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Rudolph and Doris

A short story by Kergan Edwards-Stout

This short story eventually led to the feature screenplay How I Saved Christmas (and Other Great Things I’ve Done), available for download.

 

Jeffrey awoke with a bound and jumped to the window.  Was it?  Could it be?  The night he’d dreamed of all year was here, and not a moment too soon.

He looked around the yard, but there was no movement of any kind.  Even the trees, full with the weight of newly fallen snow, were strangely silent.  Jeffrey ran to his bedside table and grabbed his flashlight.  Bringing it to the window, he sent a flood of light piercing into the yards deepest shadows, hoping to uncover…what?  A fat old man in a red suit?  A reindeer on the loose?  An eight-foot high present, bulging at the sides?  But as Jeffrey looked, he saw nothing.

It was stupid really, Jeffrey told himself.  He was much too old for this kind of nonsense.  Shining the beam onto the sleeping mound that was his brother, who was not too old to believe in Santa, Jeffrey frowned and climbed back in bed.  The arms of the clock glowed in the darkened room.  It was not quite midnight.  And that was too early for Santa anyway, wasn’t it?

With a sigh, Jeffrey rolled onto his side and tried to shut his eyes.  He’d need every ounce of strength to get through the next day if Santa hadn’t come through for him.  It was a tall order that Jeffrey had asked for, but that was the old man’s job, right?  Making dreams come true?

 

It had been two years since his father had passed away, and in the time following, Jeffrey had seen his mother grow more scattered and remarry (to a loathsome bore named Dirk, a plumber) and his little brother Bryan retreat from life — literally.  Bryan now lived in a large cardboard box, and wouldn’t come out for anything.  They’d tried bribes, pleas, and threats, but Bryan remained hidden in his cocoon.

Bryan was given his meals in the box, took his nap in the box — even brought it to bed with him, though it remained next to the bed, with Bryan safely ensconced beneath the covers.  Occasionally they would catch a glimpse of Bryan’s pale arm as it would creep towards a plate of cookies, but that was about it.  Indeed, Jeffrey was unsure exactly what Bryan looked like anymore, so hungrily did the little fist pound down the cookies.  He could’ve been three hundred pounds and they would never have known.

While Bryan’s change was understandable, to some extent, and could be explained away as a youthful quirk, Jeffrey’s mother’s change was more puzzling, though not as pronounced.  Sure, anyone who hadn’t seen her for a while would have noticed the transformation, but to those around her, the changes appeared slowly and subtly.  First, she dyed her hair blonde and fashioned it into the popular bob.  Fine.  Jeffrey could deal with that.  Next, she started wearing brightly colored party dresses at every occasion, however inappropriate.  Then her mannerisms became almost unbearably cheerful and upbeat.  On and on went the metamorphosis until Jeffrey finally realized what she was doing:  Little Maggie Clements from Omaha was doing everything within her power to turn herself into the glamorous and dazzling Doris Day.  Not only did she see every movie that Doris made, including the stinkers, but she even started paraphrasing lines and bits from these movies.  In fact, just yesterday at breakfast, when Jeffrey said he wanted only one piece of toast, she cajoled, “With Six You Get Eggroll!”

As strange as these changes were, Jeffrey could deal with them, because they were happening to cherished members of his family.  His new stepfather, however, was another matter.  A burly hunk of a man, Dirk enjoyed his wife’s new look, assuming she was improving herself for his benefit, and took pride in escorting her to his bowling nights, just to show her off.  Unfortunately, those happy moments were rare.  Exceedingly rare.

Immediately after marrying Maggie, Dirk pulled Jeffrey aside and said, “Look, kid” — Jeffrey was sure Dirk didn’t know his name — “I ain’t your old man, and I don’t wanna be.  He’s dead and buried, six feet under, and the sooner you move on with your life, the better.”  Jeffrey was six at the time.  “And don’t go idolizing your old man neither,” Dirk snarled.  “He was a mean, rotten — I can’t even say it.  But if you don’t watch your P’s and Q’s, you’re gonna be just like him.”  Welcome to the family.

 

That first Christmas with Dirk was the worst.  When Jeffrey’s father was alive, the family would wake up early and run in to see the tree.  The kids could open their stockings, but had to wait for the presents until everyone was up and accounted for.  But Dirk liked to sleep in.  “It’s the one friggin’ day I gets to sleep, and I’m takin’ it.  Anyone who comes near me before ten gets a sock in the eye.”  And so, Jeffrey and his brother in the box sat patiently by the tree for two hours, not touching a thing, until Dirk had risen and had his coffee.

After presents, the boys were used to playing with their new toys for an hour or so until mom had prepared Christmas brunch — a feast for the senses.  But Dirk liked football, and declared that the family eat leftovers in front of the t.v., and stay there until all three games were over.  “I don’t want you kids runnin’ about, yelling your stinking heads off.  I want peace and quiet and — quiet.”

But the best that year was what Dirk had lined up as the piece de resistance.  The creme de la creme.  The ultimate cherry on top for Christmas.  A fun-filled family night at Bowl-a-rama.

 

For these and other reasons, Jeffrey hated Dirk with a passion.  He longed for the day he’d see a policeman walk sadly up to their door with a dripping plunger in his hand.  As Jeffrey played with his toys, he’d come up with countless new and exciting ways for Dirk to die.  He’d tried bows and arrows, Chinese water torture, the rack, bullet between the eyes, cattle stampede, and spontaneous combustion.  Though Jeffrey’s G.I. Joe didn’t seem to enjoy these games, Jeffrey was set and determined to finally rid the world of Dirk Diamond, and make his house a home once again.

Finally, a plan appeared.  He’d come upon the idea at Thanksgiving.  “Miracle on 34th Street” was on television and, as Jeffrey watched little Natalie Wood walk with wonder into the brand new house and spot Santa’s cane, he knew he’d struck gold.  That was it!  Of course!  Why plan and strategize for hours on his own when there was such a simple solution to his pain and suffering?  He’d ask Santa.  Santa would make his dream come true.

 

It was two weeks later — a Tuesday morning — when Jeffrey got his big break.  Packing his brother and box into the car, Jeffrey’s mother turned to him and said, “Santa’s at Gilman’s.  Want to come?”  Jeffrey almost scoffed, feeling too old to sit on Santa’s lap — but then he remembered his plan.

With a whirl he’d gotten his jacket and piled into the back seat beside the box. For once Jeffrey did not pound on Bryan’s box, nor threaten to write rude things over the Bekins label.  He had more important things on his mind.  Much more important.

As the new Doris pulled her two children towards the line of anxious faces, Jeffrey scoped out the competition.  Obviously a train and Mystery Date crowd, though the red headed kid in front of him looked suspiciously like someone who’d typed up his whole list — all eight pages.

With a sigh, Jeffrey tried to relax and arrange in his head the words that would make his fantasy a reality.  He shuffled words and phrases, changed the emphasis of the “please” and “thank you’s”, and generally worked himself into such a state that he was nervous about even spitting the words out.

At last, it was Jeffrey’s turn.  Shyly, he walked towards the old plump gentleman so patiently waiting and was promptly scooped onto Santa’s lap with the help of the antsy little elves.  After obtaining his name and good/bad status, Santa leaned down and asked the all-important question that Jeffrey had been waiting these long weeks to answer.  “And what do you want for Christmas, Jeffrey?”

With a bashful smile, Jeffrey leaned up to the old mans ear and whispered so passionately his request.  Santa sat back for a moment, perplexed, then managed a smile and a pat on the head.  “I hope your Christmas is a merry one, Jeffrey.  You deserve it.”

As Jeffrey ran back to his mother and brother in the box, Santa looked at Maggie with an inviting smile.  “I don’t believe I’ve talked to that little girl yet.”  Jeffrey’s mother turned four shades of red.

“Oh Santa, I’m not–”

“Come on up, little girl, and tell Santa what you want for Christmas.”

After first checking to make sure no one she knew was near, Maggie sat down on Santa’s lap with a giggle.

“I can tell you’ve been a good girl this year.  And such fine sons, too.  But I want to know what you want for Christmas.”

Maggie thought for a minute.  “Just a Touch of Mink.”

“Is that all?  How about a–?”  Santa pulled Jeffrey’s mother close and whispered something to her that was just between them.

Jeffrey leaned forward to hear, but all was lost in the frantic holiday commotion.

 

The next few weeks were filled with fun and frolic, as Jeffrey was able to put his worries aside, knowing that the old man would take care of everything.

And finally, the big day arrived.

Jeffrey woke up with a shout and shook Bryan’s bed.  “Wake up!  Wake up!  It’s Christmas!”

As he shook the bed, he noticed that Bryan’s box was still there, in its place.  And as he raced down the hall for the stairs, he heard the familiar, “Shut up, knucklehead!  I’m tryin’ to sleep!”  And when, in fact, a short time later his mother appeared at the top of those same stairs in her brightly colored party dress, Jeffrey knew in his heart that Santa hadn’t come through.

 

As the presents were unwrapped in their usual fashion, Jeffrey went through the motions, acting as if he was thrilled with the new Bowling set and G.I. Joe’s.  (“I noticed your old ones were a bit worn,” Maggie said with a smile.  “You can do anything you want with these, but Please Don’t Eat the Daisies!”)  Jeffrey tried to smile at his mother’s little joke, after all, she’d been happy with the picture he’d made for her, but his heart wasn’t in it.

Finally, as the rest of the family settled into an afternoon of football and t.v. trays, Jeffrey pleaded sick and went upstairs.

At his window, Jeffrey gazed out sadly on the other boys and girls playing in the fresh snow with their new toys.  They had each gotten everything they had wanted.  Why hadn’t he?

He hadn’t heard the door open, but Jeffrey knew by the scent of her perfume that his mother was by his side.

She reached down and stroked his hair.  “What’re you thinking about?”

“Nothing,” Jeffrey lied.

“You want some food?  Something to drink?”

“No.  I’m fine.  Really.”

Maggie perched next to him, pulling Jeffrey close.  “It was a nice Christmas, huh?”

“Yeah.  Thanks for the toys.  They’re great.”

“Did Santa bring you what you wanted?”

“Just about.”

Eying him fondly, Maggie pulled Jeffrey even closer.

“Did I ever tell you about the cat that barked?”

Jeffrey shook his head no.

“It was a long time ago, when I was a girl.  It was the strangest thing you ever did see.  A neighbor’s cat, actually — not ours.  And it barked.  Not a meow like all the other cats, but a very distinct ‘Ruff!’”

“Like a Dachshund?” Jeffrey asked.

“More like a German Shepherd.  Deep and sort of scary.  In fact, my friends and I would hear that frightening bark, and we’d cross to the other side of the street just to safe.”

“You were scared of a cat?” Jeffrey asked, incredulously.

“Oh yes!  And the other cats were, too.  None of them would go near him, he was so different.”

“So what happened?”

“One day,” Maggie sighed, “I was walking home from school late — I’d been held over by Miss White for talking — and all my friends had already left.  I was all by myself.  And as I came around the corner of my house, I heard it.  The bark.  And it was very, very near.  ‘Ruff, ruff.  Ruff, ruff.’  It got closer and closer and –”

“Did you run?”

“I thought about it.  I may have even turned around in the other direction.  And then it hit me:  it was just a cat with a bark.  No different from any other cat.  Why should I be afraid of it just because it was different?  And so I walked right up to that old barking cat and, ever so nicely, patted it right on the head.  From that day on, he and I were the best of friends.”

“You’re talking about Dirk, aren’t you?”  Jeffrey asked quietly.

“Why would you think that?” Maggie asked, surprised.

“He’s loud, and scary, with a kind of bark.”

“Oh honey,” Maggie laughed, planting a kiss on Jeffrey’s forehead.  “I can see why you think that, but he’s really not such a bad guy.  He acts tough, but –.  Actually, Dirk is just like any of your friends playing out there in the street.”

“No, he’s not.”

“Each one of those kids out there has a bark.  In fact, every person in the whole world has one.  Something that makes us different.  Some of us wear them on the outside, and others of us…  We wear them on the inside.  But everyone gets one.  Just a little something to make us stand out.”

Jeffrey cried out, “But why do we have to stand out so much?  Why can’t we just be normal, like everybody else?”

“Honey, that cat could’ve hidden his bark by not barking.  But he’d still have it.  He may look the same as all the other cats, but whatever he does, he’ll always be different.  So he’d better learn to love that bark.”

“Are you saying I have to love Dirk?  Because I don’t want to.”

“Honey, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want.  Just remember, though, when you’re getting tired of Bryan being in the box, or angry at Dirk, or embarrassed by me –.  Remember that everyone has a little something about them that makes them special.  You may not like their bark.  Or appreciate it.  You may even be afraid of it.  But whatever you do, don’t ask them to stop barking.  Because that barking is what keeps us alive.”

 

After Maggie left, Jeffrey watched the boys and girls playing below and tried to figure out what each’s bark was.  And what was his?  He contemplated this for a while, then, yawning, he stretched out on his bed for a snooze.  And as he did, he had the most wonderful dreams.  They were different dreams than usual.  A mixture of old and new, familiar and fantastical.  Everything, however, was warm and comforting, blending into a swirl of images that felt like family.

As he slept, and as the sun slowly set over the house, Jeffrey dreamt of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, a barking cat that flew high overhead,  a reindeer named Rudolph, and his little brother, sleeping soundly in a box.

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