Tabitha slid one finger and opened an eye to see through her hands, covering her eyes. Mom sat in front of her assuring her that Dad did not turn into a monster.
“Yes, he did,” Tabitha argued. “When I went to bed on Christmas Eve, he was fine. But this morning Dad is missing, and a monster is trying to look like him. Except the monster has bumps, and red eyes, and yells, and tried to swallow me whole.”
“Tabitha, he did not try to swallow you whole. You were running through the house, and your dad picked you up, lifted you above his head and over the Christmas box you were about to knock over. Now, it’s Christmas morning. Your sisters want to open their gifts from Santa. Don’t you?”
“Dad’s not here the monster ate him trying to make him look like Dad.” Tabitha gasped then shuttered. “Oh, no. Dad’s been eaten. Mom, we have to rescue him. Do you have an ax? We can cut him out like in Red Riding Hood. Is the monster still out there, mom? I’m scared.” Tabitha sobbed. Mom laughed in frustration, rubbing her sleepless eyes.
“Chet, come in here. Your daughter thinks you are a monster, and I can’t talk any sense into her. She is your department. I’ll make pancakes we’ll have breakfast first.”
“Good luck with that. The other girls are already pulling at the wrapping paper,” he said, leaning against the doorjamb as mom walked by.
“I told you old man, no good deed goes unpunished,” Dad smirked pulled her back and kissed her. Tabitha screamed. Mom shook her head and yelled for the other girls to help her in the kitchen. Tabitha left alone to fight the monster grabbed a pillow. “Don’t eat my mom you, you monster.” And she threw the pillow at him. It plopped on the floor, landing between them. They both looked at the pillow, and then at each other like they were in a standoff at the OK Corral. Then dad made his sad gopher face. It was a face he made all the time to make them laugh. He was good at sad gopher face. Tabitha blinked her eyes and tilted her head; her curls smashed on her right shoulder. “Dad, are you in there?”
“Yes, sweet pea, I’m me. You wanna know what happened?”
“Yep, tell me the whole storted story, “Tabitha said, flopping down on the pillow in story listening cross-legged position.
“First, it’s sorted not storted.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Never mind. Why do you think I’m a monster?”
“Easy peasy, you have big bumps all over you, you scream, and your eyes are glow-in-the-dark red. Plus you tried to eat me whole.”
“So, if I’m a monster, then why didn’t I eat you whole.”
“I don’t know because I wiggled and kicked myself free.”
“Yeah, that’s for that,” Dad said, rubbing his jaw. Tabitha puckered up her lips, ready to cry that she had hurt the monster. “Sorry monster but you shouldn’t eat people, and you wouldn’t get hurt!”
“I’ll try to remember that. So you remember last summer when Grandpa died. And last month when my dad, your other grandpa passed away? Then we had to move away from your school and your best friend Penny?”
“Why are you reminding me? And hey, how do you know that monster? Are you abstorbing my dad’s brain or somefhing?”
“No, and it's absorbing and something.” Then he made her say them slowly. It was frustrating for both of them.
“Listen Sweet Pea; I asked you what you wanted for Christmas that would help make up for all the things you had every right to cry about, remember? It was after I picked you up from Penny’s house for the last time.”
“Yep, I remember. Sigh. Penny had a big, big, big Christmas tree that smelled like Lysol. I love Lysol. Smells like Saturday when we do all the cleaning and dancing and watch movies.”
“Tabitha, don’t tell people you love Lysol, okay?”
“Okay, but that is don’t tell number 981, and my head can’t hold all the don’ts you know.”
“Yep, I know. I’ll try to slow down on don'ts after you turn twenty-one.”
“I’m only five twenty-one is forever away.”
“Time only seems like forever. It’s not. Anyway, I told your mom we were going to get a real tree. Mom didn’t like that cause…”
“Did she tell you no good deed goes unpunished?”
“I know don’t tell number five, right after don’t fart loud in public.”
“Both still true by the way.”
“I know. You are a good girl. I wanted you to have that tree, our tree, that mom and I put up last night. I stayed up all night to see your face when you ran in and saw the tree. Then, you saw the monster and ran almost into a present, so I lifted you over.”
Tabitha whispered, “What happened to you in the middle of the night, daddy? Please say you’re okay inside the monster.” All four eyes in the room turned dew dropie.
“Well, baby girl, your dad is allergic to Pine-tree sap. It breaks me out in these hives.” Dad pointed to the multiple red hives that covered his arms and neck and face. One almost covered his whole eye. “That is why we’ve never had a real tree.”
“Oh,” said Tabitha blinking and wriggling her lips. “I see. You loved me. You became a monster for me. So, you must not be a bad monster but a good monster, right?” Tabitha gasped her eyes widened. “You’re my Happy Halloween Sad Gopher Face Christmas Monster.”
Dad laughed, “Guess I am. But you can call me, HH-SGF-CM.”
“No silly, your dad. Only my dad spells weird like that.” She gave dad a big, though be it painful, bear-hug and ran out to the kitchen. Mom and the girls were pouring syrup on the chocolate chip pancakes. “Hey everybody, meet Happy Halloween, Sad Gopher Face, Christmas Monster! How do you spell it, Dad?”
“HH-SGF-CM!” Dad exclaimed, then made a deep bow.
“Da-da-da scream,” cried out, baby sister.
“Com’ on let’s open presents under that mean tree,“ Tabitha said. The girls followed her to the Christmas tree. Mom looked at the uneaten and getting cold pancakes. “No good deed goes unpunished,” said mom. Then gave dad some medicine and wiped some pink stuff on him. You look more festive than the tree,” she joked. Then everyone just stood there in front of the Lysol smelling tree with its popcorn and construction paper ornaments and the angel on top. “Let’s not knock good deeds today, okay old lady?”
“Okay, old man. Maybe you were right,” said mom as he put his arm around her and pulled us girls close.
Then everyone said, “I’m always right.”
“Hey,” said Dad, “that’s my line.” We just giggled.
Dad turned Seventy-nine this year, and I’m much older than five. Mom is with our grandpas, and my sisters have families that love them, too. We never had another live tree in any of our homes. But there still aren’t too many Christmases that I don’t remember HH-SGF-CM. He was the best Christmas Monster I ever knew.
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Nice family warmth despite the monster... or because of him.