When sonar reported a torpedo in the water, heading their way fast, it was a harbinger of doom, and the captain’s blood ran cold.
It was Christmas morning, and I woke to the sound of silence. I lay in bed and savored it for awhile. Soon though, my need for caffeine overtook my pleasure with the silence. I got out of bed and picked my way downstairs, stopping on the way to peek through the blinds at the front garden. A light dusting of virgin snow covered the street and the lawn. I risked looking down the street and happily noted that there was no sign of activity all the way down to the Steinke house.
I poured a couple cups of coffee and made my way back upstairs. I set a cup on Velma’s bedside table and told her that it looked as though the Steinke’s might be out of town.
“Wouldn’t that be nice?” she said, “A quiet Christmas with true ‘Peace on Earth’.” She pushed her covers back and padded to the bathroom in her bright yellow pajamas with the feet in them. The pajamas were too small for her, and pretty well worn out, but she had had them for years. They were to her what Linus’ blanket was to him, in the Peanuts cartoons. I thought she looked really sexy in them. I noticed that the big toe on her left foot was peeking out.
“Baby,” I said, “your toe is coming out to eat grass. You’re going to have to retire those jammies soon.”
“Never,” she said, “I’ll just darn the feet. They’ll be good as new.”
Christmas morning was truly quiet and peaceful. We opened gifts downstairs by the tree. We toyed with the mistletoe a little and made pancakes for breakfast. Christmas carols from 97.3 WPUG wafted softly from the radio on the counter.
After cleaning up the breakfast dishes, the torn wrapping paper, and the ribbons we played with the gifts we had given each other for awhile. Christmas dinner preparation was well underway, and we had enough food to feed an army.
As we worked in the kitchen I mentioned to Velma that as much as I hated to admit it, it was almost too quiet. I kept looking out the window towards the Steinke house.
Velma offered up, “I know what you mean, it really doesn’t seem like Christmas without Sam Steinke lying drunk on our couch and Selma chain smoking in the kitchen.”
“And just listen,” I said, “their kids aren’t running in and out of our backdoor or riding their bicycles in the living room.”
“Not to mention the dogs!” Velma rolled her eyes as she pulled the turkey out of the oven.
As if on cue the back door burst open and the Steinke dogs ran in, all five of them. They were followed closely by Sam and Selma Steinke, he with his Santa hat on, and a highball glass in hand; she with a long slender cigarette clutched between the first two fingers of her right hand and about half a fruitcake in her left.
The red headed twins were right behind her, Steven was picking his nose and Selene had a long wad of green snot hanging from hers. The colour matched some of the fruit in the rum-soaked fruitcake.
“Happy Krishmash,” slurred Sam as he stumbled on the linoleum and spilled about half of his drink.
“Merry Christmas neighbors,” said Selma as she gave Velma a one armed hug. “I brought you some fruitcake. I think the dogs got the other half though.” She tsk-tsked and set the cake in the middle of the kitchen table.
“We’re just putting the finishing touches on Christmas dinner,” said Velma, “we have a lot. Won’t you guys join us?”
“Oh, we don’t want to be any trouble,” Selma answered.
“Nonsense, no trouble at all,” I said and pulled more plates from the cupboard.
Sam spotted Selene’s nose and smacked the back of her head, “hey, wipe your nose kid.”
She did, and in one long motion managed to successfully transfer the string of snot from her face to her sleeve.
After we ate, Sam took a nap on our couch while Selma chain smoked and watched Velma clean up. The twins were sneaking sugar cookies to the dogs and a good time was had by all.
As Velma slipped into her footed pajamas that night she said, “You know – Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the Steinke’s.” When she slid under the covers she leaned over, smiled, and gave me a kiss on the nose.