Bonus Xmas Fiction

Posted: December 22, 2010 in Nick Slosser, The Whole Works

“The House on Candy Cane Lane” by Nick Slosser

Mrs. Jones knew all was not well when she saw Mr. Shiborski from across the street beating her five-foot tall snowman into frosty powder with a heavy shovel.

From her vantage in the bay window, where she sipped an eggnog latte in her seasonal housecoat atop the cushion with its seasonal slipcover, she had observed him carrying the snow shovel like a double-barreled shotgun and thought he’d gone homicidal for her.  He stalked across the street, staring right at her, and veered only at the last possible moment to square off against the defenseless snowman.

Aside from the marine-in-combat expression, he wore a patched tartan bathrobe, fur-lined winter cap with earflaps, and brown galoshes—purposely untied—all of which appeared to her to be nothing more than thumbing his nose at the rest of the neighborhood.  She took comfort from the fact that the neighborhood children were at school and not witnesses to this spectacle.

By the time he finished, the only remains were the snow pile that might have fallen off a tree branch and the designer extras (acquired from one of her many catalogs)—a ceramic carrot for the nose, ceramic chunks of coal for eyes, mouth, and buttons, plastic twigs for arms, black canvas top hat—designed to attach easily, withstand the weather, and generally make the season brighter.

The carnage done, he snarled at her, waving the shovel mightily, and stomped toward home.

Obviously, her husband Darryl’s method of going through normal channels—specifically, the neighborhood association—was not going to solve the problem.  She would have to deal with Mr. Shiborski in her own way, if only for the sake of the children.  And as far as she was concerned, the children were all that mattered.

“Candy Cane Lane,” as the street was referred to in the weeks approaching Christmas, had actually begun to rival “Mistletoe Loop” across town for the title of Most Visited Street of Holiday Lights.  Come December 18th, when they planned to block the streets for pedestrians from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm daily, a full hour longer than last year, people would find a neighborhood unified in the glory and electricity of Christmas.

Most of the neighbors had already decorated, from the Wilsons on one end to the Morgans on the other—Mr. Shiborski being the one exception.  More importantly, each had decorated within the specifications outlined by the neighborhood association—specifications drafted and adopted in a campaign spearheaded by Mrs. Jones herself.  It had taken time to convince the others—though she never understood how anyone could argue against the children—and there had been a few foot-draggers, but in the end, they had all come around to seeing it her way.

The last holdout had been her immediate neighbor, Mrs. Kibbel—Mrs. Quibble, more like—but even she had caved when Mrs. Jones threatened to tell Mr. Kibbel about pictures taken when his wife was nineteen years old and under the influence of chemicals and her Bohemian boyfriend.  In a fit of honesty fueled by too many cosmopolitans, Mrs. Kibbel had revealed to Mrs. Jones that those negatives had been sold to a magazine back in the seventies, and that to this day she went around to the seedier bookstores and antique shops to buy up any worn copies that surfaced.

The last holdout, that is, until Mr. Shiborski moved in.

Mrs. Jones sipped her latte contentedly.  Neighborhood politics were her passion and her forte.  With her husband at work, and the household chores down to a science, she had time and energy to weigh in on important neighborhood matters.  And what could be more important than uniting under the banner of Christmas to delight children, regardless of creed, with the universal message of peace and joy?

Mrs. Kibbel pointed out that Mr. Shiborski might be Jewish, emphasizing a candleholder in his window, but what Mrs. Jones saw was only a fire hazard.  Even so, she thought, that was no reason to turn Grinch, and if Mr. Shiborski didn’t shape up, she’d sic the fire department on him.  But not before she’d exhausted subtler means.

For the past week, she’d been going over after dark to decorate his lawn—at her own expense—by way of example, much as a parent encourages a child to eat by spooning a bite into her mouth and saying, “Mmm-mmm.”  She employed a different theme each night, hoping eventually to land an acceptable one, only to see her good work undone by morning, her selflessness lying in the garbage, strands of lights and tinsel hanging pitifully over the rim.  He had even replaced her ‘Joy to the World’ decoration—not once, but twice—with one saying, ‘Bah! Humbug!’—a clear and repeated violation of neighborhood association bylaws.

Still, she persevered.  But when the wooden reindeer she’d mounted were found next morning mounting each other she realized she must escalate.  After restoring decorum to her decorations, she built him a snowman in policeman’s cap and badge wielding a plastic-wrapped copy of the Neighborhood Association Handbook of Rules and Bylaws.  Then she retired to her bay window to sip latte and observe his reaction.

That was when Mr. Shiborski pulverized her snowman.

Undaunted, she decided it was time to remind everyone of the true meaning of Christmas.  So that night in his yard she erected a complete Nativity scene, even going so far as to march up his steps to hang a crucifix on his front door.

‘Deface that,’ she thought, as she watched through her bay window, hoping to catch him in the act.  Admittedly, she had never actually witnessed him altering the decorations, only taunting her after the fact.  She couldn’t stay up all night, though, not without involving her husband, who was completely incapable of seeing the dire in the situation.  She’d just have to wait till morning, that’s all.  She had drawn a line—a line between her neighborhood and chaos—and she would stand by it.

She woke early, her husband still snoring.  A fire engine and ambulance clogged the street.  Mrs. Kibbel was there in heavy overcoat and slippers, hunching her shoulders against the wind.  Other neighbors were standing there too, and, unless she was being paranoid, they were staring at her.  She donned her seasonal housecoat—she never missed a chance to flaunt it—and red rubber boots and joined the crowd outside Mr. Shiborski’s house.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Like you don’t already know,” someone answered.

“Sorry?”

“We saw you,” someone else said.  “We all saw you.”

“Saw me what?”

Then paramedics wheeled out Mr. Shiborski on a gurney—his thin arm and bony fist raised against her—and she felt she understood.  Some misfortune had befallen Mr. Shiborski, and everyone blamed her.  Well, it wasn’t her fault he had been careless.  She couldn’t be held responsible, even if she had maddened him with her activities.  She’d done it for the right reasons.  If you asked her, she’d bent over backwards to help him.  Maybe that made her a busybody, but so be it.  All would be well in the end, of that she was certain—it was Christmas, after all.

She appealed to Mrs. Kibbel, who silently turned her back and strolled home.

“Mrs. Jones?” said a man in a trench coat and brown flannel suit.  “Would you please step over here?”

“Me?”

“Yes, you.  Over here, please.”

“I’ve been meaning to call about those candles.”

“Never mind the candles.”

“I warned him they’d cause a fire.”

“Where were you last night?”

“Last night?”

“Yes, last night.  Where were you?”

“At home, of course.”

“Uh-huh.  Did you go out?”

“No.  Why?”

“You didn’t go out, say, to redecorate Mr. Shiborski’s lawn?”

“Oh, that.  But that was nothing.  You see, in our neighborhood association bylaws, we require—”

“Do your bylaws allow for reckless endangerment?”

She gasped, clutching the collar of her housecoat.  “Whatever do you mean?”

“I mean, do your bylaws allow you to spray water over your neighbor’s steps so they’ll freeze and cause him to slip and break a rib?”

“I don’t know—”

“Are those your footprints?”

“I—I don’t—”

“Just answer the question.”

“I don’t think so.”

“No?  Then how did that cross get up there?  Mr. Shiborski being Jewish and all.”

“Well, I—I put that there…for Christmas.”

“But those aren’t your footprints?”

Her voice was getting weaker.  “Yes, they are.  But—”

“Mrs. Jones, do you see what I see?”

She just stared at him.

“I see one set of footprints—yours—leading up to the porch.  Many footprints over there, but only yours and Shiborski’s on the steps.  So unless someone stood over there and watered the steps with a bucket and four-foot spout, I got to look hard at you, don’t I?  Now, do you hear what I hear?”

Her mouth hung open.

“I hear that you and Shiborski were having some sort of yuletide feud.”

Her eyes flashed as she snapped, “But the children were coming!”

It was his turn to stare at her.

“We mustn’t forget the children.”

“Yeah, Merry Christmas, kids.  Patrolman, please cart this one to the station.  And don’t forget to Mirandize her.”

“Wait, what are you doing?”

“Placing you under arrest for criminal mischief and reckless endangerment and whatever else our legal elves come up with.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Look around.  There are a dozen witnesses who state that they saw you in your…” he searched for the word to describe her housecoat, “…snazzy get-up, messing with Mr. Shiborski all last week, escalating each day.  Further, they saw you around midnight last night carrying a bucket to Mr. Shiborski’s, and this morning found Shiborski half-frozen to death after slipping on that ice.  You’re just lucky that man’s alive.”  He took a calming breath that clouded the air.  “So, Mrs. Jones, you’re going to jail.”

She was stunned.  “But—but it’s Christmas!”

“I’m Unitarian-Universalist.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means, Happy Chalica, Mrs. Jones.”

“But—”

Her words were cut off when he slammed the car door.  She turned to look out the back at her neighbors, but they were dispersing.  She tried to find a friendly face, but there were none.  No one made eye-contact.

Then, through a second-story window, she saw Mrs. Kibbel in a housecoat exactly like hers, watering a hanging plant with a bucket and four-foot spout.  The woman even smiled and waved at her as the patrol car drove away.

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