Fiction Drama Christmas

In the past, people described my mother's personality as quirky. These days they would likely say she is ‘on the spectrum’. She is into puzzles, factual knowledge and has very strong opinions on many topics. Conversations with her tend to have a one way flow to them, so I’m never quite sure if what I'm saying is being heard. I will mention one thing, and then the conversation will quickly jump from topic to topic never getting back to that thing I wanted to talk about which can be frustrating.

I used to be sure I was different. A ‘normie’. I had friends in school. People said I was a good listener. But these days, around coworkers that mostly avoid me, as I work cataloging obscure details about archaeological artifacts that few people are interested in, I sometimes wonder about the old saying that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

At the office of the Director of Special Exhibits, Ann Walters stands in front of me with an open, friendly, and vaguely regal bearing. The poise of someone who has graduated from an elite Ivy League school. 

We’re both quiet for a while then she asks, “How long have you worked here?” 

“Four years and three months,” I say.

“Four years and three months,” she says it again, as if it’s an important fact to register, “and you are the most detailed minded curator on our team. I need you to make sure everything proceeds smoothly with the exhibit.”

“I will try my best.”

“Papakonstantinou has sent me a list of issues we need to fix by tomorrow. Find a way to make them happy,” she says in one breath, “I’ll email you the list in a minute.

She looks at her computer until I realize the meeting is over.

In anticipation of a lot of work later, I go out for a breather in front of the museum. From over the pedestal where Theodore Roosevelt’s statue once stood, I look out at Central Park and feel the chill of the first breeze of autumn. Hundreds of years of history have happened here as well.

My mobile vibrates, a notification. At first it looks like spam: You have received a $100 gift. Install the BetRio App to collect and begin gaming.

Then I see: “Merry Christmas! Love, Mom.”   

My mind is too busy with the museum exhibit to process this right now, so I hit the ok button and put my mobile away.

I soon receive a list of BetRio notifications about awards and special offers, and hope this new app just goes away. 

The email from Ann about the problems with the exhibit arrives.

Some backstory, Greece and Turkey have a historical beef with each other. A grudge that dates back to things such as Mehmed II’s conquest of Greek Constantinople in 1453. The sack of Athens in 1458. The Ottoman Empire's 400-year occupation. With the Greeks doing most of the losing, and the Turks the sacking, one can assume emotions run hotter on the Moussaka side of the Aegean Sea.

This explains why, when a Turkish immigrant, Emre Demirc, founded America’s largest Greek yogurt company Frobani, and then used the profits from selling Greek yogurt to Americans, to sponsor an exhibit on the glories of the Turkish Ottoman Empire at New York’s most prestigious museum, it was all too much for Spyros Papakonstantinou. 

It felt like the sack of Athens all over again.

“Papakonstantinou donated $20 million for this exhibition,” Ann tells me, “and he wants us to make it an uplifting tribute to Ancient Greece’s contribution to American democracy.”

“That sounds like a very Eurocentric theme,” I say worryingly.

“Yes, that’s why we are making the centerpiece of the exhibit the Kore statues.” The Kore statues are sculptures of children, wearing clothes thankfully, and smiling. “Your label states that the Kore Statues were funeral offerings.”

“Yes,” I smile tentatively.

“That has not been proven, some researchers say they were gifts to the gods. Why didn’t you consult with me before printing the labels?”

“I went with the consensus academic stance.”

“This is the type of thing that could cause problems between us.”

“Papakonstantinou, Papakonstantinou,” she practices our patron's surname, “the Kore Statues were a gift to the gods,” she winks at me, “replace all the labels.”

I grimace. It will take hours of pleading with the printing department. On the way downstairs, I take a detour to the back garden to make a voice call. 

“Mom, did you send me some type of betting app?”

“Yes, that’s from us. We thought you’d enjoy it. Your dad has us using what he calls the Martingale method, and he’s doing really well down on the strip you know.” She fills me in on their recent betting history.

I tell her, “You know, no one ever makes money gambling.”

“We’ve been keeping track, and we’re still ahead.”

“As long as you’re not spending too much, I guess it’s good entertainment,” that seems to make her happy and I say goodbye.

Honestly, I have zero interest in gambling. Maybe I can withdraw the money from the app, and pretend I enjoyed gambling it away. But I’ll need to know enough about the games to fake it. It all seems complicated, and procrastination is the easy option right now.

Back at work after a few tedious hours of updating labels, the positions of the antiquities, and expanding our social media campaign, Ann finds me again.

“You managed to spell the Spyros Papakonstantinou Foundation correct on twenty descriptions,” she says, stammering slightly on the long surname that she seems to want to keep practicing. “But now our whole exhibition hall is full of signs for the Hill of the Mouses.” She shows me a sign. “The Hill of the Mouses? Are you playing a prank on us?”

“The Hill of the Muses, it’s a possible alternate spelling,” I propose.

She gives me a frown, she clearly double-checked the spelling with one of the professors of Greek history funded by the museum. “Papakonstantinou will be arriving for the reception tonight, you can explain to him why the signs at the exhibit they’ve spent 20 million dollars on are misspelled,” she pronounces the name of the prominent Greek-American family fluently this time.

“Yes, we’ve been dealing with it.”

I work all night reprinting the signs.

The next morning we carefully uncrate the centerpiece of ‘Greek Origins of American Democracy’ the Kore Statue #673. It was buried under the Acropolis for 2,500 years after the Persians sacked the city in 480 B.C. The inhabitants of Athens buried the statues for safekeeping, or perhaps to hide the evidence of losing the battle. I’m relieved it was the Persians, and I don’t need to write anything about Turks on the object label.

As we remove the polyurethane foam packing, I see tape sticking to the statue. As we carefully peel off the tape, it leaves a sticky yellow residue on this priceless antiquity.

I look toward my coworker Adam. "It's not a big deal, there are two hundred of these statues out there," he says.

I feel dizzy. I need to be alone for a minute, and go to the bathroom.

My mobile vibrates. I see another notification: $25 bonus if you activate the BetRio app within the next 15 minutes.

This seems like a welcome distraction right now so I put in a username and accept the terms and conditions.

I send a text message. “Mom, what game do you play on BetRio?”

I soon receive a reply, “Video Poker.”

My mother used to be an avid reader, there would always be a small stack of novels in the living room, historical fiction from James Michener, and the Clan of the Cave Bear series from Jean Auel were some I remember. But being older now, her concentration and eyesight make it harder her for to focus. Perhaps she looks for simpler and more immediate gratification with gambling.

After some googling, I discover the BetRio app isn’t licensed in New York state. So it's technically illegal, even though I’ve seen people using the same app on the subway regularly. Anyway, I haven’t bet anything, so haven’t committed a crime. These things should have a way to withdraw the money, right? I click on the accounts menu, find a PayPal button, and try to withdraw the $125.

When I push the final green button, everything disappears and it brings me back to the homepage. I try it again. Same result.

"Come to my office immediately." I receive a text from Ann.

I rush upstairs.

"I've just heard about the shocking damage to the Kore Statue," Ann says as soon as I enter her office.

"Yes, it appears the statue was improperly packed..."

She interupts, "Adam says you didn't take the damage seriously."


I attempt to explain but her look of doubt doesn't change. She says she's in a rush, and asks me to prepare an official apology by the museum to the Greek Minister of Antiquities.

From others I find out Ann will appear on a BBC podcast today talking about her trip leading an archeological exacation at La Almoloya. The dig unearthed artifacts that point toward evidence of a female ruler of the El Argar culture, which thrived in South-East Spain in 2200 BC. The museum members that were involved in the project busy themselves with fact checking Ann's notes for the talk.

As I'm left out of all the activity, I have time between routine work to scan all the Las Vegas gambling guides I received in links from my mother. I'm not that confident about winning, but at least the rules of these games are easy to understand.


On Sunday, Spyros Papakonstantinou visits the museum and receives a private tour. Ann says flattering words about his interest in antiquities and the immense contributions of Greek history, along with many other diverse cultures, to the modern world. Spyros nods and smiles. After six months of preparation, I hoped for more enthuasism for all our hard work from Spyros.

At least there hasn't been a word about the damage to Kore Statue #673 mentioned today.

Afterwards, Ann holds a congratulatory meeting for museum staff. She thanks a long list of the senior members staff. A few of my colleagues give me sympathetic sideways glances as I’m not mentioned. 

After I return home, I make a call.

“Mom, I tried out the app,”

“How did it go?”

“I have a question, in Jacks or better, should I hold a pair of 2’s?”

“I’m happy you asked. Always hold a low pair. Last week I held a low pair, drew two more, and won 75 dollars. The machines at the Suncoast…” 

I interrupt before she drifts too far. “Mom, another question, what’s the Martingale method?”

“When you lose a hand, you bet twice as much on the next one. But if you hit your limit, for me that’s $50 dollars, you need to leave the casino and give the machines time to rest until the next day. Now, your Dad’s friend Greg has another system that he says works at the Aliente…”

I stop interrupting and let her go through a flurry of anecdotes about recent events. Somehow, I find this conversation refreshingly predictable and comfortable after everything else that has been going on recently.

“Thanks for all the info,” I say at the end of our conversation, and thank her again for the birthday gift.

Over the weekend, I end up losing the hundred twenty five dollars within a few hours. I return the small gift back to the casino. But I gain a more important gift, a new connection with my mother during the holidays, and that’s something to talk about.

November 24, 2022 13:30

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Lily Finch
19:30 Nov 24, 2022

Hey Scott, I enjoyed how you weaved three parts of MC life into one. That was dandy. I liked reading about the antiquities. His relationship with Ann is not great (not by his fault - she is an elitist b*%#), while his relationship with his mother seems to be the only thing that matters in the end. Bravo! LF6


Show 0 replies
Daniel Allen
15:00 Nov 25, 2022

A really good story, with some nice historical details and a compelling protagonist. I think we can all relate to many of the protagonist's troubles hear, a pushy, arrogant boss, backstabbing colleagues, and a general sense of under-appreciation. I especially like the protagonist's solution to their problems, spending time with their family. All in all, it's an engaging piece, with a definite sense of universality to it.


Show 0 replies
Ela Mikh
14:23 Nov 25, 2022

Interesting character development. I didn't expect it to go the direction the story went. Thank you


Show 0 replies
Suma Jayachandar
05:24 Nov 25, 2022

Hi Scott, The amount of fascinating history you have packed into this is impressive. And i really liked the dialogue too. The way the hardworking, unappreciated POV character finds solace in reconnecting with his mother is kinda bittersweet. Since you have mentioned this as a draft- I found it a little difficult to reconcile the condition of the mother( as explained in the first paragraph) with her apparent smartness in gaming. Pl ignore if me if you find this observation useless.


07:35 Nov 25, 2022

Thanks for the feedback Suma. I've been travelling in Greece and wanted to somehow use some themes from here without making it a travel or history story. On your note, people on the autism spectrum are usually interested in games, logic, details, and not as much focused on emotions and empathy. I'll maybe add a little bit of detail in the story to make that clearer. The people around him at the museum are sort of the other way playing politics while he's doing the hardwork, so at the end he finds solace by showing interest in a topic that hi...


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Tommy Goround
16:50 Nov 24, 2022

Three plot lines come together like the roots of a tree.. The ending is delicate. Good work.


Show 0 replies
Graham Kinross
05:36 Jan 11, 2023

The details of the setting, the character building and the plot are worked together brilliantly.


07:49 Jan 11, 2023

Thanks, that story had quite a few moving parts. Tried a simple retelling of a ww2 story this week for something easier.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Hi Scott. First off, I’m intrigued by the title of this story, though I’ve come to expect quirky titles from you. [She is into puzzles, factual knowledge and has very strong opinions on many topics.] Yep, sounds spectrum. I myself deal with similar spectrum symptoms. [I used to be sure I was different. A ‘normie’.] I have come to believe that there is no such thing as normal. We are all on the spectrum of behavior, it just impacts all of us differently. For some of us it’s more evident, for some less, for some it depends on the circums...


09:04 Dec 03, 2022

Thx Guadalupe, learned a few things from your line edits... that vs who.. swapping 'then' for 'before'. (I have been using 'then' too much in my writing). A few other mistakes too, its hard to edit my mini-novels by the end of friday night. And yes, I definitely have a few toes in the spectrum. When I went to a counsellor she said, as you mentioned, the diagnosis is based on around 10 characteristics.. so if someone has 6 or more of them, the DSM5 would say they have 'asperger' but if I have 4-5 maybe I wouldn't be labelled that even though...


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Delbert Griffith
14:34 Dec 02, 2022

Nice work, Scott. I really liked how the dedicated but overwhelmed MC finds relief and solace in his 'not normal' mother. The parallels between the Greek/Turk battles and his own battles with his boss was well crafted. The clincher for me was the first sentence in the final paragraph: 'Over the weekend, I end up losing the hundred twenty five dollars within a few hours. I return the small gift back to the casino.' This kept the story real and believable. Nice! We may think of the MC as leading a life of quiet desperation, but he isn't. H...


08:32 Dec 03, 2022

Thanks Delbert;) happy the story made sense. There were quite a few plot threads going in different directions at the same time. Yeah, the MC is probably more like his mother than he realizes, but he is the one who just keeps going and trying to make the best of things.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
21:53 Nov 30, 2022

A stressful time at work culminates in reflection, and reconnection. I'm also getting a sense the story is about communication. There's the clear thing, where the narrator is communicating with his mother. But then there are the miscommunications at work. The signs that need reprinting is one, but the scene where Papakonstantinou finally arrives, and shows only moderately polite interest, is telling. They had a stressful time at work perhaps because of what they assumed he wanted (to showcase Greece's contributions to democracy via an ex...


11:21 Dec 01, 2022

Thanks for the insightful comment, the two stories didn't connect much on the surface, but as you said, I think the theme of miscommunication was in my mind as I was writing. Thanks for writing and commenting. I'm also busy with the last stages of a scifi story for this week.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Philip Ebuluofor
15:21 Nov 29, 2022

I think if you tweak this your story a little bit, it will become an interesting blog post to read and learn true life lessons from. Fine work.


Show 0 replies
Marty B
05:53 Nov 28, 2022

The historical info was so interesting. The two plot lines worked well twirling thru the story as counterpoints.


02:46 Nov 29, 2022

Thanks Marty, perhaps they were a bit too far but happy to hear you thought it worked ok. I was in Greece and just read that Chobani yogurt was founded by a Turkish guy and just wanted to use that somehow;)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mike Panasitti
01:50 Nov 26, 2022

This is a nuanced story with many layers like an onion, but instead of having an empty center, it has a solid beating heart. Great neurodivergent POV.


06:54 Nov 26, 2022

Thanks for reading and thats nice to hear, I worked hard to get the balance right.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jordan Bassett
05:49 Dec 09, 2022

So golden amazing wow so cool


Show 0 replies
Laurel Hanson
18:04 Dec 01, 2022

An interesting pairing of a number of elements. The Greek wanting to get back at the Turk seems to form a backdrop to the behavior of Ann who seems to want to get at the narrator for some reason. That failure to communicate between different people is nicely framed with seeking to communicate with the mother.


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.