TOUCANS & REINDEER • by Chella Courington

My mother would start unpacking the Christmas decorations on what we now call Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving when shoppers stampede stores.) The smell of leftover turkey still permeated our house as she filled the air with a regular rotation of Andy Williams, Perry Como and Burl Ives: “A Holly Jolly Christmas” was especially irritating. Santa’s elves and reindeer would appear on the mantel and coffee table. Even a ceramic reindeer head above the toilet in the guest bathroom. At each window sill she arranged angel hair around an electric candle switched on every afternoon at 4 and off at 8 the next morning. A tiny porcelain Jesus lay in a tiny wooden manger in the dry sink next to the front door. Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and the donkey stood to the side. Straw scattered far and wide. Hanging from the top of doorways was mistletoe tied together with red ribbon. No one could enter or exit without a sloppy kiss from the nearest reveler.

There seemed no escape from Mother’s holiday house of bliss.

By Christmas Eve when friends came to celebrate, I was overwhelmed, my ears stuffed with Charmin to deaden the music. The Fraser Fir, with strands of shriveling cranberries and popcorn, was beginning to drop some of its needles. A sure sign that our tree had been cut too long. Yet the red and green lights were flashing. In her crimson velvet dress with a furry white collar, Mother brought out the honey-glazed ham and placed it in the center of the sideboard. Flanked by sweet potato casserole and green beans on the left, cranberries and cornbread dressing on the right. After the feast we would be expected to play musical chairs then travel house-to-house, singing carols together.

But the holiday changed when the new boy with luscious lips like Ricky Nelson handed me dried cannabis wrapped in candy cane paper. We escaped to the attic, leaving behind a flurry of festivity. I had no idea what lay ahead — hours waiting for consonants and vowels to catch an upward drift and tumble down before I took another drag, holding the smoke so long I thought I heard toucans screech from the den below. Their big green beaks tipped in red. My science teacher said they were tissue thin on the outside. Though inside, honeycombs of bone. Ridges and hollows of white calcium twirling into a playground of hexagons for no one except me and the luscious boy on Christmas Eve.

Chella Courington is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous anthologies and journals including Spillway, Lavender Review, and the Los Angeles Review.

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