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A Christmas Short Story ~ Fiction From Me-2-U

Hilda & Hemingway in: “OH, OH HENRY!”

© Frank Westcott, 2011.      All rights reserved.

"Hey Hilda! What’s this? No Christmas decorations. It’s the day before Christmas!"

Hilda points to the window ledge. Two brown plastic reindeer the size of salt shakers are leaning precariously against the glass. There’s a red poinsettia between them. "Well, waddya know," I say.

Hilda’s sitting on a stool by the counter folding napkins into triangle shapes. She picks up one napkin and rolls it into a tube around her finger. She puts the rolled napkin on her big toe. She wiggles the toe. "Mistle Toe," she says.

"If you think I’m kissin’ that, you’re crazy." I pucker my lips and make fish noises with my lips and tongue.

"All you men are alike. You can’t think of nothin’ else this time o’ year but poken’ yer little ol’ heads into some lady’s face, under some green, and gettin’ yerself a good smack right on the lips. Not in my store, Hemingway. Not in my store."

"Okay," I shrug. "Fine with me. You ain’t got the Christmas spirit that’s all. Where’s my coffee? Or, is that too much to ask?"

"Nope," Hilda says, and trots over with a white mug filled to the spilling point. I pull a napkin from the stainless steel napkin holder and put the napkin flat on the table for my coffee. I reach into my jacket pocket and take out a copy of O. Henry’s: TheFourMillion. Hilda’s looking over my shoulder.

"Oh him. Always thought he was a chocolate bar."

I tap my fingers on the table top. "Some chocolate bar. He’s just one of the best short story writers, ever."

"Guess it isn’t you," Hilda says, and trots back to the counter where she resumes her napkin folding. I open The Four Million, flip past Tobin’sPalm, and stop at The Gift of The Magi. I start reading. I get to the part where Della is selling her hair to buy Jim his Christmas present.

Hilda’s back. "What a sappy one that is. Some love. The wife slices off her hair to buy her man a watch chain for a watch he sells to buy combs for the hair she cuts off. Great communication. They were better off keeping what they had and to heck with sellin’ stuff off to buy presents. That’s all it is, you know, the pressure. Pressure to buy presents. When did he write that?"

I flip the pages to the front. "Sometime in the early 1900's," I say.

Hilda smacks her lips. "Nearly a hundred years gone by and it’s still the same. Pressure. Orwell’s 1984's come and gone. I’m gettin’ old. People I grew up with are dying. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. No pressure and the guy in that story’d still have his watch. The lady’d still have her hair. Same today, you know. Gotta prove you love somebody with gifts. You gotta give stuff whether you can afford it or not. Pressure. That’s what it is."

"Maybe so, Hilda, but they loved each other. She got her hair cut off and sold it because she loved the guy. She wanted to get Jim something he would really like. Something special to show how special he was to her."

"That’s romantic crap."

"No it isn’t. People do it everyday. They make little sacrifices all the time for people they love and they never say anything. The loved one, often, never knows the sacrifice was made in the first place."

"They sure found out in the story, didn’t they?" Hilda says. "I never would have thought you’d go in for that kind of melodramatic poppycock."

"Surprise. Surprise." I go back to my book. Hilda goes back to her napkin folding. I finishThe Gift of The Magi. The café is quiet. Snow is falling outside. Passing cars have their headlights on. I see a red and white plastic Santa Claus flashing on and off in Gary’s Grocery across the street. "NOEL," is sprayed in white artificial snow across the Post Office window. I turn my head back to the café and look over at Hilda.

"What are you doing tomorrow?" I ask.

"Staying open." She says, without looking up.

"It’s Christmas. Won’t be much business."

Hilda continues folding the napkins. "Someone might need a cup of coffee."

"Might as well close. Enjoy the day. People’ll be with their families."

"I have no family."

The conversation stops.

I don’t feel like reading anymore. Hilda stopped talking. I stopped talking. I haven’t got enough hair to cut off and give to Hilda. She doesn’t wear a watch. I set some change on the table beside my empty coffee mug and leave. Bells jangle over my head as the café door closes behind me. Outside the air is fresh. Gary’s red and white plastic Santa is flashing at me. Jay Halperin drives past in his new blue pickup truck. Sally Walters waves from across the street. I turn and go back into the café. The bells jangle over my head when the door closes, but I don’t hear them ringing. I walk over to the counter and stand in front of Hilda. She looks up and smiles. "I hoped it’d be you. Come closer." Hilda stands and gives me a hug. "Merry Christmas, Hem." I hug her back and leave. This time I hear the bells over the door ring.

The next afternoon, as I’m driving past Hilda’s on my way to my sister’s, I see fourteen cars parked along the curb outside the café. I stop my car. I get out and walk towards the café. Snow crunches under my boots. Inside the café, forty-four men and women without families are eating turkey. The reindeer are on the windowsill and the poinsettia is between them. The till is closed. Hilda is dressed in a Santa Claus costume. She’s handing out presents. I see her skip like a little girl over to the pile of presents on the counter top. On her way back to the tables, she sees me. She winks. Then skips over to Mrs. Henderson who is sitting beside the window. I tap on the glass and reach into my pocket for a Kleenex. I roll the tissue into a tube shape and hold the Kleenex over my head. Hilda looks puzzled. I raise my foot so she can see my boot. I mouth the words, "Mistle Toe." Hilda smiles. She blows me a kiss, then hands Mrs. Henderson her present.

A gift from a Magi.

"Merry Christmas, Hilda."