Friday, August 17, 2012

Christmas Blessings for Natalie

Today, I start a short story. I will post the ending on Sunday, August 19. Leave a quick comment or e-mail me. Let me know if you like the story. It was published in Brio before the Focus on the Family magazine quit publication.

New Christmas Blessings for Natalie

Natalie rushed out of school, the sound of “We wish you a Merry Christmas” still echoing in her ears. She started running. In the background her friend Crystal called her name. She ignored her.
“Why didn’t you answer my prayer?” she called out to God as she raced to her car. “Why did you let my mother die?”
Church services were worse. All her mother’s favorite carols troubled her mind. Her mom should be singing in that choir or delighting the congregation with her rendition of “Holy Night”.
Last year, while her mom sang, Natalie sat with her dad and Jake, her little brother, for the candlelight service. This year her dad refused to go, and Jake stayed with him. Before the choir finished their songs, Natalie stood and dashed down the aisle to her car where she sat behind the wheel until she controlled her tears enough to drive.
More and more she pulled away from people. She refrained from conversation since none of it helped.
Today at school had been the annual Christmas play ending with “We wish you a merry Christmas”. Now, in the background, Crystal stopped calling as Natalie reached her car.
Even starting up her dark blue Accord reminded Natalie of her mother. It had been her mom’s idea to get her a car for her seventeenth birthday so she could drive Jake and herself to and from school. It had been her mom’s idea to look at the Hondas in the first place.
Natalie cringed as she remembered the harsh words to her mother two months ago. That had been the day her dad had driven her mom to get the latest report on her CAT scan. Natalie had
been upset because she had to stay with Jake when she wanted to go shopping with Crystal.
“I always have to stay with Jake!” she had yelled. “It isn’t fair. I want to have a life too.”
How she wished she could take back those words. She would
remember the downcast look on her mother’s face for as long as she lived.
Two days after that day her mother took her aside and explained that the cancer had spread into her brain. She did not have long to live. Twenty-two days later she was gone.
Now Natalie drove to the cemetery as was her custom each day after school. She sat on a bench near her mother’s grave and prayed and talked, feeling sure her mother looked down on her from heaven. The wind chime played a lullaby. It was the only place Natalie felt some peace.
“Lord, why did you have to take my mother? I loved her so much,” Natalie asked again as she did daily without answer.
She noticed a young woman nearby. Natalie watched her as she had on other days bring flowers and stand over a grave in the next section which was known as Baby Land. Now the lady put down a Christmas tree and carefully decorated around the stone. She pulled grass and stuck wire pins into the ground to hold garland around the tombstone. She bowed her head as if to pray. After that, the woman climbed into her car and left.
The sun crawled closer to the ground in the west shooting streaks of pink, orange and purple in its wake. Natalie remained
on the bench longer than she realized. Her father would be home wanting dinner.
At home her father heated cans of soup. His scathing look told his daughter he was unhappy with her late arrival. She quickly set the table and put out crackers and cheese to go with the soup. Tears rolled down Jake’s cheeks as he sat at the table staring at his bowl. Dad ignored him, but Natalie put her arms around her little brother’s shoulders.
“It will be okay,” she lied. It would never be okay again.
Their dad ate his soup in silence, then went to his study. He often brought work home now, shutting himself away for hours.
Her mother would have interrupted her husband, chiding him that this was family time, and he should stop and play a game with Jake or help Natalie with homework. Now he seemed unable to face family life without his wife.
Natalie finished the dishes and went to her room.
Jake poked his head in thirty minutes later. “Can you help me? I don’t understand my math, and I hate to disturb Dad.”
“Sure,” she responded.
“Why does Dad ignore us, Nat?” Jake walked with head down as
he often did these days.
“I guess it’s hard since he misses Mom.” Natalie stood.
“I miss her too.” Jake’s tears started again.
“I know,” Natalie said. “I do too.” She hugged her brother, then walked him into his bedroom.
“Why did Jesus take Mom away?” Jake asked for the hundredth time.
“It is one of those things we can’t understand, Jake.” The statement sounded as trite as when others said it to her.
“There has got to be a reason,” Jake asserted. “Maybe I should go to Sunday school, even if Dad doesn’t, to see if my teacher can explain.”
“Talk to Jesus yourself, Jake. That’s what I do. Maybe you would like to go to the cemetery with me tomorrow.” Strange, she had never thought of inviting her brother to go with her before.
“Yes, I would. Will you take me? Please.” Jake’s eagerness made Natalie understand how she had neglected her brother the way her dad neglected them both. That night for the first time since her mother died, she knelt beside her bed and prayed for Jake, then she also prayed for their dad. Enjoying her prayer more than she had in a long time, she prayed also for the young woman who came to the cemetery every day and visited Baby land.
Next day school was no better. Everyone talked about their Christmas plans. They were shopping, helping their moms cook, or wrapping gifts. Natalie tried to close her ears. No Christmas blessings for her family.
“Why did you run off so fast yesterday?” Crystal asked as she walked down the hall with her friend. “I yelled and yelled.”
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t stand the singing.” Natalie looked over at the girl who had been her best friend since sixth grade. “I had to get away.” She hoped she understood.
“You’ve got to go Christmas shopping with me and my mom this Saturday. Please, please.” Crystal stopped at the classroom where she had math.
“I can’t. There won’t be any shopping for me this year.” She paused, then moved on. “See you later.”
Once again Natalie rushed off. She knew Crystal meant well and sometimes got her feelings hurt, but Natalie couldn’t help it. Why wouldn’t Crystal leave her alone?
“Natalie,” she heard Crystal calling behind her. This time she turned around.
“I’m sorry.” A tear crawled down Crystal’s cheek. “I don’t know what to say. I just want to cheer you. I’m praying for you, and you are my friend. I wanted you to know that.” She turned into her class.
“Thank you,” Natalie murmured. She knew many were praying. When would it help?
Before driving to the cemetery this time, she dropped by the house for Jake. She had wondered if he would remember but knew instantly when he came bounding down the walk to her car. They stopped at a florist to get a Christmas wreath. Natalie arranged it at the top of the temporary stone. The permanent one would not be in for two more weeks.
She looked around after setting up the wreath. Where was Jake? Then, she noticed him in Baby land talking with the woman. She followed him.
“Hi,” Natalie said to the woman she had seen many times, but had never spoken to before today.
“Hello. I’ve seen you here before.” Tears stained the woman’s face as she stood.
“Yes. I’ve seen you here, too.” Natalie almost whispered as she examined tthe words on the stone at the woman’s feet.
The woman followed Natalie’s gaze. “I lost my only child two months ago.”
“Jake and I lost our mother over a month ago,” Natalie said, continuing to look down at the ground.


Moonine Sue Watson said...

Be sure to let me know when the next installment is up because I want to read it. This was very good so far.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Sue. Hope you read the end.