Christmas Funny Holiday

Cold Bird Christmas

by Matt Keating

“Mutually assured destruction,” is not a phrase traditionally found in Christmas sentiments. Nick considered this omission by the carol composers to be unfortunate. He intended to notate this observation if he managed to survive the violent and rather capricious petulance rattling above the corner bookshelves.

Nicholas was born old and without imagination. His toys were irrelevant. He was given a stuffed animal once; a lion he named Lion, but Lion was just a soft thing. Nicholas never spoke to Lion, never brought him into any imaginary worlds, he gave him no personality of his own. To Nicholas, Lion was fabric and stuffing, no different from a throw pillow or couch cushion.

For Young Nick, adolescence was a time of chaos speckled tedium. The glands of classmates were throbbing all around him. His peers were rampant with raw pubescence. Unimpressed and disinterested, Young Nick had other things on his mind. Girls were unreliable and frustrating, boys were ignorant and brutish, and adults were undignified and distracting. Books felt important, movies could be entertaining, comics were freeing and enjoyable, and walking around, enjoying solitude, was a great way to stretch his legs and observe the world around him. Young Nick often took notes on the things he saw.

College came easily to Nick. He had learned in high school that if one read the assigned reading, applied information gleaned from it to the written portion of the assignment, and put in a little extra effort whenever he found a certain section to be challenging, he could pretty much expect consistent Bs and some As. There were no reasons to constantly fret over assignments as many students in his dormitory did.

Nick did not graduate at the top of his class. He was sixth, however, and so had no problem finding a job. The town newspaper needed somebody to edit the obituaries- it was an entry-level position offering medium pay for low-level responsibility. Nick new it would suit him just fine.

Nick found a simple two-bedroom corner apartment overlooking Main Street and only one block from the newspaper. He made one of the bedrooms his sleeping-bedroom and the other a library. He used pine boards and cinder blocks to line the walls with floor to ceiling bookshelves and placed a second-hand blue leather chair with matching ottoman in the middle of the room. With the addition of a flexible gooseneck floor lamp, Nick thought he had done a satisfactory job of homemaking.

During the summer months Nick opened his windows. In the spring and autumn, he kept them closed. Now, during his first apartment winter, Nick decided it would be best if he read warm and slept cold, so he purchased a small infrared fireplace heater for the library and kept the apartment’s heat at a cool sixty degrees day and night. The fireplace heater shown a calming glow. He decided its predictable, synthetic flicker should be accompanied by a touch of Christmas cheer. Nick purchased a string of white Christmas lights and borrowed a stapler from work to hang them around the library’s door.

Having been hired the previous March, Nick was spared the difficulty of politely communicating his disinterest in attending the paper's Holiday Bash. This year he was expected to look forward to attending. Nick made every attempt to avoid the corners where Christmas was being discussed, all those vending machine exchanges about who would bring what and whether there should be a Yankee Swap or a Secret Santa, and the other tense unknowns. Nick didn’t enjoy planning or parties; he didn't know there were different ceremonies for gift giving. Nick only drank warm water and hot tea.

Charles Foster Jr. was as red faced as he was good natured and rotund. At only thirty, his father had started the paper. After twelve years of writing copy for everything from the front page to the classifieds, Mr. Charles Foster Jr. took over as editor in chief. The unicorn of bosses, Foster Jr. saw the good in all his staff and they each adored him in kind. Everybody at the paper understood, when it was suggested from on high, that this year the party simply be held in the offices instead of renting out a hall.

"Newspapers were losing readers faster than cigarettes were losing smokers in this world of social media and gym memberships," Foster Jr. would say.

Prefacing his suggestion with his assurances that booze would be allowed at the party, indeed it would be encouraged after the year the paper had just endured, Foster Jr. asked that everybody clean off their desks and slide them together for use as drink and buffet tables. But first they were to be draped with festive cloth and strung with garland by the decorating committee made up of the one full time photographer the paper could still afford to employ.

Even on Christmas eve Nick ate lunch at home, standing at his small kitchen counter where he spooned cereal from a large bowl while looking out the window, watching Main Street's traffic lights. First, he poured cereal into the bowl, halfway. He added milk until the cereal was covered and began to float. He spooned each mouthful so that it was as close to fifty-fifty, milk to cereal, as possible. Eventually this left him with some milk remaining after all the cereal had been consumed. He added more cereal to the mug, striving to maintain his ratios. Nick’s last step was rinsing out the bowl before replacing it on the counter ready for its next use.

After lunch, on returning to his desk, he found the office empty. No buffets were set up, though the desks were cleared and moved to the corners of the room. No drinks were set up nor garland strung, just an empty room, and open floor—and a cloth-covered dome in the middle of the floor.

Pinned to the cloth was a message that read, "My name is Oli and I get cold quite easily. Merry Christmas." The handwriting had too much flourish.

Discarding the note and the pin with a sideways toss, Nick lifted the cloth from the dome to reveal a small white bird on a swing in the center of a simple cage. Nick looked over his shoulder, seeing nobody and hearing nothing, he replaced the cloth over the cage, pinched the carrying handle under the cloth that was keeping out the Christmas chill, and brought the bird that got cold back to his apartment.

Seeing no reason to increase the heat in the apartment above the sixty degrees to which Nick had become accustomed, he brought the cage into the library, turned the infrared heater to medium. Then Nick went out for supplies before the stores closed early—presumably so their employees could attend Christmas parties at secret locations and leave behind pets and co-workers.

Nick returned to his apartment with the two large canvas totes that he used for shopping. He placed one on the kitchen counter and brought the other into the library. A wave of warmth hit Nick as he entered, and a delighted chirp made him pause after closing the library door behind him. The room was now close to seventy degrees making this bird, this Oli, become talkative.

From the second canvas tote, the first containing three boxes of cereal and three quarts of milk, Nick withdrew a hanging hook for drywall ceilings, a wall hook for hanging plants, a pair of pliers, and a Philips-head screwdriver. He removed the cloth from the cage and showed the bird how he had laid out each of his purchases on the blue leather ottoman. Oli chirped and Nick excused himself while he went to the kitchen to put the kettle on.

From the kitchen, just as his water was boiling, Nick heard another chirp followed by a louder squawk. He replaced his kettle back on the stove and held himself up from the counter for a moment on flexed, straight arms. He considered bringing the bird back to the office. He thought about knocking on his neighbor’s door and offering the bird to him, or to her—he had never actually met his neighbors. Reaching for the kettle once again, another squawk came from the library followed by a long series of short squawks, louder and more urgent.

Nick left his tea steeping in his blue mug for four minutes and fifty seconds and stormed into the library. The bird was silent and showing no interest in the recently purchased items lined up on the ottoman. Nick picked up the screwdriver and the wall hook and approached the cage. He showed the hook to Oli and then gestured to the center of one bookshelf-covered wall. Oli did not respond. Nick made his way across the room and gestured again. Oli was, again, silent. Nick offered the third bookshelf-covered wall and Oli tilted his or her head. Nick wasn’t even sure that birds had genders, and had no interest in finding out while the hook situation was still pending.

Nick walked over to the wall with the door in it, the last remaining option for locating the wall hook if Oli was going to remain tacitly indecisive. He eyeballed the middle of the wall, holding the hook up to the second shelf from the top. Oli chirped. Nick was washed over with cooling relief. He screwed the hook into the shelf with the provided factory screws using his new screwdriver. Nick made for the kitchen and for his tea seeking a much-deserved break from his needy holiday house guest. But regretting the haste with which he left the room, Nick reached around the corner and flipped on the strand of white Christmas lights which shown on Oli and his cage. The bird chirped and offered a head tilt in appreciation.

Snow fell, traffic slowed, and carolers stood outside the cafe for three or four songs about trees, merry, and jolly. The black tea perked him up a little bit, but Nick did not relish the act of installing a second hook this evening, especially as he was already forced to remove his tie during hook-installation-one in an effort to cool down after so much exposure to the warmth of the library. Another chirp came through the wall. 

Nick paused. 

He breathed deeply three times before entering and closing the door behind him. 


The library being square and Nick having no interest in altering his route to and from his blue leather chair, there were only three corners where the ceiling hook could be reasonably installed. Nick picked up the pliers and the ceiling hook for drywall ceilings from the ottoman and showed them to Oli. Oli said nothing. Nick sighed and demonstrated how the hook would look from corner one. Oli expressed no opinion. Nick stopped a moment to consider this before demonstrating corner two. Oli chirped twice. Nick demonstrated the final corner. Oli's head tilted and gave one squawk.

Nick found indecisiveness as avoidable as tardiness and bad breath. Re-crossing the room, his jaw set tightly, Nick returned to corner two and once again held the hook toward the ceiling. Oli chirped and then whistled. Nick nodded to Oli and installed the hook using his new pliers in corner two of his library.

Oli was not quick to convey on whether he or she would prefer the ceiling hook or the wall hook. This came as no surprise to Nick. His palms were sweating as he shoved them in his pants pockets so Oli wouldn’t see the hard, fast fists he was making with them. Nick suggested the wall, but on Oli's hesitation, Oli was given a moment to consider the ceiling hook. Offering two quick squawks, Nick moved Oli to the wall hook and kept to himself the feeling that, if Oli had only trusted Nick's instincts about which location would be more comfortable initially, some valuable time would have been saved and several unnecessary steps may not have been taken.

With Oli sounding off from his or her place in the cage hanging from the wall hook above the infrared fireplace, Nick procured for his guest a saucer of milk, three Cocoa Puffs, and three Lucky Charms (a rainbow, a balloon, and a shamrock), lining them up in the bottom of Oli's cage. Considering for a moment that he had already removed his tie and did not have work tomorrow, Nick decided that the evening's uproarious beginnings meant he could change into his pajamas and robe forty or so minutes early without negatively impacting his overall schedule.

With his pad and pencil pocketed behind the square of blue paisley bandana sewn to his red cotton bathrobe and its belt tied tightly around his waist, Nick again entered the library to a cacophonous series of notions from Oli. Nick grunted audibly and stalked to his reading chair, hands in his robe pockets. He slid out of one slipper, then the other, and sat down to notate some observations in his memo book. Oli dragged his or her beak across the bars of the cage so suddenly, and with such brutality, that Nick dropped his pencil down between the ottoman and the chair. When he reached to retrieve it, Oli ferociously took beak to bars again.

Nick looked up to see that Oli hadn't finished the cereal and saucer of milk and felt sure that he or she was not requesting seconds in the most rude and crude manner with which a request could be made. The cereal had been moved, now the Cocoa Puffs and the Lucky Charms were no longer separated into two neat rows, but all mixed together at one side of the cage floor. The milk did not appear to have been touched. Oli squawked and dragged his face across the bars, then the other way, then squeaking, then chirping, then squawking.

Nick picked his pencil up from where it had rolled beneath the ottoman, flipped to a fresh page in his memo book and carefully printed three words:

“Mutually assured destruction.”

Nick thought a moment while the snow blew outside, and his library temperature rose now to nearly seventy-two degrees. He loosened his bathrobe belt realizing that all the rules had gone right the hell out the window along with holding the door for the next person, replacing the pen in the holder at the bank, and saying excuse me after coughing mid-sentence. Nick considered, “A Merry Christmas? With Oli?”

He doubted it very much and decided to make another cup of tea, perhaps Oli would have some too and cease with his racket. After all, Nick still had observations to record and it was nearly 6:00 pm.

December 23, 2020 23:02

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Ally Clark
04:23 Dec 31, 2020

I enjoyed your characterization of Nick and his frustration with the bird in his orderly life.


Matt Keating
21:59 Jan 01, 2021

Thank you Ally, I appreciate you reading my story!


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