Monday, November 19, 2012

The 244th Ornament by Jennifer Ricks

Excerpt from The Two Hundred Forty-fourth Ornament

Two hundred and forty-three glass ornaments of all colors and sizes adorned Kayley’s Christmas tree. Some were shiny Christmas red and gold. Some were frosted with sparkling paint. A few were clear with dainty pictures or patterns inside. Rich plums, crisp ice blues, even a few warm orange and yellow ones—all glowing and blinking like a Christmas miracle.

It was an obsession. Kayley knew that well enough. Hadn’t her mother complained about it for years? Even in high school, Kayley couldn’t resist picking up a box of shimmering orbs from the clearance aisle of the department store.

Kayley couldn’t quite put her finger on why she loved glass Christmas ornaments so much. She loved their variety in color and luminance. She loved the sparkle. She loved that she never could choose a favorite piece from her collection. Maybe some people felt that way about flowers in their garden or books they’d read. But Kayley’s heart belonged to her collection of Christmas decorations.

Now she owned two hundred and forty-three beautiful Christmas ornaments. She also had her own townhouse and her own Christmas tree , so Mom couldn’t complain about the ornament collection anymore, or the boxes that stored them for the other eleven months of the year. Likewise, Kayley didn’t need to complain about all the frumpy, homemade ornaments on her parents’ artificial tree. She had her own holiday space to decorate with her own taste, and that’s just what she wanted. Kayley sat back on her heels to see the effect of her last sprig of tinsel and took in a deep breath of fresh pine. Perfection.

Christmas was Kayley’s favorite time of year. It meant a two-week vacation from teaching. It meant crunchy snow and melted marshmallows in warm cups of rich cocoa. It meant a tangible excitement in her second-grade classroom that drove her crazy and giddy all at the same time. It meant talking of Santa Claus and wearing red and listening to old-time holiday favorites on the radio. It meant a big enough holiday—a whole season in fact—that it filled up her time and she didn’t have to worry about anything else in her life. Or anything that her life lacked.

The Monday of the last week of school, Kayley had started easing into what she liked to call “Holiday Week.” The kids were too excited for vacation to focus for the last five days, and Kayley was an experienced teacher who knew when to give up. For the past three years, she had observed Holiday Week in her classroom. She scoured all her materials and the Internet to find enough “review” activities to cover most of the week—review activities with a Christmas theme. Worksheets with trees and holly and snowmen, history excerpts of events that happened in December (thank you, George Washington), and even science demonstrations about the water cycle and snow. The spelling list for the week consisted of evergreen, sleigh, reindeer, tinsel, carol, pumpkin, and (just to be more culturally diverse) dreidel. Ironically, Kayley never did any Holiday Week activities about Christmas ornaments. Her exquisite collection was something she kept at home and to herself.

The week had gone as Kayley had planned—borderline mayhem the entire time. No one wanted to stay in their seats. Everyone wanted to compare Christmas lists. Crude versions of the most popular Christmas songs spread around the school to be snickered at in corners. And someone was told that Santa Claus wasn’t real.

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