Flash Fiction: Christmas Past

© Olivia Tejeda

“My great-nephew over in Prescott invited me.”
“Say again?”
“MY GREAT-NEPHEW!”
“Criminy! Irene, what are ya hollerin’ at?”
“Turn up your hearing aid.”
“They’re up, they’re up …  Are you going?”
“Where?”
“To your damn nephew’s house.”
“Land sakes, Bea, your language!  Yes, I’m going.”
“Is he the one with the kids?”
“The screaming kids, the fat wife, and the drunk mother-in-law.”
“You gotta drive all that way for that kind of nonsense?”
“What else am I gonna do?”
“Stay home!”
“By myself?  No how, Mister!  Not on Christmas!”
“My sister-in-law is flying in from Utah.  We’ll have dinner.”
“Oh good, so you’re covered.”
“I’d rather be alone.”
“Oh heavens, Bea! It’s Christmas.  Why would you want to be alone?
“You never met my sister-in-law.”
“But being alone … on Christmas … what could be worse?”
“My sister-in-law.”

Writing this story, I was reminded of one of my favorite songs, Hello in There, performed here by Bette Midler.

Thank you for reading.  To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.


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Flash Fiction: Life of the Party

By Olivia Tejeda
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The rapt crowd sat adoringly in the palm of Claire’s lovely hand. She engaged them with repartee, charmed them with humor, and enchanted them with bon mots of one sort or another. Her confidence was easy and natural, her charisma, a powerful draw. Everyone in her circle felt privileged to be there, and by their presence they were rewarded with the pleasure of her delightful company.

At least that’s what Claire tried to visualize as she stood in front of the bathroom mirror preparing for Kelly and Evan’s New Year’s Eve party. She imagined her favorite Jane Austen characters and tried emulating their chatty demeanor. She mimed conversations, nodding her head, smiling, laughing. She pretended to wave to someone across the room. She practiced standing. First with one foot forward, hand on hip. Too bitchy. Hands at her side. Too super-model-wannabe. Arms folded in front. Too hip-hop.

She slapped her hands to her face and moaned in frustration. She was determined that tonight’s party was not going to be a replay of her high school horrors. Even at graduation parties, she spent most of the night standing in the corner, talking to no one, except maybe a parent, and wondering what to do with her hands. Now that she was in college, she was determined to relax and have fun at parties – no matter how hard she had to work at it.

When she was home on Thanksgiving break, she took the “Are You the Life of the Party?” quiz in the November issue of Seventeen magazine. She fudged some answers hoping to make herself more interesting, but she still scored an 8, which meant, “Hey, sorry, but there’s no point in even showing up.”

Ouch! Was she that bad? She double checked her score, making sure she added correctly, but the outcome was the same. She tossed the magazine aside and decided that there was more to her than Seventeen allowed. She was smart, at least her grades said so. She was funny enough to make her parents, her friends, and herself laugh. And maybe she was even a little bit cute, although sometimes she thought her 12-year-old brother had more curves than she did. She knew she had all those things going on, she just had to figure out how to get other people to see it.

Once her first semester was over and she was back home again, she turned her attention to the Claire Improvement Project, which started with her spending all her Barnes & Noble Christmas gift cards on books like, “The Art of Mingling,” “1001 Conversation Starters,” and  “Ten Simple Solutions to Shyness.”

It was that last book that told her, “Practice in front of a mirror so that you can judge yourselves and rectify any mistakes.”

Judge myself? Claire thought. Oh sure, like I need more of that. But she kept an open mind and kept trying out the techniques the books offered.

She went with her mother to Karen’s Kuts & Kolor and decided to go ahead with the highlights that Karen had been trying to talk her into since 8th grade. She even had a session with the makeup artist who taught her how to do her eyes and lips.

On the way home her mother commented, “You look beautiful, honey.”

Claire rolled her eyes, “You always say that.”

“Only because you’re always beautiful.”

Claire looked at her mother. “Thanks, Mom, but it feels weird. Too fake.”

The morning of the party, Claire’s mother was in the kitchen rolling little hot dogs into puff pastry.

“You’re having pigs in a blanket?” she said.

“Of course! It’s a tradition.”

Claire reached over and started helping her mother roll.

What’s going on here tonight?” she asked.

“Nothing big. The Wilsons are coming over and Aunt Caroline, Uncle Jim and the kids.”

“Oh,” Claire said. “Even Annie?”

“Sure,” her mother said. “She’ll be bummed you’re not here. She adores you.”

“I adore her, too,” Claire said. “Maybe I can babysit some night while I’m home on break.”

“That’d be great,” her mother said not paying much attention.

Later on, when Claire was dressed for the party and finished with her hair and makeup, she went to the mirror again to check herself out. She had to admit, she looked good, but she felt way too JonBenet. Seeing herself painted and primped like a pageant baby felt unnatural, and she felt a nervousness that started in her stomach and moved into her chest, making it hard to breathe. She blamed it on the new pushup bra that was pressing on her ribs and she shook out her shoulders trying to relax a little and wipe away the clownish image she had of herself.

Her shoulder shake turned into a full-on shimmy that reminded her of burlesque dance hall girls. She kept at it until she realized how silly she felt and started laughing. She stayed in front of the mirror and stared at the strange young woman she saw there.

“This is ridiculous,” she said out loud.

In the kitchen, her mother mashed avocados into guacamole and her father fried his famous chicken wings.

Claire could smell the wings as she walked down the stairs.

“It smells great in here,” she said.

“Ready for your party?” her mother asked, not looking up from a half peeled avocado.

“I’m ready!” Claire said with more enthusiasm than she felt all week.

Her mother looked up and saw Claire standing there in her gray sweats, hair in a ponytail, and her freshly scrubbed face beaming with a smiling. She reached over and swatted her husband to get his attention. Both parents stood silently looking at their daughter.

“This is where I want to be tonight,” Claire said before they asked the question.

“Yay!” Her father shouted and came around the counter to hug her. She felt the familiar comfort of his warmth, and she marveled at how natural it felt.

She would still enchant the crowd tonight, it would just be a different crowd.

Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism and feel free to let me know about any errors you find here. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2008-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flash Fiction: For Them

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by Olivia Tejeda
Christmas carols rang out from the speakers, serving spoons clanged against dishes, and waves of laughter and conversation filled the busy dining room. The noise continued even after everyone started digging into Christmas dinner. It wasn’t the way it used to be, Grace thought, but it would have to do.

She sat back in her chair to relax before eating and ran a hand through her thick gray hair. Today was special, and she wanted to savor this meal, make it last a good long time. She looked around the room enjoying the decorations. The Christmas tree brightened a dark corner of the room with its tiny white lights, tinsel, and ornaments. Even in the midst of all the commotion she thought it was comforting and found a sense of peace just looking at it.

She remembered celebrating Christmas with her kids when they were little. She and Hal never had money to be extravagant, but as a young wife Grace learned how to stretch a dollar so her family wouldn’t have to do without, especially on the holidays.

Her eyes moved from face to face around the table, resting finally on the three kids sitting closest to her. She watched them for a moment and turned to their mother.

“The children look just beautiful,” she said.

Janice looked up cautiously, slowly finishing what was in her mouth. “Thank you,” she said finally.

“It’s hard, you know? They don’t want to dress up and …” she stopped. “The holidays … We just want it to be special for them.”

She kept looking at her children and forced a smile when she felt her tears rising. She glanced at her husband Tim who looked away as soon as their eyes met.

Grace nodded, letting Janice know she understood. “How are they doing in school this year?”

“Pretty good,” Janice said, relaxing a bit. “Jessica’s in second grade. It’s a new school, but she likes her teacher.”

“And the boys?”

“Justin and Jordan are in kindergarten this year,” Janice said, drawing out the word to reinforce for the twins how exciting it was. She leaned in closer to Grace, confiding. “It’s full-day, so that helps.”

“Well, they’re beautiful,” Grace said. “You should be proud.”

“And you should be quiet,” Hal teased when he stopped eating long enough to say something. “If you two don’t stop talking and start eating, someone’s going to come and gobble up your dinner.”

“I’ll do it,” Tim volunteered. He stuck his fork into Janice’s plate and scooped up a mouthful of potatoes.

“Hey,” Janice said, slapping his hand away and laughing.

When the twins followed suit and started stealing food from each other’s plates, their sister took charge.

“Boys, stop it,” she hissed. “Behave.”

“It’s okay, Jessica,” her mother said. “Let them be.”

The boys kept playing and Jessica grew more frustrated, horrified that her mother wasn’t hollering at them already.

“Mom!” she said when she couldn’t take it anymore. “Do something!”

“Jess, I said let them be.”

Jessica glared at her mother, sat back hard in her chair, and folded her arms.

“She’s such a grown-up little lady,” Grace said to Janice, and Jessica softened up at the compliment.

“7 going on 27,” Janice said, reaching out to touch the girl’s cheek. “She’s the best, my girl, and such a help with her brothers.”

Jessica got up and squeezed onto Janice’s lap tucking her head under her mother’s chin. Janice kissed her daughter’s head and rubbed her back as she finished eating dinner with one hand.

After his third helping, Hal stuck out his gut and patted it. He was a skinny man, but he made like he had a big round belly.

“Ho ho ho,” he said to the twins.

“You’re not Santa!” Jordan said.

“You’re too skinny to be Santa,” Justin said.

“And too old,” Jordan added.

“Jordan,” Janice cautioned.

Hal waved it off. “That’s right. I’m not Santa, I’m the Grinch, and I’m gonna eat you up” he said making his best monster face.

“No,” the twins screamed in laughter.

“You’re not the Grinch,” they said together.

“The Grinch is green,” said Jordan.

“And he doesn’t eat kids,” Justin added.

“No?” Hal asked. “What does he eat?”

“Roast beast,” Jessica chimed in.

“Roast beast? I don’t think there’s any roast beast around here,” Hal said. “What about dessert? Does he eat dessert?”

“Yes,” all three kids shouted at once.

“Good, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Grace shook her head. “I don’t think you can fit another thing in that stomach.”

“Oh, I got some room right over here,” he said, poking at a spot under his ribs. “Besides, if I wait ‘til that guy’s done, I’ll never get to the pumpkin pie.” he said motioning to Tim who was well into his third plate and still going strong.

“I’m just trying to keep up with you, old timer,” Tim laughed. “How many servings did you have?”

“Ah, who’s counting,” Hal said waving his hand.

After dinner was over and present were opened, the kids played with their toys as the adults sat around the table with their coffee.

“Such a lovely dinner, I’m sorry to see it end,” Grace said.

Janice smiled, but Grace saw the sadness in her eyes. She wanted to tell her things would get better, but she couldn’t do it.

“We should get going,” Tim said quietly to Janice. “I’m gonna get the kids.”

Janice nodded slowly.

“Do you have a place tonight?” Grace asked. “Maybe there’s room with us.”

“We’re at St. Vincent’s Shelter,” Janice said. “Where are you?”

“Samaritan House.”

Janice shrugged. “We wanted to stay there but they said there was no room.”

Hal brought Grace’s coat around the table and helped her put it on. She stood close to Janice, feeling maternal, wanting to protect this stranger.

“I wish I could tell you it gets better,” she said.

Janice watched her young family walking back toward her. “It’s got to,” she said, “for them.”

Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism you can offer. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2008-2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.