A Leeward Christmas Carol
“Mom! Mackenzie’s in my room again!” Toby shouted dropping his school bag. “Aw, no. Give it!” He reached for the card his little sister was chewing. “Not my Pokemon card!”
The little girl wiggled away with her prize, shouting, “No!”
“It’s ruined. You ruin everything. I wish you’d never been born.”
“Tobias Anthony Roberts!” His mother shouted stomping down the hallway. “She’s just a baby. When did you become so intolerant?”
“Since she started getting into my room and destroying all my stuff. Mom, you have to keep her out. It’s not fair,” he whined.
His mother glared. “Fair. If you’d clean up your room, she wouldn’t get to your things…”
Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, Toby shouted, “No!” He leaped over the unmade bed and tangled in the blankets and discarded clothes.
The two-year-old tipped the platform holding his Star Wars model and pulled it down on her. The death star shifted as she dropped it to the floor. Toby watched in horror as all of his and his dad’s hard work was destroyed. It was the last thing they’d had time to do together before hurricane Mackenzie started terrorizing the family. Now no one had time to spend with him, it was always about the baby. He glared at his mother. “Are you happy now? She’s ruined everything!”
“Can’t you see she’s hurt?”
“She did it to herself. If she’d just left it alone…”
“She’s a baby…”
“She’s a baby! That’s all I’ve heard since she was born. She’s a baby Toby let her play with your toys. She’s a baby Toby we don’t care about you anymore. Well, I didn’t ask for a baby.”
“No? You’re asking for a grounding. Clean your room. I’ll see if your sister needs to go to the hospital.”
Toby looked and realized Mackenzie was bleeding near her eye. Guilt silenced him. He watched as his mother carried the crying baby from the room. The stew of feelings left angry and upset. He shoved stuff under his bed and into his closet, dragging the covers onto his bed and tossing the clothes into the hamper.
He picked up the Pokemon card. It was ruined. Everything was ruined. He gathered up the pieces to the model tears blurring his vision. He couldn’t go play with his friends because he had to help out with his little sister. He’d had to quit basketball because no one had time to take him to practice. It just wasn’t fair. Things were much better when it was just him and his mom. Even when his mom was working a lot, Uncle Mike or his grandparents would do stuff with him. Now Uncle Mike had his own daughter, and she was older and didn’t want to play with him. Grandma and Grandpa were more interested in playing with Mackenzie, or doing stuff with Mikayla their other granddaughter, than spending time with him. They all forgot about him.
Peeking out his bedroom door, Toby wasn’t checking on his bratty sister, he just wanted to see how much trouble he was in.
“I think he needs to be grounded,” his mother was saying.
He winced and backed into the room, peering through the crack in the door.
His parents were cuddled with Mackenzie on the couch making googlie eyes at each other. That’s all they wanted to do anymore. Boring. He rolled his eyes. Mackenzie was sucking on a popsicle, her eye puffed up like a hot marshmallow.
“Give him another chance, Jenna. Mackenzie is a handful, and he is only a little boy.” His father kissed Mackenzie’s head, examining her swollen eye.
“Fine, he can go on the hayride, but he needs to change his attitude.”
The rec department hosted an annual hayride. Toby was excited. This would be the first year he was old enough to ride in the back of the truck. “Comme on Mom, we’re going to be late.” They were putting on their coats and she’d gone to gather blankets but returned with only one for him. She handed it to him. “Won’t y’all need a blanket?”
“We’re going to be riding in the cab of the truck,” his mother said as she checked his sister’s shiner. There was a nasty gash where she’d cut her eyebrow and a bruise around her eye.
Toby looked away still angry and guilty over the incident. “I thought we were all going to ride on the back of the truck together?”
“I’m sorry Buddy,” his dad said. “Getting up and down from the back of the truck is rough on me and with your mom and Mackenzie, it’s just easier for us to ride in the cab. I offered to drive, but you can still ride on the back.”
Toby nodded, sucking in his tears as he walked away. He could ride on the back of the truck alone, like he was no longer part of the family. He bet they wouldn’t even notice if he ran away.
With his parents busy packing Mackenzie’s diaper bag, Toby went to his room and packed his backpack. Hiding it under his blanket as they head headed out to the school. He stood alone as everyone loaded on the hayride, his family up front in the cab, he in the back with strangers. Okay, not strangers but not his family either. He huddled alone in the corner, his arms wrapped around his backpack. They stopped at the senior citizens center, and everyone got out and started singing Christmas carols. They all scrambled back in and drove down to the apartments where the old people lived. Then they went out to the country. On one of the dirt lanes, they walked from house to house singing. When no one was looking, Toby took his bag and his blanket and hid in the woods. He waited until the taillights from the truck disappeared before setting out down the dark dirt road.
It was cold, Toby wasn’t sure how far he’d walked but he was tired. He saw a fire glow in the distance and crept closer. An old man was hovering over the fire.
“Don’t just stand there freezing, come warm yourself by the fire.” The old man smiled, his round cheeks and laughing eyes reminded Toby of his grandpa and maybe Santa Claus. He took a seat on a log as far away from the old man as he could but still be by the fire. “Cautious, that’s good,” the old man said and offered Toby some hot chocolate. Toby knew not to accept food and drink from strangers, so he pulled out his own and with the help of the old man, made a mug. He told the old man he was running away. That things were so much better when he and his mom were on their own. “Change can be difficult, young man, but was it truly so wonderful before?” The old man’s voice held a soft, hypnotic note.
Toby yawned and his eyes drifted shut. The dream reminded him of the movie he’d seen, The Christmas Carol.
Hovering above he watched his mom as she tried to scrape together enough money to buy him Christmas gifts. She was exhausted and fell asleep after supper cuddled with him on the couch watching TV. In another scene he saw his mother clutching a photo of his dad, Tar, to her chest and crying herself to sleep. On her days off she barely had the energy to get out of bed. He wiped a tear.
“Better before, huh?” The old man’s voice whispered through his dream.
Toby was flying and abruptly the scene was of his dad, Tar, holding a gun in his hand. Toby stared at the gun, the bottle of pills and his father’s artificial leg and tears streaming down his cheeks as understanding filled him with shame. The phone rang. Tar looked at the number and shook his head. “You’ll be better off without me. You both will.” It rang again. “What kind of father can I be like this? What kind of husband?” It rang a third time and Tar set down the gun and answered the phone.
Toby took a deep breath and whispered a prayer.
Toby awoke cold and alone. The old man was gone, and the fire was dying. Shaking with shame and remorse, he kicked dirt on the embers and waited until the fire was out. He tried to figure out which way would take him home. The night was heavy with darkness and silence. Suddenly the silent night exploded with the sound of branches shattering. The ground shook, and there was a deafening roar, something big and scary was crashing through the woods. His heart raced as fear threatened to choke him. Grabbing his backpack, Toby ran. The shadow of the beast overtook him, and he screamed. Falling into the light dusting of snow he fell into another dream…
The street was decorated for the holidays. The tinny sound of Christmas bells filled the air. People with their heads down staring at their phones, rushed past oblivious. Carolers on the corner were singing and trying to collect for the poor, but few stopped or even acknowledged them.
An old man in a wheelchair leaned forward holding up an aged poster and in a ragged voice asked, “Have you seen this boy?”
The young woman pushing his chair, whispered, “Dad, Toby wouldn’t be a boy, now. It’s been thirty years.”
The old man looked tired, defeated. “We can’t stop looking for him. Your mother would want us to keep trying.”
“Dad, Toby doesn’t want to be found. I’m sorry.”
Nodding his gray head, the man said, “This will be my last Christmas. I’m sorry Mackenzie, it’s not been much of a life for you.”
She kissed his cheek as her tears fell. “I loved him too, dad. I wish we could have found him before mama…” She pushed the wheelchair down the street.
Toby called after them, but they couldn’t hear him. He tried to run to them, but it was as if he were smoke drifting away on a breeze.
Toby rolled over and blinked, there was no monster. He was alive. Leaping from the cold ground he ran the sky lightening to daylight as home came into view. Through the window he watched his mom and dad wrapping presents. “I never want Toby to do without, not like I did,” his father said.
“All he really wants is time with you.” His mother stood and stretched. “And for Mackenzie to stay out of his stuff.” She shook her head. “She’s really embraced the terrible twos.”
“I feel as if I’ve failed him.” Tar stood, groaning as he adjusted his prosthetic leg. He wrapped his arms around his wife. “If I were able to do more…”
“No,” Toby burst through the front door and ran to his father. “No, dad. You’re the best.” He clung to him.
“Toby, did you skip school?”
Toby shook his head and hugged his mother. “I’m sorry mama. I’ll do better at helping with Mackenzie and cleaning my room.”
“Toby?” She returned his hug.
“We need to get ready for the hayride,” Tar said. “Toby and I will ride on the back. Are you going to ride with us?”
Jenna nodded. “Yeah, mom and dad said they’d watch Mackenzie.”
They looked at the clock with its digital readout that gave the time and date.
Toby frowned. It was the day before. Had it all been a dream?