A Letter to Darlene: c/o Franklin County Jail

Submitted into Contest #229 in response to: Write about a festive party gone wrong that’s saved by some holiday magic.... view prompt

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Christmas Fiction Funny

Darlene,


It’s a crying shame you’re still incarcerated, Sis, otherwise, I would have dragged you with me to the Wheatville Baptist Church Christmas party last night, because it was surely a night I won’t forget.

You remember Miss Beverly, right? The one who always wore her hair in that big swoopy up-do? She’d been directing the children’s play every year for the last thirty years, but she passed away in June, God rest her soul, and so they needed somebody to take her place. Well, Elvira Mumford got wind of it and said she might be interested in helping. You haven’t met her, but Elvira’s the one I told you about who drives a semi-truck and looks stuck in the ‘80s with her big hair and acid-washed jeans.

Anyway, one night she just showed up to a committee meeting, her truck parked right outside the sanctuary, and told everyone that she’d take over the whole Christmas play—said she just loved kids and had been wanting to do more to help around the church. Well, who was going to tell her no after that? So, they gave her old Miss Beverly’s boom box, binders, and costume bins and told her the play was all hers. 

I knew we were in for a show when Elvira chose the preacher’s boy to be Joseph. You never met the new preacher and his family, but let me tell you, his boy is downright feral. That child runs around like his pants are on fire, terrorizing the old ladies with his Nerf guns and light sabers, or drumming his muddy feet against the back of my pew every Sunday morning. He’s like a puppy that needs a good long walk. I felt like the role of Joseph would have been better suited to someone a bit more mature (and quiet), but nobody asked my opinion.

Anyway, then Elvira wanted the Smith girl—who’s real shy and hardly says a word to anyone—to play Mary, who had the most lines in the whole play. At first, the Smith girl didn’t want to do it, but Elvira kept talking up what a special part it was, and after a while, the girl agreed to it. I think she liked the idea that Elvira had chosen her to be the mother of God and didn’t want to pass up such an opportunity.

Finally, for the part of baby Jesus, Elvira told everyone that her great-niece was expecting a baby boy around Christmas time, and so we could borrow her baby. Miss Beverly always used a doll, as she said infants were noisy and unpredictable, but Elvira was adamant that a real-life baby would enhance the experience. With the lead parts chosen, all the other kids would be angels or shepherds. Elvira had big plans to bring the nativity scene to life—though the preacher put his foot down about having livestock in the sanctuary. So, Elvira had to settle for cardboard animal cut-outs.

The evening started out alright—I wore a red dress with that gold teardrop ruby necklace you gave me (which, by gave me, I mean I know you stole it). But lawfully acquired or not, all the ladies thought it was beautiful and kept ogling my neck all evening—Elvira said I looked like Kate Middleton. I even saw Tom Granger looking at it too. (I promise I won’t drone on about Tom…in this letter.) But he had seemed a bit down, being a lonely widower during the holidays and all, so I offered for him to sit next to me during the service, which he accepted.

But back to the play; the service was a bit slow to start as people kept shuffling in late and wandering up and down the aisle, chit-chatting and such. Do you remember the Harlick family? You went to high school with one of the cousins, I believe. Anyway, they showed up, too, being practically dragged by this stocky, fat-headed Pitbull which they told everyone was a service dog. But I don’t know what kind of service that dog could possibly provide, because he was the worst behaved dog I’ve ever seen. Oh Lord, Darlene, he was back there whining and scratching the whole time, and he even chewed a hymnal to pieces. At the end of the night, Tom found little wet bits of “Angels We Have Heard on High” stuck in the tread of his loafers.

Fifteen minutes past the hour, the service still hadn’t started because nobody could find the preacher, and people were starting to get flustered. The whole front row was one long line of noisy, fidgety children in crisply ironed polyester robes, fake beards, and mesh angel wings, and you could tell they were getting antsy too. One shepherd had a finger knuckle-deep in his nose, and an angel’s halo kept falling off because the kid couldn’t stop scratching his head.

Finally, the back doors swung open and the preacher came in, red-faced and sweating, towing his berobed, staff-wielding son behind him. (I heard the boy had climbed up into the attic to hide out during the play and the preacher’d had to drag him down kicking and screaming; but that’s only a rumor.) He ushered the boy to the row of other kids and welcomed the congregation.

After that, everyone finally settled down and it was time for the play to start. Elvira turned on the CD player and cued Mary, (the Smith girl), and Joseph, (the preacher’s boy), to begin “traveling” toward the stage. Mary rode her donkey—a gray hobby horse—and Joseph followed beside her. By the time they got to the front of the church, Mary's face had turned beet red, and it was obvious she’d forgotten most of her lines; at the top of the stairs, she turned to Joseph and said in a squeaky voice, “I’m pregnant with a holy baby and it’s coming, like right now.” The girl said nothing after that, just stood staring at the audience while Joseph pretended to feed the donkey.

Once it was clear Mary wasn’t going to say another word, Elvira leaped off the pew and skipped to the next track. Then she rushed all the angels and shepherds on stage while Mary and Joseph settled in the barn, which was a plywood arch leaned against the piano. Then, right as everyone got in their places and a shepherd began speaking, the disc started skipping, turning what should have been calm, heavenly music into a warped, convulsing rap. Well, Joseph just couldn’t stand it; he started gyrating and pumping his fists in the air until his daddy yelled at him to cut it out, all the way from the back of the church. Then that itchy angel went to scratching himself again and knocked over a microphone stand, which toppled one of the sheep.

Oh, and it turned out Elvira’s great-niece’s baby wasn’t born in time to be in the play, so she’d had to find someone else, and the next youngest kid at the church was a two-and-a-half-year-old girl with long blonde hair. Elvira wrapped the girl up in a bed sheet, laid her in the manger (a galvanized water trough from someone’s farm), and bribed her with a bag of mini-Oreo cookies to sit still and pretend to be baby Jesus. You could hear the toddler crinkling and crunching throughout the entire play.

After Elvira got the CD working again, the shepherds said their lines and one of the angels sang a solo. When she was done, she passed the microphone to Mary, whose face had turned a ghostly white. She was supposed to say something that would wrap up the play and cue everyone to sing a closing song, but instead, she dropped the microphone and ran from the sanctuary, hand clutched over her mouth. We could all hear her throwing up in the foyer. It was awful, Darlene. You would have been right behind her, running for the bathroom; I know how you get when someone starts puking.

At this point, all the kids on stage were wandering around, half-slipping out of their costumes. The itchy angel had removed his halo and was scratching his back with it. Baby Jesus had run out of snacks, climbed out of the manger, and was straddling one of the cardboard sheep. Then the stupid CD began skipping again, so Elvira just yanked the plug from the wall, cutting the sound altogether.

Then, in the moment of relative silence that followed, she stepped up onto the stage and turned to the congregation. Her face was as red as ripe tomato and her chin shook, but then she opened her mouth and began singing “Jingle Bells” in the most raspy, off-key voice I’d ever heard. Everyone stood and joined her. Elvira waved her Christmas sweater-clad arms like a conductor, struggling to keep any semblance of rhythm, but the room was vibrant with everyone’s voices, the mayhem of the performance forgotten in the joy of the song. Even with Elvira’s terrible singing, it was a beautiful moment.

Then, right as we got to the last “in a one-horse open sleigh”, that unruly pit bull appeared from the back of the sanctuary, charged down the aisle dragging his chewed-up leash behind him, and squatted on the floor. The whole place broke out in pandemonium, everyone squealing and gasping, but none of the sounds did a blessed thing to deter that dog from emptying his bowels right there on the plush, burgundy carpet.

Oh, Darlene, the smell—you would have just lost it. The church was already hot and stuffy, then after the accident, the whole room smelled like rotten fajitas. From the front left pew, the preacher just stood there rubbing circles in his forehead, eyes closed. He waved his arm and said above the noise, “That’s the end, everyone.”

A flurry of angels and shepherds and kids with cardboard farm animals exploded off the stage and joined their families. Tom turned and gave me a wide-eyed look, hand over his nose, and we followed the crowd out of the sanctuary, giving a wide birth to the brown pile in the middle of the floor. I saw Elvira duck into the ladies' room, so I told Tom I’d meet him in a minute, and then he said he’d save me a seat. (I really think he likes me, Darlene.)

In the restroom, I found Elvira standing at the mirror, her chin quivering and her eyes dewy. Her broad shoulders slumped and the festive sweater she wore seemed inappropriately jolly compared to her sullen expression. This truck-driving, steel-toed boots-wearing woman I’d always thought of as unshakable was pouting over a Christmas play. She blew her nose and fluffed her hair, then looked at me in the mirror. 

“Clearly, I don’t know what I’m doing around kids. That whole thing was a disaster.”

I tried to reassure her that it wasn’t all that bad, but she kept going as if she didn’t hear me.

“I never did have kids of my own,” she admitted.Always wanted them though.”

Well, then I really didn’t know what to say. I’d never pictured Elvira as the motherly type. She blew her nose again and just looked so pitiful, eyes red-rimmed and teary.

I hope you won’t be offended by what I did next, Darlene, being that the jewelry draped along my chest was only acquired on account of your shoplifting compulsion rather than love for your dear sister, but I took off that ruby necklace and fastened it around Elvira’s neck and told her this, (which is entirely and genuinely the truth):

“Elvira, that was by far the most entertaining Wheatville Baptist Church Christmas children’s play I’ve ever seen. And I hope you run it again next year.”

That seemed to cheer her up because she came out of the restroom a few minutes later standing a bit taller and with dry eyes. And for the rest of the night, I caught her rubbing that ruby between her fingers like she wanted to make sure it was still there. (I hope you don’t mind me giving it away, but I’d been thinking it was probably bad luck for me to wear stolen jewelry to church anyway.)

In the dining hall, people were already clustered around the tables of casseroles, scooping food onto Styrofoam plates and laughing. Tom was seated in the corner, alone at a round table with two cups of sweet tea saving his seat and mine. He looked so handsome in his argyle sweater vest and salt and pepper hair combed back. (I know, I told you I wouldn't write all about Tom, but I can’t help it.) And when he saw me walking toward him, his face lit up and I got butterflies in my stomach like a schoolgirl. (Don’t laugh; Tom is a wonderful man and it’s not like my sea is brimming full of fish at this age.)

I wish you could have been there, Darlene; that would have made the night all the better.

Oh, one last thing; I mentioned to Elvira how skilled you are on your sewing machine, and she told me that if you get released by Spring, you could come help us make some new costumes for the Easter play! (Apparently, the itchy angel had a case of head lice, so we ended up pitching a whole container of infested robes and halos.) I hope you’ll take her up on it; you really are a great seamstress. And besides that, I think you and Elvira would make good friends.

Now, please be on your best behavior in there and don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to you so you can get out soon and I can have my sister back.

Merry Christmas!

Love,

Cheryl 

December 23, 2023 03:46

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19 comments

15:02 Dec 28, 2023

Fun, light hearted take on the prompt! I like your choice of format (letter) to her sister, the intended audience. I especially liked that Cheryl wasn't all preachy with her sister, you know the type: I'll pray for you, etc... It was definitely funny! Best of Luck! -CC

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Aeris Walker
19:00 Dec 31, 2023

Yeah, it was hard to get in the headspace of writing anything too dark or serious around the holidays, so hence this dumpster-fire of a church play haha. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts; it always means a lot :)

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14:35 Dec 23, 2023

Brilliant story Aeris. Is a dad of four I've experienced my share of nativity plays and yes this was very true to life. Except for the dog. And the.puking! Poor Elvira!. She tried. hopefully Easter will be better! Thanks for the laugh! Happy Christmas!

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Aeris Walker
02:29 Dec 27, 2023

Wild as it sounds, the dog part is entirely based on a true story… lol. Thanks for reading!

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L. D.
14:38 May 15, 2024

The lighthearted tone of the letter was the perfect juxtaposition for this slice of humanity. Almost cried at the end. Also, "the preacher just stood there rubbing circles in his forehead" - you must have directed a play or two, yourself. ;)

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Anna W
21:32 Dec 31, 2023

Great story! I feel like I've attended this exact Christmas play, in a little brick church, back in a holler somewhere in the Appalachian mountains. So funny! I loved the nuance of small town in this, where everyone knows everyone's business, but hopefully give a little grace to each other, here and there. Truly well written! Loved!!

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Jenny Cook
23:02 Dec 29, 2023

We have all had our share of children's nativity plays,but this one had to be one of the most entertaining! Thank you for a wonderful,comedic and totally believable tale.

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Rebecca Miles
15:13 Dec 29, 2023

The colloquialisms give this a lovely coming of age feeling which does not cloy; just as well as the recipient is in the slammer! Despite the physical distance, the sister's bond is strong and the close holds the promise of future times together. To me, this captures the hope at the heart of the Christmas story, rendered unusual with the addition of lice infested halos and popping dogs!

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Alexis Araneta
15:11 Dec 29, 2023

Brilliant job here ! I love your experimentation with form by making the story epistolary, Very entertaining, I laughed, cringed, and swooned along with Cheryl and Darlene (well, as I imagine her reading the letter). Also, I love how you're showing that sometimes, the magic is just plain 'ol kindness. Great submission. PS: Why is Tom such a good name for a male romantic lead? I also used it in my story in another prompt. Hahaha !

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Aeris Walker
19:10 Dec 31, 2023

Thanks for reading, Stella! A "Tom" is just a nice guy--the kind who walks your dogs for you and genuinely appreciates homemade Christmas presents.

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Michał Przywara
15:41 Dec 26, 2023

Ha, what wholesome chaos :) Nothing but good intentions (and the preacher's boy) colliding and causing havoc. We believe Cheryl when she tells Elvira it was the most entertaining play - certainly the most memorable. Framing this as a letter to an incarcerated sibling is also a great idea, especially given the holiday theme. It's easy to celebrate with those who are near us, but this demonstrates keeping those who are away, still in our hearts. It's a very positive story, despite the background. Poor Mary though - being a kid can be hard :)

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Aeris Walker
00:08 Dec 28, 2023

“Wholesome chaos” lol. Quite right. Thanks for reading :)

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Kailani B.
17:09 Dec 25, 2023

What an enjoyable tale! I especially like the imagery of a baby Jesus chomping on Oreos. Thanks for sharing!

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AnneMarie Miles
15:48 Dec 24, 2023

This entire thing reads as smooth as butter! And I love the way you encapsulated this wild ride of a story into a letter. What a smart choice for delivery. Sometimes letter forms can reduce the amount of details offered to the reader, but you found a way to include them in such a natural way. Like Cheryl's obsession with Tom and Darlene's shoplifting (which tells us exactly why this needed to be a letter). We used to do Christmas plays at my school every year and as I read, I was grateful none were ever this much of a disaster, but I did fee...

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Mary Bendickson
01:38 Dec 24, 2023

True taste of Christmas present.

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Wally Schmidt
16:51 Dec 23, 2023

Aeris no one has your ability to pull a reader into the story like you do and this one is no exception. Love the details you provide "... Tom found little wet bits of “Angels We Have Heard on High” stuck in the tread of his loafers." "one long line of noisy, fidgety children in crisply ironed polyester robes, fake beards, and mesh angel wings," "One shepherd had a finger knuckle-deep in his nose, and an angel’s halo kept falling off because the kid couldn’t stop scratching his head." "argyle sweater vest" And here comes the ticking clock (a...

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Aeris Walker
00:19 Dec 28, 2023

Hi Wally! Thanks for sharing all your favorite tidbits; I love seeing what resonates with readers. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas. Thanks for reading :)

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Darya Silman
15:58 Dec 23, 2023

This story is down-to-earth and humorous with a good-Christmas-y vibe. I felt sorry for kids. It's always the same kids who are get picked up for plays, and the shy type always stays aside, though they sometimes want to take part. Elvira was right in picking up the outcasts. The first pancake is the worst, Russians say. I do hope Elvira will have a good Easter performance, and you get a new topic to write about. Thank you for the joy!

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Aeris Walker
00:17 Dec 28, 2023

“The first pancake is the worst” haha! Love it. Thanks for reading, Darya :)

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