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Christmas

December 20th, 2017

Christmas is approaching, but for the second time in my twenty years, I am not looking forward to it. The first time was when I was seventeen, right after my parents split. It was in the summer, but I had not yet gotten over it by Christmas, and I spent the holiday crying into my pillow. This year, I will be spending the happy holiday with my father and his unknown bride. 

I’ve never met the woman that is now my stepmother. Father was engaged almost before I knew he had been dating, and I told him that I was taking important exams on the day of the wedding and couldn’t attend. This, in fact, was true. I was taking exams. But that wasn’t the only reason I didn’t show.

After my parents divorced, I wasn’t expecting either to remarry. My father had been forty when I was born, my mom thirty-six, and had been married for eleven years. So when I was seventeen, I figured my parents had been out of the dating pool for too long, and were too old, to ever remarry. Obviously, I was wrong. My stepmother has been married before as well, but I’m tired now. I’ll explain tomorrow.

December 21st, 2017 

When Father explained my stepmother’s history a couple of days ago on the phone (by the way, her name is Peggy Brown, now Peggy Anders) I didn’t believe him. Apparently, she has been married four times previously. The first time, she was twenty, and the man was a cashier at the general store in their small town. Their marriage was very happy for eight years, but right after Christmas, tragedy struck. The husband was in a terrible car accident, and died. Peggy, now the mother of a young child, was heartbroken, and Father said she’s been a little odd ever since.

Despite losing her husband, Peggy married two years later. I heard she is a little simple, and especially after her first husband’s death, she has been unable to handle a job. This time, she married a slightly older doctor. He ended up getting sick and dying seven years later, right around Christmas time. After this, a pattern began to appear. About one year after that, she married a lawyer, and was happy for five years, until he got sick on Christmas and died in early January. Her final husband was the manager of a company, and died eight years after marrying her, actually on Christmas Day. By this time, she was fifty-five, and had one grown daughter.

That was two years ago. Now, she is married to my father, a very successful businessman. I asked dad if he wasn’t a little concerned, marrying a woman who had four previous husbands that all died during the Christmas season. Maybe she was cursed.

“Lauren!” he scolded. “She is a wonderful lady, and I love her dearly. I don’t want to hear any more nonsense from you.”

So I dropped the topic, and we began discussing my schoolwork. And now I will be spending the most wonderful time of the year with my father and his crazy, possibly cursed new wife.

December 23, 2017

I’m currently on the plane going to my father’s big house (really, it’s a mansion) in California. I’ll grab something to eat at the airport, then Father will pick me up and take me to his home to sleep. Peggy, my stepmother, will be asleep by the time I make it to the house. Apparently, she goes to bed early.

Before I boarded the plane, I received another call from Father. 

“Your new mother has some rather, well, strange Christmas traditions. Margo, her daughter, will fill you in the day after you arrive.”

Oh boy.

December 24, 2017

Today was very interesting.

I awakened to the smell of fast food breakfasts. Now, I found this strange. My mother was a firm believer in home-cooked meals, and even though my father could have afforded a cook, she preferred to prepare the meals herself. After she was gone, my father still wasn’t a fan of restaurant food, and hired a chef (which I found rather ironic). We always had big, homemade meals each Christmas and Christmas Eve, save that one other difficult Christmas. Apparently, the chef had been fired.

I headed over to the dining room. A lady I assumed was Margo, probably in her early thirties, smiled at me. I didn’t see Father or the older lady I imagine will be my stepmother.

“Mother was very tired this morning. She usually is this time of year. Your father is eating in their room. How are you feeling this morning?”

A lump rose in my throat at the reminder that her mother was now my father’s wife, not my mother. At least I was correct in assuming she was Margo. I sat down and told her I was feeling fine, and we chatted a bit. Eventually, I mentioned that my father told me her mother had some interesting Christmas traditions. She looked rather sad as she began to speak.

“I mentioned before that Mother is usually pretty tired around Christmas. She is also pretty depressed. I think this is because of all of the deaths.” She paused. “Do you know about those?” I nodded, and she continued.

“Christmas, I think, has been ruined for her ever since her first husband died. Now, she doesn't like anything that makes her think of the holiday. She won’t even go shopping after Thanksgiving. So, we try to celebrate accordingly. We only eat turkey and ham dinners. We only decorate on the top level, because she is usually too exhausted to travel to the third floor. We eat ice cream often.”

I found this shocking. And Margo didn’t stop. She went on and on, about how they don’t give gifts, don't sing carols, and even put plastic palm trees in the front yard. I was horrified.

My face must have been showing what I was thinking, because Margo quickly stopped talking about their “Christmas” traditions and instead started going on about how sweet her mother was, and how she is so excited to meet me, and how she really wants to make me feel at home. But all I could think was how messed up this lady will be.

That was when she came in. Still in her fuzzy pink bathrobe, I was struck by how frail she looked. I knew she was in her late fifties, but she actually looked like she was in her seventies. She had a pleasantly plump body, with golden brown eyes, thin, light pink lips, and grey hair hanging to her shoulders that was curly to the point of frizziness. In the spacious, old fashioned dining room, she looked exactly like the rich, sweet grandma you would find in the pictures of a children’s book.

“Good morning, dears,” she said to both of us, giving us a warm smile. Then she turned toward me. “Why, you must be Lauren!”

I replied, saying yes, I am in fact Lauren, and we launched into a conversation. I realized that Margo wasn’t actually lying. My stepmother seemed genuinely interested in me, and seems to really want me to feel welcome. I discovered we both loved flowers, the color pink, pineapple cake, and horses (all of which Father dislikes). She seemed really sweet, but she did look exhausted. I no longer feel that she is evil or cursed. In fact, I feel very sorry for her. 

My father showed up, and all four of us spent an enjoyable day getting to know each other better and sharing stories from the past. Things would be a little awkward every time Father or I mentioned my mother, or every time Margo or Peggy mentioned one of Peggy’s past husbands, but besides that, we had a good time. However, I could not shake the feeling that something was wrong about not celebrating Christmas. We had all been very careful not to mention the holiday around Peggy.

Before dinner, I went up to the third floor. I was immediately relieved to be surrounded by all the Christmas decorations of my childhood. I sat up there for a little while, thinking about how it is too bad that Peggy couldn’t enjoy the pleasures of Christmas.

That was when the idea hit me.

Perhaps Peggy doesn’t like Christmas because no one has exposed her to it. Perhaps Margo and everyone has assumed she wouldn’t like to celebrate it after the deaths, and therefore aren’t trying to celebrate. Maybe all she needs is a little reminder of how to have a Christmas.

At dinner, I tried to bring up the topic of my favorite holiday. I ignored all the warning looks Margo gave me, and instead kept making remarks like, “I think red and green go together very well, don’t you?” and “I love the haunting tone of Carol of the Bells. It’s my favorite Christmas song.” By the end of the meal, Margo looked intensely worried, Peggy seemed more tired than ever, and my father seemed thoughtful.

After Peggy went to bed, Margo came over to me and scolded me on causing Peggy so much pain. She seemed genuinely concerned about something, most likely her mother’s mental health. After she finished with me, my father came over. 

“I know what you’re trying to do, and I think it might be a good idea. I’ll see how it affects Peggy, then I might help.”

Now that I have my father on board with the idea, I don’t really care what Margo says. When she sees how much better Peggy seems, she’ll help too.

One last thought before I finish for tonight. We had turkey for dinner, with pumpkin pie for dessert. Margo didn’t have pie. She’s on a weight loss program.

December 25th, 2017 (Christmas!!!)

I arose early this morning with a wonderful joy in my heart, until the events from the past couple of weeks surfaced in my memory. I walked into the dining room, the sight greeting me very similar to yesterday's. Margo was alone in the room, a bag of fast food next to her.

“Lauren!” She said with a very worried voice and expression. “Please, for your own good and Peggy’s, don’t mention Christmas again.”

I gave a small shrug, surprised by the urgency in her tone, and quickly changed the subject. We talked about her favorite fast food places for a while, and then sat in silence until Peggy and Father arrived.

Despite Margo’s warning, I persistently stayed on the topic of Christmas. My father gave me an encouraging smile now and then. Still, Peggy seemed only distressed by the subject. Eventually, she said she had to go into the kitchen.

“I decided to make a special treat for tonight’s dinner!” she said, almost cheerfully.

Margo smiled and told my father and me how much her mother loved to bake, but the entire time, I couldn’t help but notice something was off in her face. I decided it wasn’t a big deal, and soon, the whole family began to talk the same way we did yesterday. The only difference was that I began telling Christmas stories as well, and that soon changed the overall mood so that I quickly shut up and changed the subject. Father wasn’t helpful with my endeavor, but he at least didn’t shoot me dirty looks the entire time. 

Eventually, I began to get bored, so I excused myself and went to my room to write this all down. If anything exciting happens during or after dinner, I’ll include another entry for today.

December 25th, 2017 (later)

I’m not feeling well. I’ve vomited a couple of times tonight, and my stomach hurts horribly. I feel pretty tired. Overall, I am more miserable than I’d ever imagined on Christmas Day.

The meal was fairly uneventful. I brought Christmas up again. My father stayed silent. Margo stared at me. I feel I am becoming rather boring, reporting the same things over and over again. Peggy seemed tired, but perked up a little when she brought out the treat she mentioned earlier. She had made pineapple cake, that dessert we both loved. I felt bad when she had to go to bed before she ate a piece. I hope I hadn’t made her feel too bad during the day.

The pain is becoming too much to continue. I hope sleep will make it better. Good night.

December 26th, 2017

I stayed in bed all day today. I tried to get up to go to breakfast, but Peggy quickly ushered me back to bed. She was up rather early today. It turns out, she is wonderful when someone is sick. She fed me every meal, and got me everything I could ever want (besides things Christmas related). For the time, I don’t really feel like continuing my Christmas mission. 

Margo visited me. She now seems more worried than ever. She asked how I was doing, and we talked for a little while, but she seemed a little distracted. I only just realized- maybe she is concerned her mother is cursed as well.

Peggy is coming in with ham, mashed potatoes, and a large slice of pineapple cake to make me feel better. Talk to you soon.

December 28th, 2017

Everything was the same as a couple of days ago. I’m not feeling better. I’m now confused sometimes and stiff. My breath tastes funny, and my skin seems pretty messed up too. We think we might call a doctor soon. My only comfort is pineapple cake and a wonderful stepmother.

December 31st, 2017

I’m going to miss the New Year. I am too tired to type.

January 1st, 2018

I know I said I am too tired now, but I must tell someone what happened before it is too late.

I asked Peggy for medicine after breakfast. She said she didn’t have any. The pain was awful, though, so I crawled from bed in search of a pain killer. This wasn’t a good idea, but my brain is not working too well lately. 

I went to the master bathroom to search through the medicine cabinets. I found mints in Father’s and toothpaste in Peggy’s. I knew Margo’s bedroom was on the second floor, but I couldn’t climb stairs. So, I desperately went to the kitchen.

The pain was unbearable now. I violently vomited on the floor, then began to search through the cabinets. Most were empty, but I found some cooking supplies. I was about to give up, but in the last cabinet way in the corner, I found a bunch of large bottles. Bingo.

I quickly realized that the bottles weren’t medicine, or any medicine I recognized. They had handmade labels, with complicated names, brief descriptions, and in some cases, the names of men. One in particular stood out to me though, one closest to the door.

Arsenic

No taste or smell

Moderately fast

Lauren Anders

Father, I emailed you this journal. Please, see this and try to call the police. If there is no evidence left, just try to save yourself. It is too late for me.

While staring at the bottles, my stepmother found me and firmly guided me back to my room.

“You don’t need to be walking in the state you’re in.”

She continued talking, but I was confused again, so I could only catch pieces of what she was saying about me, husbands, our efforts, something unbearable, and how much her first husband loved Christmas. After she got me in bed, she went and grabbed me lunch. 

I told her I couldn’t swallow, but she managed to force down cold ham and, for some reason, two extra large pieces of pineapple cake. 

And it will be the last thing I’ll ever eat.

November 26, 2020 04:31

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