8/15/09

30: Turtle Doves

It was time to trim the poor excuse for a Christmas tree, and for the first time in eighty-five years, Genevieve Taylor dreaded the task. Her aged body ached as much as her lonely heart. The thirteen years since Lloyd’s passing had been a slow decline in health, happiness, finances, and appearance. She no longer lived in the family home, but in a senior assisted living community.

Genevieve made her way over to the window. “Clear skies, and bare grounds,” she thought in a huff. “I guess there won’t be a white Christmas this year, Lloyd.” This thought only increased the heaviness in her heart. All year long, she has anticipated the holiday season, because somehow Lloyd had always found a way to spend it with her. However, this year was different for her; she couldn’t feel Lloyd’s presence.

When she entered the apartment, Anabelle saw Ginny hunched by the window. Anabelle noticed the usual holiday cheer was not only missing in the elder lady’s countenance but also in the apartment’s decor. This was unlike the Taylor Christmases she remembered.

Anabelle had known both of the Taylors since her birth and loved them as if they were her grandparents. She had spent her summers in their greenhouse watching the couple work side by side. As a little girl, she would beg her mother to sit with the Taylors at church. Ginny would bring her candies, and Lloyd would tease her that she reserved her brightest smiles for him. When his battle with cancer ended, his absence was felt heavily in her life.

“Good morning, Ginny. Would it be okay if I help you hang the ornaments again this year?” asked Anabelle, hoping to cheer her.

After a moments hesitation and a sigh, “Oh sure, honey. I guess it is now or never.” A look on her face suggested that maybe never would be preferable; however, her expression quickly changed to one of determination. “Well, let’s get that old tree to sparkle with some Christmas cheer. We wouldn’t want to disappoint Lloyd.”

“No we wouldn’t,” Anabelle said. She turned on some holiday tunes, and then she retrieved the boxes of garland, beads, flowers, and trinkets. Each ornament held a memory of the years the couple had spent together. Each Christmas they had selected something new to add to their tree. It was beautiful that their tree was not only a celebration of their Savior but also a celebration of their lives.

Familiar with the process, Anabelle opened the box and waited for Ginny to indicate where to begin. With unsteady hands, Ginny lifted the turtle doves by their green ribbon and perched them in her palm. After running the ribbon through her fingers, her hand rose to her hair. She seemed to dismiss a notion, and passed the crystal birds to Anabelle to place on the tree.

“Aren’t you going to tell me the story?”

“I can’t remember it,” Ginny said, glancing away.

“Liar,” Anabelle thought. Then she decided that she knew the stories well enough that she would tell them herself. “You were seventeen when you met Lloyd at the Christmas dinner. You were wearing the red dress your mom had sewn and a green ribbon in your hair.” She paused to see the silencing glare from Ginny, but then she continued as if she hadn’t noticed. “All the girls were jealous when he asked you to sit by him. You asked him what he was getting for Christmas. ‘A kiss from you, if I’m lucky,’ he said with his dimpled smile. You told him he was very charming, but you were all out of kisses. Instead, you took the green ribbon out of your hair and tied it in a promise knot around his wrist. What was it you said to him?” Anabelle urged.

With her eyes closed in remembrance, she said, “I promise if you stick around for a year, I’ll have some kisses for you then.”

Anabelle laughed. “He held you to that.”

“He sure did. And after a year of dating, he still had my green ribbon.” There was love in her voice as she spoke of his sentimental gesture. On the wave of emotion, she continued the memory aloud, “I can still remember the nervous look on his face as he fumbled with the gift under the tree.” Ginny looked toward the bare tree and then to the empty space in front of her as if Lloyd were there now.

“He knelt in front of me, waiting for me to open the box. The doves were sparkling so much that I didn’t see the ring at first. But when I did, he said he no longer wanted just the promised kiss; he wanted eternity.” Ginny smiled and looked directly at Anabelle. “And when a guy like Lloyd Taylor wants eternity; you promise him eternity.”

The room was silent; both women were overcome. No matter how many times Anabelle heard the story; she was always amazed at how their love touched her. She recalled the love notes, caresses, and looks of admiration she had seen pass between the two. Their expressions of affection never dwindled even in the years that Lloyd had fallen ill.

“I can’t believe you two dated a whole year, and never kissed,” Anabelle said.

“Times were different then. Love was different. Don’t even get me started on how all you whippersnappers wouldn’t know romance from a fly on your nose.” She laughed, and her smile erased some of the years from her face.

“Whippersnapper? Ginny, I’m near 30.”

“And that’s plenty young sweetheart. Now let’s get to trimming this tree. It is going to take all day if you make this old lady tell you all her stories.” She was right, but Anabelle didn’t mind.

The two ladies spent the majority of the day hanging ornaments, lights, garland, and beads, as Ginny told the stories related to each trinket.

Anabelle was completing the final task of positioning the star on top of the tree, when Ginny said, “That was always his job, you know. Even if he wasn’t able to be home to hang the other ornaments, I always saved the star for him. I told him no one could light up my life the way he did.”

The young woman hugged her friend.

“He hasn’t come this year,” Ginny confided. “I’ve been waiting, and waiting. But—”

“He will. He always comes. He couldn’t miss Christmas with you,” Anabelle said. She was already familiar with Ginny’s belief that Lloyd had spent every Christmas with her since the year they met—even the ones after his death. With the detail of the conversations Ginny had related, Anabelle was inclined to believe her. “Now don’t you worry yourself sick over this! You get some rest, and I will be back in the morning for our Christmas breakfast.”

“You are right dear. He will come,” she agreed, but there was doubt in her voice. “You shouldn’t worry about being here for breakfast; you should be with your family.”

“I will see them for lunch. Besides you are family, and you are welcome to join us for lunch.” Before Ginny could protest further, Anabelle said, “See you at eight o’clock. If you are good maybe Santa will leave you something nice.” With a kiss on the cheek and a hug, Anabelle bid her farewell.

After her friend’s departure, Genevieve turned off the overhead light and allowed the glow from the tree to fill the room. She stared at the tree full of memories, but she still felt empty. She should be thankful that her mind was clear enough to recall those memories, but somehow it only emphasizes the void she now felt. Why hadn’t Lloyd come to be with her this Christmas? She knew it was selfish—some would say crazy—to believe he could be there with her, but she never doubted that the comforting voice she had heard year after year was his.

Before closing the blinds, she took one more glance out the window. “Still no snow. Still no Lloyd,” she thought. She settled into the rocking chair. From the radio she heard the King belting out the lyrics of Blue Christmas, and for the first time, she felt like a widow. The pain was not only in her heart but her body. She closed her eyes and massaged her arthritic hands.

The disc jockey announced something about Santa being spotted in the Tri-state area and cheered that in a few short hours it would be Christmas. Then, Bing Crosby began singing White Christmas. Genevieve opened her eyes wishing for white flakes to create a blanket outside, but she was certain nothing was there. She shut her eyes again.

“Genevieve?” It was a whisper—a sweet melody to her ears.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said. The tears of pain and relief could be heard in her voice, and a few escaped from the corners of her closed eyes.

“I know, my love. I am so sorry it has taken so long.”

“You’re here now. How long can you stay?”

“I’m afraid I can’t.”

“Oh, please Lloyd, don’t leave me here. I can’t bear it.” Ginny was so afraid of being separated again. Each year the burden of separation was harder, and she was too old to do it again.

“Has this year been so bad?” His voice seemed remorseful. “I should have come sooner.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I had preparations to make.”

“Preparations?”

“I recall a certain girl promised me eternity. It is getting pretty lonely up here alone.”

“You mean—” she was unable to finish as the realization of his implication filled her heart.

“It’s time for us to be together dear. Eternity has been mighty lonely without you.”

“Take me home.”

***

Anabelle had entered the apartment quietly when no one answered the door. After setting the cinnamon rolls on the counter, she had opened the blinds so Ginny could see the snow when she woke. Ginny was reclined in her rocker with her quilt tucked under her arms. Anabelle set the table for two; the noise had not disturbed Ginny’s slumber.

As she crossed to wake the sleeping women, she noticed Ginny’s pale face. There was no rise and fall in her chest. When Anabelle lifted a lifeless hand to check for a pulse, an envelope slid to the floor. Struggling not to cry, she replaced the hand to Ginny’s lap in reverence, and bent to retrieve the fallen envelope.

She gazed in wonder—it was addressed to her. She removed the letter. It read:

Dearest Anabelle,

He came. My Lloyd made it.

We are together for Christmas.

We love you.

Merry Christmas!

Genevieve

The simple note said it all. Anabelle wiped her eyes. She pressed a gentle kiss to Ginny’s brow and whispered, “Merry Christmas. I love you too. Go enjoy eternity.”

15 comments:

Gussie said...

This is a beautifully written, touching story. I thought you created Ginny's character very well.

Angie said...

This is so touching. I vote for this one.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I really enjoyed this one as well.

Amber Lynae said...

This story makes me cry. I vote for this story.

Meagan Brooks said...

I love this story. It gave me chills reading it and brought out the true meaning of Christmas, which is being with the ones you love. I vote for this one!!!!

Heather said...

I vote for this one. Nice story, very touching! It made me cry at the end, but happy tears.

Anonymous said...

Great story, beautifully written. It gets my vote.

Linz said...

I loved this one! I vote for this one!

Anonymous said...

You may want to work on developing a voice that is uniquely identifiable as coming directly from Genevieve, without the intrusion of the author in the story that tends to destroy the character's voice. There are five major things that can help this story develop more of a voice, but, in the case of your particular short story, telling emotions is the one that stands out as a candidate for improving the voice of Genevieve more than declarative sentences, repetition, interior dialouge (which is your number two area that could help improve your voice in this particular story) and description.

...for the first time in eighty-five years, Genevieve Taylor dreaded the task.

You may want to find something that doesn't tell us of Genevieve's dread over trimming the tree while still conveying her sense of dread. The emotion needs to come from Genevieve's conciousness, rather from the author's conciousness. Usually you have to find a way of conveying that feelling, without actually usuing the word dread. Something like:

...after eight-five years couldn't someone else trim the Christmas tree?

Her aged body ached as much as her lonely heart.

You will want to avoid telling us that her heart is lonely and let us feel some of her lonliness. Let the reader figure out that lonliness is located in the heart. The reader may not be a anatomical specialist, but most readers know that when they are lonely, the physical pain is usually located near the heart. The heart metaphor for sentimentality has become somewhat cliche and to get around using that over-used anatomical cliche you may want to combine some physical description with another snippet of interior dialouge.

Gevenvieve held the arm of the rocking chair until the tremmor in her right hand eased enough she could pick up the silver framed black and white photo of Lloyd dressed as Santa without dropping it. How she missed his Christmas spirit.

If you've done a good job of developing Genevieve's voice in the opening paragraph, removing the told emotions and replacing them with shown emotions, and combining some physical description with a some interior dialogue, when you get to your other interior dialogue snippets you won't need to place them in question marks. They will naturally flow from Genevieve's conciousness. The reader will intuitively know that these are Genevieve's thoughts. We are in her head. We are thinking like she things. No need to rip us from an enjoyable moment thinking what Genevieve is thinking. You can remove the quotation marks and let Genevieven's stream of conciousness flow from her. Its also a mis-use of punctuation. Genevieve's not really saying these words aloud so the reader, for just a short instant has to re-read your pros while the wonder who she's speaking to or if she's speaking at all. Good interior dialogue is first preceeded by developing a good voice, and secondly is NOT placed within the limits of any quotation marks. And when you do have them speak aloud, especially if there is no one else in the scene to hear them, make sure it has lots of impact.

Genevieve peered through the frosted window pane. Clear skies today, and bare grounds. Such a shame. She drew a snowflake on cold, wet glass. There was no one in the room beyond the fondest memories of her late husband to hear her say, "Doesn't seem there'll be a white Christmas this year, Lloyd."

Heather said...

Wow, it seems anonymous poster (8/18/2009 2:18 pm) really missed the mark here! Why try to tear someone elses work down without even noticing or recognizing the postives.
Anyway, I think that this is a great story and message. I hope this one wins.

Anonymous said...

I like the story very much. This story gets my vote.

Anonymous said...

I really liked this story. I vote for this one.

I don't necessarily agree with anonymous' critic(I didn't think the purpose of entering the contest was to receive an editorial critic) I enjoyed reading the story and did not find the writing style disruptive to the flow of the story.

The story was very touching.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous didn't miss the mark at all. This is a writing contest not a feel good or can the story make you cry contest.

I thought anonymous's critique a great one - I'm sure the person who wrote it had no intention of tearing the the author down but wanted to give some very sound and good advice to help make the author and story better. In fact, I thought anonymous was very respectful in their comments.

Most authors are part of some kind of critique group for this very reason - to figure out weaknesses and problems of a story and how to be a better writer. A lot of authors would even pay for this kind of advice.

The author doesn't have to take the advice (though I think this author could definitely benefit from it if they do ).

Anyway, I thought there were quite a few good points in this story, but also a lot of weaknesses - as the other anonymous mentioned.

Anonymous said...

Okay, seriously the some of the "Anonymous" comments on this story are getting annoying. You know why? Because this ISN'T a critique group, and this isn't the time or place for one. This is a contest. So if you want to vote for the story...vote for the story. If you don't want to vote for the story, keep your mouth shut. (Or should I say typing fingers to yourself.)

And I don't know about anyone else out there, but I DO read stories tO make me feel good, or tO make me cry, or tO make me feel anything at all! I don't care how perfect the writing is...if I don't FEEL it, then the writing actually sucks.

So, all that being said, let's get back to enjoying the CONTEST. Kudos to ALL who entered.

Amber Lynae said...

I just wanted to say thank you to all those that read and commented on my story. I appreciate the feedback and support. I am new at putting my work out there and it is good to get critiques as well as praise. So thank you to all. I appreciated it all.