A Christmas Tale
Copyright (c) 1993, Franchot Lewis
All rights reserved
A CHRISTMAS TALE
by Franchot Lewis
Tina hears the thumping noises of her grandmother's
footsteps and she begins to predict the future. The footsteps
mean that her grandmother is agitated again, and Tina is
about to get yelled at. Tina's facial muscles twitch and she
feels a churning in her stomach. She hunches her shoulders,
sinks down in the sheets, and tries to hide, so to become a tiny,
little lump in the bed, hoping to be invisible. She sucks in
her breath as she hears the footsteps in the hallway out side
the bedroom door.
She fears that she can't - but knows she must continue
to stay in her grandmother's house. But, how can she? She
feels, she can't and be afraid this way? She skulks about the
house, moves in every shadow she can find. She avoids eye contact
with her grandmother and tries to avoid anyone who comes to her
grandmother's house. This is a fretfully, worrisome, way to stay
alive until her parents come for her. To her young mind, it
seems like she has been living afraid forever. Already, she has
spent three weeks living in her grandmother's house. She is
convinced that everything in the house, including the furniture,
is determined to subdue her. The ugly walls want to smother her.
When she goes to bed she can hear her grandmother moving about,
and she worries that her grandmother's friends might come
sneaking into her room. To hide from them, she slides down in
the bed under the blanket and covers her head. She prefers the
darkness under the covers. She dreads sleeping with her head
uncovered, making herself an easy target in the glow of the
night light her grandmother keeps on in the room, for her, her
grandmother says. She thinks the light is there for her grand
mother and her grandmother's friends to spy on her.
She worries: What if her parents never come back? What
if they know how hard their little girl finds living in her
grandmother's house, and they don't care? She wonders. Certainly,
they will return. After all, she is their daughter. Their
only child. They know how horrible life is with the grandmother.
Her mommy called the woman "an old bag". Her daddy called the
woman "an old busy body". They placed her in the woman's house
because there is no place else for her to go. How could she
survive if she didn't have her grandmother's house as a place
to stay until her parents's return? The house is a roof. The
house is shelter, four-walls from the cold outside.
It is too frightful a thought to think, yet she knows it
could easily happen. Any day, her grandmother could explode and
kick her out before her parents returned. She knows of her
grandmother's terrible temper. Her mommy told her of the time
the woman exploded violently.
When her mommy was a little girl, her mommy was a pretty
girl with long bangs. Her mommy was very proud of those bangs,
and spent hours admiring them and herself in the mirror. Well,
the woman asked her mommy to do something that her mommy didn't
do and so as punishment, the woman sat down in a chair, grabbed
her mommy and using clippers cut off her mommy's bangs. Her
mommy cried and screamed. Her mommy said the tears came like
After her mommy told her that story, Tina disliked
the old woman thoroughly. Sleeping in the old woman's house
is a particularly hard ordeal for Tina. Tina has bangs like
her mommy had as a little girl. And, Tina has seen that gray
straw-like wire peeping from under the old woman's wig, and
feels that the old woman is probably jealous of little girls'
bangs. She has seen her grandmother without the creams and
preservatives the old woman puts on her face. She glimpsed
that moldy face in all its horror going into the bathroom
early one morning last week, and she trembled and sneaked
away, quietly, back into her room so that the hag face old
woman wouldn't know that Tina has seen the ugliness.
Tina just knows, the old woman doesn't like her. The old
woman gives Tina shelter, and feeds her, but stares at her while
she eats like she is stealing food. She trembles as she thinks
further of her grandmother and her grandmother's friends. She
heard them talking. The first week after she came, she heard
her grandmother talking about her to another fat old lady, a
friend of her grandmother's. Tina's head aches at the thought
of being talked about. Her mind fills with the awful memory of
her of getting up in the middle of the night to go to the
bathroom to pee, and of hearing her grandmother down stairs
talking about her like she is a thief.
"I can see, I'm going to have problems with that grand
daughter," her grandmother said. "When she gets up some size
she's going to be a bitch ..."
A bitch, the old woman called her. Tina mumbled. Her
grandmother, calling her a nasty name in the middle of the
night, hurt. Tina wondered what names her grandmother must be
calling her during the day. She listened, feeling pain and fear,
but sort of,[ kind of], glad that she woke up to catch her
grandmother in the act of disrespecting her. Tina felt that
there was no reason why she should try to be nice to the old
The two old bitties were telling one another of how hard
it is now-a-days to communicate with grand children. Her
grandmother said, "I do every thing for that child I can: I
cook for her, I lay her clothes out, make sure she has clean
socks and underwear, I leave them on the bed ..."
Tina was horrified. Her grandmother was discussing her
underwear! Tina felt as though her grandmother was discussing
"That child's always winding and complaining," Tina's
grandmother said. "Saying, we don't do it like that in my
house, we don't cook like that, we don't make it like that."
Tina listened. Her grandmother's fat friend made a snort
like a pig. It sounded to Tina as if the old women were
either snacking or drinking. Tina's grandmother said, "The
child's always winding about I don't do this right, or that,
in my house, I felt like telling her to get the hell out of
"You didn't?" the fat friend asked.
"I felt like it," Tina's grandmother replied, and both
of the old women laughed.
Tina eyes began to tear. They were now laughing at her.
She was angry, so angry that she turned around and knocked
over a broom that her grandmother had unintentionally left in
the hallway at the top of the stairs. She became terrified
that they would discover her easedropping. She cowered for a
moment, standing still in fear, but they hadn't heard the
broom fall, they hadn't stopped their laughter and chatter.
Tina thought that there have to be places where she could
go where staying out of the way until her parents returned
wasn't so difficult. She wondered why her parents sent her to
her grandmother. She was a good child. She didn't think that
she could have done anything to merit this punishment. She
wondered why her parents were being so mean to her by taking
so long to return. They weren't mean like her grandmother.
They wouldn't leave her unless something was to matter,
unless they had no choice. She wondered: What were they supposed
to do? They had to leave her somewhere, where she could sleep
She doesn't blame her parents, and thinking about them
only makes the wait longer. She has told herself often that she
won't think about them, that they will come when they will come.
She is a big girl and not a baby. She won't cry. She will fend
for herself, with and against the old woman, until her parents
return. So far, she has managed to get through three weeks. She
feels certain that soon it will be the day that her parents
will return. Her parents will be with her like they always were,
and it will be like it has been always since she can remember.
She just knows that soon they will come for her and take her
home, and like last year, they will take her out to a big lot
where there is a happy, smiling man with red hair and a green
coat. In his lot is all the Christmas trees in the world. They
will buy a big one, take it home and set it up with sparking
lights and bright ornaments. They will sing together, spend
plenty of time together. She will watch her mommy cook. Her
mommy will cook and cook and she will eat and eat. In the three
weeks she has been at her grandmother's house she hardly ate.
When she does, she eats very little. Her mommy will come home
and Tina will eat and eat and get some meat on her bones. Her
daddy will lift her up, and then will ask her to show him her
strength. She will flex her muscles, showing him the good use
her body puts to her mommy's cooking. Her daddy will hug her,
and her mommy while holding her, and she will squeeze, tight,
against them both and feel safe and loved.
She hunches down to sleep, hopeful that there won't be
too many more nights before the morning daylight will bring
the return of her parents.
She hears her grandmother coming into the room. She holds
her breath and waits for the old woman to leave. A long moment
passes, but not long enough. Tina's grandmother sits on the
bed and pulls the covers off Tina's head. Before Tina can
speak, she cringes. Her grandmother flips on the room's light,
and the brightness of a hundred watt bulb floods into the
Her grandmother laughs, "Caught you by surprise?"
Tina decides to yawn.
"Sleepy, sleepy head?" her grandmother ask. "Didn't you
hear somebody rummaging around downstairs?"
Tina jumps up out of the bed as if she doesn't have time
to get up without jumping. "Mommy and Daddy!" she screams.
Her grandmother's face freezes. She looks unable to speak.
She holds her breath, hoping to find words to say to the
child. Before the old woman finds a single word, Tina is off
the bed and is running down the stairs, happily skipping steps
as she hurries.
Tina is downstairs scurrying around, through the whole
downstairs, running this way and that, and calling to her
parents to come out and get her. She runs from one room to the
other for ever so long. She thinks that her parents are playing
hide and seek. Finally, she stops.
Her grandmother is now downstairs. She asks her grandmother,
"Where is my mommy and daddy? You said they be here?"
Her grandmother tells her that she is mistaken. Her
grandmother does not try to stop her when she inches away and
huddles in a corner, behind the big Christmas tree her
grandmother has set up. The tree is tall, almost as tall as
Tina's daddy. It has silver bulbs that shine and many flashing
bright, red and yellow and blue lights. There are boxes under
the tree, wrapped in bright shiny paper and filled with many
things. On some of these boxes is written Tina's name. Tina
does not look at these boxes, nor does she look at the many
other gifts her grandmother has sat unwrapped about the room.
Tina stares in the direction of the floor as she inches herself
even further into the corner.
Her grandmother tells her, "I would wake up your mama,
very early, on Christmas morning like this, while it was
still dark outside, as soon as Santa Claus was gone, and
she would come running down those steps, her face all lit up,
her mouth squealing ... And she would attack the stacks of
boxes with her name on them, and seeing her my face would
fill with light and joy I would squeal too ..."
Tina says, "My daddy's gonna pick me up."
Her grandmother sighs, "We've explained this. You know
where your parents are?"
Tina does not reply. Her grandmother asks, "What did you
tell me? That they were in church sleeping?"
"My daddy's going to get me, take me in his car, and
we're going home."
"They are gone, but we're not alone, we're safe and
Tina lifts her chin. She looks up at the Christmas
tree at its tallest point, at the lighted angel at its very
"Yes," she hears her grandmother say, "Your mama and
daddy are in Heaven with God."
Tina snaps, "They're going to pick me up, they're coming
Tina's grandmother's patience snaps. "If they are, you
let me know, because I don't want to be here when they get
here, because they're dead, " her grandmother was frowning.
"They're dead and they aren't coming back."
Tina's eyes waters and her grandmother flinches as if
struck by a piercing pain, and then another, as Tina began to
cry, " You, ugly, old thing, I want to be with my mommy."
"Damn, " the old woman fusses. "I've no business keeping
you, I'm too old to raise another child."
Tina is about to poke her tongue at the old woman, then
she sees something that the old woman has kept hidden from
view: tears. Tina's old grandmother is crying. "Baby, baby,"
the old woman bawls and holds out her arms toward the child.
Tina stops her own crying and takes a cautious step toward the
old woman. Suddenly, Tina finds herself pressed into the old
woman's sagging chest. She feels the wet face of the crying
old woman pressing next to hers. She smells the woman's
perfume, all musty and hard to take, unlike her mommy's
sweet, pleasant scent. She is about to pull away from this
foreign chest and run back into a corner when she hears the
old woman sob, "I loved your mama, and I love you."