Carol of the Christmas Ball

They said you shouldn’t stare into the reflection in the red ornament, the glossy surface dimming the room lights but amplifying the image, the mouth-gaping silhouette. So, naturally but superstitiously silly my hand trembles holding the apple-size red ball, polished plastic, cheap and fragile, thinking who “they” are supposed to be to say things like that.

I place it central, hang it there to drink in the light and I pay it no more mind preparing dinner, settling in for the festivity, the food and caroling and presents and bad jokes, the cat under the table meowing for a piece of turkey.

But then I catch myself catching an image still lingering there inside the ball like a smoke ghost, an imprint on the inside of it made to look like me. So I call for my husband, “Come look at this, it’s a most uncanny thing” and then when nobody comes I turn around and my house is in shambles, a dystopian image brick for brick like a tornado swept through it while I wasn’t watching and left me and the tree, spruce five foot nine standing there, me dumbfounded and it close to discoloration, no lights, no golden star at the top. What remains is a jagged piece from that red spherical ornament. A vacant half to which I have to find the missing one to make it whole again, to return home.

I take it off and keep it enclosed careful not to grind it between eager palms and turn it to dust, and I step through what once, when once was the wall of my living room and trespass onto the street close in resemblance to the semi-interior of my demolished house. And I hear caroling though there’s no “Carol of the Bells”, no “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or “O Come Emmanuel”.

They from behind missing walls and smoke curtained corners sing of a different spirit, a true ghost haunting the skies with his phantom carriage, transfixed by his holy unending duty every Christmas month and year and century. I listen to that chorus depicting him as a wandering soul unable to break for eons and eons from a perpetual sacrifice, starting with the dawn and ending out of breath and dead by dusk, an empty bag and skeleton thin reindeer, tired and old and gasping, red tongues darting out of steaming muzzles.

I jerk around and run away from the whispers of the carollers, the wispy voices effortlessly carried through the empty air. In this place so much like my own home and then so different I catch a glimpse at that sprite and he is neither jolly, nor bright, nor laughing. He is gaunt and tall and his red coat, overlong and tattered is worn out, pinkish with time. He walks through thin air with heavy footsteps, descending upon a hollowed rooftop, his body transparent between wall and wall. And he places a long-fingered hand inside the depthless pockets of his coat and pulls out a simple toy, damaged by time but precious and places it in the empty spot where a pine or spruce or fir should be. Then he leaves a little more exhausted, I can see.

I call after him like a child, like I haven’t done in years and years and when he turns before me, taller than a tree and I see his sunken eyes, black as coals and button-shaped, the roundness of them not matching the fake sagging layer of his anemic body. I stare at the creases of his elongated, sharp face, deep by age and cracked by the cold like fjords running along the pastiness of his skin half-hidden by matted white locks. But I show him my red ball like how it is in half, jagged edges and hollow. Do I say please or does he know it, because his face pains, grimaces and frowns.

“I don’t belong here,” I say, telling him I don’t want to either. I offer the ball and hold it there and I don’t think he sees me. For a moment I panic, stranded and abandoned and I imagine growing old here with the carollers in forever winter white this giant visiting abandonment as a promise or a punishment, trying to return some light and joy to it. I tremble, visibly shake with incoming sobs or it’s the cold finally creeping in.

He looks at me, the red coated man, this forgotten saint and he reaches inside the folds of his being. Pinched between two thin digits he offers me wordlessly the other half of my red ornament. I eagerly bring mine closer to fit in the edges and glue together another kind of reality away from the loneliness this alteration exists from.

Then my husband is right behind me saying “what did you want to show me” and “I’ll go check on the oven and the turkey” and I nod, focused on something else outside his voice.

The red ball is polished and complete, the tiniest crack visible only to me, like a hair splitting me from him, his image lingering in there filling the entire space but then it’s gone and later on I sneak into the living room when the house is quiet. I weep silently for some time watching the ball in the darkness.

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