I startled at the whistle of my tea kettle. I was usually the only one making noise this late at night.
It was my fourth Christmas alone since my grandmother had died. She was my mother and my father, and, for the most part, was one of the only people I ever really knew growing up. I missed her dearly.
Every Christmas Eve since I could remember, she and I would sit in the living room sipping on piping hot mugs of spiced black tea with orange slices. It’s my favorite smell and my favorite memory.
I walked into the kitchen and removed the kettle from the heat, letting it cool just slightly before pouring the water over a tea bag, cinnamon stick, and orange slice. As soon as it became fragrant, my grandmother was right there with me, I just knew it.
“I love you, grandma,” I whispered to her. “Merry Christmas Eve.”
When the tea was finished steeping, I brought it into the living room along with a plate of fresh, buttery shortbread cookies and set them down on the floor. I plugged in my little Christmas tree -- only three feet tall -- and admired the way I always did. Never was my inner-child more alive than in this moment.
The tree was simple: decorated only with the lights, silver tinsel, and some pinecones I collected in my yard. But it was enough. There were no presents beneath, and I was much too old for Santa to think to visit me anymore. Maybe if I’d had a chimney…I grinned at the silly thought.
I swirled around the last of the tea, now cold at the bottom of my cup, and finished it off, along with the last cookie. Sorry, Santa. As I stood to return my dishes to the kitchen, I swore I heard four swift knocks at my door. “What on earth?” I was certainly not expecting company. My one dear friend was a state away visiting her family. There was simply nobody it could have been. But I stole a glance out of the peep hole to be sure, and there was nobody. “Maybe a branch or an icicle fell…” I turned around and as soon as I did, I heard it again!
Quickly, I opened the door to see who was there, but I was all alone. Snow was falling and my yard was covered in it, yet there were no footprints to be seen. A shimmer near my feet caught my eye, and there was a little package wrapped in brown paper and golden ribbon with this address on it. “How strange. There’s no post today, and definitely not at night.” I flipped on my porch light and swept over the yard once more, and there wasn’t a trace of anybody else.
I picked up the package and brought it inside, turning off the porch light and locking the door nice and tight behind me. I set my dirty dishes and the little box on my dining table and just stared at it. Curiosity had its grip on me, so I picked it up and gave it a little shake, like a child trying to guess what they got for Christmas. It was very light and the only sound it made was a soft metallic clink. I was not expecting a package and I was starting to feel a little spooked by the whole thing.
Looking at it again, the handwriting matched my grandmother’s quite a lot, but I obviously dismissed that notion. A lot of older women wrote in a similar way, as they were taught. I was flooded with a wave of emotion and nostalgia in spite of the logic.
With hesitation, I tore back the paper to reveal a small, pine box. Nothing spectacular. The wood was thin and honestly looked quite cheap. On one side, there was a latch that I flipped upward to open the box.
I drew in a sharp breath when I saw the silver locket sitting on a small blue cushion inside. “That’s impossible…”
It was a locket that I recognized immediately as belonging to my grandmother. She wore it often, but when she died, it was one item that I was never able to find among her things. Not in her bedside table or jewelry box or closet. I gave up on it, sadly. But there it was, sitting right in front of me after four years. It didn’t make sense.
The box contained nothing else, not even a note. Shivers ran down my spine while I tried to make sense of what was nothing short of a Christmas miracle.
I took the locket and sat back down in the living room, beside the Christmas tree. I flipped it over in my hands and watched as the lights from the tree glistened and reflected off the surfaces of the locket and just sat there in that moment. In that incredible feeling. I felt like I should have been at least slightly afraid, but no. Nothing but calm and, well, wonder, surrounded me there.
Ghosts aren’t something I ever paid much mind to. I didn’t believe or not believe. I just didn’t think about those sorts of things. Yet, I was so sure that there was something beyond me that was making this happen. “I love you, grandma,” I whispered to nobody in particular.
I looked up at the little clock that hung on my wall and noticed it was just a quarter after midnight, shortly after grandma and I would have gone to sleep. The lights scare the reindeer away you know, she always told me. The last thing we did before huddling under the covers was sprinkle a few handful of oats across the front yard for the reindeer to graze on while Santa was busy doing his job. It was only fair. He got cookies, after all.
It was late, and I was as tired as I was giddy from what just happened. So much so that I realized I hadn’t even opened the locket.
My fingers were trembling as I rotated it in my hands once more, finding the clasp. It snapped open in a split second and I swear I smelled cinnamon and orange as soon as it did. Inside was a small picture of who I clearly recognized as my grandmother, as well as a young man and a woman--who was holding a small baby, no older than a few weeks old. “Mom and Dad?”
The trembling spread though my whole body as I found myself suddenly crying. I wiped my eyes. The tears blurred my vision but all I wanted to do was stare at this photo and this locket forever.
I slept on the floor of the living room that night. The glow of the Christmas tree was comforting and I felt as though I were being hugged all night. I was warm as the snow fell outside. I was happy and felt loved though I was the loneliest I had ever been.
The first sight of the sunrise woke me and I panicked searching for the locket. “Did I dream that? I had to have dreamt that.” But I didn’t believe it.
I found composure when I felt the cold metal of the locket against my skin underneath my sweatshirt. Looking at the picture again, I smiled the most I probably ever did. I stood up and walked to the kitchen. I put my dishes from last night in the sink and filled the tea kettle to heat up. I dropped a tea bag into a new cup and realized that maybe I wasn’t too old for Santa to think of me.
“Next year, I’ll put out the oats. I promise.”