I don't cry. And just because Christmas was five days away and I didn't have a dollar to my name didn't mean I was going to start. I lost my job a week ago because, let's just say, me and my employer don't get along the way he'd like.
I know what you're thinking. People like me are trash. We're the lowest of the low class, lazy, schmoozing, worthless trash.
But I'm not trash. My ex-husband Jimmy was and I guess when you hang out with trash you get some on you. He left me with two kids, no car, rent payment past due, and a pile of empty liquor bottles.
That was two years ago. I thought things were getting better, but life keeps dumping on us and I feel like I'm constantly crawling up the trash heap and trying to keep my two kids clean from it in the process. [you hit the "trash" analogy a little too hard; go back and weed some out.]
I had worked at a posh [with the attitude you've set up, I don't think she'd use the word "posh"--maybe "snooty"] department store for the last year. Every day I waited on people who had more money than I could even fathom. I hated Christmas because it was a reminder to me of how little I had.
To say I was cynical would be the understatement of the year. I hated those people. I helped them purchase hundreds of dollars of merchandise every day and then watched as they passed by the Giving Tree without a glance. Dozens of little gold and silver bells with name tags for less fortunate children hung from the Christmas tree. I would never understand how people could have so much yet give so little.
As much as I despised Christmas, I was trying to come up with some way to make it special for my girls. Our store had given every employee a red silk blouse to wear during the holidays. We could return it at the end of the season for ten dollars in store credit. I hadn't considered it before because I knew the blouse was worth a lot more than ten dollars.
Yesterday, I sat on our stained loveseat and looked at the pile of change I had found and the blouse lying in a graceful heap beside it. What a Christmas! I could return the silk blouse for credit at the department store where I couldn't afford to shop, but first I had to have it dry cleaned. [How much does it cost to dry clean a silk blouse? If all she's getting is $10 minus the cleaning bill, she'd be better off selling it] If my idea didn't work then all my hard work to prove we weren't trash would go unnoticed when Santa passed by our house on Christmas Eve.
So I left Maddy and Becky with Mrs. Fenton across the hall and hurried to the dry cleaner's. [needs some transition; describe the cold, what she sees and hears] I held the plastic wrapped red silk carefully and cursed the disgusting smells of public transportation as I traveled across town. I dreaded walking into the mall, but I had to do it. I went to the employment office and returned my blouse without incident. I held the gift card tightly as I entered the store. My stomach fluttered as I approached Carol, a woman I had worked with for over a year. To call her a friend would be a bit of a stretch because I didn't have any, but right now that's what I needed her to be.
"Hi Carol," I said.
"Merrilee, how are you?" She tried to hide her surprise but the way she said it, I knew the boss had been spreading rumors about me.
"I need a favor." I paused and tried to lift the corners of my mouth into some semblance of a smile. "I returned my blouse for the ten dollar gift card and I wanted to know if you could use it."
Carol hesitated until realization dawned on her. "Sure, honey. You know I always have my eye on something here. Let me grab my purse." She reached under the counter and I held my breath.
"Thanks so much. This means a lot." I struggled to get the words out as Carol handed me a ten dollar bill.
I almost walked past the Giving Tree before I noticed that no little bells hung from the branches.
"Carol, what happened to the Giving Tree?"
"Some woman came in yesterday and took every ornament that was left and arranged to deliver gifts." Carol raised her eyebrows. "You know, she didn't look like she even had that kind of money. Like someone who'd never shopped at our store before."
"Oh." My heart tingled and my throat felt tight. A piece of my cynic's armor figuratively fell to the ground.
"Merry Christmas," Carol said.
I gave her a weak smile and a wave.
The bus was late so I decided to head home before Mrs. Fenton got restless with my six and eight year old girls. [introduce their age earlier] Tomorrow I would find something just right for their Christmas present. I wanted to laugh out loud at myself. Ten dollars and I was going to find something just right. Becky and Maddy were the sweetest little girls around, what had they done to deserve a Christmas like this?
Later that night, the girls and I fixed our last box of macaroni and cheese and then we cuddled in a blanket and read Christmas stories. I tried to keep my mind on the stories but it kept straying as I wondered if there was anything I could pawn to get some extra money. I sighed because there was nothing. Maybe we were trash; we didn't even own anything worth more than a trip to the junk yard. [if they just ate their last box of mac & cheese, shouldn't she be planning how to buy food and not presents?]
Becky and Maddy went to bed early and I sat on the old loveseat and tried to contemplate what had happened to my life. A light knock on the flimsy apartment door startled me. I crept toward the door and opened it just a crack.
"Merry Christmas!" cheerful voices rang out.
I jumped back and the door strained against the chain still in place. I quickly removed it and opened the door. "Are you looking for someone?"
"Not anymore Merrilee," a middle-aged woman said and she held out a small silver bell with a tag attached to it. I took it and my hand shook as I recognized my name and age on the tag. [How did her name get on the tree?]
"I have one too!" A little girl about Maddy's age jumped up and down with a golden bell tinkling in her hand.
"Mine first," a voice called out. I looked down to see another little girl pushing her way around her father's leg.
I took the bells and read: Becky age 8, Maddy age 6 . When I looked up, the father had stepped aside and was lifting a huge box filled with Christmas presents. "May I put this inside?" he asked with a huge smile.
I didn't know what to say. I nodded my head in confusion.
"I'll be right back," he said and winked.
"Look, look we have more." One of the little girls squealed as her mother lifted another box and carried it into my apartment.
"But how—" I started to ask and my lip trembled.
"It's Christmas that's how. Miracles happen every day and twice a day around Christmas." She reached her arms toward me in a hug. "I hope you and your girls have a wonderful Christmas, this is for you to open after we leave." She handed me a card in a beautiful silver envelope.
I heard more squeals of delight as someone called out, "Ho, ho ho!" I looked up as the girls danced around their father carrying in a beautiful Christmas tree. It was small, but the perfect size for our apartment. He handed me a sack full of ornaments and quickly set up the tree. [If they're poor, the apartment is small. Wouldn't all the ringing voices, squealing and dancing around done by the family wake the girls up?]
"I can't believe it," I mumbled. "How did you know?"
"Daddy says we're Christmas angels tonight," one of the little girls said.
"You must be," I said. "Thank you so much."
"Merry Christmas," the man said and held out his hand.
The little family was all smiles as they left my apartment. I stared at the beautiful Christmas tree with boxes of presents underneath. Then I remembered the card and I opened it. I gasped as I counted five one-hundred dollar bills and pulled out a sheet of Christmas stationary.
Hate and cynicism are like a slow-killing poison. The longer you hold on to anger and hopelessness, the more it permeates your soul. Soon, you are encased with the poison and it distorts your view of the world. [too preachy. Cut this paragraph]
This Christmas and from now on, let hope, peace, joy, and love permeate your soul. Love casteth out all fears. God loves you. This gift is so you can see the world through His eyes for a small moment—a moment that will change your heart forever. [cut the last sentence]
Your Christmas Angels
They were angels and it was a miracle. God loves me and sent someone at Christmas time—the time of the Savior's birth to open my eyes. I don't cry, but I'll cry for Christmas.
Watch for punctuation and sentence structure. Also watch your voice. The woman starts with an attitude—life is tough, but I'm tough too—but she softens up too much when she interacts with Carol. The change shouldn't come until after she sees what the "angels" have done for her. with I'd like a little more sensory images.
What I liked best: The tone, the "voice" of the woman. Keep that going throughout the story.
Magazine ready? Not yet. But once you clean up the logistics of your story, I think you'll have the kind of Christmas tear-jerker that we like to read at this time of year.