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“Damn,” he whispered under his breath. The broken glass had cut his finger and Dan’s blood began to drip down into the box of the remaining decorations. This was just another proof that this Christmas was going to be harder even than the last.

It had all started a back in September, a routine doctor’s visit had brought the news – cancer. Michelle was 58 the mother of three, but most importantly the mother of one, Dan. She was mom, but not the kind of mom that wins awards. Dan had grown up through high school with his dad. Michelle was the name for his mom. He had stopped using mother a long time ago. She just didn’t seem much like a mother to him, not then, not after the divorce and not now. Cold, distance, demanding, but more than anything hard: Hard to know, hard to love, hard to care, now this, cancer.

People told Dan how sorry they were when they heard. Dan would smile and express appreciation for the “prayers” but deep down he thought, “They don’t know and if they did?” He felt guilt for the thought, but not for long. He knew that he should go and visit her, but for at least the first month there were enough excuses that he was able to prevent the inevitable. Finally the day came, September 23. It was his sister Julie’s birthday. He knew that Michelle would be there. He walked into the house laid his gift on the counter and for just a moment thought about leaving, but before he could, Michelle walked into the room.

“Dan, I am so glad you came.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Dan retorted making eye contact.

They both smiled nervously, and for a moment. . . No it couldn’t be. An uncomfortable silence draped over the room. Finally, Michelle went out to the patio where the others where, and Dan gathered himself. That wasn’t too bad he thought, “I’m 30 why do I feel like a 12 year old?”

He just stood there in the kitchen looking out to the patio. Five years had passed since the wreck when Dan’s dad died. It had been a hard time. Only Julie, Dan, & Linnea remained, and of course Michelle. Before Dan could join the others on the patio, Linnea took him by the hand into the family room.

“You are going to talk with Mom about it, aren’t you?” she asked

“Tonight., are you kidding?”

“You don’t have to get into everything, just let her know that you love her.”

“I do?”

“Sigh, Yes!” Linnea answered, “Get over yourself, and think about how she feels. Cancer, Dan! We don’t know if she has Christmas or not. Think about that.”

The words stung, but Dan thought to himself, “I don’t know if I have Christmas or not. I haven’t had it for five years anyways.”

The rest of the birthday party went along without a hitch except when Dan was about to leave. Michelle gave him a hug and whispered, “Sorry, I love you.”

In the car driving to work Dan thought “Sorry, I love you” does she really think that is enough. She drives me nuts for 20 years, divorces my dad, and moves in with him and says now 12 years late “Sorry, I love you.”

The next time he would see his mom would be in the hospital. Michelle tried treatment, but it became obvious to the doctors first, then to her and everyone else that it would not be enough. The vomiting, the sleepless nights, the anxious moments and all the rest gave proof to the coming reality. Dan stayed away. Julie called as did Linea, but Dan didn’t answer. His apartment on the other side of the city might as well been on the other side of the world. He preferred not to think about it, but his conscience hounded him. So there in the hospital room he sat. His mother slept as he stood alone with her in the room. Finally he said her name, “Michelle, Michelle. . . Mom”

She opened her eyes and squinted, “Dan?” He left. The tears burned as he walked down the hall. He remembered his father’s memorial service. The same anger, the same regret, the same. . . No it wasn’t the same he told himself.

And now it was December and Christmas was coming. The glass bulb had sliced deeply into his finger, and the blood washed down the sink. “Brother” he mumbled with the bleeding now stopped. He searched for a bandage. Finally, laying his hand on a “Kermit the Frog” band-aid from under the bathroom sink. “Must be one from Julie,” He thought. She supplied the cabinet for when Judah her son would visit. His sister was like Michelle, always prepared, but not like her in that she didn’t have the edge that drove Dan crazy. Judah would be here soon, decorating the apartment would have to wait.

The doorbell rang. Julie was there and Judah pressed on the screen to come in and take over. Dan loved having him spend the evening. It reminded Dan of the distant past. Camping in the living room, sneaking out for ice cream and not telling Julie or just keeping up with his chatter, it was all good.

“We could take him along. You want to come and see mother.” Julie’s eyes pleaded as her voice quivered.

“Not tonight” Dan answered, “Judah wouldn’t let us visit. Plus, you need time alone with her.”

Julie wouldn’t push. The door closed. Judah tore off into the apartment. Later, sitting on the couch Judah tugged at Dan’s bandage while Nemo swam across the screen. “What’s that?”

“A turtle.”

“No, that,” as he tugged on the finger. A slight pain shot in Dan’s hand, and he remembered the accident.

“I cut myself.” Dan answered

“On purpose?”

“No, silly, no one cuts themself on purpose.” Dan smiled, “It was an accident.” Reminded, he stood and went to the closet to pull out the decorations. Judah could help him finish he decided. Not like there was any order to decorating a bachelor’s apartment. The movie played in the background and Judah dumped the box in the middle of the floor. Broken glass spilled onto the floor. Dan grabbed Judah and sat him on the counter.

“Okay, Buster, you can help, but I have to sweep up the glass first.” Where was the broom? How domestic, Dan thought. Where is Julie when you need her? Soon the mess was cleaned up and the decorations were sorted as Dan inspected each one to be sure all the fragments of glass were picked up.

Judah exclaimed, “Cool! Look at the garage.”

At first glance Dan didn’t know what it was and then he realized. The angel hair on the floor of the stable was stained with his blood. “Ughhhh, it was ruined” He sat it on the desktop next to the computer screen. One more thing of Dad’s that was gone. He examined the rest of the pieces and they were fine. Judah “helped” and Dan finished putting out the handful of decorations. It was after nine when Nemo finished and Judah was asleep. The lights of Julie’s car shined into the driveway as Dan sat on the couch in the silence thinking.

He picked up Judah to carry him to the car. Julie whispered, “She asked about you Dan.” He couldn’t speak. Christmas was a two weeks away.

December 22, his cell phone rang. It was Linea, “Dan, the three of us have to talk, mom needs hospice. You really need to be part of this.” He didn’t answer. Later, Julie’s text stared at him: “3 at Mom’s. Be there. Linea needs you there.” Dan had work at four. All the regular excuses just didn’t seem like enough. He called in to ask. “Of course,” the voice answered, “you need to be with your family. Don’t worry, take the time you need. We can cover for you tonight.”

“Why does everyone else understand, but I can’t?” Dan thought. His eyes saw the nativity crèche next to the computer. Dan took it in his hands to see what could be done with it. Strange how doing something menial can answer when a person needs to do something urgent.

The blood stained angel hair had caked a bit. How can so little blood, make so much mess. He thought of Old Testament stories of sacrifices, then his mind raced to the babies of Bethlehem and King Herod, but then he thought of the baby grown to man on a cross. As he held the stable a surge began to well up within him. The baby had died. His blood had stained Christmas. It was a gift. It was THE Gift.

As he sat there, Dan knew it was God’s gift to him to forgive his mother, not his gift to her. He didn’t owe her forgiveness, God allowed him to forgive her, so that Dan could understand God’s forgiveness to him. The stains of that first Christmas could help Dan with the stain of this Christmas.

He hastily wrapped the stable in the Sunday comics from the paper brought home from work. It would be his mothers. He would tell her he loved her and mean it for the first time in a long time.

He arrived early at his mother’s. Julie and Linea were not there yet. He rang the doorbell and went on in. “Mom, Mom, Mom! . . Michelle.”

“Danny?” She called from the kitchen table.

He sat the package down on the table. “Merry Christmas! I made it for you or I guess God did.”

She pealed back the colorful cartoon wrapping to see the stable. Startled at first glance, she sat it on the table.

“I wondered who had it,” Michelle finally spoke up. Then she began, “Your dad gave this to me our first Christmas. . . the whole set. I guess the rest of it is all gone. He kept them after we. . . ” Her voice trailed off and a tear hit the table.

“Mom, I have them all. I cut myself and my blood stained the angel hair on the floor. When I looked at it today, I thought about God’s blood, Christmas, Jesus and I can’t go on without saying, I love you. I’m sorry and I promise to not. . .”by now his tears were mixed with hers on the table and they hugged.

The stable sat next to the pictures near the coffin while the music was playing. Dan had a bandage on his finger. The wound was healed, but bandage reminded him that blood covered Christmas. He cried, but the anger was gone, washed to white like wool.

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