Monday, December 19, 2016

Harold's Holidays (Part 4): Merry Christmas, Harold!

Greetings and happy holidays, WYMOP readers!
As you can see from the title, poor little Harold seems to have made it to Christmas—but what kind of shape is he in? Has he been punched by an angry (and more than a little tipsy) saint? Roughed up by the reindeer? Has he caused an accidental—but massive—disturbance to the time-space continuum? Did Poppa Kringle finally break down and share his milk and cookies? You’ll find the answers to these questions and more in this, the final installment of Harold’s episodic adventure: “Merry Christmas, Harold!”
(If you're just joining us for Harold's story, you can jump to the beginning of the story HERE)

~ ~ * * ~ ~
Merry Christmas, Harold!
(Harold’s Holidays—Part 4)

“It’s not fair,” said Harold, once again sitting at a kitchen table in a house he’d never seen before, and would most likely never see again. He’d heard of abject misery, read the phrase in books, but he’d never actually felt that way . . . until now. Gazing across the table, he thought he saw sympathy in the eyes staring back at him, but in the dim light it was hard to tell.
“I tried. I mean, I really tried! I thought it might be fun to be on the front lines, right in the thick of things, but it’s not at all like I’d expected. I kind of thought Poppa would be a barrel of laughs. He did start offering to share the cider back there around 1:45, but after that visit I got from 3:35 me, I just told him no. I was worried I was going to seriously mess up Christmas, but I’m afraid my refusal offended him. Besides, I think maybe he’s still upset about my little stunt last month.”
Silence, only the dark eyes regarding him thoughtfully. Harold wished again that turning on some lights wouldn’t have been against the rules, but lights flashing on and off throughout a neighborhood, if noticed, sometimes resulted in a little middle-of-the-night awkwardness neither Poppa nor the police wanted.
“I felt terrible about messing up Poppa’s Thanksgiving feast like that. I didn’t plan on doing it! He just overheard me talking and the opportunity came up, so I grabbed it without thinking. I should have kept my big mouth shut.” He looked down at his hands; one of them had been absently tracing a design on the tabletop with a forefinger, the same shape again and again: a capital T.
“Thanks: that’s what this was all about, right? I didn’t feel I was being properly thanked.” He glanced up, then ducked his head, avoiding those black eyes, staring once again at the tabletop in front of him.
“Stupid, I know. Poppa was thanking me, but I wasn’t satisfied with that. Now I messed up his Thanksgiving, might have him mad at me, made the reindeer mad at me, maybe even made Rupert mad at me in the bargain. I mean, this is his job I took tonight. And after all that, making all of them mad at me, what did I accomplish?”
The tracing finger pulled into the hand, and Harold’s hands formed tight fists as he considered.
“I worked myself to the bone trying to learn to handle the reindeer and forgot entirely about the sleigh. If I hadn’t gotten to have a quick visit from my immediate future self, I might have gone on to mess Christmas up badly. That other future self of mine didn’t look very happy, and I know he wasn’t doing as good job. He could barely walk, much less read the schedule.”
He looked up, meeting the other’s gaze again.
“All this . . . stuff, and what I keep thinking about is the factory floor, and working with the rest of the guys. I missed out on a lot while I was preparing for this debacle. The feeling of camaraderie, all of us congratulating each other on getting through another Christmas intact, going home every night feeling the satisfaction of having done a job well. I miss all that, all of that. I know what I’m going to do next year: I’m staying home, on the factory floor where I belong. That’s where I was happiest. And now I know it.”
He sighed.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to talk your ear off like that. I know Poppa took a magazine in there with him, but he’s been longer than I thought.” He shrugged. “Must be all those cookies. I don’t know. Anyway, thanks for listening.”
“She is a good listener, isn’t she?”
Harold whirled in his seat. Framed in the doorway was a little girl in Dora the Explorer pajamas, straight black hair cut square to frame a serious face that watched him closely.
Cynthia, Harold thought, his mind flashing to the last page in the Schedule. Cynthia Liu, age 6, the last delivery of the night! I can’t believe I made it through a whole Christmas Eve, only to get caught now!
“Uh,” said Harold. “Hello?”
“I talk to Genevieve all the time,” Cynthia edged toward him. “But she never talks back. Not really. That’s just pretend. Did she talk to you?”
“Yeah. Her.” A tiny finger pointed at the well-worn teddy bear occupying the seat across from Harold, black button eyes watching him closely, much like the girl.
“Uh . . . no. No, she didn’t talk, but you’re right, she’s a very good listener.” Harold didn’t move his head, trying not to frighten the girl and cause a scene, but his eyes darted about as he frantically wondered what was taking Poppa so long, and how he was going to get out of this one.
“You’re not Santa,” said the Cynthia. “You’re too short.”
“And I’m not nearly that fat,” Harold hastened to add, wounded that she hadn’t picked up on this distinction first. Though, he had to admit, he might have been getting a touch girthy the past few years. An hour or so on the treadmill a day, he thought, and I’ll shape right—
“Who are you, and why are you talking to Genevieve all alone?”
Harold hopped down from the chair as she approached (sucking in his gut as he did so; he was practically svelte, she’d have to notice) and saw she was only as high as his shoulder, still looking up at him. “I’m, uh, Harold. And I guess I was talking to Genevieve because she was familiar. I made her, you see.”
Cynthia’s eyes widened. “You’re one of Santa’s helpers? That’s awesome!” She glanced sideways at the bear. “You made Genevieve?”
“Well, yes. I can tell she’s one of mine because of the way the final stitching is tied off. I use kind of  a big knot, and some of the guys say I’m being sloppy, but it’s intentional. It makes a kind of lump, and it’s supposed to be—”
“Her bellybutton!”
Harold broke into a smile. “Yes, exactly.”
“You did make her!”
“Yes,” Harold said again, but this time was surprised into silence as small arms clamped about his neck and he was almost overbalanced by the force of the little girl’s hug.
“She was my favoritest thing I got last year.” Cynthia’s breath was warm against Harold’s ear. “She’s been my bestest friend ever since. I’m glad she got to see you again.”
Harold’s arms had come up behind the girl in surprise, and a fight for balance, and now he patted her awkwardly on the back. “I’m glad I got to see her too,” he mumbled.
“Thank you,” she whispered into the side of his neck. “Thank you so much!”
A big hand came into Harold’s view, taking the girl by the shoulder.
“Come along, dear,” said a deep baritone, and the arms about Harold’s neck slowly loosened. Cynthia let go, then looked up and took the glass of water being offered by another hand, at the end of a red-sleeved arm.
“Thank you,” she said to Poppa.
“You’re welcome. You go back to bed now, dear, and don’t wake your parents too early, all right?”
“All right.” Her gaze dropped back to Harold’s face, only inches from her own. Suddenly, she hopped up and kissed his cheek. “Merry Christmas Harold,” she said as she turned back toward the door. “And thank you.”
Harold watched her disappear down the hall toward her bedroom, then the large gentle hand fell upon his own shoulder.
“That was it, Harold. Last delivery. It’s time to go home.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Harold, his voice rough as he still stared at the door where Cynthia had gone.
“And Harold?”
“Yeah, boss?”
“Merry Christmas.”
“Yeah,” Harold’s voice broke as he finally looked up at Poppa Kringle, smiling through his sudden tears. “It is a merry Christmas, isn’t it?”
~ ~ * * ~ ~

Whether you celebrate on the day or not, I hope you all have a very merry December 25—and right through to the New Year.
Talk to you later.

Back to Part 3


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