Flash Fiction: A Crib for Jesus

Martin’s arm hung around Kate’s shoulders. “You need something to take your mind off it. Pull the decorations out and start decorating.”

“I don’t feel like decorating this year.” Kate brushed a tear from her eye and laid her head against the couch.

He rose from the floor where he’d been kneeling. “I’m gettibg the boxes down anyway; you might change your mind.”

“Whatever.”

Nothing could cure the emptiness she felt. Her body betrayed her, taking away the one thing she’d yearned for for so long. How could anyone recover from such a loss? Sinking lower into the cushions, she curled into a ball, sobs racked her body once again. Grabbing the blanket near her feet, she brought it up to her neck, clinging to it, praying for comfort to come. It didn’t. It couldn’t.

Four stacked tubs soon towered near the couch, and faint noises polluted the air from the corner. With eyes shut, Kate knew Martin worked to set up the tree. She always set up the tree, fluffing each branch. She clenched her eyes tighter and rubbed her belly.

“Which skirt thingy do you put around the bottom of the tree?”

“I don’t care.” She imagined Martin’s soft smile as he stood still, waiting. “The gold.”

“You sure you don’t want to help?”

“Positive.”

“You’ll like it better your way.”

She curled tighter. “I don’t care.”

The crinkling of plastic and newspaper announced the unwrapping of various hand-painted Santa Claus figurines, elves, reindeer, angels, and stars. Kate cracked an eye and watched as Martin placed them around the room. “You forgot the lights.”

“Lights? Where are they?”

“In the other tub. They go on the shelves and table.”

“I better get those.”

Slowly easing her way to a sitting position, Kate started to give her husband instructions for each decoration. Every time she did, his smile grew. When the room sparkled from top to bottom, he looked at her.

“There’re still two more bins.”

“Those go in the other room.”

Martin picked up the tubs and carried them into the front room.

“The other tree is in the closet upstairs,” Kate said.

As Martin walked up the stairs, Kate carefully opened one of the bins. She spread a cloth across the piano and set a few stuffed snowmen on the floor. Trembling, she sank to her knees, clutching an ornament in her hand that read First Christmas—a tiny baby in the arms of a mother worshipping a babe in a manger.

Setting down the smaller tree, Martin picked Kate up and carried her to the couch. “What happened?”

She handed him the ornament and peered at him as a single tear escaped his eye.

Years of wanting children, more of fertility treatments, and when they’d finally given up, news of her pregnancy came, lighting their lives. That night they’d gone to the store and purchased the crib she’d dreamed of since their wedding day. The next week they purchased a swing. The tradition continued through the five-month pregnancy, each week buying one item for their unborn baby. Tiny flutters joyfully interrupted one shopping trip. Kate and Martin celebrated with Orange Julius, hoping for a longer show. And after the big ultrasound, the couple purchased a beautiful, white suit for the son Kate carried.

Martin took her hand. “Help me. We can decorate together.”

“I can’t.”

“You can. What’s left?”

Kate scanned the room and her eyes fell on the remaining tub. Her chin trembled. “Nativities.”

“Your favorite.”

“Not this year.”

Martin sank to his knees next to the couch. “Why not?”

“God abandoned us, our baby.”

His brows furrowed, and except for the Christmas music, the room fell silent. Away in a Manger.

Martin disappeared, and Kate listened as noise echoed from the room she’d chosen for the baby. As the minutes passed her curiosity peaked. Easing to her feet, she stepped to the hall where Martin pushed the collapsed crib through the door and toward the living room.

“No. What are you doing?”

Martin never answered. Instead, he moved the table where Kate usually placed several nativities and pushed the crib into its place. Within a few minutes, the crib was whole again. He immediately picked up the table and retreated down the hall.

“Martin, stop.”

Ignoring Kate, he returned to the room carrying the gorgeous suit they’d purchased for their son and the soft blue blanket Kate found the week before. Soon the lamb-shaped lamp came out. Martin spread the blanket across the mattress and set the lamp in the corner. He held the suit out to Kate.

“What are you doing?” Tears ran down her face. “These are our baby’s.”

“We can’t give our baby a place to sleep, dress him, or keep him warm. We can’t light his room, but we can do that for another baby, one that never had those things.”

He shook the suit gently, urging Kate to take it in her hands. Shuffling forward, she allowed her fingers to skim across the soft silk. So many of the suits in the stores used rough synthesized fabrics. She refused them, searching longer and paying more for a soft natural fiber.

“He abandoned us, Martin.”

“Did He?”

“We’ll never hold our child, we won’t see him smile or laugh. He’ll never run or play or get in trouble. None of it, because he died. He died before he could live. A single breath. God took our baby and left me with nothing.”

Martin held Kate’s crumpled body in his arms, letting the tears sink into his shirt. Silence passed between them. Kate tried to avoid the truth, but it pricked at her heart, begging to be heard.

She turned away and reached into the last tub, removing the pieces of her favorite nativity set. One by one, she placed each piece. The shepherds. The wise men. The sheep and cattle. The last three pieces she clung to. Her pain lifted, if only for a moment, as she considered that family’s story. A loving man accepted the Son of God as his own. With no bed, a mother gave birth in a barn and laid her son in a manger. Years later, that same mother watched her son give his life for all of mankind.

The pain of losing her child might always be there, but she wasn’t alone.

With stronger hands than she’d had in weeks, she placed the three remaining pieces of the nativity and hung her son’s suit on the back of the crib—a simple symbol of her love for the boy who lay in the manger and made it possible for her to see her son again. Anguish receding, she reached for her husband’s hand giving it a squeeze she hoped said I can do this.

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Flash Fiction: A Normal Day For Joy

 

Sometimes listening is better than reading. If you think so, enjoy this audio version.

 

Joy balanced Nate on her left hip, his legs resting at odd angles around her swollen belly as she rushed to her phone, answering it. The dial tone sounded in her ear. She placed Nate, sopping wet on the couch, his tears mixing with the water seeping into the stained cushion, then redialed her husband Connor.

“Hello.”

“Sorry, Nate plugged the tub and turned it on without me knowing. I was mopping up the hall.”

“The carpet?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna grab the fan out of the closet in a minute. What’s up?”

A tapping sound echoed over the phone line, and Joy waited for her husband to answer.

“How’s your day been?”

“Pretty normal. Nate knocked his cereal onto the floor again, ripped up a book I planned on reading, and flooded the house.”

“Yeah.” Joy listened as Connor drew air through his teeth. “Martin invited me to go to the game tonight.”

“Oh! And?”

“I’d like to go. I’ll make it up to you.”

“You will, huh? How?”

“What would you like?”

“A clean house and a flat belly,” she said as she walked down the hall to the linen closet.

“How about a foot rub? The belly thing will sort itself out soon. One more month.”

“A month. Don’t remind me.”

Silence.

“So, what do you think?”

“I think you should decide.”

“Well, I’d really like to go.”

“I got that.” She wrapped the towel she’d gotten from the closet around Nate, whose whimpers increased. “When will you be home?”

“Probably by nine. I love you.”

“Love you, too. Have fun.”

Slumping next to Nate, Joy pulled him onto her disappearing lap. “If Daddy’s going to a football game, we can ignore cooking a real dinner. How about macaroni and cheese?”

Wisps of dried blond hair glided into the air and gently fell back to Nate’s head as he turned around and smiled at her. “Cheese,” he said with a smile.

“Yup, cheese.”

Sliding out from under her son, Joy waddled back to the flooded hall. She laid another towel on the wet carpet and knelt down, applying pressure to it as hard as she could. The idea of stepping on the towels seemed great until her sciatic nerve acted up. Kneeling was better. As the towel absorbed the last bit of puddling from the floor, Joy prepared to stand up. One foot worked its way underneath her, and she used it along with the wall to try and stand.

Sudden tremors took over her body as piercing pain tangled the muscles from her back to her feet. Rolling to her side and then to her back, Joy lay on the damp floor, until the pain subsided. How on earth would she get up now? She scooted her body to the bathroom threshold as the nerve screamed at her again. A twist to the left, and Joy no longer wondered how whales beached themselves. Seconds later, knees bent underneath her supporting her belly as she rested, before placing her hands on the molding of the doorway.

With both hands in place, she lifted herself from the floor, but before she recovered, a startling sound from the kitchen knocked her back down to her knees. Her time now limited by the unknown actions of her misera…terribl…active toddler, she pushed herself through the jolting pain. Each foot moved an inch at a time as she leaned against the wall, shuffling toward the kitchen. The pain slowly receded.

A deep breath led Joy around the corner, her eyes settled on the open fridge and her son’s wet backside. “Nathan, what are you doing?” He turned and stared at her, a wide smile across his face. A glob of deep yellow and clear goop landing on the floor. “No, no, no, no, no, no, not the eggs. Nate, not the eggs!”

Her beach ball-sized belly beat the rest of her to the latest destruction. Egg splattered the shelf, oozed into the drawer, and down to the floor, a dozen cracked eggshells floating lazily down a yellow-splotched river. “Oh, Nate.”

Knowing she should take a picture to laugh at later, she stood frozen, then decided a mental picture was enough. She brushed the hair off her forehead and forgot to smile as Nate reached his arms up to greet her. “This is not good, little man.” He protested as she strapped him into the high chair and washed the egg off him with wipes. The prospect of going near the bathtub…shivers ran down her spine.

“Football game, he had to go to the football game,” she muttered the words under her breath as she studied the mess, determining the best way to deal with it. “Ugh. Nate, buddy, next time go for the bread, or a banana, okay?”

Her thoughts returned to her latest dilemma. If she removed the shelf, she could reach everything else a little easier. Condiments found their way to other shelves, and she mopped up most of the egg from the shelf before removing it and placing it in the sink. Next, the drawer and the floor received a new shine as Joy scrubbed at the egg. Pushing the hair off her forehead again, she carefully gripped the fridge, ready to stand. It moved. Of course, it moved. Why wouldn’t it move? She shuffled her body over to the counter and heaved herself up from the floor, then waited for the rise and fall of her breathing to slow before stepping to the sink to clean the shelf.

Moments later, the shelf sparkled. Joy carried it, sliding one foot an inch across the tile, then the other. Her body jolted into the shelf, which crashed to the floor. Pebbled safety glass covered the kitchen. Groaning, she turned to the broom closet only to hear a loud explosion. Soda, from an unretrieved can, glued the glass to the floor and the food in the freezer to the shelves.

Her phone beeped. A text message.

I forgot my soda in the freezer this morning.

The broom fell to the floor. She pulled Nate out of the high chair. “Let’s go get dinner and play on the toys at McDonald’s.” Smiling at her son, she contemplated the situation out loud. “I think nine-thirty will be an excellent bedtime tonight.”

Before leaving, she texted Connor: You like explosions, right?

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