Short Story Saturday: The Christmas Telescope

The Christmas Telescope

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news…” Stan stopped pacing the floor and began unceremoniously as soon as Lia opened the front door.

She sighed wearily, set her umbrella down on the front porch and watched water drain down her sopping scrubs onto the hardwood floor in the cluttered front room. “What is is?”

“I just got off the phone with the mechanic—I mean JUST got off the phone, literally, like two minutes ago—and the cost to fix the car—there are all sorts of things that need fixed and replaced and I know these guys, they aren’t ripping us off—the cost to fix the car…”

“Yeah? What is it?” she urged impatiently.

“You’re not going to believe this. It’s seventeen hundred dollars.”

“WHAT!?! How in the world!?! No way! Exactly $1700? Well, isn’t that ironic? At least we can afford to pay it now…” Lia voice exploded initially, then trailed off into a quiet, empty whisper.

Seventeen hundred dollars. It was exactly the amount they’d managed to save up by parking the broken car and walking and biking all summer and half of both spring and fall.

“Yeah,” said Stan. “It’s doable now, but disappointing, no doubt about that. God knows we weren’t making much to begin with, and there goes our plan to dump that money into fixing up the project house.”

“And Christmas, too,” tears filled Lia’s eyes and they seeped out, dripping drearily down her scrub top. The shirt was already so wet that the extra moisture was imperceptible. It had been an exceptionally tiring day at work, and the cold downpour awaiting her when she clocked out didn’t improve the situation in the slightest. The car was in the shop, so there was no chance of catching a ride home. At least it was only a 20 minute walk. Even so, her poor umbrella was no match for the torrential downpour. “Not gifts for us,” she quickly clarified. “There are plenty of more important things to think about than what we want for Christmas. I was just thinking—hoping—we’d be able to afford Christmas gifts this year for a few people, especially for the nieces and Mark. I wanted the presents to be something thoughtful, something that they would use, learn from and really enjoy.” Her voice began to wobble as sobs and sniffs set in, brutally punctuating her sentences. “But kids’ toys…keep getting more…and more high-tech…and more and more…ABUNDANT and the price tags—and kids’ expectations—they just keep…they just keep…getting higher…and higher!” Lia stepped into the bathroom and collapsed on the edge of the tub. Puddles collected around her feet as she cried. Stan stood in the doorway.

“I hate Christmas!” he exploded after bearing the blubbering for a few minutes.

“I…don’t…hate…it,” she responded between sobs. “I like…I like seeing…fam—ily…and decorating…and giving gifts…I just, I just…”

“I hate Christmas! You get together with family for Thanksgiving and everyone has a great time. But with Christmas, they guilt you into spending money buying things your can’t afford even for people you don’t really like. It’s a marketing scam and I hate it! Oh, I HATE it. If we have children someday, I’m not going to expose them to Christmas!!!” Stan declared defiantly.

The absurd comment caught Lia off guard and transformed her tears, mid-sob, into a laugh. “You can’t NOT expose children to Christmas. It’s impossible.”

Stan grinned sheepishly as he joined Lia, taking a seat beside her on the edge of the tub. He reached for her hand. All fierce animation and explosive anger faded as quickly as it had formed. “Okay, you’re probably right about that, but it’s still wrong what they’ve made this into.” His voice softened and he quietly sank into pensive calm. “They suck people in,” he murmured, “they really do.”

They sat in silence for a few moments.

“I’m gonna go ahead and get cleaned up,” Lia whispered. She emerged from the shower a few minutes later, finally clean and dry. Stan was pacing the floor, hands behind his back, head downturned. He looked up as she entered.

“I know my hours have been sporadic at best, but I’m gonna be working practically non-stop between here and Christmas. The pay day after the 18th, I’ll take $100 dollars and give it to you, put it in your account, so it’s safe, so I don’t spend it. Maybe we can use that money to buy something special for the nieces and Mark. Let’s really put some thought into it. I think we can find things that they would really like, but wouldn’t be too expensive. Jan just got her ears pierced, didn’t she? Now that she can wear the real earrings and not the clip-on ones, maybe we could find some that she’d really like and get them cheap, too.

“Good idea. If only everything I made right now wasn’t eaten up by bills, rent, student loans and necessities, but it is. If you could save and set some money aside, I’m sure we could make it work without breaking the bank. I’ll talk to my sisters… it’s hard to know what to get the kids when their parents and grandparents have so much more to spend compared to us…”

Stan paused, deep in thought. “You know what?” He paused again. “Yeah. Yeah. I’m gonna do it. I’m going to give that telescope to Mark. I think he’ll like it.”

“What telescope?”

“When I was a boy, I loved astronomy, I really did, and that telescope was very special to me. It stayed in my room, even before I actually had a room, you know, when the house was still all ripped apart. Of course, Bryce and I usually used it to spy on people. Papaw was the only one who could actually find anything with it at first, so we usually only looked at the stars when we were with him.” He paused, mentally reliving the meaningful childhood memories.

“Bryce and I shared most toys, but the telescope was just mine, so I can give it away if I want to. I used to think I would give it to my future son, but frankly we don’t have children and it doesn’t look like we will. Of course, we may adopt someday, but things would be a little different, especially depending on the age of the child. When you adopt, you start as a team and grow into a family over time. You don’t need to be blood-related to be a family— certainly not!—but if I tried to give a special telescope from my dad to an adopted son right away, it may be a little awkward. He might be like, ‘Oh, gee, thanks…uh…Stan.’”

“But anyway, Mark is my nephew and I really like him a lot. I have no doubt the telescope will be in good hands; it will be safe. It survived MY childhood, so that proves it can take a lot. Now that Mark’s in school, he’ll be learning about planets soon. Having a telescope might foster a love of the stars in him like it did in me.”

Lia sat listening, adding nods, ‘uh’huhs,’ and other obvious interjections which could just as easily remained omitted, as he monologued a jumble of memories, plans and pep talks, convincing himself that this was the right thing to do. Who is this man? Lia marveled. Not long ago, he would have sidestepped this entire situation, leaving me to figure out how to make ends meet, but not today. Things are changing, they really are! Lia found herself fighting tears for the second time in an hour, but this time they were welcome drops of rain softening her weary soul. It had been a long journey, and it wasn’t over yet, but her husband’s growing maturity impressed her. The decision to pass along some of his own childhood possessions was a generous solution to the Christmas predicament and a helpful contribution to an ever-present financial frustration.

As he continued to rant and ramble and plan aloud, Lia smiled and whispered silently to herself, We’ll figure something out for Christmas, I’m sure, but it looks like I got my present early this year. Stan’s words on this cold, wet November afternoon were the best gift I could have asked for.

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