Christmas in Stripes
Douglas Kuznar figured that he looked like everyone else. At least, when he looked into a mirror he did, but when others glanced in his direction he could feel the stripes rising above his skin. Stripes covering his whole body. Black and white stripes. Visible through whatever clothes he wore, they clung to his face when the morning stubble was cleared away and was washed down the drain. Stripes, that in a comic book fashion, branded him as an ex-con.
Even today, he could feel the stripes, although he wore his thickest, warmest sweater. Made of wool, the sweater itched and scratched him beneath the parka that he had picked up at a Salvation Army store. Sure, people sang about a white Christmas, but for him it was striped. The snow that he trudged through was white and the crusty top layer was a pebbled newspaper black from the car exhausts. The skies were overcast a nasty grey and the streets were empty of their normal holiday bustle. No one scurried out of their car, precariously balancing gaily wrapped packages. No carolers, joking and laughing, jostled Doug aside on the narrowly shoveled paths. He progressed alone through the snow, slush, and ice with only the sound of his own breathing acting as company.
Doug thought about the letter that propelled him away from his apartment and its radiators hissing vigorously with warmth. The letter wasn't strictly just a letter. In its phrasing, it was an invitation and, between the lines, a challenge. Mom had written him in her thin elegant script that he was invited for the family Christmas dinner. Never before had an invitation been necessary, but never before had he just finished serving seven years in jail. Well, with only three months out, Doug was learning that there were a lot of things that he could no longer take for granted. Every single time that he filled out a job application and he came to the section that asked if he had ever been convicted of a crime, he was convinced of that fact. Turning the corner, he was on his block, the old neighborhood. Doug squinted his eyes against the sharp wind to stare at the row of homes that were at once familiar, yet unfamiliar.
It was funny, but all those years away from home, he had always pictured it in the summer. The images that he had preserved so diligently in his mind were obscured by the snow. The green lawns, the languid sprinklers casually tossing water upon the thick stalks of flowers, appeared to reside only in his memory.There were other subtle differences. The Benson house had a new mailbox. The shrubs, the trees, were larger. The Lees from across the street, however, stillhad out the plastic Santa and Snowman that had been displayed in their frontyard during every Christmas that he could remember.
Doug slowly approached his childhood home. The sidewalk was shoveled very neatly. Someone had chiseled away the clumps of ice so that only a sparse pinch of snowflakes coated the cement. Doug could remember the long, cold hours that he and his older brother, John, had spent on this chore, competing to see who would be finished shoveling first.
Doug knocked. The sound that he made was muffled because he wore gloves, butDoug could hear a response from behind the door. The door was unlocked by hisMom. She smiled at him. "Merry Christmas," she greeted him.
He hesitated, then he kissed her on one powdered cheek, handing her the tin offruitcake that he had brought as a gift. "Merry Christmas, Mom."
He found himself being led to the main bedroom. The bed was a tangled heap ofcoats, hats, and purses layered on top of the best bedspread. "Mom,"he began, unzipping his parka, "does Dad know that I'm invited?"
She sucked in her cheeks, peering intently at the fruitcake tin. "Yes, butyou know how he is."
Doug knew. He told himself that it was too much to expect the old man to haveforgiven him. He had disgraced the family, according to Dad; that meant thathis father had refused to talk, write, or visit his own son for seven years.Placing his coat on the bed, Doug wondered if this treatment was to continue. He was here, at least, for Christmas dinner. It was a start.
To read the rest of Christmas Stripes and even more horror short stories by Author Carrie Green, pick up your copy of Sugar Is Sweet on Amazon today!
Visit Author Carrie Green's Amazon Author Page.
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