Home > Skipping Christmas(4)

Skipping Christmas(4)
Author: John Grisham

"So we save money?"


"When do we leave?"

"High noon, Christmas Day."

They stared at each other for a long time.

The deal was closed in bed, with the television on but muted, with magazines scattered over the sheets, all unread, with the brochures not Far away on the night table. Luther was scanning a financial newspaper but seeing little. Nora had a paperback but the pages weren't turning.

The deal breaker had been their charitable giving. She simply refused to forgo it, or skip it, as Luther insisted on saying. She had reluctantly agreed to buy no gifts. She also wept at the thought of no tree, though Luther had mercilessly driven home the point that they yelled at each other every Christmas when they decorated the damned thing. And no Frosty on the roof? When every house on the street would have one? Which brought up the issue of public ridicule. Wouldn't they be scorned for ignoring Christmas?

So what, Luther had replied over and over. Their friends and neighbors might disapprove at first, but secretly they would burn with envy. Ten days in the Caribbean, Nora, he kept telling her. Their friends and neighbors won't be laughing when they're shoveling snow, will they? No jeers from the spectators when we're roasting in the sun and they're bloated on turkey and dressing. No smirks when we return thin and tanned and completely unafraid of going to the mailbox.

Nora had seldom seen him so determined. He methodically killed all her arguments, one by one, until nothing was left but their charitable giving.

"You're going to let a lousy six hundred bucks stand between us and a Caribbean cruise?" Luther asked with great sarcasm.

"No, you are," she replied coolly.

And with that they went to their corners and tried to read.

But after a tense, silent hour, Luther kicked off the sheets and yanked off the wool socks and said, "All right. Let's match last year's charitable gifts, but not a penny more."

She flung her paperback and went for his neck. They embraced, kissed, then she reached for the brochures.

Chapter Three

Though it was Luther's scheme, Nora was the first to be tested. The call came on Tuesday morning, from a pricklish man she didn't much care for. His name was Aubie, and he owned The Pumpkin Seed, a pompous little stationery store with a silly name and absurd prices.

After the obligatory greeting, Aubie came right to the point. "Just a bit worried about your Christmas cards, Mrs. Krank," he said, trying to seem deeply concerned.

"Why are you worried?" Nora asked. She did not like being hounded by a crabby shopkeeper who would barely speak to her the rest of the year.

"Oh well, you always select the most beautiful cards, Mrs. Krank, and we need to order them now." He was bad at flattery. Every customer got the same line.

According to Luther's audit, The Pumpkin Seed had collected $318 from the Kranks last Christmas for cards, and at the moment it did seem somewhat extravagant. Not a major expense, but what did they get from it? Luther flatly refused to help with the addressing and stamping, and he flew hot every time she asked if so-and-so should be added to or deleted from their list. He also refused to offer so much as a glance at any of the cards they received, and Nora had to admit to herself that there was a diminishing joy in getting them.

So she stood straight and said, "We're not ordering cards this year." She could almost hear Luther applauding.

"Do what?"

"You heard me."

"May I ask why not?"

"You certainly may not."

To which Aubie had no response. He stuttered something then hung up, and for a moment Nora was filled with pride. She wavered, though, as she thought of the questions that would be raised. Her sister, their minister's wife, friends on the literacy board, her aunt in a retirement village-all would ask, at some point, what happened to their Christmas cards.

Lost in the mail? Ran out of time?

No. She would tell them the truth. No Christmas for us this year; Blair's gone and we're taking a cruise. And if you missed the cards that much, then I'll send you two next year.

Rallying, with a fresh cup of coffee, Nora asked herself how many of those on her list would even notice. She received a few dozen each year, a dwindling number, she admitted, and she kept no log of who bothered and who didn't. In the turmoil of Christmas, who really had time to fret over a card that didn't come?

Which brought up another of Luther's favorite holiday gripes-the emergency stash. Nora kept an extra supply so she could respond immediately to an unexpected card. Every year they received two or three from total strangers and a few from folks who hadn't sent them before, and within twenty-four hours she'd dash off the Kranks' holiday greetings in response, always with her standard handwritten note of good cheer and peace be with you.

Of course it was foolish.

She decided that she wouldn't miss the entire ritual of Christmas cards. She wouldn't miss the tedium of writing all those little messages, and hand-addressing a hundred or so envelopes, and stamping them, and mailing them, and worrying about who she forgot. She wouldn't miss the bulk they added to the daily mail, and the hastily opened envelopes, and the standard greetings from people as hurried as herself.

Freed of Christmas cards, Nora called Luther for a little propping. He was at his desk. She replayed the encounter with Aubie. "That little worm," Luther mumbled. "Congratulations," he said when she finished.

"It wasn't hard at all," she gushed.

"Just think of all those beaches, dear, just waiting down there."

"What have you eaten?" she asked.

"Nothing. I'm still at three hundred calories."

"Me too."

When she hung up, Luther returned to the task at hand. He wasn't crunching numbers or grappling with IRS regs, as usual, but instead he was drafting a letter to his colleagues. His first Christmas letter. In it, he was carefully and artfully explaining to the office why he would not be participating in the holiday rituals, and, in turn, he would appreciate it if everyone else just left him alone. He would buy no gifts and would accept none. Thank you anyway. He would not attend the firm's black-tie Christmas dinner, nor would he be there for the drunken mess they called the office party. He didn't want the cognac and the ham that certain clients gave to all the big shots each year. He wasn't angry and he would not yell "Humbug!" at anyone who offered him a "Merry Christmas."

He was simply skipping Christmas. And taking a cruise instead.

He spent most of the quiet morning on his letter, and typed it himself. He would place a copy on every desk at Wiley Beck.

The gravity of their scheme hit hard the next day, just after dinner. It was entirely possible to enjoy Christmas without cards, without parties and dinners, without needless gifts, without a lot of things that for some reason had been piled onto the birth of Christ. But how could anyone get through the holidays without a tree?

Skip the tree, and Luther knew they just might pull it off.

They were clearing the table, though there was precious little to clear. Baked chicken and cottage cheese made for an easy cleanup, and Luther was still hungry when the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it," he said. Through the front window of the living room he saw the trailer out in the street, and he knew instantly that the next fifteen minutes would not be pleasant. He opened the door and was met with three smiling faces-two youngsters dressed smartly in full Boy Scout regalia, and behind them Mr. Scanlon, the neighborhood's permanent scoutmaster. He too was in uniform.


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