Absence of Holly

No tree. No presents. No bells and no holly. The house was dark when Tommy got home. It was Christmas Eve, but there was no sign of that in the house. Just another stupid day, as his father always said. That’s how it had been for the past 12 years, a silent night indeed, a silent and dark night, without lights. If carolers had come by (they hadn’t for years) they would have gotten yelled at and told to scram. No one left casseroles or presents for Tommy at the door anymore.

His dad wasn’t home. Tommy went to the refrigerator, took out a carton of milk and drank for a while. The he rummaged around, found some donuts, a hunk of cheese, a half bag of Doritos, some sliced ham, two bananas, a leftover chicken leg, and some gummy bears. Dinner.

Tommy went to his room and fired up his computer, checked out some Facebook pages, and then saw a chat request from Bonnie. He answered and went live with the web cam. There was Bonnie, sitting on her bed, with April next to her.

“Hi, Tommy,” they said in unison.


“Is your Dad home?”

“Nah, he’s working late tonight. He always takes the late shift on Christmas Eve.”

April said, “Your dad is such a scrooge. Why does he hate Christmas so much?”

Bonnie gave her a dirty look but didn’t say anything.

“I don’t know. I guess it’s ’cause of my Mom.”  

“Oh my God, that was so long ago”

“Yeah, well. Whatever.”

Bonnie asked, “Are you all alone there, Tommy?”

“Yup. Why, you wanna come over?” He was joking but he realized they might not get that. In fact, Bonnie whispered to April, who giggled.

“I’m kidding,” he said, and Bonnie looked down for a minute, and then smiled and said,  “I know, no company allowed on Christmas.”

His cell phone rang. It was his dad. “I gotta go,” he told the girls. “Bye, Tommy,” said Bonnie, “Bye, Tommy,” said April. He didn’t respond because he was talking to his Dad.


“Hey kiddo. Are you home?”


“Did you get something to eat?”


“What did you eat?”


“Hmm. So how was your day? Did you get to meet Patrick?”


“Good. Look, Tommy, I’m going to be pretty late tonight. I know school is closed tomorrow, so you can stay up late. But not too late, OK?”


Tommy went into the living room, switched on the TV, turned the volume down a bit,  plugged in his iPod earphones, and started surfing around the internet. Everything he saw was about Christmas. He was used to that. His dad used to leave plenty of non-Christmassy DVDs around. War movies, TV series, gangster films, stuff like that. Nowadays he tended more to streaming older comedies, non-Christmas themed. Tommy was checking out a YouTube video that he and Patrick had made a week ago when his cell buzzed again.

He looked at it. The screen said “Bonnie.” He answered it. “Hello.”

“Hi Tommy. Look, my Mom sent me out to get some stuff from the store and I’m right around the corner. How about if I stop over for a second. You know, just say hello. I won’t even come in, and your dad won’t even know.”

“I guess it’s OK. He’s working late tonight so… yeah. OK”.

The knock on the front door came within five minutes.

Tommy saw Bonnie standing on the porch wearing her red coat. Her car was parked at the curb. There was no one in it. Tommy held the door open and Bonnie walked in. She took off her coat. She sat down on the sofa. Tommy didn’t know what to say. “Where’s April?” he asked. That wasn’t the right thing to say, apparently, since he saw Bonnie’s chin move in a way that seemed a tad defensive.

“Why, would you rather that she came?”

“No, no, not at all. Just you know, you were with her before and I don’t know, I just wondered…” He stopped.

Bonnie patted the space next to her. “I won’t bite you, come on and sit down.” He did. Then he jumped up again. “Do you want anything?”

“No, thanks,” she said in a voice that sounded odd, almost dreamy. “I’m fine.” Tommy sat back down, and then they were kissing. He didn’t know how that happened. Her lips were soft and delicate, and he reached up with his hand and touched her hair. It was smooth and silky. He didn’t know how to stop kissing her, but she did. She smiled and pulled away a little.

“Do you like me, Tommy?” He couldn’t answer her—his throat wasn’t working. So he nodded his head. She smiled at him and took something from somewhere. It was a red and green wrapped box. “I brought you a gift.”  Tommy shook his head. “No gifts on Christmas, I promised my Dad.”

“I won’t tell him if you don’t.” she laughed with that silver laugh she had. Tommy took the present and started carefully unwrapping the paper.

Bonnie laughed again. “No, silly, just rip it off”. Tommy gulped, then did as she suggested. He opened the white box. Inside was a red and blue scarf. Tommy stared at it. He looked up at Bonnie, and saw tears in her eyes. “Merry Christmas, Tommy”, she said. He couldn’t speak.

And then he heard the steps at the door and his dad’s throat being cleared.

“Oh no”, he whispered to Bonnie. “You better hide, I’ll…”but she smiled and put her finger to his lips. “Its OK, Tommy, your dad knows I’m here.”

What?? He was confused and then his Dad was standing in the living room. Smiling.

“Hi, Tommy. Hi, Bonnie.”

“Hi,” said Bonnie. “Merry Christmas.” Tom flinched a bit and muttered something, but then he smiled again. “What you got there, son?

Tommy held out the scarf without a word. He was trying to figure out how to explain it without admitting it was a gift.

His Dad came over and took it from him. “Very nice,” he said, his voice a bit choked. “Nice job, Bonnie.”  Tommy was even more confused, especially since now Bonnie had tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Do you remember, Tommy?” his Dad asked him.

He nodded. The last Christmas present he ever got was also a scarf. A lot smaller, but the same colors, red and blue. He was a little kid, and he thought it had come from his Mom. And then there were no more Christmasses.

Tommy looked at Bonnie, and then at his Dad.

“Dad, did you know Bonnie was here? Did you tell her about the scarf?”

Tom cleared his throat again.

“I don’t care for Christmas very much. All that fake joy and commercialism. And to celebrate what? A myth, a legend.  And all those pagan rituals, like the tree. Everyone pretends that everything is just fine. It’s a requirement to be happy, even if you don’t feel like it. No, I really do not like Christmas at all.”

He seemed tired and he sank into a chair.

“But I do remember what your mother told me once, about Christmas, Tommy. I didn’t care for it much when she was alive either. And she told me that Christmas is not about religion or shopping or shiny lights. Its about love.”  He stopped and put his hand over his face for a moment.

“Yeah, I told Bonnie she could come over tonight, and I mentioned the scarf to her. I love you kid. Merry Christmas.”

Tommy sat still on the sofa, with tears in his eyes, and Bonnie’s hand on his shoulder. He looked at his dad and noticed that next to the chair there was a package that was half open. Inside he could see a wreath of holly.

“I love you too, Dad. Merry Christmas!”

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10 Responses to Absence of Holly

  1. Arnold says:

    Very Christmas Sy, I loved it! Smooth flow and dialogue, surprises and emotions. You probably worked hard on this piece. Done well.

  2. Love… Yeah. That’s the tough one.
    Merry Christmas, Sy. (I think it’s still Christmas there.)

  3. Ineke says:

    Ah, such a moving story 🥰

  4. Arnold says:

    I listened to your recent Q&A session with Cameron. Re: natural and supernatural terms, I’m with you 2. I don’t like the contrast. I think natural and supernatural are maybe one and the same except for a time-lapse. Oswald Chambers spoke of ‘the natural transforming to the spiritual via obedience’ in our daily life: Jesus said, “Keep my commandments.”

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