Christmas Story: Calling in Dead

The tree shimmered, decked out in gold and silver glass ornaments, ribbons and beads. An angel lorded over the tree, her candle glowing and her face frozen in a perpetual smile. Sunny Grable scowled. She crammed her hands into her denim pockets and wished she had a permanent marker to change that angel’s expression. Some goth lipstick and a pimple or two would take care of the angel.

“I’m late.” Her mother, Clarisa hurried into the living room. “Unplug the tree, Sunny. Don’t want to leave it plugged in while I’m at work. Now where’s my papers?”

Sunny yanked the plug out by the neck of the cord. The plastic boughs trembled as her arm brushed against the plastic pine needles. Clarisa rummaged through her large purse. Papers crunched and keys jingled. Sunny plopped down on a chair and drummed her fingers on the armrest.

“What if I told you that I’m pregnant?”

“Then, I would probably be upset.” Clarisa hurried into the other room. “Where are those papers! Arrrgghhh! I should have gotten up earlier today.”

“What if I said I was smoking marijuana?”

“Are you?” Clarisa ran into the room again holding a manila folder bulging with papers. “Got it!”

“No, I’m not.” Sunny stared at the white carpet.

“And pregnant?” Laughter danced in Clarisa’s eyes.

“You don’t think anyone would want me?” Sunny saw a small dark mark on the white carpet. She had put it there last week using a marker to see if her mom would notice it. So far her mother hadn’t said anything.

Her mother stopped. She turned and put her hands on her slim hips. “Sunny, you are gorgeous! But I would like to see you pregnant and married to a good man, and not in that order.”

“I’m not pregnant.”

“Good. What time will you be home tonight?” Clarisa stuffed the envelope into her purse.

“Usual.” Sunny leaned her head back.

“That late? When is the manager going to give you better hours?”

“Probably never.” Sunny stood and pointed at the oversized clock hanging on the tallest wall. “You’re going to be late.”

Clarise’s head swiveled and she gasped. “Oh, I can’t be late again. See you tonight! Did you find a church?”

“Go!” Sunny pointed to the door.

“You’re right. We’ll talk later.” And her mother stumbled out the front door to her black, fancy sports car.

Sunny called in sick-of-life. Actually, if she had called in dead it would have been more honest; instead, she called in just plain old sick. Guilt grew heavy on her mind when her kind boss insisted she relax and get well; to not worry about the work load. Her other co-workers could handle it today. Sunny stared at the angel. It smiled, looking peaceful and beautiful. She resisted the urge to desecrate it. So Sunny turned on the television instead, and channel surfed for a couple of hours. The phone rang and she let the answering machine get it.

“It’s Lena. I’m just reminding you of college group on Thursday. We are so glad you came to visit us last week.” Lena left her phone number should Sunny have any questions.

Not likely. Sunny flipped the channel again. An hour later, her cell phone vibrated against her hips. Sunny dug into her pocket and looked at the number. Don’t know it. Don’t care. She tossed the phone on the opposite chair. It slid across the cushions (also white) and wedged between the back of the chair and the seat cushion.

Daytime television sucked. Sunny turned off the television and walked to the window. Mrs. Mead hung a wreath on her front door while Mr. Mead began to string lights on the garage. Allison, the single real estate agent approaching her fifties, struggled with a briefcase as she closed her front door and locked it. She never parked in her garage. I wonder if I’ll be like that woman—almost fifty and single?

The Christmas season had just begun. Sunny went upstairs to her bedroom and closed the door. She flung herself over the unmade bed and buried her face in the pillows. Last Christmas had been different. She had a boyfriend—a cool boyfriend who was smart and was in his second year of college. They had been dating a year prior to the season. His sister hinted of a ring, and when Jake made reservations at the restaurant on the corner, Sunny danced not-so-quietly around her bedroom. He didn’t like church. He said he didn’t believe in God. Sunny liked that about him. No rules to follow. They could just be, and walks in the moonlight had nearly turned to something her mother would not have approved of. Sunny sat up and went to her computer. She logged on to Facebook.

“Called in dead.” Sunny typed as her status.

“Cool.” One friend commented and liked it.

What a nerd! Sunny waited for somebody to care, scanning the news feeds. Jake had not unfriended her from Facebook. She liked to stalk his statuses because it made her feel somehow connected again to his life. He hadn’t posted anything in a month. Did he still use this or did he go to Google +? Sunny thought about searching Google+, but decided maybe it was time to let him go, too. Two months ago, his status read he was in a relationship, but it was complicated. A new girl—someone better looking perhaps with high ambitions? Sunny remembered their conversation last Christmas at dinner.

“You look—ah—beautiful.” Jake was punctual. He drove up and even walked all the way to the door. Usually, he just honked the horn.

The conversation at the restaurant was a real kill-joy. Sunny had barely eaten. She kept watching his hands, waiting for the moment. How many wedding movies had she watched all the way up to the dinner and how many bridal magazines did she pour through dreaming about her own wedding? Countless. Then, her dreams scattered like the flavored peas on her plate.

“I didn’t know how to do this.” Jake looked uncomfortable. “I didn’t want to do it over the phone and nothing seemed right. I—ah—met someone.”

Sunny left. She walked five miles home in heels. Her feet ached, but her heart hurt more than her arches. Her mother was at work. Her father had a meeting. Sunny cried all night until her mascara ran rivers down her cheeks. The smoky eye effect now looked more like the zombie effect. A year later and Sunny still felt like her heart had never recovered.

“Not cool. Dislike.” Rebecca wrote on Sunny’s status.

Sunny met Rebecca last Thursday at the college group. Rebecca friended her immediately online. Sunny didn’t know how to un-friend without hurting her unfortunate new friend.

“Why?” Sunny’s fingers stabbed the keys.

“It’s not right.” Rebecca explained in a private message a moment later. “You’re a Christian, right?”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Sunny turned to instant chat.

Rebecca did likewise. “Because you lied.”

“I did not. I am dead. Dead on the inside. Life sucks.”

“It’s a lie and it’s not honorable. Life does not suck, not when you know Jesus.”

Rebecca irritated Sunny the first day they met with trite phrases. She always wore Jesus shirts and hated rated ‘R’ movies.

“Hello! Real life does suck even if you know Jesus. And I don’t know Jesus.” Might as well tell happy Rebecca that Sunny wasn’t a member of that club. “I went to your group last week because mom has pestered me to go to church. I have no idea why. We’ve never been a church family. I think she just wants me to meet someone.”

Rebecca sent an unhappy face.

“Guess you had better un-friend me.” Sunny typed. She waited for the notification, but Rebecca did not un-friend Sunny.

“You’re still welcome to come. We all care about you. Plus, Katie told me about your break up last Christmas. That was horrible.”

Sunny slapped her palm on the desk. Best friend and gossip Katie told all to a bunch of Jesus-loving college people! Sunny’s embarrassment warmed her face to the very roots of her red hair. She typed, “It’s nice she told a group of strangers about my personal business.”

“Come this Thursday. It’s going to be a great teaching, and even if you don’t care to hear the teaching, come eat pizza with us.”  Rebecca ended that sentence with another unhappy face.

What was Sunny doing Thursday? Oh, that’s right. Single me has no hot dates lined up! “I’ll check my Calendar.” And Sunny closed instant chat and shut down Facebook.

What if she did end up dead? Would anyone care? Sunny sat down on the edge of her bed. She stared at the cover of her favorite music album on her desktop wallpaper. Her mother had no reaction to any of her statements this morning. If Sunny posted on Facebook, “I am going to kill myself,” would anyone ‘dislike’ or notice? Would anyone run to her rescue? What was church about anyway? Okay, Sunny reasoned, maybe she would post that status and see if people would take notice?

Sunny signed back on to Facebook. She ignored Rebecca’s other messages and wrote, “I am going to kill myself,” on her status. Sunny sat back and folded her arms across her chest. Saying something like that was like yelling ‘bomb’ in an airport. Five minutes passed. Nobody said anything. Sunny opened chat again and checked the names that were online. She frowned. Ten minutes passed and still not a single like or dislike. Sunny signed off of Facebook and went downstairs. The clock moved a notch. It was mid-day all ready. Her stomach growled. The phone rang. Sunny let the machine get it again.

“Sunny, this is Pastor Mark over at Running Brook Christian Church. Please pick up.”

Sunny picked up. “H-hello.” She had never had a pastor call her…ever.

“You don’t know me, but your friend Rebecca called me just now. Why do you want to kill yourself?”

The doorbell rang.

“Um…hold on.” Sunny squeaked and swallowed. In the side windows, a woman with long black hair tried to look through the sheer curtains. Lena.

 

“Don’t hang up on me.” He said kindly.

Sunny opened the door with the phone resting against her shoulder. “L-lena?”

Lena’s tense smile gave Sunny tremors of regret. “Rebecca called me.”

Sunny closed the door on Lena and stood with her back braced against it.

“Sunny, please open. I want to speak with you.”

Sunny looked at the phone and hung up on Pastor Mark. She ran upstairs and logged on to Facebook. Only Rebecca had left twenty-seven frantic comments. A friend she liked to eat lunch with from high school said, “Cool.” Because Sunny didn’t do drugs, sleep around, didn’t die her hair black or paint her lips the same color, people assumed she had no issues. They assumed this was some joke. Jake didn’t even comment. She deleted her Facebook profile and sat on the edge of the bed as the doorbell rang. Fists pounded on the front door. Sunny picked up her scissors and looked at the blades.

The door splintered downstairs. Mom’s going to be upset with the officers for breaking her door. Steps pounded up the stairs. Sunny kept looking at the scissors.

“Put it down.” A soft male voice said.

Sunny swallowed as she spotted a police man standing at her bedroom door with his hand on the butt of his gun. What had she done? “It was a joke.”

“Put it down.” He commanded.

Sunny set the scissors on the bed. Lena followed the policeman in and sat in the computer chair. Her brown eyes gazed at Sunny.

“When we walked in, it sure didn’t look like a joke. Why were you holding the scissors?”

The policeman’s radio muttered in the lengthening silence.

“Look, I wasn’t going to do it. I just wanted to see if anyone would care. This is so embarrassing.” Sunny hid her face in her hands.

“They will have to take you into custody for 48-hours to be evaluated. Sunny, we care…all of us at the church. But more importantly, Jesus loves you and He certainly would care about you taking your life.” Lena said.

“I wasn’t going to take my life.” Sunny didn’t admit she had thought about it.

48-hours later, her mother quietly checked her out of the psychiatric ward and escorted her to the car. “You scared me.” Her voice trembled.

“I’m sorry about the door.” Sunny slid into the passenger side of the car and closed the door.

Lena called often while Sunny was in the hospital. Rebecca also visited. Some of the other college students in the group called or visited. Jake never showed up. Her mother got involved with the counseling and never realized how invisible Sunny felt at home.

“The door is the least of my worries.”

“I wasn’t going to do it.” Sunny said weakly.

“But you thought about it.”

“Once.” And only that church cared. Sunny checked her watch. It was Thursday. The group would start in fifteen minutes. “Do you mind dropping me off at group?”

Her mother paused as she unlocked the passenger door. “You hate church. You hate God.”

“Please.”

“Pastor Mark visited with your father and I.” Her mother whispered. “He’s a nice man.”

Sunny’s eyes widened.

“Your father and I have decided that we need to spend more time with you and…God.”

“And group tonight?” Sunny trembled.

Her mother nodded.

Sunny walked into the church twenty-five minutes later. She felt dizzy, excited even, and curious as she peeked through the square window in the door of a classroom. All the men and women had their heads bowed. Lena’s quiet voice murmured through the door.

“For you so loved the world that you gave us your Son…” Lena prayed over a familiar scripture.

Warmth spread through her body. Lena had read her scripture in the hospital and spoke to Sunny about the cross and what that meant. “It’s about a relationship with Christ. It’s about a way of life, not a book of rules. If you love Him, you will want to listen to Him and His Word. You’ll want to honor Him with your actions, your thoughts, your decisions, but if you mess up, all you have to do is ask.” Lena said over the phone on the last hour of her lock-down. Sunny remembered those words now.

Everyone’s heads raised. Sunny inhaled deeply the smell of floor cleaner and glue, then opened the door. Her stomach churned. A dozen smiling faces turned toward the door. Rebecca jumped up from her seat and embraced her in a tight, air-blocking hug. Lena nodded approvingly. Her eyes gleamed as if lit from inside.

“Today we talk about how God can be our soul mate, like God can be a husband to a widow, he can fill the voids in our life.” Lena began the lesson. “Let’s turn to…”

Rebecca dragged her chair closer to Sunny and shared her Bible. Sunny smiled. Maybe Rebecca wasn’t so bad after all. Sunny bent her head over the book and began to learn what “Christianity” meant to this group of college-agers who didn’t have to show kindness to her at all. When Sunny returned home that night, she looked up at the angel on the tree and decided to leave the angel alone. She climbed the stairs and reinstated her Facebook account. She deleted the suicide comment and wrote, “Dear Friends, tonight I came to know Jesus and He can fill the void in my life. I can have a friendship in Him. Forgive me for my status the other day. No more calling in dead.”

Rebecca liked the post. So did the eleven other new friends Sunny had added from group tonight. All of them left an array of encouraging comments.

Sunny went to her friend list and paused the mouse over the ‘x’ next to Jake’s name. “I don’t need you anymore.” She clicked twice, and Jake was gone.

Copyright 2011 Nikole Hahn

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6 thoughts on “Christmas Story: Calling in Dead”

  1. Thats was a neat story, made me all teary. Great job. you should compile some of your short stories in a book too, and try and get it published.

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