Christmas Angel by Mark Slade

The Christmas angel

by mark slade

To tell you that my sister and I had an unusual upbringing, would be a dreadful understatement. Tragic? Oh, no, Tansil and I never thought our story was tragic. Everyone else thought so. Only two things mattered to us: Playing until we fell asleep, and the Christmas Angel.

I was eleven and Tansil was Nine. We didn’t go back to school for three and half years after my father left us. Mama was so worn out from caring for us throughout the year, that when Christmas time came around, she would just shut down. She wasn’t heartbroken over Father, at least as far as we could tell.

Then again Mama’s moods were hard to barter through. Mostly, she laid in bed and slept. Occasionally, Mama would call out to us. Ask for food or water. She didn’t eat or drink much.

Mama and Father never really got on well. There were many awful fights. We heard them from our bedroom. The fights grew worse when Father would bring home two very strange friends. A man with scars on his cheeks and a woman in a black dress. She had a glass eye which she would frequently remove and reinsert. They would shuffle to the basement and not leave for hours.

In our first Christmas I had a friend, Tony, who lived two doors down, who played with me for a week. I loved Tony. I was so enamored with him, even though he was terrible to me. Bossy, rude, disgusting, burped, farted, peed in the street. So, excited to be with him, I stopped playing with Tansil. Tony showed me my first naked woman. I wasn’t as into it as he was. He taught me my first set of swear words.

I loved Tony.

When I told him this, he held me down and let a big, yellow, globby, goober roll off his tongue on to my face. He made me swear to never tell another boy that ever again. I swore, but I didn’t follow through. Ever.

Tony disappeared. They don’t know where he is.

Our second Christmas without adult supervision was less lonely, and quite exciting. This was the Christmas Eve of the blizzard none of the weathermen called for. The city was at a standstill. Nothing was open.

Everyone was buried in snow.

That Christmas Eve a strange man entered our lives. He was an ignorant brute who never believed nor understood the coming of the Christmas Angel. He said his name was Mickey. He was a short, angry man who shouted his words. Apparently his mother hadn’t taught him to use his inside voice.

Tansil and I were in the basement playing dress-up. She was in a lovely white dress, an old hat with a feather and Mama’s black pumps. Tansil was the bride, and her stuffed teddy wore father’s red tie. He was the groom. I was her bridesmaid, with a handkerchief in one hand in case I burst into tears. I wore Mama’s blue blouse and white skirt, no shoes, however. We couldn’t find any to match.

Tansil and I were also in the middle of giving thanks to the Christmas Angel.

Concentration plagued my sister throughout her life. Certainly reading any kind of text caused her mind to wander, yet Comic Books and TV held her attention for long periods of time. Listening to Father or Mama’s speeches for more than a minute would cause Tansil bop and down, twitch. Still earning a B.A. in English is a major accomplishment, on top of a Doctorate in the Arts. Her tongue partially out, and one eye shut, she held a snub of a plain white chalk between her thumb and index finger, carefully tracing a crooked oval on the concrete wall.

“You’re not doing it right!” I yelled at Tansil.

“I am too, Orin!” She yelled back, and continued to draw the intertwined circles on the discolored concrete wall, between the black mold and previous circles we’d drawn. Above the circles, she’d written three connected sevens.

I sighed, and stepped forward. “The circles are crooked! Let me do it!”

“No,” she protested, stamped her feet and hid the chalk behind her back. Without much more fuss, Tansil relented the chalk. “I told you Teddy wouldn’t work!

The Christmas Angel isn’t coming,” she crooned.

In the silence that came, we heard the window screech open. We fell silent. Our eyes grew wide, moved towards each other and momentarily locked, then shifted to the open window.

Suddenly, the window opened, snow drifted in, and soot stained trousers with very short legs followed. A stocky man in a windbreaker and ratty tennis shoes. He pulled the rest of his barrel chest through the open window. He turned around, glared at Tansil and I a long while before doubling over with a loud, hearty laugh.

That was Mickey.

“What’re you supposed to be!?” He said. Tansil gasped.

“A man just came through that window.” Tansil had a natural talent for stating the obvious.

This short, stocky boy who stood like a gorilla, furrowed his brow, scrunched up his pug nose, looked to be as old as Father was at that time, but now that

I think about it, his juvenile mentality pointed more towards teenage years.

“What’re you supposed to be?” He said in disgust.

I didn’t answer. I was too scared to say anything.

He continued. “You know boys ain’t supposed to wear dresses and makeup, doncha?”

Well, no, truth be told. I didn’t. I always played dress-up with Tansil. Mama knew about it and said I was cute. Father knew about it. He didn’t like it, but stopped complaining that I was ruining the reputation of his good family after a huge argument between Mama and him. After a while he just accepted it.

For some reason I became angry. I blushed. Felt slighted. A wave of confidence came over me.

I shrugged. “It’s just dress- up,” I sneered.

“You don’t play war in that get-up, do ya?” The man was really concerned. I wasn’t sure if he was offended or maybe he thought neighborhood kids were mean to me. Well, they were, but not because of the dress-up.

“No,” I said. “Sometimes Tansil wears one when we play war.”

“I don’t like to, though,” she said.

He looked around the basement. “Ain’t y’all cold?”

“No,” Tansil said. “We’re used to it.” Tansil looked at the man’s belt. A small caliber pistol barely hung

inside the top of his trousers. “Were you playing war?” She asked.

“No!” He fired back.

“You gotta gun,” I said. “Looks like you been playing war.”

“Naw,” he shook his head. He looked disappointed. “Cops and robbers,” he paused. “Mostly robbers.

You’re Tansil?” She nodded slowly.

“You’re Orin?” He asked me.

“Yeah,” I said. “What’s your name?”

He struggled to think of one until he blurted out “Mickey! That’s all I’m gonna tell ya!”

He examined the wall where we’d been drawing circles and other symbols. He picked up a candle stick that held thirteen candles, none of which Tansil and I had a chance to light yet.

Tansil leaned in, and whispered, “He has blood on his shirt.”

“I see,” I whispered back.

Mickey took the candle holder in his oversized, hairy hand. He turned to us, and said, “What are y’all doing with this?”

“Giving thanks to the Christmas Angel,” I said.

He blinked twice at us, tilted his beady black eyes at the candles, and moved his gaze back at us.

“What Christmas Angel?” Mickey snarled. Next thing you’ll say you still believe in Santa Clause!”

“Santa ain’t real!” Tansil scoffed, and rolled her eyes. “The Christmas Angel that brings good stuff to us, stupid!”

That infuriated Mickey. He tossed the candle holder on the floor. It fell with a loud bang. One of the candles fell and rolled past his ratty tennis shoes.

“Who’re you calling stupid, you brat!” Tansil squealed.

“Let her go!” I screamed.

I pulled his arm away. He loosened his grip on Tansil’s elbow. He pushed me and I fell on the concrete floor.

Suddenly, Mickey bristled. An astonished gaze crossed his face.

“Did you hear that?” He said, frightened.

Tansil gave a devious smirk. “No,” she said in a sing- song manner. “I didn’t hear anything.”

I shook my head slowly. “I didn’t hear anything,” I said.

He bleeped a small chuckle. “Yeah,” he scratched his head. “I didn’t hear nothin’ either. Look,” Mickey said to Tansil. “I’m real sorry for blowing up at ya. I ain’t had nothin’ to eat and it makes me irritable.”

Tansil and I glanced at each other. Her eyes sent a clear message. I concurred.

“Yeah,” I said, rolling down the dress and stepping out. I was in jeans and a Raiders T-shirt now. I kicked off Mama’s high heels and padded to the steps that led to the upstairs. “We got plenty of cans of SpagettiOs Mama bought before started feeling poorly. Want some?”

Mickey smiled hugely. He seemed to warm up to me now that I was dressed properly as a boy.

“Yeah, yeah. That would be great,” he charged up the steps after us. “Say, your Mother has the flu or somethin’? I can’t be around any of that, on account my mind makes me sick too. At least a Doctor once told me my brain causes my body to react weird around sick folks.”

The last took us into the living room. We hadn’t cleaned up our toys, books, Records and video cassettes in a week and a half. Our covers were hanging off the sofa. Our clothes and pajamas littered the room. Bowls and empty canned goods were on top of the TV, VCR, and coffee table.

Tansil shrugged. “We don’t know. Around this time of year Mama doesn’t do anything. It’s like she ain’t got no energy.”

“No kiddin’,” Mickey scanned the room. “Nobody had the energy to clean up. I hope the kitchen don’t look like this.”

“No,” I shuffled out of the living room, down the hallway, and into the dining room-kitchen area. “It’s a lot worse.”

Dishes piled sky high in the sink, tin cans and other packages sat on top of a trash can that was crammed with trash. The counters and kitchen table were filthy.

“God almighty,” Mickey said. “Looks like the last place I crashed. And it had been empty for ten years! Well, beggars can’t be choosers.”

He ate. He ate almost all of the SpagettiOs, except the ones we had hidden in our bedroom. He sat at the kitchen/dining room table and spoke incessantly about how everyone was against him and how the police had been persecuting him since he was our age. He spoke about a shopkeeper who riled him for writing bad checks. He pleaded to the old man for food for his family. They argued, the old man insulted Mickey, and he shot the old man.

“Pow!” he yelled. That caused Tansil and I to jump out of our chairs. “I shot him three times in the face. Who ain’t hard? Huh? All the guys in jail used to say I was a sissy. I wasnt hard enough to snuff somebody out.

Yeah, up yours!” He cackled.

His laughter was cut short, however. He turned as white as the falling snow outside the house. His eyes grew big and his mouth gaped open. He lifted a shaky hand, pointed it a finger as a droning squeal sounded off.

Tansil looked incredulously at Mickey. “What in the world is wrong with you?” She asked.

“You don’t see that?” The words barely escaped his quivering lips.

“What?” I asked him, annoyed and already sick of his presence.

“That!” He yelled, exasperated. He jumped from his chair and pointed. “That! That! A man and woman just walked through here and went through that wall! The woman…” he tried hard to catch his breath in between his spoken words. “She took her eye out and showed it to me!”

“Ohhhh…” we chimed in together, and snickered.

“What’s so funny?” Mickey asked. At first he was alarmed, but quickly annoyed at us for not letting him in on the joke.

“Nothing,” Tansil said

“You’re just tired,” I told him. “We have those things happen to us when we don’t sleep much.”

Mickey considered this. His little dark eyes darted quickly from left to right, and his lower lip trembled. He shrugged and sighed.

“True,” he said with a nervous chuckle. “I ain’t slept much.”

Tansil and I smiled, exchanged knowing glances. A few minutes of silence passed. He went on with his stories and we ate our Cheetos, bored out of our skulls.

He used our telephone. He talked for two hours to some weepy woman who wailed that she missed him, that she was scared the cops were coming for her, he was going to jail, and the kids were bad, no money, no food, the rent was due, no presents for Christmas…

It went on and on.

Mickey watched TV. He controlled the TV. He watched sports, reruns of TV shows we never heard of, the news, more reruns, talk shows, and Looney Tunes. That was it.

When he fell asleep, an idea popped into my head. I had Mama’s red lipstick in my pocket. I took it out and showed it to Tansil.

Tansil asked: “What’re you gonna do with that? Make Mickey pretty?”

I shook my head. “It would take more than this to do that,” I declared. Tansil. Giggled. I told her we were going to finish what we started in the basement.

A devious smile crossed her face and twinkle was in her eyes. “Heyyy… yeah.”

“But I draw the circles I told her.”

Tansil put up a small fight. “Aww! I like doing the


“You write the sevens “

She was pleased with that. She clapped her hands and yelled horay.

“Shh!” I chided Tansil. “You’ll wake him.” “Sorry,” she whispered.

Mickey didn’t stir the entire time. He snored and we caught a whiff of his ghastly breath. Harsh broken yellow teeth and pale pink tongue wagged a foul odor at our pitiful nostrils. Tansil pinched her nose as she carefully wrote out three connected sevens, each point resembled dripping blood. She handed me the red lipstick and I was next to show my skill as a master of drawing shapes, a talent I would use to further myself in the advertising world.

We glared at him, smirking because we knew the Christmas Angel would be pleased with our work. I decided to take it further because of my dear sister’s power of suggestion. I traced Mickey’s thin lips, the tip of the lipstick shortened and mashed down as I created the sloppiest red lips on him that would make Robert Smith of the Cure proud.

He snorted, those beady black eyes darted around the room until they focused on me. Confusion went straight into paranoia.

“Hey,” his voice groggy, lazy, slow. “What’re you doing, kid?”

“Checking to see if you were alive,” I said.

“Well,I’m alive,” Mickey shook off the stupor. “What else would I be? I was just resting with my eyes closed.”

“That’s how Father left us,” I said. “He went to sleep, had a terrible nightmare, and never woke up.”

“Gee,” Mickey said. “That’s tough.”

Later on, Mickey had one of Father’s books, flipping through the pages. He was dumbfounded.

“I don’t understand any of this,” he said. He kept turning pages, stopped every other page, read with his lips moving, and continued the pattern for about twenty minutes. He looked at me and said, “You understand any of this?”

He showed me the cover of the book entitled: Ritualistic Magik: understanding how to get the things you want from an esoteric world.

Mickey was lounging in Father’s chair, I was laying on the sofa, my legs and feet resting on the walls. Tansil fell asleep on the floor. he bolted straight up. Around Ten to Midnight, he said to us, “You hear that?”

“Like what?”

He shrugged. “Whispers.”

Tansil woke up, rubbing her eyes.

“Just the wind,” I told him. “This house has a lot of strange noises.”

Mickey nodded. “Yeah. I guess old houses are like that.”

Tansil and I smiled at each other.

“Hey, you brought that creepy candle up here.”

“Yeah,” I told him. “The News people warned there could be power outages with the snow storm. I thought we could use it.”

Suddenly, the unlit candles were lit, eight wicks had blue flames whisking.

“The Christmas Angel is here,” Tansil said.

“You on about that dumb crap—wait,” Mickey pause. “I didn’t see you light those candles,” He said with grave concern.

“Of course you didn’t,” Tansil reprimanded Mickey. “You were asleep.”

The whispers grew stronger. Behind Mickey stood the man and woman with glass eye. He didn’t notice them. He was busy working it out in his head about the candles, but something else popped into Mickey’s small mind.

“Hey. Neither of you have checked on your Mother.” I sat up quickly, glared at him.

“No,” Tansil said meekly.

Mickey was outraged. “What?” He gave a sigh of disappointment, shook his head. “You gotta be kiddin’ me!”

He jumped up quickly. He knocked the cushion from the chair. His ratty tennis shoes punted it. He stomped away from us, and into the hallway. His walking swagger, orangutan arms flailed as if he was in a fist fight. “That’s what I was hearing! You’re mother has been calling you two!”

Tansil gasped. “He’s going to Mama’s room.”

“So what,” I shrugged. I laid back on the couch and kicked the wall with my bare feet.

“Don’t you want to see his reaction?” I stood up, excited. “Yeah! Let’s go.”

We quickly trailed Mickey to the bedroom just in time.

Mickey was frozen in place, hands cupped his gaping mouth to let a chilling scream escape.

“Mother of God!” He exclaimed.

The body of Mama had been deteriorating for years, except when her flesh grew back and she moved around fussing over us. You could see right through bullet hole in her forehead as big as a buffalo nickel, caused by a gun my Father killed her with, a few years ago. Mama’s corpse sat straight up in bed, bones cracking. Mickey quivered and shook, his eyes bulged

out of his oval shaped head. She rose from the bed and Mickey took a few steps back.

“No, no,” he murmured.

“Come… closer…” Mama groaned. “Let me see you…”

Mickey took a few more steps back, turned to run when a great white light appeared blinding us all. The Christmas Angel had come!

Mickey was stunned, flabbergasted, a deer caught in the headlights, and all of those overused hyperboles. He stood there, marveling at the Christmas Angel. The white light dissipated, and a beautiful glowing naked woman with golden hair stood before Mickey. She reached out and whispered, “Come to me…”

Mickey took her hand. He went to her open arms. She engulfed him in her glow and morphed into a wonderful grotesquerie that is difficult to describe.

Her flesh had become that of an octopus, although that is inaccurate as well, with her many spiky tentacles

and thousands of faces.I recognized three faces. The woman with the glass eye and her companion, and of course Father. Their hungry mouths were ready devour Mickey.

After that, we don’t know what happened. The lights did go out. The electricity hummed and faded away. All that was heard was the wind whipping through, the falling snow, and Mickey’s screams.

I surely will tell you we had a glorious Christmas with Mama back to herself, presents under the tree, and a huge turkey dinner enough to feed five armies! All in thanks to the Christmas Angel we invoke every year.

And I suppose thanks to Mickey as well.