Beth Burnett

Storyteller

Boxing Day. Who the hell invented this stupid holiday anyway? I could have been in a boxing match last night considering how I feel this morning. I yank open the curtains, letting the bright morning sun burn my eyes. Squinting, I peer into the front yard. My neighbor is outside in boxer shorts, snow boots, and a parka, picking up beer bottles and ashtrays.

He looks up and waves. “Come on out, Greta. We’ll have a hair of the dog.”

I shake my head and turn away from the window. My gratitude for his invitation to the drunken family Christmas only goes so far. Besides, I brought a present – the scented candle my mother sends me every year despite my lifelong allergy to scents.

A vague memory of making out with the neighbor’s cousin from Winnipeg prods at the corner of my mind. Did I do that? She’d cornered me several times, excited to meet the next-door lesbian. Cute girl, buck teeth. I had scraped my tongue across them by accident. I prodded my front teeth with the tip of my tongue. Yep. Had a sore there.

My slippers are on the couch. I toss them on the floor and slip my feet into them. They’re red and green and have bells on the toes. They’re lined with some sort of fake fur. Green fake fur. Mel got them for me last Christmas. I remember her little smile, the flush on her cheeks. “Your feet are always cold,” she had said. “And you refuse to wear socks.”

She was right. I hated to wear socks. I still do. I shuffle into the kitchen, the bells chiming gleefully no matter how hard I try to keep them still as I walk.

The kitchen is colder than the rest of the house. Mel always puts the draught blockers in front of the kitchen door. She hasn’t done it this year. I can feel the chill on my ankles, above the tuft of green fake fur.

“They’re in the hall closet,” Mel says from behind me. “Under the box with your winter coat.”

I haven’t pulled out my winter coat yet, either. I wore my jean jacket over to the neighbor’s last night. “Aren’t you cold?” The cousin had said, running a finger up the sleeve of my thin jacket.

“Get your coat out,” Mel says. “And get the draught blocker while you’re at it.”

“That’s your job,” I say, grabbing the carafe from the coffee pot. “You always put out the draught blockers. You always get out the winter clothes.”

She ignores me. I can’t blame her. I’m a horror before coffee. I fill the pot and pace in front of it, waiting for the water to brew enough that I can take a cup without it being sludge.

“You made out with the neighbor’s cousin last night,” Mel says. Her voice holds no accusation, no sadness.

I stare at the coffee pot, trying not to cry. “She had buck teeth.”

Mel clucks her tongue. She would never make fun of a woman’s appearance. Never.

I grab the carafe and fill a mug. The coffee scalds my throat, clears the lump that’s sitting right above my breastbone. The cousin’s name was Sherry.

It’s a holiday. I want to sit on the couch and watch cartoons all day, but on Boxing Day, we take down the Christmas decorations and work on the house. Since we didn’t put up any Christmas decorations, that leaves working on the house.

My tool bag is sitting on top of the dryer. I was supposed to fix the overloaded circuit last month. I grab the bag and head back to the kitchen, pouring another cup of coffee. Back to the couch. I sit next to my tool bag, cradling it with one arm.

“Are you going to fix that outlet today?” Mel asks.

“I don’t know how to do it.”

“You could ask Laurence.”

It takes me a second to remember that Laurence is the neighbor’s name. Laurence. Laurence and Janice. That’s his wife.

My feet are overheated. I lean back against the couch and put my slippered feet onto the ottoman. The green fur looks weirdly sick against my pale legs. My eyes still hurt. I close them as Mel slips her hand into mine.

I wake up confused. It’s dark and I’m coughing. There’s a pounding noise. I sit up, waving my hands in front of my face. The front door bursts open. Laurence runs in. “Greta!” He’s screaming. I drag myself to my feet. The house is filled with smoke and I feel hot, flushed. I reach for my tool bag, but Laurence is next to me, dragging me out of the house.

“Mel,” I gasp, but he ignores me, yanking me out the door before the flames shoot into the living room. I see them racing along the frame of the front door as he drags me into the yard. His whole family is standing in the street, including the cousin, the one with the buck teeth. Someone puts a coat over my shoulders, a thick coat, like the one in the closet.

I struggle against Laurence. “I have to go back in. I can’t let her die, not now, not again.

I wake up alone. It’s Boxing Day. I open the curtains and wave at my neighbor who’s picking up trash in boxer shorts and a parka. I went to his house for Christmas last night and I made out with his cousin. But his name isn’t Laurence. Laurence died in the fire, the fire from an overloaded circuit, the one that killed my wife.

“I’m sorry, Mel,” I whisper as I drag my hungover body to the kitchen to start the coffee. “I’m sorry I didn’t change the outlet.”

I wait for a moment, but she doesn’t answer.

 

 

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