The Christmas Gnome came the last week of October. With Halloween nearly here, he said, it was time to start planning ahead.
“Real tree or fake?” he asked.
“Fake,” I said because we already had it, and there would be no shedding needles. Plus, Derrick was allergic to pine and life.
“Christmas dinner at home or with the in-laws?” the gnome asked. I said I would rather have dinner in a ditch on the side of the road than at Derrick’s parents’.
“So home alone?” the gnome said.
“We’re not really alone,” I said because we had the dogs and the neighbors.
“Who is going to care for you when you’re old?” he asked. “The dogs? The neighbors? Your neighbors are already in their 60s.”
“How do you know?”
“I checked their mail.”
“Isn’t that illegal?”
“I don’t open the mail. I just look it over.”
“And, from that, you can tell how old they are?”
“They get mail from AARP, Medicare, and Consumer Cellular,” he said. “Plus, look at the car they drive. Young people today can’t afford cars like that. Look at you two. Your mortgage payment is more than 75% of your monthly income. You get that bill, pay it, and eat ramen noodles for the next few weeks.”
“Okay, so what, we’re house poor,” I said, not daring to ask how the gnome knew what our mortgage payment was. Maybe he worked at the bank.
“By the time you pay the house off, you’ll be ready to retire yourselves. But, what if one of you falls and breaks a hip?”
“We would go to the hospital?”
“What about rehab? That can be a long and laborious process. And, wouldn’t it be better, if you had a son or daughter to care for you?”
“I guess,” I said, though I was not sure why the Christmas Gnome cared so much about my golden years.
“Well,” said the gnome, “I’d best be going.”
He left me to my dark thoughts of spending my latter years alone.
For the next few days, I was haunted by the gnome’s unsettling visit. I felt like I needed to be ready for his next one. So, on November 1st, I dug the tree out of its stinky box in the attic. It was covered with once white now yellowing snow. Derrick asked me what I was doing.
“Getting ready for Christmas,” I said, trying to sound all merry and bright while wrestling with tangled branches.
“But it’s only the first of November,” he said. I was usually one of those wait until after Thanksgiving to put the tree up people.
“True, but you know November is going to be a busy month what with the Trots for Tots 5K we’re doing for St. Luke’s on Thanksgiving,” I said.
“We’re doing a 5K on Thanksgiving?” Derrick said. The last time his feet had seen the inside of a pair of running shoes was the year before our wedding, and we’d been married seven years.
“Well, you said you wanted to be more active in the community, and I thought the Trots for Tots would be a good way to do that. But, if you don’t want to, I can just run with Bowser,” I said. Bowser was our brown hound who was afraid of children.
“Do you really think bringing Bowser would be a good idea?”
“Well, I don’t want to run alone, and Mario hates loud noises, but I also don’t want to pressure you. Though it is for the children.”
After Derrick agreed to join me, I went to the Farmer’s Market to gather up some holly and ivy.
Once there, I spotted the gnome. He was smoking a Christmas pipe.
“People don’t think it’s weird that you’re smoking around children?” I asked.
“It’s part of my charm,” he said. “Have you thought about what you’ll do when you’re old and broken?”
“Why can’t Derrick care for me?”
“Maybe ask me that again after you see him run,” he said while blowing wreath shaped smoke rings.
“That’s a nice trick,” I said.
“Men typically don’t live as long as women do. But it’s okay if you want someone to care for you. Do you want someone?” the gnome asked.
“I don’t,” I began because I didn’t know what to say. In the past, when I thought about having children, I thought of global warming and Russian aggression and floods and hurricanes, but now I thought maybe it might be nice to have someone to take to sit on Santa’s lap and snap a picture with, even if it meant that we all might need to eat ramen noodles for even more of the month.
“Derrick’s parents would help you,” the gnome said. “I know you hate them because they’re not yours, but they’re really not bad. If you decide you want children, I can help, but you only have till Christmas Eve. Do you understand?”
“If I want a child, what do I do?” I asked.
“Take this snow globe and shake it,” he said.
I took it but was careful not to even nudge it. That is, until December 23rd. On that day, I decided to shake it so hard that I was afraid it might shatter. Instead, the gnome appeared.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
Fast forward a year. I had a baby, a stroller, and a tired husband who still needed to get out and run more.
Though the air was cold and I was busy marking milestones, I felt good. Even Bowser had come around, and Mario was beginning to adjust to loud noises, particularly the sound of Elizabeth and/or Derrick crying. The Christmas Gnome walked by and gave me a thumbs up. “If you want another one,” he said, “just let me know.”
“Maybe next year,” I said because I didn’t think Derrick, who was falling asleep on a bench, was ready.
Biography: Lori D’Angelo is a grant recipient from the Elizabeth George Foundation and an alumna of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Recent work has appeared in Beaver Magazine, Bullshit Lit, Idle Ink, One Art Poetry Journal, and Wrong Turn Lit. Find her on Twitter @sclly21 or Instagram at lori.dangelo1