Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Ghost of Christmases Past and Present Part Two by Betsy Ashton

In spite of the years of isolation and living on the edge, Dan and Jennifer made Christmas Eve their special day. They established their own family traditions, celebrating their love on the eve of a sacred holiday. Tradition evolved into dressing up for Christmas Eve dinner, a champagne toast at midnight, snuggling under the covers and making love until dawn, when they rose and opened their special presents. They didn’t have much money, but they didn’t care. If they could be together, that was good enough.

Jennifer made a fancy dress for each Christmas Eve. Her labor of love was testimony to how she felt about Dan. She had a new one each year. Four years. Five years. Six years.

When they passed their sixth anniversary with no recent sightings of the witch’s bloodhounds, Dan and Jennifer abandoned their vigilance. They moved freely in the large city where they lived and worked. They reveled in each other, hoping for a baby. Maybe a grandchild would lessen an end to the old witch’s hatred.
On their seventh anniversary, tragedy struck. On the way home from their traditional anniversary dinner, a truck T-boned their car, crushing the passenger’s side and killing Dan on impact. The driver ran from the scene, leaving no fingerprints in the cab. Witnesses said he aimed his truck at their car and struck it at high speed. News accounts in the local section of the large city paper mistakenly printed Dan and Jennifer’s real names. Within a day, the witch sent someone to snatch Dan’s body from the funeral home. She reinstated the restraining order in their home state to keep Jennifer from attending the funeral.

The witch demanded the police charge Jennifer with vehicular homicide, but even her vast small town wealth had no sway of a big city police department. Weeks of worry and harassment resulted in no charges. Jennifer hadn’t run the stop light. She hadn’t been drunk. What she believed, however, was that she had been the target, not Dan. She was positive the witch had hired someone to ram their car and kill her. Under normal circumstances, Dan would have been driving, and she would have been in the passenger seat. This night, he suffered from a sprained ankle.

The witch and her hired bloodhounds left Jennifer alone. The witch had her son back; Jennifer no longer existed. Peace settled over the newly-minted widow. Peace and pregnancy. When she said her prayers at night, she prayed the witch would never learn she was going to have Dan’s child. She needed help to keep the child hidden, though. After much worrying and many sleepless nights, Jennifer asked her best friend Nancy from the big city to pretend to be the baby’s mother.

One morning in late summer Jennifer gave birth to a son who looked just like his father. She named him Dan II. Because she had a different last name, she was certain the witch would never connect a stranger named Dan II with her own son. Nancy, Jennifer’s friend and the baby’s pretend mother, moved into a rented apartment with Jennifer and Dan II. The two women moved freely throughout the city, one or the other of them taking the baby for a walk in a stroller. Neighbors who hadn’t met Nancy before Dan II arrived believed the lie. Neighbors who had seen Jennifer every day never knew she was pregnant, because she had always worn loose-fitting tops and long skirts. Dan II grew up surrounded by two loving mothers.
On Christmas Eve of what would have been their tenth anniversary, and as Jennifer had done every year since Dan’s death, she put on a fancy dress and kissed Dan II goodbye. Nancy promised to stay at home to protect the child until Jennifer returned.

Even though the restraining order had been invalidated with Dan’s death, Jennifer feared the witch, who was still alive and more powerful than ever. Jennifer sneaked into the town where she had been born. She carried a small basket with a split of champagne and some snacks to Dan’s grave. She spread a blanket on the ground and waited.

When distant church bells rang at midnight, she poured two glasses of champagne and handed one to her husband. Every year Dan returned to reassure her she was never alone, that his love survived his death and that she should live life to the fullest. She told him about his son, how he loved the memory of the father he would never know. She carried no pictures with her, because in heart she knew if the witch found out, she would kidnap him and win. She lay in her husband’s arms and drifted into a familiar dream.

No sooner had she fallen asleep than she was awakened by a flashlight shining in her face. The cemetery Rent-a-Cop pulled her to her feet and arrested her for public intoxication. She heard Dan’s voice whispering.

“I will always love you. Be well until next year. I’ll watch over our son until you get home safely.”

Jennifer’s holiday traditions were supposed to sacrosanct. Some couldn’t be kept due to circumstances beyond her control. She couldn’t lie with her husband except in memory. Other traditions morphed with time. Sadly, still others were broken, but Jennifer would never break her tradition of spending Christmas with Dan. She looked forward it throughout the year. This was no different until the last moment when she was arrested.

And that’s how she ended up in the drunk tank. On Christmas Eve. In jail. Alone.

I hope you enjoyed "The Ghost of Christmases Past and Present." Thanks for stopping by.

Did you receive an Amazon gift card for Christmas? If so, my book, Mad Max Unintended Consequences, makes a good present for grandparents who are raising grandchildren, grandparents who aren't raising grandchildren. Oh heck, for anyone who wants a book that starts off in one direction and ends in another.


Margo Hoornstra said...

Oh no! Poor Jennifer. So sad to be alone.

Jannine Gallant said...

Let's hope the MIL NEVER finds out about the child! Happy New Year!

Alicia Dean said...

Oh wow, what a sad story. I was so hoping Jennifer and Dan would get the happiness they deserved. Nice job!