to deliver.” He paused slightly, “Beat that,” and then a wheezy laugh.
Terry expected the man to punctuate his point by backhanding him in the gut, but he kept his hands to himself. Terry relaxed his abdominals with a manly “Nice,” but never let his eyes stay on the other man’s for more than a second. It might’ve been seen as rude, except that Orvon seemed to be looking around at something whenever he spoke.
“Awww, isn’t that just a shame, then?”
Orvon’s disappointment broke Terry’s wandering gaze, the latter’s curiosity piqued and demanding satisfaction. He looked questioningly at Pinker, who was already staring disgust back at him and casually rolled his pointed finger upward into the heavens.
“Alan Jackson,” said Pinker.
Terry hadn’t noticed the new song. “Not a country fan, eh?” he said, shifting a little.
Orvon gave a one chuck chuckle with no expression on his heavily-creased face. “Wild Horses?”
Terry was lost.
“The countriest man in the business singing a ‘country’”—finger quotes—”song written by hippie, pot-smoking, BRITISH, ugly-as-sin Rolling Stones.” He shook his head. “It’s sad what a man’s gotta do anymore to make a buck.”
Terry furrowed his brow with a quiet huff. Orvon’s preference was a little outdated. But then again, so was Orvon.
Seeing the younger man reject the bait for a dialogue, Orvon changed tactics and went for the sure thing. “Got kids?”
“Yep,” said Terry as he reluctantly gave his new oldest friend his full attention. “Three.”
“Uh huh.” The man used his eyes as magnets to get people to look at him, but then looked away as soon as they did. What’s more, when he acknowledged things, like Terry’s fruitful progeny, his uh huh would temporarily paralyze his face, rendering his mouth incapable of closing. When he recovered, he swallowed and turned the subject onto himself. “I got a niece.”
He waited for Terry to nod and accept that they were going to talk about her instead. “Yep, little Binnie Mae.”
Is that anyone’s name?
“She’s a pistol.” Orvon’s sincerity belied a disinterest.” She calls me sometimes and just says,—putting an invisible phone to his head—”Uncle Orvon, it’s me.” He laughed and shook his head.
Terry tried to talk about his kids, since the subject had been broached, but Pinker could only bob his head and respond with randomness that was barely relevant. Terry wanted to tell him that his perfume was fading, and he should go outside and freshen up, but he didn’t have to. Orvon awkwardly segued off the topic by standing up and pulling a cigarette to his lips. Fumbling inside his dirty jacket for his lighter, he asked Terry, “Do you smoke?” and gave him the most honest eye contact since their meeting, waiting for his answer.
“No,” was the answer, as Terry casually shifted in his seat.
Giving a nod that was indiscernibly relief or disappointment, Orvon turned and headed for the door. As it closed behind him, Terry remembered back when he did smoke, before his first child was born. Yes, Melissa had made him quit, but he was glad to do it. He only thought of it now because he became a smoker as a cure for boredom and now would have been a good time for a butt. But, he thought, for the rest of his life, anytime he was tempted, he would picture Orvon Pinker standing outside the bus station door, wincing at the cold as his eyes began to tear, struggling to light his cigarette against the intense wind, and pacing back and forth with no visible satisfaction. Surely this would deter Terry from any such notion of the like.
As Old Smokey continued his beat outside, that great fast-talking voice in the sky announced that the bus to Amarillo would be boarding in five minutes.
Why does this line give such short notice to their customers?
Terry looked to the weathered sentry and saw him take his phone out of his pocket and put it to his ear. His pendulation quickened as he became noticeably agitated by the call. Terry couldn’t help but think it was the guy who bought the Stang, calling to charge Orvon for having it reupholstered and detailed to smell less like an ashtray. As he laughed to himself, he realized Leatherman had abandoned his post. He jumped up to go tell him he was going to miss his bus, but, stepping halfway out the door, saw clearly that Orvon was gone. Vanished like the puff of smoke he more or less was. No trace. Hmmm. He paused a moment to look at the bail bonds office across the street. Hm. The lights were off, the inside all dark but for the menacing silhouette of their Christmas tree, which seemed to wear its strands of lights like a skeleton. The multi-colored ghost lurked in the window, glaring at passersby. And Terry. Menacingly. Odd that they were closed at 10 a.m. on a weekday. Suddenly, he was all too aware of the disruption to his constitution his stint at the bus station had caused, and he headed for that same office that his father had wiled away so many precious, catch-playing hours in, chasing the bottom of whatever pack of cigarettes he was currently abusing.
When Terry emerged again, a freer man set right with the world once more, he knew his first steps should take him to the coin-operated commissary that was always to be found in places such as these, to fill up that great hole that now existed within. Stuffing his feast into his pockets, he re-entered the common area. To his surprise, the surplus population of before had decreased. There must’ve been a lot of people going to Amarillo, he thought, unless he had been away for longer than he thought and missed more buses. Just call me Rip Van Tinkle. Hard luck had made him witty.
Walking back toward his seat, he found it occupied. In the nanosecond of his pause, he felt that cold annoyance that comes when someone takes what rightfully belongs to no one. He continued forward, noticing from behind the intruder was clearly a woman. With so many seats available, it was odd that he chose to sit across from her. His back would now be to the door, and he felt uncomfortable about that. Terry always liked to be able to see what might come at him. He did not know the root of this silly paranoia, but it stood regardless. What made things worse, she was attractive and about his same age. He sank into his seat like a rough helicopter landing, with eyes fixed on her, cursing himself for not picking another chair. Too late now.
The woman was glued to her phone, legs crossed, the one on top bobbing up and down nervously. Black faux leather boots reaching for the knees of her purple jeans fell just short of their target. The motion of the newcomer made her look, and their eyes met. Goob. He flicked his away quickly, but not before seeing her obligatory smile. She was pretty: blonde; loose curls to the neck; big eyes. What’re you doing, dude? This was going to be tough. Think of Melissa. You love Melissa. And your children! He had to do something. Play with your phone. SOMETHING. He was frozen. Then, quickly, he remembered his snacks. Get your snacks out, man! No, it was impossible. He knew he wouldn’t be able to eat in front of this woman. He might as well pull a rat off the floor and bite into its hide, gnashing his teeth in a smile as the blood ran down his chin. Og need meat. That barbarous twinkle in his eye would certainly make her feel warm. Dude. It’s a bag of Fritos and a Mountain Dew. She’s not the queen of England. She wasn’t Melissa.
“I’m sorry.”
Terry zoomed in for the eye contact but was beat out by her phone. She had apologized, but for what?
“I just love this song,” she said.
Terry rolled his eyes pensively. The bus to Atlanta was boarding, so what? Hardly the stuff of Top 40. As the song popped out from behind the announcer, Terry realized the woman had been humming along.
“No worries,” was all he could get out.
“Mariah’s my girl,” she explained, eyes still on her phone.
Terry heard Santa’s name and smirked, “’Tis the season.”
As she smiled with her teeth, he realized she was chewing gum. Her leg bob became more twitchy.
“Are you travelling for Christmas?” she asked, dividing her attention between Terry and her Twitter feed.
“Returning actually. Home,” he said.
“I’m Melissa, by the way,” she uncrossed her legs, giving the twitcher a rest, to lean in for the shake.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Terry awkwardly met her angled wrist with his manliest hand. Why did women always crook the wrist for a handshake, he wondered. As she sat back and unsquished the purse in her lap, he said simply, “Terry.”
“That’s my mother’s name,” she said excitedly.
Thanks.
“Oh uh,” he dismissed it, “how about you?”
“What?”
“Travelling,” he simpled.
Her face lit up as she rolled her gum and looked at her phone without seeing it.
“I’m going to St. Louis to get married actually.”
“Oh,” Terry raised his eyebrows, “congratulations.” Then he added, “Merry Christmas,” for some reason.
“Yep, yep.”
Terry tensed up, assuming she was winding up to tell him all the details, but she surprised him with the cliff notes version. She must be tired of talking about it, he surmised. Christmas Eve—his parents’ place in the country—duck and goose—holly jolly theme (which meant red bridesmaids dresses and green tuxes for the boys). Terry felt the word cute travelling up his throat and quickly bit it off. Maybe Sherman could read minds. I need to get some sleep.
“That’s cool,” was all he said.
When she asked about his marital status, he returned the courtesy of the paraphrase. He skipped the name coincidence so as to avoid the inevitable that’s-so-funny. Wife—three kids—job—abandoned by jerk boss (I’m gonna kill that clown).
The ice was broken, the subject turned back to Christmas, and Terry’s phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and saw Melissa—his Melissa—smiling at him with the time stamped on her forehead while she hugged three beautiful apps that looked just like him.
“It’s the missus,” Terry said, standing up. He wasn’t sure why he needed to walk outside to talk to her, but he stayed the course. When the cold air hit him, he wished he’d stayed inside and talked to bus station Melissa instead.
“Hi, honey.”
He was glad to talk to wife Melissa, though. He did adore her. He hadn’t told her he was coming home early yet; he had thought it would make a nice surprise. He would just pop in, and the whole clan would howl with glee at his arrival. The kids would show their happiness by razing him to the floor, his wife would give him that endearing, promising look, and Christmas would be saved! So, he tucked that nugget into his pocket and instead told Melissa that he was on a walkabout because Sherman had commandeered their hotel room to become better acquainted with a stranger. The revilement that proceeded would have made Emily Cratchit blush. Terry hated to hear her talk like that. He always said her mouth was too pretty for those words. She was right, of course, but he’d rather think of her smile than her sailor’s tongue. He wanted desperately to change the subject but was blanking on how. He could tell her about other Melissa and her merry matrimony. Really, dude? You need sleep. Mrs. Terry Melissa was asking her husband why his pig of a boss couldn’t go to where “this tramp” lived. He reminded her that Sherman was big on the homefield advantage. Melissa knew this already because Sherman had told her himself at an office Christmas party years ago when she hated him less. Terry asked about the kids without being too abrupt, but immediately regretted it because Melissa would put them on and prolong his sentence out in the cold. Luckily, they were all at his sister’s, playing with the cousins so Melissa could wrap presents and clean the house. She quickly returned to her campaign against Sherman, and Terry told her an old man was having trouble getting his van started and that he was going to go help him. He hated lying to her, but he knew she would be on Sherman for a while and, well, his phone was already at half-battery. Also, he had had enough of the cold for now, so he hurried off from Melissa and rushed back inside the station.
The door hadn’t closed behind him before he felt a wave of despair sweep over him. He took a long, surveying look at the large room. It was all the same, and he was sick of it. He hadn’t thought of it outside, and the link to home had temporarily freed him from the monotony of the bus station. Now it returned with a heavier weight and a definition he had not noticed before. He was so tired. He knew he would sleep the whole way home, especially since he couldn’t sleep in the station. He had tried, but fluorescent lighting, he believed, was just the worst thing in the world. He could hear that hum, even above the bustle of all the travelers. He sometimes said it was what they used in hell, and it was why he worked outside. It was one of only a few things he could rant about if not checked. So, instead of ranting, he decided to sit back down and talk to other Melissa. But other Melissa was now on the phone, and the way she played with her hair said that Mr. Other Melissa was on the other end. Suddenly Terry’s stomach growled, and he realized the golden opportunity that had been handed to him. He moved to a safe distance so she wouldn’t hear him mangle his innocent bag of chips and slurp his room temperature soda.
It was one of the finest meals he had ever consumed, but rather than allay his fatigue it had given it a pillow to cozy up with. Oh well, at least he was fed. He saw a poster on the wall, urging him to report any suspicious luggage he saw unattended. He pretended to read it before lumbering back to his seat. Sitting made his back and rear end hurt, but standing made his feet and legs hurt, and being awake made his head hurt. He needed a bed, preferably the one in Terre Haute he shared with his wife.
Speaking of a Melissa, the not-quite-married one was gone. Instinctively, Terry took her seat, which had been his seat first, without even thinking she might come back for it. Why shouldn’t she be gone? Everybody else was getting to leave. Go to wherever they were going. Home to their beds. Of course, nobody else was showing up yesterday for their bus today. Terry looked at his phone. Just a few more hours. Hours? Few?! He shuffled quickly through some apps without paying any real attention to them. It was just fidgeting. Just fidgeting. Just.
Suddenly, he kicked his leg hard. Looking around, he realized he had dozed off. Great! How long? He squeezed a handful of air, and panic struck him. Where was it? He leaned forward. There on the floor, barely pinned down by his left foot, his phone lay like a turtle on its back. Picking it up, he looked around to see who would’ve stolen it had he stayed asleep five minutes longer. No suspects, but there was a woman with two kids that had just entered the bus station noisily. Terry quickly realized it was they who had broken his slumber. He would never forgive them. The woman was young, almost too young to have two kids, and she told them to sit down while she got their tickets. Of course they took the seats directly across from Terry.
“Attention passengers. Route number 8350, Nashville to Cleveland, will be boarding in five minutes. Please make your way to gate number C1 and have your tickets ready. Passengers needing assistance…”
Yeah yeah yeah. The song playing caught his attention. It wasn’t Christmas, but it wasn’t good, either. Why couldn’t they play some AC/DC, something everybody liked? One of the children sitting across from him gasped in excitement and half-turned to her younger brother before re-fixing both eyes on her phone.
“It’s Adam!” she exclaimed, more at him than to him. He didn’t seem to care, though. It seemed doubtful a fire could’ve taken him from his video game.
Terry realized it was Maroon 5. The only reason he knew that was because Melissa’s favorite show was The Voice, and her favorite judge was Adam Levine, singer for what she annoyingly called “The 5.” A man couldn’t be married to a woman and not know what kind of music she liked after all. He thought Adam Levine was a creeper. He didn’t secretly like their songs.
But how did this girl know this song? And why did she have a smartphone? She can’t be more than nine. Terry never ranted about the kids these days, but he couldn’t deny how night and day things were compared to when he grew up. Deep down, he felt it unfair how much stuff kids had now that he didn’t when he was little. He looked at the mother, still standing in line. She was next, but would she know it without a nudge from the man behind her? Eyes on her own phone, she only glanced back once at her children. Terry shifted in his seat as his paternal instinct resolved to keep an inconspicuous eye on the little ones.
“Hi,” said a small voice.
Am I wearing a sign or something?
“Hey,” he returned.
“Where are you going?” asked the little girl.
He didn’t really mind talking to kids. They were easy, and he had plenty of practice.
“Terre Haute,” he answered.
“Where’s that?”
“Indiana.”
“Do you live there?”
“Yep.”
“Are you married?”
“Yep.”
“Do you have kids?”
“Yep.”
“How many?”
“Three.”
“What are their names?”
“Sara, Jesse, and Tyler.”
“Is Jesse a boy or a girl?”
“Boy.”
“Are you gonna have more?”
“I doubt it,” Terry chuckled.
“Why not?”
“It costs a lot to have kids. Now it’s my turn.” Terry took a breath. “Where are you going?”
“Los Angeles,” the little girl answered.
“In a bus?” Terry’s face twisted with the question.
“Yep.”
“Why?”
“Mama says it’s what we can afford.”
“What does she do?”
The little girl beamed, ”She’s an actress.” But her joy quickly faded. “Well, kind of.”
“What does your daddy do?”
Then her face really flushed with embarrassment, and she shrugged.
“Oh,” was all Terry could muster. ”Well, do you have any family in L.A.?”
“Mama says we’re gonna live with one of her old girlfriends for a while.”
The little boy with the video game laughed abruptly, and Terry remembered he had been there the whole time. He felt his eyes begin to throb and didn’t even care if Sherman saw him. But he knew he had to change the subject quickly. For everyone’s sake.
“Have you both been good this year?”
“I have,” answered the girl, and looking at her brother, added, “Chavez is a total brat, though.” She started into giggling, and her brother kicked at her.
“Shut up, stupid,” he grumped.
Terry was surprised. At least something could grab his attention away from that game.
“Well,” Terry said, “Santa will still find you in Los Angeles.” He turned to Chavez. “That is, if you’re kind to your sister. There’s only a few days left to make the nice list, buddy.”
The little boy once again had no idea Terry existed. Just then, the children’s mother showed up. She looked like any other woman. Pretty, but more from just being very young than the merit of her beauty. Dark hair tied back, big coat, boots.
“You’re not talking to strangers, are you?” she said, looking right at Terry. Her tone was disapproving, but her eyes seemed to scan him curiously.
“Lexi is,” ratted the evidently not-so-oblivious little boy.
“Oh my gosh, Chavez, shut up.” Lexi blushed and looked at Terry.
The man introduced himself clumsily, just wanting to shatter the tension. The woman did not reciprocate but shuffled the children out of their seats.
“C’mon, let’s go to the bathroom. Our bus leaves in a half hour. Hurry up.”
Terry watched them leave, and somehow knew that when they exited the bathrooms, they wouldn’t be sitting by him again. He felt really uncomfortable now. What he had just experienced was straight out of bad television. He wanted to be at home more than ever now. Wanted his kids right now, so he could squeeze them all three at once. Wanted Christmas music—real Christmas music, not Justin Bieber. His leg started to twitch. Wanted Melissa—his Melissa, his beautiful, perfect Melissa—to smile at him. Wanted her famous spaghetti casserole. Wanted to pass out on their bed and sleep for a whole day. His leg was thumping like a jackhammer now, and the floor beneath him was no longer safe. He demanded that his bus pull up right now, and the door swing open, and Bing Crosby be sitting in the driver seat, smiling all his perfect white teeth at him. He wanted to go home. He wanted to be at home for Christmas RIGHT NOW!

“Attention all passengers, route number 1025, Nashville to Terre Haute will be boarding in five minutes. Please make your way to gate…”
Terry Uhlurd sat snoring softly like the buzzing of a big, fat bumblebee. His mouth gaped open, his five o’ clock shadow was coarse like a wire brush, and sweat glistened on his face like a well-basted turkey. The announcer’s voice shifted him in his seat but couldn’t wake him.

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime.

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This publication is part 88 of 93 in the series 12 Days of Christmas