Jimmy Alstrup's Christmas
By: Dev Jarrett
The child sits on the cracked linoleum of the kitchen floor, pushing a found Matchbox car around intently. Its paint is scabrous, flaked off, and shaking patches of bare metal in several places. The wheels are splayed out on tiny bent axles. He doesn't see the car as pitiful, or broken down. Concentration purses his lips. He may see the magnificent Jimmy Alstrup, winning his next big race, or the super spy James Alstrup, escaping with the enemy plans in his sleep sports car, or Officer Jim Alstrup, catching up with the crime boss responsible for the terror in the city streets. The boy growls the sounds of a speeding muscle-car, but not very loudly, because his mother is asleep in the next room.
The boy gets up from the floor, and steals silently across the kitchen on sock feet. He peers into the bedroom. The boy's mother is asleep, curled under thick blankets. Even in her dreams, her face is grim and gray. Her doughnut shop uniform is on a hanger hooked over the doorknob. The pink and white dress smells greasy and sugary. He looks at his mother intently, and the lines of care that furrow his brow look especially sad on such a young face.
Behind him, suddenly, the front door of the trailer opens. It is Ray, home from work. Ray is heavyset and pale, with slicked-back brown hair and a thin moustache. His faded coveralls are grease-stained and beginning to unravel at the cuffs, and his leather toolset creaks when he moves.
Unlike Jimmy, Ray makes no effort to be quiet. The steps of his heavy workbooks reverberate through the entire trailer as he walks six feet, from front door to living room sofa. The windows rattle with each step, and the trailer shifts on its moorings slightly. He inhales, unbuckles his tool belt, and sighs as he relaxes his waist. The tool belt crashes as it falls, half on the floor, half on a week-old newspaper. He looks at Jimmy, a mean smile on his thin lips. He sits on the sofa heavily, putting his gigantic work-boots up on the green pleather ottoman. Two words are scrawled across their soles - "FUCK" and "YOU." The penmanship is that of a gifted four-year-old.
"Boy, is your momma awake?"
"Well wake her fat ass up. I'm starvin.'"
Jimmy walks into the bedroom and whispers as he gently shakes his mother's shoulder. She comes awake slowly, her eyes blinking as she tries to focus.
"Mom, Ray's home."
Her eyes flick to the clock, then back to Jimmy.
"He's early. Oh, God."
The last time Ray had been sent home early it had been because of a fight. He'd been sent home with bruised knuckles and docked pay, but the other man had been sent to the hospital. He'd nearly lost his job, but the other employees spoke up for him. Maybe the other guy had thrown the first punch. Then again, maybe Ray told them that if they didn't say so, he'd give them worse.
Jimmy's mother, Beth, puts her slippers on and scuffs into the kitchen.
"You're home early."
"What happened?" Her voice sounds tired. There's dread there, but most is overlaid with resignation. She takes a dinner from the freezer, stabs a few holes in the cellophane with a fork, and sticks it in the microwave. The microwave groans softly as the dinner cooks.
Ray, who is not Jimmy's father, leaves her question unanswered.
Just to the left of the sofa is a dorm-room sized refrigerator. Because of its size, it is never referred to as a refrigerator. Just a fridge. Ray keeps this, despite the fact that it has not been plugged into an outlet in years, to hold his beer. He brags at work that he has a wet bar in the living room, but never invites any of his coworkers to the house. The tiny fridge had no shelves in it, and the ripper drawer in the bottom has been removed. Bottles of beer, laid on their sides, are stacked inside the fridge. The beer carries various labels. One of the tasks with which Best is charged is keeping the fridge fully stocked. Ray opens the door to the fridge and pauses for a moment before slamming it shut.
"Beth, get in here."
'In here,' in reality, is merely euphemism. Though Beth is in the kitchen, she is only ten feet away from Ray, and fully in sight. Beth, however, does move around the kitchen counter and stands before Ray. There is nervousness in her eyes.
Ray reopens the fridge. He looks at Beth.
"You didn't get the beer."
The fridge is stocked, significantly. It is approximately two-thirds full. It is, however, Friday. Given the rate of Ray's beer consumption, he will hit the bottom of the fridge sometime Sunday afternoon. The accusation hangs between them.
Beth looks back into the kitchen, at Jimmy, then back at Ray. Her voice takes on a pleading, wheedling quality.
"Ray, I was just thinking..."
"Aw, shit, who told you you could do that?"
"Well, come on, Ray, it's Christmas. I was going to use the money for something for Jimmy."
"It's Christmas, huh?"
"Tonight. I was going to go get him something as soon as you got home. Just something small."
"Well, goddamn. Christmas." He smiles. "Santa-fuckin'-Claus is comin' to town."
Ray's tone of voice is like the rattle on a snake's tail. It is a warning. Beth turns to Jimmy, whose Matchbox car, holding the famous stung driver Jimbo Alstrup, is now driving straight up the leg of a kitchen chair.
"Jimmy, go on back to your room." Her voice cracks a little. He promptly follows her directions, closing the door behind him. The yelling and the crashing around start almost immediately afterward. The sounds ostensibly blocked by the closed door and the intervening wall are quite loud, and Jimmy hears every abusive syllable.
"I fuckin' told you to keep the fuckin' beer stocked!"
Crash. Thump. Thump. The tinkle of broken glass.
"Now look what you made me do, you stupid bitch!"
Crash. Slam. Crash. The thud of a punch.
"Now take the goddamn money, go to the goddamn store, and get my goddamn beer!"
"But what about Christmas?" Her voice is full of tears.
"Fuck Christmas! Fuck Santa! And fuck you!"
Jimmy sits on his hands, helpless. His lips are pursed, with the corners turned down. He hears the door open and close, the drum of his mother's feet on the steps, and the car starting outside. Under his right leg, he holds the toy car painfully in one fist.
To no one, he says, "I don't even want anything for Christmas. I only want Mommy to stop hurting."
He stays in his room. Tears dry on his cheeks.
A short while later, he hears the car return. The creak of the stairs, then the thump of the front door, and then quiet. Scary quiet. The only sound is the clink of beer bottles as his mother stacks the new bottles on top of the old ones in the fridge. He doesn't hear Rays' voice at all.
His mother comes to his room some time later, bearing two microwave dinners. She sits on the bed beside him, and they eat in silence. Jimmy looks at his mother as she chews. He sees the purple swelling beneath her left eye and knows what happened. Again.
His mother sees him looking at her face, and turns away. She puts her fork down in the tray and holds his hand.
"It's going to be okay, honey."
He squeezes her hand in acknowledgement, and soon she goes back out to the living room and kitchen. She will not come back to his room again tonight. If she were to do so, it would cause another outburst from Ray. She's not yet ready for him again.
Jimmy plays quietly, the toy car rolling deftly over every hill and hummock of bedsheets, an unstoppable juggernaut. Eventually, though, his eyes begin to wobble. He silently sneaks out of his room, into the bathroom. Just as silently, he creeps back. The volume of the television covers the sounds he makes. He climbs into his bed, covers up with his sheet and blankets, and grabs his toy car. He closes his eyes, and sleeps.
Sometime later, Jimmy wakes in the dark in response to some furtive sound. There are no television sounds, but there are sounds of movement. He tiptoes to his bedroom door, opens it, and whispers down the hall.
More tentatively, "Ray?"
Still no answer.
Jimmy steals down the hall, and peers around the corner into the living room.
A man, huge, in a red jacket, has his back to Jimmy, is fiddling with something in front of him. It is a sack. A gigantic brown leather duffel. The man turns as he swings the enormously heavy sack onto his back, and he sees Jimmy. He has white hair, a short white beard, and a smile. The smile does not look very happy. It looks, in fact, rather grim.
"Jimmy Alstrup," Santa says, as if tasting his name for niceness or naughtiness. He holds out his hand, offering Jimmy a tiny parcel. Jimmy takes it.
"Merry Christmas, young man."
Jimmy opens the wrapping paper. Inside is a brand new Matchbox car, its paint bright orange and shiny.
"Tell your Mom I said 'Merry Christmas' to her, too."
Santa smiles that grim smile again, and Jimmy sees what is sticking out of the top of his sack.
The soles of them say "FUCK" and "YOU."
About the author:
Dev Jarrett is a writer, a father, a husband, and a career soldier. He spent the first twenty-two years of his life in Georgia, and the most recent twenty-three everywhere else. He's a Chief Warrant Officer 4 in the US Army currently stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
During the day, he is a 352N and works tirelessly to defeat terrorists. He's deployed numerous times to garden spots like Camp Buehring (in Kuwait), and Kandahar Air Base and Bagram Air Base (both in Afghanistan).
During the night, the other kind of monsters come out. Those unkillable kind of monsters that drink your fear and live in the darkest corners of your mind. The kind that live on blood and human flesh. The ones you can't protect your children from.
He's had many short stories published, both online and in print, and his newest novels Dark Crescent, Casualties, and Little Sister are available now from Permuted Press. His first novel, Loveless, is available through your favorite online retailer or directly from Blood Bound Books.
You can usually find Dev online on Facebook, Twitter, and (if you want to see the gory details) here.