It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Santa brought me everything I asked for, banjo included. Per your list, I wrote you a Christmas story for Christmas. I know it’s just exactly what you wanted. Ta da!
Merry Christmas, Reality
There is anticipation in the boy, so much so that he cannot sleep. He moves from bottom bunk to top bunk and stares at the ceiling. On his ceiling are glued plastic stars. His father spent a whole day on a ladder to ensure his son’s constellations matched the sky’s. The boy’s stars glow, but the sky’s do not. They’re shrouded by bluish clouds and muffled by high wattage decorations, lights veining houses electric. The boy keeps his back to the window. Over and over he closes his eyes, opens his eyes. He tries to will morning into the present, squeezing his eyes shut because harder shut eyes are the eyes of true imaginers. This does not work. No kind sun warms his pajamed back and the boy decides something must be done about the eagerness in his belly.
Against his father’s most dire forbidding, the boy reaches into his mouth. With the utmost care he guides his hand down, down, until his whole arm is in. He rummages around in his tummy as his mother used to go through her purse, except she was always able to immediately locate the cherry chapstick, the napkin to dab his mouth corners. It takes him a while. Eventually though, the boy snags a hold of the wiggly, slippery anticipation. He takes it out and climbs down from the bunk and puts it in an empty mason jar and feels much, much better.
Calmly, the boy takes a marker from his desk and crosses out the label P’ED OFF AT DAD and re-labels it CAN’T SLEEP (CHRSMS). When he places the jar on the windowsill it begins to sort of dance. The boy ties it down with a bungee cord. The jar still dances, but less so, and the boy gets under the bottom bunk’s covers. He still cannot sleep and does not know why. Frustrated, he throws the covers off and goes to get a drink of water.
His father is passed out horizontally across the big bed, snoring. Quietly, the boy tiptoes down the hall, descends the stairs, fills a tall glass with water and drinks. It is exactly what he needs and, in his relief, a thought comes to him. The boy remembers the weeks his father spent in bed, napping through whole days, rising only to get him on the bus, off the bus, fed and tucked in. The boy realizes how many mason jars of LONG NAP must be in the basement. He can’t get down the stairs fast enough.
In the basement he finds a hundred jars, shelved meticulously but entirely unlabelled. Figuring one of them must be LONG NAP the boy picks one at random and unscrews the lid. Nothing happens. He opens another. Another. He opens twenty jars and feels more awake than ever. Exasperated, exhausted the boy opens every last jar and, unfazed, returns to his room.
His father is inside, seated on the bottom bunk, face in his hands. In an instant, the boy knows what those jars were meant to be labeled. SO SAD AND TIRED. SO VERY SAD AND SO VERY TIRED. HELPLESS TO HELP MYSELF OR MY SON. The boy crosses the room. He unties the bungee cord and unscrews the lid on CAN’T SLEEP (CHRSMS). The boy shares what escapes with his father, and that is how they spend that first Christmas, awake past every house on the block, awake past the timers on the decorations, awake to when the only lights aglow over the neighborhood are that of plastic stars. Then they sleep.
O’s and X’s,