Note: This short story is my entry for Abby’s Write Christmas contest, and if you would like to enter yourself, click here and show her some love! Clara is also hosting a super fun photography contest, so I definitely suggest checking both out if you’re into writing & photography!
She was alone for Christmas, and somehow it hurt more and more every year. The pain that endured from seeing families gathered together around the tree, smiling and content with their loved ones, ignited a spark of guilt in her heart each time she saw them on the television. She knew it felt wrong, being all joyful, and content, after what happened.
She pictured them sitting around the table on Christmas eve, unwrapping the identical gifts they always seemed to pick out for each other. Three years ago, he had given her an antique keychain with their initials, J + A, engraved on the side, to celebrate their first anniversary as husband and wife. Somehow, he had the same exact idea, and laughed aloud when he gifted her his present. The story was passed around family members, and cousins still asked if they still had the key-chains in their possession.
The next year, she had picked out a cozy sweater for him at an old antique store off the corner of Pine Street that smelled of the sea, the place he loved the most. He had nearly been brought to tears, as he had picked out a sea-smelling candle for her to remind her of him.
People used to tell them that their story reminded them of the fairytales their parents used to read them as a child, as their love was beyond limitless. No one knew how they could make their marriage work, as they came from completely different families, but somehow, they managed.
But now, she told herself, limitless had a limit. On that Christmas morning a year ago, he had been informed that he was to report to a Naval base overseas on assignment. He had left in a hurry, barely stopping to say goodbye.
Everything tumbled to pieces when she received word that he had been reported MIA. He and his crew of fellow Naval officers had been on assignment off the coast of Japan, and had suddenly lost contact with the main base. No one, including her, had heard from him since.
Everyone assumed he, along with his fellow officers, was as good as dead, but one knew for sure. Since then, she had spent her time rebuilding her life, piece by piece, ever-so-slowly, and it noticeably broke her.
She shook her head as though to ward off a distant dream, and narrowed her eyes at the TV screen in front of her. A Publix ad came on, displaying a rather large family holiday gathering at Grandma’s home. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, rice pudding, and all the spectacular dishes were placed on the dining table, and a shot of smiling faces appeared on the screen.
She felt an ache in her heart, a longing to be home. The past year since he left was excruciating for her, and despite the constant attempts to cheer herself up, she fell into a state of depression-like symptoms that caused her to lack the Christmas cheer she once held to so dearly.
Winter-time never was her time of year, even when he was there. Living in upstate New York brought the usual wintertime snowfall, and with the conditions of her apartment during the cold season, blankets and socks just weren’t enough to keep warm. She had tried to keep her job as a librarian steady, in order to evade eviction, but with the way her employment was going at that moment, she knew her job wouldn’t remain stable for much longer.
She sighed, remembering the tasks that needed to be done for the night. She stared vaguely at the screen in front of the couch, hoping for a program that needn’t not share the typical Christmas joy. He left at Christmas. That was all she needed to despise the holiday.
Programs displaying gift-giving, caroling, and even talking dogs flashed on the screen as she slowly drifted into the slumber she had been craving for the last six months. Alone in her apartment during the holidays meant she nearly had the whole building to herself. Mrs. Dunsey, the elderly women who rented the flat above her, had left town the day before to visit her son and daughter-in-law in New Jersey, and Mr. and Mrs. Crown, the newlywed couple in the flat below her, left the week before to visit family in Virginia.
She didn’t necessarily mind being left alone, but she didn’t fancy being as lonely as she was. She missed her and Mrs. Dunsey’s Sunday afternoon chats as they walked together to pick up the weekly paper in the lobby. She missed the Crown’s voices as they chattered to one another before opening their door.
The flat was far too quiet, and she hated every aspect of it.
As she felt sleep place its peaceful arms around her, the telephone startled her awake. The TV was blaring the usual 12am Christmas classic, but she paid no attention to the carols being sung, or the couples falling in love under the snow.
She swung her dreary gray blanket over the back of the couch, and stood up groggily, listening to the phone blare on the kitchen counter. She found a hairbrush to tame the dark, curly hair in tangles from lying on the couch, and made her way to the tiny kitchen they used to share.
She almost didn’t answer the number, as robocalls had the tendency to interrupt her sleep far too often, but she did. Looking back, she guessed the half-asleep girl in her didn’t care who it was, as long as she could return to her couch after a quick “Please-place-me-on-the-do-not-call-list” banter.
But as she picked up the phone, she knew it was no telemarketer, or robocall.
“Alaina? Are you there?”
She held the phone in front of her, staring dumbfound at the receiver. She could hear the recipient speaking her name a few times more, but she didn’t want to believe it. It couldn’t be. She started to place the phone back on the receiver, but the three words spoken caught her off guard.
“I’ll be home. I’ll be home, Alaina.”
She placed the phone to her ear as Jonah spoke.
“I promise you. I will be home for Christmas.”