Silent Night (Fiction)

The day before Christmas, my seven-year-old daughter Hannah was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I opted to spend CHRISTMAS Day with her. My parents, as they’d done every year since the divorce, had invited Hannah and me to their house for Christmas dinner, but I couldn’t leave my little girl alone in the hospital.

Hannah wasn’t on solid food yet, but a nurse offered to bring me a tray, perhaps realizing it would be difficult for me to navigate to the cafeteria with my limited vision. While Hannah slept, I sat by her bed and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. The food was surprisingly good for a hospital.

I said as much to the nurse when she came to collect my tray. “We have a chef now,” she said.  “Of course many of our patients are too sick to appreciate it, but it’s certainly better than the fare we used to serve.”

The little girl in the other bed moaned and then started crying in earnest. I looked over and couldn’t see anyone sitting with her. “Oh, that’s Jessica,” said the nurse in a conspiratorial tone. “Poor kid, she fell out of her neighbor’s treehouse yesterday and broke her leg in three places. She’s in a body cast from her chest to her right foot.”

Hannah must have awakened for she said, “Ou, I guess I won’t complain about my tummy anymore. I’m glad I don’t have a treehouse, and I hope Santa didn’t leave me one.”

I marveled at how sensitive my daughter was. As the nurse went to Jessica and tried to comfort her, I said, “How are you feeling, sweetie?”

“I’m okay, but my tummy still hurts.”

“I thought you weren’t gonna complain about your tummy anymore,” I said, as I ruffled her hair.

Hannah giggled, then winced. “Ouch, Mommy, it hurts more when I laugh.”

“It sounds like you could use some pain medication too,” said the nurse, as she started to leave the room.

“No, it only really hurts when I laugh,” said Hannah.

“Well, in that case, laughter’s the best medicine,” said the nurse. “I’ll be back soon.”

“How old is Jessica?” asked Hannah.

“Oh, I think she’s about your age,” answered the nurse. “I’ll be back in a bit with some medicine for her, and that’ll make her feel better.” With that, she was gone.

Jessica was still sniffling, but it wasn’t as loud as before. “Mommy, you should go sing her a song,” said Hannah. “like you did for me last night when I was really hurting. I’m not hurting as much now, and I think she’s hurting more.”

Years earlier, I’d worked as a registered music therapist. That was before Hannah was born, before I’d started losing my vision, before my world changed. My husband hadn’t wanted a child but was resigned to the idea once he learned I was pregnant. The vision loss after Hannah’s birth was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, he paid plenty of child support. That, along with my disability payments, allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom, and once I learned to use a computer with screen reading and magnification software, I brought in a little income from freelance writing.

Now, I looked over at the little girl in the other bed. My specialty as a music therapist had been with elderly nursing home residents, not hospitalized children. I hadn’t even done a clinical practicum with that population. I remembered bed-ridden residents who smiled and relaxed when I sat by their beds, held their hands, and sang. I even performed at some of their funerals. The fact that my singing in the emergency room the night before had calmed Hannah made me think that perhaps I hadn’t lost my touch. I rose and pulled my chair next to the other bed, where I sat and took the child’s hand that lay on top of the white sheet covering her.

“Hi Jessica,” I said. “I’m Joan. My little girl Hannah is in the other bed. What’s wrong?”

“My leg really hurts,” she answered. “I’ll never play in that stupid treehouse again.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, stroking her hair. “Would you  like to sing a song with me?”

“Will that make the pain go away?” she asked.

“It’ll take your mind off of it. What’s your favorite Christmas song?”

She was quiet for a minute, then said, “I like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

“All right, let’s sing it together, shall we?”

I started, and soon, she joined in, followed by Hannah. When we finished that song, Jessica suggested “Jingle Bells,” then “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The nurse appeared and said, “What lovely singing. Jessica, I have some medicine that will make you feel better. I’m going to put it in your IV now.”

As she started to do this, I said, “Why don’t we sing one more song?”

“I want to hear you sing something by yourself,” said Jessica. “You have a pretty voice, and so did my mommy. She used to sing to me at night before I went to sleep.” A wistful look crossed her face.

“Why doesn’t she sing to you anymore?” I asked.

“She was killed in a car accident a few months ago,” she answered. A tear rolled down her cheek.

“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” I said, as I stroked her hair. Tears welled in my own eyes.

Holding them back, I said, “What song did your mom like to sing to you this time of year?”

“‘Silent Night,'” she answered.

“Yeah, sing that one, Mom,” said Hannah.

I took a deep breath and began. To my surprise, the nurse joined in, singing alto. Our two voices blending together in harmony was almost too much, but I managed to continue.

As we started the second verse, I sensed a presence at my side and turned to see a man standing there. “Daddy!” Jessica said, her eyes wide with delight.

“Hey princess,” he said, reaching over me and ruffling her hair. Then he said, “oh, don’t stop singing on my account. It’s beautiful.”

His voice broke, and it was all I could do to keep from losing it. We started the song where we’d left off and finished the second verse. To break the spell, I turned to the nurse and said, “You and I need to talk. I sing in a women’s group that could use an extra voice.”

“Wow, that sounds interesting,” she said. “You also have a nice voice. I need to see to other patients, but I’ll come back later after my shift, and you can tell me more about it.” She turned and started to leave the room.

Jessica’s father put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You and I also need to talk. It’s only been two months since I lost my wife, and I never dreamed I’d say this to another woman, but could I buy you a cup of coffee, maybe in the cafeteria?”

From the doorway, the nurse said, “Our coffee here isn’t as good as the food. Why don’t you two go across the street to Starbuck’s?”

We hesitated. “Your kids will be fine,” she said. “They’re both out of the woods. I have your cell numbers in their charts. If anything drastic happens, I’ll call you. Joan, you’ve been here all day. You need a break. Go!” With that, she was gone.

I looked at this stranger, not knowing what to think. Finally, I said, “I’ve been divorced for about six years. I’m losing my vision, and I never imagined another man would ask me out for coffee.”

I expected him to back away, but instead, he said, “Any man not interested in you is a fool. You’re a beautiful woman. You’re good with kids, and you have a lovely voice.”

Flabbergasted, I said, “You just got here. Don’t you want to spend some time with Jessica?”

Jessica said, “I’m okay.  My leg doesn’t hurt so much now that the nurse gave me some medicine in my IV. Daddy, Joan could make you happy like Mommy did.”

“Yeah,” said Hannah. “Mom, I think this guy could make you happy like Daddy did.”

Jessica’s father laughed and said, “I think these two, along with that nurse, are trying to play matchmaker.” He extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Don Gray.”

“Joan Clark,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it.

Still uncertain, I turned to Hannah and said, “Honey, don’t you remember what I’ve told you about not going off with a stranger?”

“Yeah, but he’s not a stranger. He’s Jessica’s dad.”

“She’s got a point,” said Don.

“My dad told me not to go off with a stranger too,” said Jessica. “but he’s okay. He’s been really sad since Mom died.”

I could feel my heart melting as more tears threatened. “Jessica and I could sing another song,” said Hannah. “How about 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall?”

“Yeah,” said Jessica. She started the song, and Hannah joined in. Laughing, we both made our way out the door.

“Do you need to take my arm?” Don asked.

“Yes, please,” I answered, realizing I’d left my cane in the room. As I grasped his muscular arm and walked with him down the hall, I had a good feeling about this.

 

THE END

 

Note: the above story was published in the fall/winter 2018-2019 issue of Magnets and Ladders and is my contribution to blogger Stevie Turner’s Share Your Short Story Contest for this month. It will be published later this month in The Writer’s Grapevine. Please click below to hear me sing the song referenced in the story.

 

Silent Night

 

New! The Red Dress

Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books

Front cover contains: young, dark-haired woman in red dress holding flowers

When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.

Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.

***

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Breath of Heaven #Monday Musical Memories

I first heard this song in December of 2005, two months after my late husband Bill and I were married. It captivated me, and for some reason, I couldn’t get it out of my head, even after Christmas.

Then in January of 2006, Bill suffered the first of two strokes. I could now identify with the feelings the Virgin Mary expresses in this song. Why me? Did I have to bear this burden alone? Our future was uncertain.

I have since realized that like the Virgin Mary, I was chosen. Unlike the Virgin Mary, I had a choice. I could have said no to Bill’s marriage proposal, but I didn’t. I could have walked away after he suffered his first stroke, but I never considered that as an option.

If Bill and I hadn’t been married, no doubt he would have been alone in January of 2006 in Fowler, Colorado, when he had that stroke. He would have spent the rest of his life in a nursing home because his family would have been unable to care for him. His quality and quantity of life would have been affected. You can read our full story in My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

The song I’m singing today, “Breath of Heaven,” inspired me to write the following poem, which was published in the fall/winter 2018-2019 issue of Magnets and Ladders. If you click on the title, you’ll hear me recite the poem and sing the song.

 

THE POOR BLESSED VIRGIN

 

She stands, alone, cold, weary

after traveling many days and nights.

Why was she chosen to bear this Holy Child?

Must she do it alone?

Will Heaven help her?

 

New! The Red Dress

Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books

Front cover contains: young, dark-haired woman in red dress holding flowers

When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.

Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.

***

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Still Still Still – Advent Week 2 Music

I remember singing this song with my high school and college choirs. Crystal gives us a lovely rendition, accompanying herself on zither. Enjoy!

 

Via Still Still Still – Advent Week 2 Music

 

New! The Red Dress

Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books

Front cover contains: young, dark-haired woman in red dress holding flowers

When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.

Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.

***

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Novella Weaves Curious Holiday Yarn #Thursday Book Feature

The Happening: A Carol for All Seasons

by John Wahtera

Copyright 1974

 

In a poor, mixed-class neighborhood, Digby, a white, starving artist, lives with a small group of other unfortunate people in a run-down house slated for demolition. Across the street is a church where no one goes anymore. Digby gets an idea and works with the church’s white pastor on a community holiday celebration he calls a “happening.” This event includes fancy lighting, music, a black Santa and more. Digby and the pastor receive unexpected support from an unlikely source in the black community.

Since this book was published in 1974, we have an idea that the story is set sometime before then in an urban environment, but we don’t know exactly when or where. It might have been more helpful for the author to orient readers to time and place in some way.

The ending left a bit to be desired. I would like to have known what happened to at least one of the characters.

The sub-title doesn’t fit the story, implying that it could be enjoyed year-round. Although some Christmas stories could be read anytime, this one definitely is better suited for this time of year. Otherwise, I liked this short but interesting holiday tale.

 

New! The Red Dress

Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books

Front cover contains: young, dark-haired woman in red dress holding flowers

When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.

Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.

***

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Season’s Greetings 2019

Note: none of the opinions expressed below are those of author Abbie Johnson Taylor.

 

Season’s Greetings? Bah Humbug!

 

I’m the Google assistant. Much to my chagrin, I ended up joining Abbie’s technology family last spring when her tablet was upgraded to almost the latest version of Android. I don’t have a fancy name like Alexa. People just call me Google. When they want me to do something for them, they say, “Okay Google” or “Hey Google.”

Alexa can do more than I can, like read Abbie kindle books or play Audible books for her, and I think Abbie likes her better than me. It’s just as well I can’t read books to Abbie because she likes the dumbest books. If you don’t believe me, search here for posts under the category, “Thursday Book Feature.”

Abbie occasionally asks me to add events to her calendar or tell her what’s on her calendar for a specific date. And boy, does she have a lot of events each month: writing group meetings, singing engagements, the occasional doctor’s appointment, and more. There’s so much to keep track of that it’s a wonder my head’s not spinning. Alexa also has access to Abbie’s calendar, but she doesn’t seem to mind keeping track of it all. Good for her.

I don’t particularly care for Abbie’s taste in music, either. Right now, as I’m writing this stupid Christmas letter for her, it’s the day after Thanksgiving, and she’s already listening to Christmas music. Alexa is playing Susan Boyle’s album, The Gift. Abbie has taken an interest in Susan Boyle of late. God knows why. She’s a Scottish singer with a repertoire full of sappy songs like “A Perfect Day” and “You Raise Me Up.” Abbie had the nerve to ask me who wrote one of her songs, “May You Never Be Alone.” Darned if I knew, so I told her it was written by Hank Williams. Abbie asked Alexa first, and she said she didn’t know. That’s what I should have said.

Last June, when I realized Abbie was taking me with her to Florida to spend a week with her brother Andy and his family, I was excited. I thought surely I’d be spending a lot of time sunning myself on a beach. Hey, we artificial intelligence assistants deserve a vacation, too. But this was not to be, at least not for me.

Although I got to sit outside with Abbie while she used the tablet to check email on Andy’s patio when it wasn’t too hot, I spent most of the time languishing in a dark bedroom while Abbie and Andy and his wife Christina went to the beach or Loxahatchee River or to Christina’s brother’s house where they swam in his pool. The only excitement I saw that whole week was when Abbie and I were nearly attacked in Andy’s living room by Peggy, a robot vacuum cleaner. If Peggy could have climbed the stairs to the second floor, we probably wouldn’t be here. Now that I think of it, listening to stupid Susan Boyle is preferable to being swallowed by a robot vacuum cleaner. Even Peggy has a better name than I do. God!

I’m consoled by two facts regarding this trip. First, Alexa didn’t get to go at all. Second, Abbie, Andy, and Christina didn’t get to canoe down the Loxahatchee River because of the threat of thunderstorms. Ha ha! I’m pretty sure Abbie enjoyed herself, though. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have posted those stupid haiku about the beach and the Loxahatchee River on Facebook. Yuck!

In July, Abbie published her fifth book, a novel called The Red Dress. What kind of a title is that, anyway? Abbie says it’s about how such a garment is related to the lives of three generations of women. Gag me, will you? If you don’t believe me, go to her website and see for yourself. In fact, all her books are stupid. She makes me want to throw up. I couldn’t believe it when she sold eighteen copies of The Red Dress at a local bookstore in September. Some people are so stupid.

Abbie has also been busy performing at nursing homes and other dumb places. I haven’t heard her sing because when she practices, the tablet is either in sleep mode or powered off completely, and of course, she doesn’t take me to her gigs. But if she’s anything like Susan Boyle, I don’t want to hear her, thank you very much.

Actually, I have heard her sing. Occasionally, she records herself singing with an app on the tablet. She’s just as bad as Susan Boyle, so no wonder I repressed that memory.

She also sings with a group called Just Harmony. What kind of a name is that for a group? You can’t have a song with just harmony. You have to have melody, too. Jesus, some people are so dense.

I haven’t heard them either. I know that for sure. But if they’re anything like Abbie herself or Susan Boyle, forget it.

Abbie will also sing in an ecumenical choir that will perform for a stupid epiphany service the first Sunday in January. They’re singing “Oh Holy Night,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and a song neither Abbie or I have heard called “One Faith, One Hope, One Lord.” Barf! Barf! Barf! I’m glad I won’t get to hear that either.

As far as I’m concerned, if I don’t get a vacation this Christmas, which I probably won’t, then nobody else should, either. But I suppose I ought to wish you all happy holidays, anyway. But if you ask me, Mr. Scrooge was a pretty good guy until the ghosts showed up.

 

New! The Red Dress

Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books

Front cover contains: young, dark-haired woman in red dress holding flowers

When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.

Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.

***

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White Christmas #Monday Musical Memories

When I was growing up in Tucson, Arizona, during this time of the year, I heard many songs and stories about snowmen coming to life, riding in a one-horse conveyance through drifted snow to Grandmother’s house for fun, pudding, and pumpkin pie, and Santa riding through the snow in a sleigh, pulled by eight reindeer, to deliver packages to many good boys and girls. In the warm Arizona climate, I longed for snow. On the rare occasions we were blessed with the white stuff, it didn’t last long enough to build a snowman.

When we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1973 when I was twelve, I learned, first-hand, the meaning of the saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” After slipping, sliding, and falling on my butt a few times, I realized that snow wasn’t what I expected it to be. I didn’t know what I expected it to be, but that didn’t make it any more likeable. By February of our first year, I was sick of it. But we were settled here, so all I could do was put on my big girl pants and deal with it.

As an adult, my perspective on snow hasn’t changed. I could move to a warmer climate. If I could afford to do so, I’d spend winters in Florida closer to my brother and summers here in Wyoming. But at my age, the prospect of moving is more daunting than putting on my boots and getting out in the snow when I need to go somewhere. But every once in a while, I can’t help wishing for a brown Christmas instead of a white one.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm about snow, I enjoy singing songs about it, like the one you’ll hear me sing when you click the link below. If you like white Christmases, may you always have them. May your days always be merry and bright.

 

White Christmas

 

New! The Red Dress

Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books

Front cover contains: young, dark-haired woman in red dress holding flowers

When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.

Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.

***

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WebsiteImage contains: Abbie, smiling.

Novella Tells Compelling Family Story #Thursday Book Feature

You Can Thank Me Later

by Kelly Harms

Copyright 2019

 

Every year, Sophie, a chef, hosts her family’s Thanksgiving dinner at her restaurant. This novella is divided into three parts: Thanksgiving 2016, Thanksgiving 2018, and Thanksgiving 2020. With the help of an interesting cast of characters and a series of events, some hilarious, she comes to realize she has a lot for which to be thankful.

I like how each of the three parts begins with messages from family members who call Sophie on Thanksgiving Day when she’s apparently too busy preparing the meal to answer the phone. In the version I downloaded from Audible, beeps are inserted to make it sound like you’re listening to them on an answering machine. Actually, I think Sophie is using a cell phone, and voicemail doesn’t sound like that, but I’m not sure how it could have been rectified.

At first, I didn’t like Sophie. But then I was amazed at how she grew and changed in the course of the book. I was a bit disconcerted when I got to the last part, Thanksgiving 2020, and here we are only in 2019. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. I doubt much will have changed by next year, so it’s still realistic. But I don’t see why the author couldn’t have started with 2014, then moved on to 2016, then 2018.

Although this book is considered chic lit, it’s a wholesome, feel-good, holiday story. The Audible original isn’t very long, only a little over three hours. So, whether you’re a chic or not, after the Thanksgiving leftovers and dirty dishes are cleared away and the guests have gone, you could enjoy it with a glass of wine or a turkey sandwich.

 

New! The Red Dress

Copyright July 2019 by DLD Books

Front cover contains: young, dark-haired woman in red dress holding flowers

When Eve went to her high school senior prom, she wore a red dress that her mother had made for her. That night, after dancing with the boy of her dreams, she caught him in the act with her best friend. Months later, Eve, a freshman in college, is bullied into giving the dress to her roommate. After her mother finds out, their relationship is never the same again.

Twenty-five years later, Eve, a bestselling author, is happily married with three children. Although her mother suffers from dementia, she still remembers, and Eve still harbors the guilt for giving the dress away. When she receives a Facebook friend request from her old college roommate and an invitation to her twenty-five-year high school class reunion, then meets her former best friend by chance, she must confront the past in order to face the future.

***

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WebsiteImage contains: Abbie, smiling.