You know, the tree, the lights, the outside decorations, the fake snowman and reindeer in the front yard? Take the poll at the bottom of this blog but first, enjoy a short story about it from Ethan Holmes titled Taking Harry Down.
Taking Harry Down
By Ethan Holmes
Harry settled heavily into the battered leather recliner, huffing and puffing as though he was trying to haul his over-burdened frame out of the chair instead of plopping down. He mumbled under his breath as some of the egg nog in the calcium-spotted glass sloshed onto his lap. He watched the yellowish liquid slowly soak into his sweatpants and join myriad other stains. He shrugged and slugged some of it back, probably more bourbon than nog.
He looked around the room with a bit of disdain, this day after Christmas, when suddenly all the decorations, lights and even the tree seemed silly, like so much extra trash cluttering up an already cluttered home.
Harry stared at the cell phone on the small side table.
“I should call the crazy ol’ woman and see if I can start taking all this crap down. Box it and give it up to Goodwill! That’s what I’d do if it were up to me!”
He stared angrily at the string of lights Myrtle made him hang around the entire ceiling of the living room the day after Thanksgiving. There was one light, one stupid little bulb at the top of the twelve foot peak in the cathedral ceiling that was out. It had been out since the moment she made him plug the string into the wall socket. Of course, you know he had already put the ladder away. It was more than a stretch for him and his eight foot, rickety wooden step ladder. So was the ten foot artificial tree she insisted he drag out of the garage for the umpteenth time. Add in the porch decorations, the lawn ornaments, a whole box of outside lights and a partridge in a pear tree and Harry was exhausted. Nevertheless, that damn unlit bulb had driven him nuts for nearly five weeks.
“One of us should have died yesterday. Especially after eating her mashed potatoes.”
He wiped egg nog from his upper lip, wondering why she wouldn’t let them go to Denny’s instead of eating Thanksgiving leftovers.
“No restaurant should be open on Christmas. Everyone should be home with their family.” Myrtle was indignant as she spooned out the oddly solidified potatoes and some green bean casserole that had taken on a yellow hue. “Besides, I’ll be gone tomorrow visiting my sister. What would you eat while I’m gone?”
“Anything but what you made.” Harry kept that comment to himself knowing if he voiced it he would probably have to pull a wooden spoon out of his skull.
Harry stared at the single bulb, squinting his eyes, trying to will the bulb into suddenly coming to life. Not only did the bulb make him nuts, but Myrtle decided to jump on the bandwagon. Every day she had some comment about the dead bulb. His favorite was this one.
“Why don’t you just grab the ladder and replace the bulb. It’ll just take a second.”
That would start a sure fire argument every time.
“Really, woman? When was the last time you picked that ladder off the rack in the garage and hauled it into the house? What’s that, Alex? I’m thinking the correct Jeopardy answer is, ‘What is NEVER?’”
“You know I can’t lift that thing. It’s the only reason you’re still around.”
Harry could never quite figure out if that was true or not.
“Besides, chances are that we don’t have the right bulb anymore. In fact, those damn lights are so old I don’t think anyone has the bulbs anymore. The hardware store will probably laugh at me and send me to an antique shop.”
“Tsk. They’re not that old.”
“Older than you, woman.” Harry grumbled to himself as he relived the conversation while drinking his egg nog.
He glared at the taunting dead light.
“I’ll show you. I’ll take the whole lot of you down and pitch you in the trash. I’ll just tell her the whole damn thing shorted out.”
Harry grabbed the phone and speed dialed his wife’s number. To his surprise, Myrtle’s sister Delores answered the phone.
“Merry Christmas! Myrtle’s in the shower. Who’s calling?”
Delores’ cheery voice jangled in his ear with way too much Christmas spirit for his taste.
“Probably from the bottom of a bottle of spiced rum.” Harry took another slug of his egg nog.
“I’m sorry, what did you say? Who is this? You’ll have to speak up. We have Christmas music playing in the background.”
“Dammit Delores, tell Myrtle to call me when she gets out of the shower.”
Harry pressed the END button on the cell phone, pushing it hard as though that would slam the call closed.
Myrtle called back about thirty minutes later.
“I’m taking everything down. Christmas is over and it’s just taking up space. Besides, the damn light bill is going to through the ceiling.”
“Just wait till I get back, Harry. I want to see them one more time. It’ll be a year before I get to see them again.”
“Wish I could say the same about you.”
“What did you say, Harry? Delores has the stereo up loud. We just love all the Christmas songs.”
“Nothing! I’m just saying, might as well get ‘em down while I can. Sitting here doing nothing but watching Christmas shows on the TV.”
“Well, it’s not as though you have a lot of other things to do, Harry. Next thing you know, you’ll be telling me you’re headed for the gym.”
Harry held the phone away from his ear for a moment as both women cackled with delight at Myrtle’s sarcasm. He could hear Delores snickering in the background when he brought the phone back to his ear.
“I’m taking them down, Myrtle.”
Harry stared at the single bulb at the peak and pictured himself up on the ladder gleefully pulling the whole string down with one violent yank. He could even see the staples sparkling as they flew through the air all over the living room. “That ought to muck up her vacuum cleaner good!”
“You just wait, Harry. I’ll be back in a week. Besides, you shouldn’t be climbing up there without me to hold the ladder.”
“She means to push me off it.” Harry swallowed the last of his egg nog. He looked at the yellow coating left behind inside the glass. “I need another nog.”
Harry woke up, groggy and dry-mouthed. He looked down at the nearly empty glass still clutched in his hand. There was a wet spot on his sweat pants under the glass. He squinted at the digital clock on the mantle.
“Ten o’clock! How many of those things did I have?”
It took Harry four tries to get his rotund frame up to a position in the recliner where he could at least attempt to stand. He felt woozy and still sleepy. He leaned forward and stared at his feet encased in a brand new pair of DeerFoams. He wiggled them.
“I can’t feel my feet. I wonder if she deliberately got me the wrong size.”
His eyes rose to the TV, silently playing an old, black and white version of A Christmas Carol. “Must have muted the TV.” His blurry eyes traveled up the living room wall. “That’s weird. I don’t remember turning on the lights.” Then he remembered everything is on a timer.
He followed the blurry glow of the string and landed on the peak, on that one annoying, nerve racking dead bulb. Harry shook his fist. “Blink, you piece of crap!”
The bulb was defiant. There had to be three hundred bulbs in the string, but that one, single, solitary bulb stood mutinous in all its glory at the very peak of the ceiling.
Myrtle jiggled the key in the lock of the front door. It was bitterly cold and the key just didn’t want to turn in her frozen fingers. She beat on the door.
“Harry! Harry, come open the door! I can’t get the key to work.”
She turned around, noticing for the first time since she climbed out of the cab that all the Christmas decorations were broken and scattered around the yard. She went around to the kitchen window and noted that the fake candle was gone. She reached up and banged on the window.
“Harry, where are you? Come help me!”
Myrtle went back to the front door and after a few more attempts, finally got the key to turn. She went back down the steps and retrieved her luggage.
“Jeez Harry, the least you could do is get out of the damn recliner and come help me with my bags. And what happened to the Christmas …?”
Myrtle stopped in mid-sentence as she came upon a chaotic scene in the living room. The TV was blaring It’s a Wonderful Life. The ten foot Christmas tree, fully decorated and lit, was laying across the top of the TV. She peered over it and saw the wooden step ladder open and splayed across the tree. Behind all of that, she saw a tangled mass of string lights, still cheerfully blinking.
She pushed her way past all the mess that looked as if the place had experienced a major earthquake. Lying next to the tangled mass of string lights, Harry was blankly staring at a single bulb clutched in his hand. Myrtle could see it was the only bulb in the whole string that wasn’t blinking. A portion of the string was wrapped around Harry’s ankle and another short length of it had tangled around his neck but Harry had a firm hold on the section with the single bulb.
Myrtle stood there for a moment, gathering in the whole scene, a blank, emotionless look on her face.
“I told him not to take my Christmas stuff down until I got home.” She said this in a nonchalant, matter of fact way.
She looked around the room and slowly walked into kitchen. She opened the refrigerator, took out the egg nog and reached for a glass and the spiced rum in the cabinet. She dug her meat mallet from the junk drawer and crushed a few ice cubes, put the shattered fragments in the glass and slowly poured two shots of rum into the glass. As she did this she began to hum ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’. She filled the rest of the glass with egg nog and headed back into the living room.
Frosty the Snowman played on the TV as the detectives kneeled over the two bodies.
“Look at this, Jack. They were both drinking.” Ed pointed at the glass lying on its side on the dingy carpet next to a large wet spot that vaguely smelled of rum.
“So, what’s wrong with that? It’s Christmas.” Jack kicked the glass aside as he stood up. “It’s just a simple accident. They probably got all tangled up when he got up on the ladder and fell.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” Ed looked at Myrtle, face down on the carpet with a piece of the twisted string of Christmas lights wrapped around one fat ankle. “Hey! Would ya look at that! There’s a bulb out!”
Thank you for reading my new short story, Taking Harry Down.
Here’s the poll!