When I consider how my sight is spent, full half the day searching the web world-wide, t' inspire hands with new skills, which, if applied might cheer eyes, warm the cold, or save a cent, or seeking books, wholesome entertainment, or learning tunes, for which my spirit sighed; how, with corrective lenses now denied, shall time to serve and improve self be spent? Methinks I need to look beyond my nose, beyond my needles, pages with type set, recall the feel of earth beneath my toes, prepare the ground for seeds, though it's so wet. I pray the lenses soon will be restored, but I will dig the dirt (dust be ignored).
Hooray! My new glasses came! I can post this without zooming in 500 times, and still getting a headache. And my peas are already sprouting. Apologies to John Milton, whose gift and trial were so much greater.
At 15, my son seems rather young to be so full of wisdom, and to have it forcibly removed. But, alas, that is how we spent this morning. He seems to be taking it well, but if there were any gems of knowledge in his babbling on the way home, I didn't catch them.
What sharp eyes it takes
to achieve a chic so shabby--
such sharp claws to simulate
so much distress
in so short a time.
And what sharp teeth
could really sink
into this vintage chair?
It doesn't suit me,
I prefer the sleek look
of the hunter's lodge.
What big guns he has!
Pippa finished the jig with a flourish and raised her bow in the air. Its tip tapped the dingy rafter above her, and she hastily lowered it. But she smiled and bowed, along with Rosalind and Leo, as the audience clapped and whistled. "Thank you! Thank you!" Pippa called out, flushed with the thrill of a well-played set. She caught a meaningful glance from Leo. "And good night!"
"What, already?" The landlord stepped forward as the performers filed off the stage. "'Taint even midnight. They was just gettin' warmed up."
Leo brushed past the man, latching his lute case. Rosalind stopped, smoothing a stray lock of blond hair behind her ear. "Sorry, sir. Band policy."
"But . . ."
Rosalind shrugged, taking her flute apart. The landlord stepped back on the stage, facing the already grumbling crowd. "One more round of applause for Leo and the Nightmares! And anyone for one more round?" A stale bun bounced off the wall behind him, and he quickly stepped down.
"It's all for the best, sir." Pippa settled her fiddle and stood up. "You really want this rabble here all night? Turn 'em out and get yourself some sleep."
The landlord sighed. "Very well. Meg'll show you to your room."
"Thank you kindly, but we can't take one of your fine rooms. Save them for your paying guests," Rosalind said.
"But that's what's done! I give you room and board, you play your tunes and attract custom."
"It's all right, we'll take coin instead," said Rosalind.
"And breakfast," added Pippa.
The landlord buried his face in his hands, his business model overturned by some upstart young minstrels. Thinking of a loophole, he looked up, but they were gone.
Pippa and Rosalind scurried to the stable and ducked into an empty stall.
"Whew," said Rosalind, pulling off her boots. "I thought he'd never let us go."
Pippa buried her fiddle case in the manger, and sneezed. "Unlike old Count Droopy-Jowls, who couldn't wait for us to leave."
"I think we've improved a lot since then." Rosalind folded her dress and placed it in a clean corner. "If we played for the Count again, he wouldn't even recognize us."
"Except for the name he gave us." Pippa sneezed again. She selected a comb from the tack wall and blew out the lantern before dashing back to the stall and undressing herself. "Do you think he'd remove the curse?"
Rosalind untied her braid and shook out her hair. She shrugged, stretched, and whinnied. Pippa had seen her sister's body transform into a beautiful palomino every night for months, but she still wondered: Why does she go first?
After another sneeze, Pippa had completed her own transformation. She was able to understand Rosalind again.
"--not so bad, really," Rosalind was saying.
"There are advantages," Pippa agreed, and took a deep breath through her enlarged nostrils. "It cures my hay fever, every night." She kicked the comb toward Rosalind's head. "And I can grow my own bow-hair. Would you mind combing the loose hairs from my tail?"
"I think I have some, too," Rosalind nickered before grasping the comb with her teeth.
"I think we could use this more to our advantage, though." Pippa pawed at the floor as Rosalind combed her. "We could travel so much faster if we went at night, as horses. Then we could play in more towns, get paid more often. Why won't Leo let us?"
Rosalind dropped the comb. "It's hard on him, being the big brother and the only one who doesn't change."
"We're strong enough to carry the bags and Leo. He hardly touches his food anymore. He can't be that heavy."
"Leo needs his beauty sleep." Rosalind snorted. "And so do I."
Pippa combed Rosalind's tail next, and could tell her sister was dropping off to sleep. But when she set the comb aside, full of useful hairs, Pippa felt wide awake. And curious. Where did Leo spend the nights, anyway? He wouldn't take a room in any inn, and he never came to the stables with the girls. She decided to take a trot around the village.
Pippa searched high and low, but didn't see any sign of her brother in the village. She checked the surrounding fields, stopping for the occasional mouthful of clover, then decided to venture into the wilds. The full moon cast plenty of light, enough to show that her brother was nowhere to be found.
The moon was sinking, and Pippa's eyes were growing bleary, when she finally spotted a figure on the ground. The moonlight threw the man's face into shadow, but glinted off the strings of a lute. It had to be Leo. She studied him for a moment. It might be nice, sleeping out here under the stars. He certainly looked peaceful enough. Did he just need some alone time, away from greedy landlords and drunken villagers and nightmarish sisters?
Pippa was about to wake Leo and ask, then remembered that he wouldn't understand a word she said. Dawn was coming soon, and with it, her re-transformation; she should return to the stable. But something caught her eye as she turned away, and she froze, one hoof in the air.
An enormous lion padded out from behind a boulder. His sleek mane shone in the moonlight, but blood stained his chin. The lion strode silently, straight to Leo's sleeping form.
Pippa couldn't help it. She screamed, her horse-voice full of terror. The lion lifted his head, looking at her with sorrowful eyes. Pippa wheeled about and galloped back to the inn.
The lion sighed. He had tried so hard not to frighten anyone.
He reached across the still body and strummed the lute strings with one great claw. He couldn't really play it, though, not like this. Which was probably the worst part of the Count's curse. Leo stretched his four legs and settled down, hoping for a catnap before the dawn came, when he would reinhabit his human body.
Then, it seemed, he'd have to do some explaining to his sisters.
"Can I help you, son?"
"Uh, yes, sir. I missed my grandmother's funeral--"
The undertaker raised a disapproving eyebrow.
"I was deployed, sir," Nick explained. "And now I want to pay my respects."
The undertaker whipped out his phone, and started scrolling through a list. "Well, then, what was her name?"
"Poole, Poole . . . Oh, yes! Come this way."
They walked along the path between plots of close-clipped grass.
"She's the first in a new section we've opened. Your grandmother was a very progressive woman."
Nick chuckled. "That she was. Always excited about new things. We used to call her Grandma Gadget."
"I think you'll like this, then. Right over here."
A shiny black headstone stood apart from the mottled granite memorials. Nick thought back to his geology merit badge training. "Is that obsidian?"
"Even better. It's interactive." The undertaker brushed the blank stone with a long finger, and words appeared on it.
"It's a screen?"
"It's a beauty, isn't it? Solar powered, with very efficient storage batteries. Sealed tight against rain, extreme temperatures, impact, and hacking. Go on, touch the menu."
Nick crouched before the screen and chose the slideshow. Black-and-white images of solemn faces crossed the screen. He sat, entranced, watching his grandmother grow from a long-gowned infant to a smiling bride, to a colorful grandmother. "Hey, that's me! What a family reunion. Grandma was so excited about her new GPS that she forgot the hot dogs . . . "
When the slideshow ended, Nick chose the genealogy button. He watched a pedigree tree grow from his grandmother's name, in both directions. "Cool."
"Some of my colleagues are offering similar information through a QR code etched on a regular headstone, but how long is that technology going to be in use? I prefer this self-contained unit. And here's the best part." The undertaker pointed to a menu entry. "Personal messages from the deceased."
"Really?" Nick chose his name from the list of grandchildren. His grandmother's face appeared. She looked older than he remembered, but still had a gleam in her eye.
"Oh, Nicholas, I am so proud of you. You've always been brave and true in your service. I'm just glad you're listening to this message before you meet me on the other side. Now that you're back, I hope you'll find a nice girl and settle down, stop worrying your poor mother. You're a good boy, Nick. I love you."
The undertaker looked back at the cemetery's flagpole as the Nick blotted his face with his sleeve. Nick cleared his throat and stood up.
"Did you, uh, record this?"
"Yes, right there in my office. When the iStones catch on more, I hope to build a proper recording studio. But, except for your impressive grandmother, such things mostly appeal to the young. And the young tend not to plan this far ahead."
"That's for sure. I joined the Marines, did all the training, went to Afghanistan. I never thought I could actually die. Until my buddy was gone. None of us did."
The undertaker handed Nick a tissue. Nick blew his nose loudly.
"Do you have a card or something, sir? I know a few guys who might be more interested in planning ahead now."
"Of course. I'll go fetch you some flyers." The undertaker strode back to his office.
Nick settled down in front of the stone again. He scrolled through the menu. There were messages for his Grandpa, his mother and her siblings, all his cousins. And more. He picked the "Minister" entry. "Thanks for all your support, Randall. You've been a good shepherd. But don't forget, I wrote the best church newsletters this congregation has ever read. They'd better give me a big vote of thanks. And I'll be rolling in my grave, right here, if you let Doris Howard get her hands on the newsletter. She'll make everything rhyme, and she can't even spell 'Deuteronomy.' You listen to me, Randall . . ."
Nick snorted. That was the way he remembered his grandmother. He scrolled past messages for the doctor and the paperboy, the piano tuner and even a favorite librarian. Then Nick's eyes widened. He knew it wasn't his business, but he couldn't ignore the category "Old Boyfriends." He picked the name Willie Gottlieb. "Oh, Willie, you came! You always were a sweet one. All my best to Janice and the kids."
Well, that was nice, Nick thought. He tried Lee Rutter. "How dare you darken my grave, Lee Rutter! You still can't leave a girl alone! Get thee hence, you--"
Nick hastily stopped the message and sat back. Leave it to Grandma, he thought. Who else would cast the first iStone?
reached into the back corner of the closet. She stood on her toes
and tugged with her fingers, and finally the box came free. She
carefully pulled it out and stepped down from the chair. The last
box. She hoped it was the one she wanted.
she set it next to the other boxes on the floor, Lisa heard little
feet coming down the hall. Was naptime over already?
I waked up,” Josh announced. “What’s in the boxes?”
followed his brother on loyal little legs. “Peasants?” he
not presents. Just some things we haven’t unpacked yet.”
peered into one box and pulled out a tiny sweater. “Whose is
used to wear that when you were a baby. And so did Caleb. Put it
toddled over to Lisa and patted her belly. “Baby.”
the new baby will wear it, too. But not for a while.”
was already investigating the clothes in another box. “Did I wear
pulled a skirt out of a third box, and knitted his blond brows
together. “I wear this?”
wore that before you were a baby, and hopes she’ll be able to wear
it again someday.” Lisa sighed, and refolded the skirt. “Anyway,
I’m not looking for clothes right now. I’m–no, don’t touch
swung Caleb away from the box containing the equipment and remnants
from her stained glass class. Someday she’d get back to that
again, too, but it was not a safe hobby to practice with toddlers in
are you looking for?” Josh asked.
I’ve looked through all the boxes but this one. Shall we see
what’s inside?” Lisa picked up her scissors and slit the tape.
Her heart thumped with anticipation. The bright colors, the familiar
shapes, must be right there beneath her fingers. She opened the
Kevin’s college notes. No wonder the box was so heavy.
little boys looked inside. “No Kiss-miss?” Caleb stuck out his
sank to the floor. “No. The movers must have left my box of
ornaments in Grandma’s garage.” She wiped a tear from her eye.
wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “It’s okay, Mommy. Come
on, Caleb. Let’s play trains.”
Caleb hooted as the boys pattered back to their room.
knew she should put away the boxes and prepare the room for guests.
But she felt drained after her fruitless search. She went downstairs
for a glass of water, hoping Kevin would be home soon to help with
looked around the small living room. It was comfortable, but not
very festive. She had hoped to be all ready for Christmas before
Kevin’s parents came to visit. She’d bought the groceries and
done most of the cleaning. But Kevin had been working late, training
for his new job. He was too tired to decorate when he came home.
They had not even bought a tree.
brightened. Maybe Kevin’s parents could find the box of ornaments
and bring it along tomorrow. She gave them a call.
answer. They must be still at work. Lisa left a message, and hung
up with a little more hope.
had been a blessing to live with Kevin’s folks, Dale and Donna.
They had invited the young family to stay after Kevin graduated, just
until he found a good job. The few weeks he expected had turned into
two years, though, as Kevin applied for position after position. He
worked some odd jobs during that time, and played with the little
boys, but he’d spent more and more time grumbling about the economy
and playing video games. Lisa was grateful that they’d had a
comfortable place to live all that time. They’d never gone hungry.
But she knew her husband hated depending on his parents.
was thrilled when Kevin was hired. Lisa loved the fresh sparkle in
his eye, his new sense of purpose and responsibility. She also
looked forward to setting up their own home, having their own space,
and starting their own traditions.
the moving van rolled away, scattering the fallen leaves, Donna
pulled Kevin into a tight squeeze. “We’ll miss you so much, but
we’re so proud of you.”
right.” Dale gave Josh a tickle before buckling him into his car
seat. “But you’ll be back for Christmas, won’t you?”
looked at Kevin with concern. His parents’ Christmas celebrations
were too glitzy for her taste.
won't earn much leave by then,” Kevin said. “We’ll probably be
staying in our new home.”
breathed a small sigh of relief as she buckled her own safety belt.
we’ll come visit you,” Dale declared.
bet,” Donna agreed. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without a child
in the house!”
waved as he drove the car away, but Lisa felt frozen.
had some time to thaw over the past couple of months, and had
determined to show her in-laws a Christmas her
way. A nice dinner on Christmas day, not a Christmas Eve
extravaganza. Homemade cookies. Singing carols around the–well,
someday she’d get a piano. Singing carols around the CD player,
then. And a real tree. A small one, to be sure. Expense and living
room space dictated that. But she looked forward to arranging her
small collection of ornaments on a sweet-smelling fresh tree. Lisa
closed her eyes, imagining the aroma.
the conquering hero!”
eyes flew open as the front door slammed. Little feet pounded down
the stairs, and cries of “Daddy!” filled the air. Lisa struggled
up from the couch.
swung the two boys into the living room, then caught Lisa in a hug.
“I’ve completed my certification. I'll meet my first client
gave him a kiss. “That’s wonderful, dear,” she said. “Oh,
look at the time. I haven’t started dinner yet.”
big deal,” Kevin said. “Let’s pick something up on the way.”
the way to where?” Josh asked.
buy a Christmas tree.”
and the boys cheered, and the family piled into the car. After
supplying everyone with hamburgers and fries, Kevin drove straight to
the tree stand in the mall’s parking lot. The brightly colored
lights turned off as they approached. Kevin stepped out to talk to a
man who was sweeping pine needles.
sold out, sir,” Lisa heard him say. “They went fast this year.
You could try the supermarket, or the lot on Old Holly Road.”
were no trees left at the supermarket, either. Lisa and Kevin had
different ideas about how to find Old Holly Road, and it took them a
while to reach it. When they finally found the tree lot there, it
was empty, too.
this is why Mom and Dad use a fake tree,” Kevin said, leaning on
the steering wheel. “Is it normal to run out the day before
don’t think so,” Lisa answered. “Where I grew up, most lots
had a few scraggly trees left even after Christmas.”
Well, we’d better take the kiddos home.” Kevin nodded at the
boys. They were asleep in their car seats, and Caleb was losing his
grip on a handful of fries.
helping Lisa set up the guest room, Kevin spent most of Christmas Eve
shopping. Lisa wondered if he would come home with a fake tree. If
he did, she’d be stuck with it, probably forever. Ugh. But having
no Christmas tree would be worse.
tried not to think about it as she rolled out sugar cookie dough.
She helped Caleb wield a star-shaped cookie cutter with his pudgy
fingers. Josh cut out a cookie and held it up. “Is this what our
tree will look like?” he asked. He wiggled the tree shape until it
broke and fell to the counter, leaving just the point in his hand.
so.” Lisa squished the dough together and rolled it out so Josh
could try again.
we put up a 'table?” he asked.
is the table.”
a Christmas 'table.”
frowned, trying to read Josh's mind. “Oh.” She remembered that
Dale built an elaborate train set on the coffee table each Christmas.
“You mean like Grandpa's? We don't have anything like that.”
slid the cookie sheet into the oven, and the front door opened.
look,” Kevin called, sweeping past with something held behind his
covered his eyes with his hands. Caleb put his hands on his own
face, but missed one eye.
you bring a tree, Daddy?” Josh shouted.
looked around the corner. “No, but I have an idea. Come here,
kiddos.” They followed him to the living room, and he shut the
finished baking the cookies and started some soup for dinner. A pair
of headlights swept up the driveway as she stirred. Donna's sweater
sparkled as she came through the door. “Merry Christmas Eve, Lisa,
honey,” she said with her usual broad smile.
followed her inside, carrying a box. “We couldn’t find your box,
Lisa, but we thought you might like these.” He set the box on the
face fell as she looked inside. Instead of the treasures her own
grandparents had sent each year, or the cute ornaments her crafty
aunts had made, there were packages of silver bells, violet balls,
strings of blue lights, and a huge silver star. They had never been
can’t use these.”
you can! We bought them all on clearance last January,” Donna said
with a wink.
we don’t have a tree.”
kitchen door opened. “Yes, we do,” said Kevin. “Come see.”
little boys rushed at their grandparents, who paused for hugs and
tickles. Kevin took Lisa by the hand and led her to the living room.
On the floor she saw that a large moving box had been cut in the
shape of a fir tree. The boys had obviously been coloring it, with
large swathes of green ink and little patches of green crayon.
came to Lisa’s eyes. Kevin put his arm around her. “It doesn't
smell great, but I think we can have some fun with it. Okay?”
wiped her eyes and smiled. “I’ll go find the construction
supper, Kevin led the way to the living room, flexing his muscles.
“So, I cut this tree myself, and hauled it all the way from the
shed with my bare hands. Let's dress it up.”
frowned. “That's not a tree. That's a tree by-product.”
producing some decorations for it, then.”
chuckled. “I'm no artist. You kids go ahead without me.”
help you.” Josh handed his grandfather a piece of orange paper.
“Draw around my hand, Grandpa.”
too,” insisted Caleb, and the decorating began.
snipped lacy snowflakes to tape to the cardboard tree. Lisa tied
yarn into bows. The boys colored their handprints, then drew stars,
train engines, and more abstract shapes.
traced his own hand, colored it like a turkey, and cut it out, too.
“I call it, 'Self-Portrait,'” he said, taping it onto the tree.
rolled her eyes. “That's you, all right. Full of stuffing and
searched the Internet for origami instructions, and busied himself
with sheets of aluminum foil. He showed Lisa his creations.
cranes?” she asked.
grinned. “Silver swans a-swimming.”
the flat tree was covered with colorful, fanciful, utterly original
certainly is unique,” Donna said, surveying their work. “I'll
never forget this little tree.”
will I,” Lisa agreed. “But how will it stand up?”
it covered,” said Kevin. “Make me another big bow, will you?”
He looped some yellow yarn through a hole near the point of the tree.
After attaching Lisa's bow, he hung the loop on a hook in the
ceiling. The cardboard tree dangled, swinging slightly in the breeze
from the heating vent.
it's a very pretty Christmas tree,” Lisa said, hugging her sons,
“though I feel like I've forgotten to do something.” She yawned.
about a 'table?” Josh asked.
tree is just fine this way,” Kevin declared, “and you're tired.
Go ahead and get the boys into their pajamas. I'll take care of the
woke with a start. “Did you hear that?” Kevin
did not respond. How could he not hear it? Lisa shook his shoulder.
“Kevin, what's that sound?”
rolled over and grunted at the darkness. “Huh?”
rustling sound. Listen.” Lisa sat up, heart pounding. “There's
a light on, too.”
raised himself up on one elbow. “I doubt our presents would
attract burglars,” he said.
“Well, probably not.”
The gifts they had set out, after tucking the boys in, made a pretty
bet it's Mom and Dad, sneaking some more packages downstairs. Go
back to sleep.” He rolled over again.
lay down, breathing deeply, willing her heart to stop racing.
woke again to the sound of giggling. Weak sunlight glowed around the
edges of the window blinds.
sat up. “It must be Christmas morning,” he said, grinning.
pulled on her robe and headed for the boys' room. “I wish your dad
wouldn't tickle the boys awake.”
was already awake, weren't you, little man?” Dale laughed along
with the toddler.
Kiss-miss, Mommy!” Caleb called when he caught his breath.
Christmas, sweetie. But where's Josh?”
dunno.” Caleb collapsed in a fresh round of giggles.
walked down the hall to the guest room. “Josh, are you bothering
put down her magazine. “He's no bother, but he isn't in here.”
grabbed handfuls of her own hair. “Where's Josh?”
looked out of the boys' room, surprised. “What do you mean?”
isn't there, he isn't here.” Frantic, she hugged herself. “I
last night. Maybe someone took
put one hand on Lisa's shoulder, and smoothed her hair with the
other. “Calm down, Lisa. He's
probably getting a head start on the presents. Let's
take a look
and his grandparents followed silently
as Kevin led Lisa down the stairs. At the bottom, sheclosed her eyes, afraid of
what she might see. Kevin stepped out into the living room.
he returned and took Lisa's hand. “Come and see,” he said
quietly. Lisa let out the breath she was holding, and followed him.
gifts had not been disturbed, but there was a mess beneath
the dangling cardboard tree. Josh lay curled there
in a nest of crayons. Lisa
dropped to his side, giving his round cheek a grateful kiss. Josh's
blue eyes opened in the pale morning
are you doing down here?” she asked. “You gave me such a
looked surprised. “Sorry, Mommy. In the night I waked up, and I
made the 'table
you forgot. Look.” He
pointed to a folded piece of cardboard, standing
near the trunk of the swinging tree. Lisa picked it up.
crayon marked walls and a roof. A
yellow star with eight or nine points shone at the top. Smiles
split the round faces of three figures within—one
wearing blue, with long hair, one with a pointy brown beard, and a
small one between them, balanced on an X. Curly-hided
animals stood nearby, smiling, too.
stable. You're right, that's just what we need.” Lisa wiped her
knelt down next to her, and pointed reverently
to the central figure in the
sat on the couch, sipping hot chocolate. She watched as Dale chased
Josh through a tunnel of empty moving
boxes. She leaned her head
on her husband's shoulder. “The boxes were a great idea, dear.”
Kevin grinned. Dale poked his
head through a window in one box. “They're just like you. No
matter what we gave you,
you'd just play with the boxes.” Then he roared, and crawled after
Caleb while Donna snapped photos.
looked around the room. She could barely hear the Christmas music
from the CD player. The cardboard tree swung. Wrapping
and packing peanuts littered the floor. It was not quite the vision
she had had for Christmas morning. But it was perfect. She picked
up the cardboard Nativity and studied it again.
mom was right, Kevin.”
just wouldn't be Christmas without the Child.”