CHLOE'S CONUNDRUM

CHLOE'S CONUNDRUM

A Story by Mark
"

I thought a story about a kid hating Christmas, before discovering its true meaning, might make an interesting twist on an old theme.

"

CHLOE'S CONUNDRUM

a Christmas story by

Mark Teague

 

     Chloe hated this time of year.

 

     Everything was false! Her juvenile heart, not yet immured to the inescapable realities of the adult world, rebelled at the very notion of falsehood. Except, of course, when it involved her own necessary and entirely justifiable falsehoods...But that is a story for another day.

 

     The very trees were false, with false snow drifted across their branches, and false icicles hanging from their branches. False twinkling stars. False fruit. False angels. An unquenchable fount of falsehood. And all in celebration of...What?

 

     A Jewish kid, born out of wedlock? Appprenticed to his father's carpentry business, who hung out with his low-life buddies, spinning a line of malarkey about being the fulfillment of prophecy, the saviour of Mankind?  Can you imagine the vanity, the hubris of the man? Aren't grownups supposed to be over that sort of self-serving delusion by the time they're into their thirties?

 

     It did, however, tweak her heart a little when she read of how that poor deluded soul had been betrayed by his friends, to say nothing of being tempted, tortured, tried and eventually murdered by the Establishment. First, by those religious criminals frightened of losing their jobs, and then by the uncaring juggernaut that was Rome--well, some things, at least, never changed! Deception and collusion--just two more high-flown ways of saying "falsehood"-- still seemed to be the order of the day.

 

     When she was briefly able to switch off her impulse to be outraged at everything, and allow her mind to drift, she had at times accidentally found herself admiring a few minor things about this strange dude. Would she, for example, have had the nerve, as a kid of twelve, to wander away from her parents on her first time in a big city, and go talk with a bunch of old men? Would she have freaked 'way out when she realized that her parents had started for home without her? Would she have been able to look into her mother's worried, weeping eyes, and calmly ask why she hadn't known where she would be, and why?

 

     No, yes and no, she was forced to admit. Her admiration for the kid's guts, however fleeting and grudging, was at least genuine...or, to use the word of the day, not False.

 

     There had been a time, not so awfully long ago, when Christmas was the day she looked forward to more than any other in the year, except perhaps for the last day of school. Oh, and her birthday: Gifts of freedom, gifts of growth, and gifts for no good reason whatever. In fact, Chloe's life rather revolved around gifts, things given to her that she didn't have to pay for.Things over which she had complete control, and could use, abuse or ignore at her sole discretion. Selfish? Well, Yeah!...But at least, not False!

 

     The idea of the months of hullaballoo surrounding some long-dead Jewish kid's birthday, as compared with the week or so building up to her own was, in fact, one of the early resentments that turned her sentiments away from him, in opposition to him. Though she'd never met him, she resented all the whiz-bang associated with him. Jealousy was perhaps the only flaw she permitted herself to admit of herself. But from mid-November to the end of December, her parents paid less and less attention to her, preferring their parties and preparations of one sort or another. Completely bogus! 

 

     On reflection (something she rarely permitted), it wasn't QUITE true that she'd never met that unfathomable stranger. Her Nana was a big fan of this....what was it she called him?...Jesus? She at once purposed that she was going to refer to him as the J-bro. In the early mornings and late in the evenings during the three weeks of the years that she and her Mom were visiting, Nana could always be found in that squeaky old rocker, her glasses perched at the end of her nose, and her finger moving slowly down the page of the dog-eared leather-covered old book she carried everywhere. "Bible", she called it, explaining that that was from the Greek word for "The Book". How original!

 

     Once, when she was just eleven, Chloe had asked her Nana what the word "Christmas" meant. As inarguably lovely as dozens of new toys and piles of new clothes were, even at that tender age, she knew there was probably more to it.

 

     "Christ's Mass", Nana replied.

 

     "Mass? They WEIGHED him?", she innocently asked.

 

     "No, precious! 'Mass' is what some people call their worship service!"

 

     "Sounds weird. Where'd they get THAT from?"

 

     "No earthly idea, pet. I reckon someone made it up a long time ago, and it just stuck, is all. It's not in the Book, is all I know!"

 

     "You've read that whole book, Nana?"

 

     "Oh, yes, pretty girl, MANY times! When it comes to Jesus, I don't do ANYthing that I can't prove out of the Book. That's why I'm 'specially glad that you  and  your  Mama visit in the  Summer,  rather than  around Christmas.  I'm

thinkin' you'd find MY version of Christmas pretty boring, compared to what you're used to!"

 

     "Whaddaya mean, Nana?" 

 

     "My version is a lot more about giving than getting, sweetheart. No trees, except those out the window yonder.  No lights, no bells, no fake icicles or snow--hardly need those here, do we?  Already have too much of the real thing! Of course, I read the Book every day, so that's not changed, and I pray every day, so that's the same, too. About the only thing you'd recognize is a nicer-than-usual meal on Christmas Eve, that I invite all my neighbors and friends to, since I know they're going to be busy with their own families the next day. Ever since your Pop-pop died, and what with my young'uns all over the country, I'm quite content to give the day to God, without all the folderol folks want to attach to it, nowadays."

 

     "But what do you DO, Nana? It sounds AWFULLY "Bleah", if you ask me! Do you have ANY fun?"

 

     "We talk. We eat. We joke. We reminisce. We sing. We eat some more. We pray. Things old people call fun are different from what you kiddos call fun, that's for true! But I've had these friends, some of 'em forty and more years, before your Mama was even born! I don't make 'em and un-make 'em with the click of a rat..."

 

     "MOUSE, Nana!"

 

     "Mouse, then--anyway I don't flop my friends around like you young folks do. Before there was television, or computers, or Facebook, real people did real things in real space and time, and for MY money, we were a heap happier!"

 

     Chloe had no response to this, save for a puzzled scowl. She couldn't conceive of a world without cell phones, computers and TV. Why, she had over two hundred friends on Facebook. It didn't REALLY matter that she'd never actually MET 190 of them, did it? Was any thought longer than 149 characters really necessary?

 

     That was the last talk Chloe got to have with Nana, and their next visit was not the following Summer, but rather December of that same year. If she could have, Nana would have laughed aloud at the circumstances of her death.

 

     She had already been downtown, combatting the general hubbub of the week preceeding Christmas, buying a few last-minute gifts and posting others. She had lunched briefly with an old friend at Madeline's Tearoom, as Madeline made the only tolerable chicken salad in the little town.

 

     As her last errand neared, she found that Main St. had been blockaded with trestles and truck floats. In her view, the annual Christmas parade was an enormous hassle--an entirely apt word that she'd gleaned from Chloe's vocabulary--but here she was, and there they were, and as it was only two bands and twelve trucks long, she decided she might as well tough it out. Near her side, a baby, flailing its arms in mindless delight, had thwacked her in the ear, knocking her glasses off. Bending down to retrieve them, she became invisible to the rotund gentleman jockeying for a better view. He unwittingly bumped her in the rump, and sent her careening through the trestle and into the street. Four fast, blind steps later, fruitlessly trying to regain her balance, found her supine, inches from the front right wheel of a Cadillac Eldorado, with Santa Claus perched on the trunk waving for all he was worth. Her fragile chest provided but token resistance to the 5000-pound car. 

 

     The headline read: "LOCAL WIDOW SLAIN BY SANTA!"

 

     Now, three years and some months later, Chloe's pain, and her resentment OF that pain, had abated but little. The only treasure that had fallen her way from Nana's meager possessions was that musty, cracked, ragged old book. Secreted deep between her mattresses, for over a year she'd ignored it utterly, but for reasons she never quite understood, one evening after watching the news she went upstairs and groped about until she found it, in place of her usual pattern of logging into Facebook for three hours of mindless jib-jab.

 

     At first, she merely clutched it to her breast, a symbol of her loss, not entirely sure what to do with it. Books, in her mind, were merely back-breaking baggage that had to be toted from class to class, but might then be ignored. Most of her books were of the electronic sort that turned their own pages, and in a few cases, even read the content aloud, albeit in an execrable voice sim. But not this one.

 

     She timidly brushed her fingertips across the ancient leather, causing a few fresh flakes to fall into her palm. Then she lifted the palm to her nose, and inhaled tentatively. The goosebumps were instantaneous, as a powerful wave of Nana-ness swept over her unsuspecting consciousness; the lilac-scented oils from her fingertips, the twinned essences of hickory smoke and kerosene smoke, a grouping of several small, dark blotches that might have been tear stains. Then Chloe, to her astonishment, realized that the blotches were NEW, and had in fact emanated from her OWN cheeks!

 

     That was two years ago, and Chloe had since read small snippets from the book more-or-less daily; less when things were going well, more when not. As an intelligent and tormented teen, "not" seemed more and more frequent, and thus her readings came more and more frequently.  She read stories of murder and adultery, of men with dozens of wives and hundreds of concubines, of betrayal and forgiveness. Stories of truthfulness and lies, and expectations both made and missed. And in one of the longer books, thanks to Nana's abundant notes and highlighting, she had read several stories about that Jesus fellow. Although he was never named as such within them, what the Old Guys said WOULD happen, and what DID, in fact, happen, were so tightly in accord they HAD to be referring to him. A Nazarene, but not born in Nazareth, born instead in some town called Beth-something--these names were COMPLETELY unpronounceable, which was why she called the Old Guys by that collective moniker. How he'd lived humbly, taught simply, been betrayed often. How he'd been denied by his closest friend, was tortured, had kept silent, was murdered and then arose; it was all there, past, and more-past. There's just no way it could be a coincidence! So why couldn't everybody see it as plainly as she did?? His own people despised Him (she snickered when she realized with a jolt that she'd just thought of Him in the Upper Case for the first time!), and his own town rejected Him. He must have felt AWFUL, and that, at least, was something she could identify with.

 

     So now we come to Chloe's conundrum, the reason why this time of year so annoyed, and yes, so angered her. Of course, it had begun by having her Nana stolen from her. But, pained though she was to admit it, and completely without plan or anticipation, our Chloe had begun to believe in something other than herself, something for which she had as yet no name.

 

     She had realized, finally, that toys and games and clothes were not all that she had been given undeserved, unasked and un-paid for...Well, perhaps some of the clothes were not unasked for, but well, that was neither here not there.

 

     Her Nana had given her attention, adoration and respect (much of which  unearned) In addition, she had given her something else more important than all of those: the awareness of the possibility of a kind of quiet, accepting serenity, a seed which had only recently begun to germinate.

 

     And Nana had given her what turned out to be the best gift of them all: that dilapidated old book, and the as-yet-unplundered treasure trove that lay between its decaying bindings. Here Chloe laughed aloud, as the old saw abjuring one not to judge a book by its covers flitted across her brain: the cracked, the decaying and the raggedy, she had lately discovered, might actually contain the greatest of treasures!

 

     But this is where the anger began to creep in, the anger that quite occupied her awareness throughout much of December. For having read a goodly portion of Nana'a old book (except, of course, for the dead-boring bits!), she was astonished at how people chose to celebrate His birth. Pride. Greed. Covetousness. Envy. Greed. Gluttony. Sloth. Words that a mere two years ago, she hadn't even known. People eating too much, doing too little, plowing into and over one another, to the extent of anger and even violence  in their insatiable quest to get the most, cheapest and soonest of the biggest, fastest, shiniest and newest. It was ludicrous! There was NOTHING in the Book, nothing the J-bro had taught that justified the garish, shallow, competitive, commercial smorgasbord of conspicuous consumption that overtook the nation at this time each year. The uncountable billions of dollars that could have gone to bettering the human condition,  flushed down the insatiable maws of millions of clueless, thankless, heedless children who would break or forget the toys and ruin or ignore the clothes within weeks, if not sooner. Like, she admitted, grimacing, she herself had been, not so long ago, and to some extent still was. But after all, she was just one American teenager , a product of her culture; she knew that she was powerless to change the entire social order. That, too, made her very, very angry. She could, however, change herself, however slightly.

 

     And this she purposed to do, one act at a time. Once a week, she helped serve lunch at the local woman's shelter. Once a month, she spent a day at the clothing bank, sorting 'til her fingers were raw. It didn't help assuage her anger any, to realize that these very castoffs were the coveted and fought-over prizes of Christmases past. When she saw the gratitude in the recipient's eyes, though, well, that DID help!

 

     Every day...well, okay, MANY days...she tried to be kinder to her annoying sister and her insufferable brother, not always successfully. But she kept trying.

 

     And though she didn't notice it, people had begun to notice HER, as well. How she scowled less, argued less, studied more. How her smiles included actual, visible teeth now, and were no longer the ironic semi-sneers of the past. Parents noticed. Even a few of her closer friends noticed, not always happily. That, though, was THEIR conundrum; Chloe's conundrum was well on the way to being resolved.

 

     When Chloe observed that neither toys nor clothes; neither Nana nor her precious Book; neither her own awareness nor the awareness of others was the greatest unsought, undeserved and unpaid-for gift she'd ever received, her eye invariably bled a single tear. The J-bro had given her something far greater, far less deserved, and completely impossible to pay for. Brushing at the newly-moistened cheek, she thanked Him for Nana, and for anger, for without either of those, she'd never have been in this much nicer place.

 

     Yes, she mused, Chloe's conundrum WAS resolved!

 

 

 

    

 

    

 

 


© 2010 Mark



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Featured Review

Concepts and communication are ever more difficult between the generations, let alone the millenniums. Although a classic theme, you gave it a fresh original frame and offered motivation to reconnect the generations through faith and belief. I thought the story really settled in and took off at Chloe and Nana's opening conversation. You handle the dialogue interaction very well. Good story.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Mark you are a good story teller, enjoyed this amazing Christmas tale..will come back to read-more..

Posted 3 Years Ago


An unusual and modern Christmas story, Mark! Very thought provoking. You tell a good story.

Posted 5 Years Ago


next to me on my bookshelves i have the tattered, well-used Bibles that belonged to my parents and my grandmother. while i've developed real problems with that book, i can't deny the hope, meaning and effect it's had in my family's life. from the time i was able to understand (and probably even before that) i was told stories from that book. over the years i studied every word of it. it's a never-ending source of inspiration, wisdom and, nowadays, frustration for me, but i'm who i am because of that book, and i don't think that's a bad thing. i think that the Bible is much like life in general, you find in it what you are looking for, whether it be God, truth, or the connection to the past.
sorry this wasn't much of a review, the story touched very close to me. well done.

Posted 6 Years Ago


This is wonderful stuff. I'm really glad I found the time to read. Your style is impeccable and very easy. Each line beckons for the next. The subtle way you deal with inner life is sweet; the gentle and then sudden evolution of a young girls heart; the way it is opened first by curiosity and then later by grief. The plot has everything we need, building to that singularity; the collision of wisdom with fake joviality and faux cheer; unexpectedly brilliant. We meet death and eternity which are both funny and tragic. Bravo.

Now that I have been here and read this, I treasure your review even more.

Merry Christmas my friend.

Posted 6 Years Ago


A superbly written story that has everything worth having in it. Like Raven, I cried as I read it, at the end of it i sighed and sat back feeling as if i was lying in a field of sweet grass with a warm sun surrounding my thoughts ..

Thank you so much for sharing your heart, because the truths and meanings contained in this come from somewhere special.

Posted 6 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I cannot believe, for the first time in 3 and a half years, I have cried. :-) You wrote this beautifully. I owe you much, my friend.

Posted 6 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Very Well written my friend, and not the easiest subject matter to cover, as it would must needs have a "fresh face" put on it. I like the way you have tied the birth to the eventual salvation. This punches a hole in the universalist view that since the birth of Jesus, all of mankind have automatically "received". Chloe had heard, but not received. The story does tend to get lost in the glitz and glitter, but I love the season still.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

I really loved this piece of yours, it points out the facts. Christmas has been very commercialized, media is polluting the spirit of Christmas for its own financial profit.The thought which you have presented is fresh and rather gives an enlightening feel. A story which the 21st century really needs to read and understand.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Concepts and communication are ever more difficult between the generations, let alone the millenniums. Although a classic theme, you gave it a fresh original frame and offered motivation to reconnect the generations through faith and belief. I thought the story really settled in and took off at Chloe and Nana's opening conversation. You handle the dialogue interaction very well. Good story.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

An excellent story about "the true meaning of Christmas," Mark. Not only that, but a ride through the thought processes and reasoning of a modern, skeptical youngster, and how a change of mind was brought about.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on November 27, 2010
Last Updated on December 4, 2010

Author

Mark
Mark

Las Vegas, NV



About
Writing, for me, has always been the friend who brought out the best in me, and who would never argue with me, except when necessary to point out my many obvious inconsistancies. Writing and.. more..

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