I pull the car into the driveway and the headlights sweep across our neighbor’s house. I catch a glimpse of what could be a bushy fox tail or rodent, but upon closer inspection turns out to be Edna’s frizzy white hair.
Amy scoffs, because our pugnacious neighbor is caught in a tangle of blinking white Christmas lights. I’d love to help her out, but I know from experience that she’ll only order me off her lawn and threaten to call the police, have me “persecuted”
Amy think’s she’s possibly bipolar. Seeing her bound and glowing, it’s hard to argue the point.
I shut the car door. “Hey Edna, looking good.”
She grumbles her pleasantries over the cigarette in her teeth. A plume of smoke escaping the through the glow of lights.
I smirk at Amy but then notice the star. An awfully familiar nativity scene lay in pieces, strewn along her driveway. My wife rubs her arms.
“What are you doing, it’s cold.”
“I think,” I say, craning my neck out farther into the cold. “those are our decorations.”
I’m nodding now, but unable to fully believe what I’m saying. “She stole our decorations.”
Amy’s voice is more surprised than mad. “Really?”
I spin around towards the house. “Did you lock the door?”
She didn’t. She never does. Inside, I scratch Rufus’s head en route to the basement, where I tromp down the stairs to our basement, clicking on the light to find gaping spaces on the shelf where boxes marked Xmas exterior had been stored. Had been.
It’s gone. My snowman, Santa’s sled, his reindeer, everything. The only thing she left behind is the black baby Jesus that I picked up a few years ago, for its historical accuracy of course, but also to piss off Roger, the bigot across the street. 60/40 maybe.
Amy’s waiting at the stairs. “Even for her, this is…wow. She’s like the Grinch.”
The sky darkens and the weather hardens. From my window, I watch, flabbergasted as the sixty-year-old beast lifts, hauls, and drags my decorations up the ladder and out onto the yard. I look at my worthless lab and vow to let him do his business on her grass from here on out. I’ve bent over backwards for this lady since we’ve moved in and she has yet to thaw.
I’m not calling the cops. I’m not letting Amy go over there and get in a shouting match with our senile neighbor. Instead, I bundle up tight for operation repo. Amy vetoes the ski mask, reminding me that Edna does own a shotgun. It’s a fair point.
Outside, I slink behind Edna’s Buick and start with the easy stuff, snatching farm animals and clutching wise men between my arms before coming back for the manger. I pluck Santa and his sled, the reindeer, and then I turn my focus to the roof, where my star sits, white and blue and tacky as ever.
I scamper up the cold shingles, past Frosty, cursing myself for not owning a decent pair of gloves. I hoist myself up as quietly as possible, then I breathe into my hands for warmth.
“Be careful Peter, it’s a hell of a fall.”
I nearly hurdle to my death at the sound of her rasp, like an ice pick scraping down my back.
“Edna?” A nest of white hair, catching the blue from the star, near the chimney. I pad over on all fours, expecting her to aim the shotgun. Instead she thrust a sloshing bottle of whiskey in my direction.
“Merry Christmas Peter.”
“Why did you steal our decorations?” It’s the best I can do. But I do take a pull on the bottle, for warmth and clarity. When she looks up I can see she’s crying.
“Maybe because I’m dying.”
“You’re not dying Edna, but we may freeze to death out here.”
“I miss him, Peter.”
My shoulders sag. “I know Edna. I hand back the bottle. A silent airplane above our heads, like a shooting star in slow motion.
I help her up. She’s unsteady, in both mind and body. Her hands feel like ice as we scoot down the ladder. We back away and look up at the house. She takes a swig and passes the bottle, twinkling under the lights.
“Frank always loved Christmas. He used to put up all the lights.” She flicks her lighter and her cigarette flares to life in the cold. I look over to our dark house and see Amy in our driveway, arms crossed. I can’t tell if she’s smiling or snarling. To my surprise, Edna waves her over and offers her a swig. I’m surprised again when Amy does.
I retrieve the manger. We get things set up. Edna falls in the lawn, cackling and giggling like a little girl. The night is clear and cold but we’re warm with spirit and bourbon. Amy’s eyes are frozen wide with disbelief. She’s wearing her mittens and ski jacket as I chase her around Santa. Her face reflects the light as I catch her and our cold noses touch as we kiss.
Edna croaks out Silent Night. Rufus howls along in tune.
It’s just one of those nights.