Post by Joanna on Dec 19, 2013 23:42:19 GMT -5
The Perfect Christmas
It had started to snow in mid-afternoon and as I drove toward home, a thin layer of white covered everything and the red and green lights strung across the streets made everything look Christmasy. I loved Christmas and since childhood had imagined the day when I would have a home and children of my own sitting around a brightly burning fire, a huge Christmas tree in the corner decorated with gaily-colored lights of red, green, blue, pink and yellow – not the all-white lights that were currently in vogue.
After high school, I attended college in a neighboring city and although I enjoyed every minute of it and did well, all I ever really wanted was to marry, start a family and have a home of my own. My dream house was an old Victorian mansion, one with a multi-windowed turret in which I would place my Christmas tree.
But occasionally, while imagining Christmas in my sumptuous Victorian manse with my perfect family, reality would creep in and remind me that before any of this could happen, I’d have to find the right man, and the right man for me was one who could afford to provide those perfect Christmases of my imagination.
While in college, I worked summers and some weekends at a flower shop and it was while I was helping set up the floral arrangements in a small church that I met Victor, the funeral director from a neighboring town. The second time I saw him, he asked me out and I accepted. He was handsome, personable and like most undertakers, possessed a wry sense of humor. But best of all, I discovered that not only did he own the funeral home in the next town, which was located in a lovely old Queen Anne house with stained glass windows, his family owned numerous funeral homes in several states. Here was a man who could give me the perfect Christmases I had dreamed of all my life.
Occasionally, I asked myself if I would have found Victor as irresistible had he been a struggling insurance salesman, but I quickly dismissed those thoughts and set out to make him my husband. After all, women in the Victorian era often chose husbands based on the gentleman’s ability to provide, so why shouldn’t I? This is what, in times past, was called a “good marriage.”
Okay, so I wasn’t madly, head over heels in love with Victor, but I liked and respected him and would learn to love him in time. Everyone knew love was fleeting and marriages based on mutual respect lasted longer than those based on love alone.
The following summer, Victor and I were married and I began house-hunting. I found a sublime Victorian house just a few blocks from the funeral home. Granted, it had been empty for several years and wasn’t in the best shape, but it was situated on a large corner lot and there was a small, three-story turret on the side facing the two streets – perfect for a Christmas tree!
We purchased the house and I went to work renovating it. Over the years, I had accumulated a number of books on Victorian décor and I set about returning the wonderful old mansion to its former glory.
By the time Christmas arrived, the several layers of exterior paint had been sandblasted away and the house repainted a light shade of grey with white trim. I knew Victorian homes were often painted darker colors, but lighter colors emphasized the immense size of the house. Most of the downstairs rooms had been renovated and I stood on the sidewalk looking at my perfect Christmas tree twinkling in the turret windows.
Victor wanted to wait a few years for children and I pretended I agreed, however, I began deliberately “forgetting” to take my birth control pills and by the following spring, I was pregnant with our first child. Even though I was due the last week in December, it didn’t slow me down any and I went all out for the Holidays. A photo from that Christmas shows me in a red gown, heavily pregnant, smiling in front of the ornament-laden tree. Allison was born December 31.
Our second daughter, Miranda, was born two years later and our son, Bryan, came along two years after that. So, after just a little more than six years of marriage, I had three wonderful children, my Victorian mansion and every December, we had a perfect Christmas.
Victor sometimes complained that I devoted too much time to the house and children and that we didn’t spend enough time together, but I countered that this was how things were. People married, had children and for the next 18 years, their lives consisted of nothing more than home and family.
The truth was, I didn’t have a lot of time to worry about Victor’s petty complaints because even though I had a woman come in every day to help with the housework and we had a part-time nanny for Miranda and Bryan, there was always too much to do and when I did have extra time, I spent it combing antique shops for the perfect chair, painting or ornament for the upstairs hall or some other part of my home.
One night Victor was late coming home and missed dinner. When I asked why, he mumbled something about visitors staying late at a viewing. After a while, I went into the library to ask if he wanted anything for dinner and as he turned, he accidentally knocked over a drink on the antique mahogany desk and it began dripping onto the Aubusson carpet. I literally ran to the kitchen for a roll of paper towels and began madly wiping and mopping up the mess.
Victor didn’t bother to help. He just stood there watching, finally saying, “Sometimes I don’t know whether to call you Janet or Harriet.”
“Harriet?!” I exclaimed. “Who is Harriet?”
“Didn’t you ever see that old movie Craig’s Wife?” He sounded tired as he turned to leave the room. “If you haven’t, watch it sometime. You might learn something.”
The next day, I stopped at the video store and asked for Craig’s Wife. It wasn’t available, but the manager told me the local library had a lot of “old black and white movies.” But I didn’t have time to go to the library. I still had shopping to do and had to stop at the florist for more balsam fir. I wanted my house to smell Christmasy and with the large rooms and high ceilings, I was going to need more balsam fir.
As the florist, a woman in her 60s, was helping me get my bags of balsam fir sprigs to the car I asked, “Have you ever seen the movie Craig’s Wife?”
“Sure,” she replied, “I think there were two of them, but Rosalind Russell was in one of them.”
“Who was Harriett?” I inquired.
“Oh, she was a woman who didn’t care about anything but her house and the movie ended with her husband and everyone else leaving her.”
Her explanation disturbed me somewhat, but tomorrow night was Christmas eve, the night for which I had been preparing since Thanksgiving.
Christmas Eve at last and it was already dark when I turned into the driveway of my flawless house, but instead of going inside immediately, I walked out to the sidewalk and just stood there gazing at the lights of my perfect tree twinkling in the turret windows. I turned to look at the other homes on my block and some were nicely decorated, but none was as tasteful or inviting, or said “Christmas” like mine. I had never felt happier in my life.
Beyond my perfect tree, I caught a glimpse of my three perfect children sitting on the sofa. My two daughters were wearing the red velvet dresses I had bought for them and my son was quite the little man in his suit and bow tie. When I noticed Allison was holding a dark-haired doll, one of her gifts she wasn’t supposed to have opened until Christmas morning, I was slightly agitated, but I could forgive her this tiny transgression ... just as I could forgive Miranda and Bryan for the half-opened presents lying beside them on the sofa ... the dark green velvet sofa complemented the Christmas setting and added to the general ambience of the room. But why were they so still? They must have heard my car and were posing for me like the perfect little angels they were.
I couldn’t wait to join them as I almost ran toward the door. Then I stopped. Here I was in a sweater and pants. I needed to change. I hurried round to the side door and up the back stairway to my room where I quickly changed into a bright green floor-length dress I had purchased weeks ago with this very night in mind. I ran my fingers through my hair to make it look fuller, powdered my nose and applied a darker shade of lipstick before rushing downstairs to join my family.
When I came to the pocket doors to the living room, I stopped. Something wasn’t right. I could swear the children hadn’t moved an inch since I saw them through the window 15 minutes before. Of course, they were playing a trick on me! I stepped into the room and started toward them, when I heard something behind me, turned, and there in the darkness of the hall stood my husband.
“Welcome home, Janet,” he said as he reached to take my arm. “Let me escort you into your perfect room so that you can join your perfect family around your perfect Christmas tree.” His voice was hollow, devoid of emotion. “Perhaps I should have placed Miranda in the middle instead of Bryan,” he mumbled. “Oh, well, I can rearrange them ...."
Something was wrong. I pulled away and rushed toward the sofa. “What is wrong with my children?” I screamed.
“They’re dead, Janet, and you’re about to join them!" he explained as he removed a red cord from his pocket and held it taut between his hands as he came toward me. The last thing he said before I lost consciousness was "Merry Christmas!"