22
Jun

A Fourth of July Short Story

Agnes pulled in her driveway and stepped out of her Prius. Her neighbor, Millie, hailed from across the street. “Yoo-hoo! Agnes! Wait up. Happy Fourth of July!” She scurried across the street.

Millie was the last person Agnes wanted to talk to. They had nothing in common. Millie’s husband, George, was a Revolutionary War collector. Their house looked like a museum full of Revolutionary War relics. Why did Millie put up with such nonsense?

Millie ran up, breathlessly, “Are you coming to the Independence Day celebration at the Vet’s Memorial Building tonight? They’re having a military band, Viet Nam veteran speakers, and fireworks after the meeting. You’re welcome to ride over with us.”

Agnes lifted her grocery bags from the back seat. “Sorry, can’t make it. Gotta’ get these things inside. Frozen stuff. Talk to you later.” She hurried into the house. A twinge of guilt gripped her chest. Snubbing Millie wasn’t very nice, but Millie was so gol-darned boring. Every conversation somehow turned to her latest E-Bay purchase. A Minute Man rifle. A battered sword. A faded British shirt. Agnes sighed. Who cared about all that stuff anymore? What difference did it make, anyway, two hundred years later?

The Fourth of July was such a nuisance. The fireworks always got all the neighborhood dogs barking and the streets were a cluttered mess the next morning.

Agnes preferred closing the blinds and going to bed early. Kids down the street were already shooting off fireworks. She closed her eyes…

Agnes jerked and twisted, thrashing her pillow. What? Why was she in the middle of a battlefield? The boom-boom of fireworks became the sound of a beating drum. The sun blazed down on men dressed in brilliant red jackets. Sweat poured from their faces. They marched in a straight row toward an outline of shadowy figures in buckskin, hiding behind rocks and trees.

Agnes stared at the soldiers moving forward with guns drawn. Redcoats? From England? What?How did she get here? She didn’t belong here! She couldn’t be here. The field would soon be littered with dead and dying men. She turned and tried to run. She must be dreaming. Wake up! Wake up!

Someone grabbed her arm, dragged her from the line of fire and pulled her down behind a rock. Her heart pounded. Perspiration trickled down her forehead. She crouched beside the men, so close she could smell their sweat. Older soldiers grimaced, their lined faces knowing what was soon to come. “Hold the line, men. Steady now.” Younger soldiers, terrified of the unknown, sniffled as the enemy advanced, step by step to the beat of their drum. Though the ragtag soldiers were outnumbered by the advancing troops, they had the advantage of the cover of trees and rocks. The men primed their guns with powder and ball and squatted in the dirt, waiting, waiting as the formidable enemy advanced.

She had to get away. This couldn’t be real! She knew she was dreaming! Why couldn’t she wake up?

The drumbeat stopped. Silence! What happened? She peeked around the rock. There was the enemy, frozen in time, guns at the ready, feet in mid-step. The flag drooped, unmoving. The drummer’s drumstick hung suspended in mid-air, above his drum.

Agnes lifted her head toward the brilliant sky where scattered patches of clouds gathered as though suspended from wires on a stage. Overhead, a bird hung motionless.

She opened her eyes, and blinked against the darkness in her own bedroom. “I was dreaming!” Dreams were, after all, just snatches of thoughts and memories, sounds and sights stored willy-nilly in one’s mind and pulled into a fractured scenario to haunt our restless minds. She shuddered. There was a day when her dream had been the reality for many others.

She turned toward the window. It had begun to rain and rivulets streaked the glass, curving and twisting as they traversed the pane. Outside, the tree in the backyard wavered in the wind of an unseasonable summer shower. The Fourth of July celebrations and fireworks must have ended by now. Agnes put her hand to her pounding heart. It was just a dream. Everything was fine. Just a dream.

Agnes rose from her bed and found a book about the Revolutionary War in her library. She sat in a rocker and began to read:

For the sake of independence, farmers, storekeepers, bankers, men from all walks of life, rebelled at the tyranny England imposed on their fledgling nation. Ill equipped, with antiquated guns and untrained, the Continental soldiers chose to fight a highly-trained army made up of Englishmen, German mercenaries, and Hessians.

The Revolutionary war lasted over eight years.
The estimated population in America in 1776 was three million.
80,000 militia and Continental Army soldiers served at the height of the war
25,000 American Revolutionary soldiers died during the war
8,000 more Revolutionary soldiers died from wounds inflicted during battle
17,000 Revolutionary soldiers died from disease
25,000 Revolutionary soldiers were estimated to have been wounded or maimed
1 in 20 able-bodied men living in America died during the war.

All for the sake of following generations, so we could have the freedom to make laws and live by our own rules as established by the Declaration of Independence.

Agnes called Millie’s answering machine and left a message. “This is Agnes. Sorry I couldn’t make it tonight. I hope you had fun. I promise I’ll come with you next year. Our freedom is important, isn’t it? We need to remember what the holiday cost our forefathers. It really matters.”

Agnes returned to her bedroom with her cat. Boom! Another firecracker cracked in the night. Agnes turned to her cat. “Does that child have any idea what he’s celebrating?”

Agnes’s cat blinked as though he had no answer to the provocative question.

 

26
Dec

Remembering the story of The Christmas Bird

The days grew shorter, the air crisper, the nights longer, and the whisper of leaves on the roof began to awaken each Christmas tree bird in their tissue paper in the attic. Something sang to them, called them, until they wiggled with joy, crinkling their crepe paper walls. Soon, each Christmas bird ornament would be lifted from his crinkly paper bed where he had slept since last Christmas.

As the days of the year neared its end, the Christmas birds felt a thrill from their springy wire clips and gold porcelain bodies to their bright feather tails. The littlest Christmas tree bird lay warm and snug beneath Gold Bird. How he anticipated the coming holiday season. Soon he would be on the Christmas tree with his fragile glass friends and the others. The others…the round ones with bright colored paint. They were not nearly as beautiful as his Christmas bird friends with their springy wires, delicate glass and pinchey clips that clasped them firmly to each branch. And though all his friends were lovely, he felt he was the most beautiful Christmas tree bird in the attic.

He closed his little red eyes and dreamed about Christmas Eve. From the top of the tree, he would look down upon the family gathered by the fireplace singing Christmas carols. Being part of the Christmas celebration made him feel truly alive. Would mother bring their boxes from the attic today and hang them on the Christmas tree?

“I’ve been thinking,” he whispered in a trembling voice filled with self-admiration, “You are lovely, Gold Bird, but I am the most beautiful Christmas bird.”

Gold Bird’s tail feathers quivered. “Really? Blue glass bird is made of hand-blown glass from Germany, with a fine blue feather tail. Antique bird is missing some tail feathers but he is so fragile, you can see right through him. We all have unique qualities, and most are more beautiful than you.” He fairly shook as he scolded the young bird, wrapped in pink tissue beneath him.

“It may be true what you say,” said the saucy little bird. “But, the tree won’t be nearly as beautiful if I’m not right near the top.”

Gold Bird, being older and wiser, turned his head. “You obviously don’t understand the true meaning of Christmas. You don’t deserve to be included in the holiday events. You conceited fellow, it would serve you right if you got left behind this year.”

The Christmas bird trembled. The idea of being left behind scared him a bit. With a slight tremble, he said, “That couldn’t happen, could it? It’s not that you aren’t handsome, but my tail feathers are longer and softer and fluffier than yours, and…my…paint is much shinier.”

Tut tut,” replied Gold Bird. “Not…another…word.”

For several uncomfortable days, the young bird lay silent in his cocoon of crinkly paper. Gold Bird’s warning haunted him. “You conceited fellow, it would serve you right …” Not to be there on Christmas Eve? He could not bear the thought.

The days grew shorter and a soft sprinkle of snow blanketed the roof. The wind whistled past the attic and the dark days edged toward December. Early one morning, footsteps on the attic steps awakened the Christmas birds. They held their breath, as their box was lifted from the shelf. “It’s time! Soon we’ll be on the Christmas tree and enjoying the Christmas season,” the little Christmas bird whispered to Gold Bird.

One by one, the weight of the Christmas birds was lifted from above. The young Christmas bird lay under Gold Bird, wrapped in his soft tissue wrapping. He heard the squeal as his friends were hung on the tree. He faintly heard music and children laughing. He even smelled the cookies!

“It’s almost time,” he whispered to Gold Bird. “It’s nearly my turn.”…but Gold Bird’s fluffy tail no longer tickled his nose. The ornament box was tossed into the corner; empty, except for the little Christmas bird. “Wait! What happened? I’m still in here.” Overlooked in mother’s haste, he was left behind, alone and upside down in the corner.

His comfortable bed, now a prison, his beautiful body still swaddled in crinkly tissue paper. Muffled Christmas sounds reached his ears. A tiny plastic tear formed in his little red eye. “I was conceited and proud, and now I’ve been left behind.”

Christmas Day approached and he missed the entire Christmas season, alone in the box in the corner. On Christmas Eve, the family gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Christmas tree bird lay in his box, imagining the tree with his friends hanging on its branches. Even the scorned round ones were part of the celebration. “The round ones may not be as beautiful,” he lamented,” but they are on the tree, and I’ve been left behind.”

After supper, the family gathered by the Christmas tree. The little girl read from the Bible. “They wrapped him in swaddling clothes and lay Him in a manger.”

Christmas bird thought, “I’m wrapped in swaddling clothes, like the baby Jesus,” and he imagined the tiny baby sung and warm, lying in a manger, warmed by the breath of the surrounding animals. He heard the daddy tell how Jesus came to earth as a tiny baby, and if we loved and trusted Him, He would take us to heaven and we would never be left behind.

The Christmas bird sniffed, “I know what it’s like to be left behind. How much worse it would be, to be left behind from Heaven.” Then, his box jiggled, the crinkling tissue paper lifted away and the warmth from the fireplace touched his cheek.

The little girl lifted Christmas bird from his box. “Look, Mommy! It’s another Christmas birdie. He has a red tear in his eye. Can we hang him on the Christmas tree?”

Daddy lifted her up and she hung the little bird near Gold Bird. Looking down from the tree, the joyous Christmas bird felt the love in the room as the family shared gifts with one another. Carols played on the stereo. The spicy aroma of gingerbread drifted in from the kitchen. The family laughed and sang. Christmas bird wiggled with joy. At last, he was exactly where he wanted to be. Gold Bird swung around from a nearby branch and gave him a tender glance. “Welcome to Christmas, little bird. Did you learn anything?”

Christmas bird turned to his friend. The light from the fireplace reflected the tear in his eye, shimmering like a drop of gold. “I understand,” he whispered. “Christmas is not about who is most beautiful, who is round or who has the brightest springy tail. It’s not about carols or turkey dinner or gingerbread, or even about presents under the tree. The true meaning of Christmas is God’s love for each of through the birth of Jesus. When we accept His Gift, and believe in his Love, we will never be left behind.”

 

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