On the 29th Day of Christmas Stephen Ground gave to me…
The night they brought Billy home, Matt couldn’t sleep.
Not unusual – Christmas at work was stressful, and he drank too much coffee – but when Martha woke to feed Billy at two, four, and six, Matt was watching Home Alone on repeat in the dark. At eight, she took Billy down and he was on the couch, yogic, big toe inches from his face. He trimmed the nail, jumped, then dropped the clipper on the floor.
Hey, he said, out of breath. Is it morning?
She yanked the blinds. Pale, December sun poured in.
Can you change him? she said. I’d like to use the washroom.
He was aghast when she returned. Easing him aside, she changed it, then helped him upstairs to bed.
The next night he clipped the second, the third the night after that. Awake all hours gathering the courage, watching Die Hard and It’s A Wonderful Life, then he’d be completely useless, recovering for another all-night trim. He never held Billy, hands occupied with tending to his toenails – a present ghost. The slow creep of keratin kept his attention.
Tonight’s it, she said on the fifth day. Time to contribute. I’m not a single mom.
She cut him off with a glare.
It’s important, though, he said.
I’ll tell you tomorrow.
The first had caught up, and needed trimmed – that night, he estimated. Martha decked the halls, shopped for and wrapped gifts, and cut down, dragged home, then decorated the tree with Billy in tow for another five days. The second round complete, he announced the need to trim every twelve hours because they were sprouting faster – soon, every six. Billy grew, Martha struggled, and Matt trimmed every three hours, then one, till he couldn’t eat, sleep, anything but pare and file. Martha’s dream Christmas with her new family was falling apart like a stocking with faulty seams, yet all she wished for was Matt to manage the onslaught jutting from his feet. Moments where his hands could be still. Then he could take Billy, and she could nap.
Christmas Eve. The hospital was quiet and calm, except for Matt’s room. Martha held Billy by the bedside, dodging buzzing nurses preparing Matt for surgery. He was losing his feet, the burden too great.
Come back, she said, squeezing his hand, pushing hair from his forehead. He nodded weakly. A knock at the door – orderlies to wheel him away.
Do you want to hug Daddy? she asked Billy. His eyes twinkled, and she passed him. Matt hesitated, glancing at his corkscrew toes, but took his son in his arms and squeezed, till the orderlies pried them apart.
Stop, Matt shouted. I’m cured.
A hush. Machinery bleeped hosanna.
On Billy’s second birthday, Matt carried him on his shoulders to the Christmas Market, in step with Martha – hand on her large, round belly. They were laughing.
Stephen Ground holds a BA in Theatre and a certificate in Community Arts from York University. Post-grad, he lived in a remote, fly-in community in Canada’s far north, then cofounded Toronto-based Pearson House Films. Find his work on The Esthetic Apostle, Flash Fiction Magazine, STORGY, and elsewhere.
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