No Christmas Decorations
by Robin Stears
Published on December 20, 2019 9:05 PM
DG Mag Issue 2
“I thought I said, ‘no Christmas decorations,’ Ms. Sweetwater.” Moody snatched the offending object from her desk and held it aloft.
“It’s a snow globe, Mr. Moody, certainly not a Christmas decoration. Tomorrow is the first day of winter. Surely, you’re not offended by a snow globe,” Franny Sweetwater said with a wink.
The medium-sized man in the nondescript suit scowled at the bits of glitter gently wafting toward the tiny snow-covered town. He grunted as he deposited the snow globe on Ms. Sweetwater’s desk next to the bright red pencil cup.
“Wait, is this new?” he asked. He picked up the pencil cup and glared at it suspiciously.
“Of course not,” Franny huffed. “Now, if you don’t mind, Mr. Moody, I’d love to chat about Christmas decorations all morning, but I do have work to do.” She stood up and held out her hand. Ignoring it, he slammed the pencil cup on the desk so hard that several pencils flew out across the desk.
Moody spun on his heel and stalked toward his office.
“Ms. Sweetwater! Ms. Sweetwater! MS. SWEETWATER!”
“Oh, hello, Mr. Moody,” Franny said. She took off her headphones and smiled. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“Yes, there is, Ms. Sweetwater. I distinctly remember telling you that there were to be no Christmas decorations in this office!”
“Why, yes, Mr. Moody. You did,” Franny answered, bobbing her head in agreement. “And I’ve strictly adhered to that policy.”
Moody pointed dramatically at a small plant on the credenza behind Franny’s desk.
“Is that or is that not a Christmas tree?” he bellowed triumphantly.
Franny did a slow, lazy turn toward the tree, then a slow, lazy turn back toward the office manager.
“That, Mr. Moody, is not a Christmas tree.”
Moody’s eyebrows disappeared into the fringe of hair falling over his forehead, and his mouth gaped open in astonishment. He sputtered, managing to say only, “Uh, bu-, ubba” a few times before simply giving up. He walked behind the desk and gestured at the tree with both arms, much like a model displaying a prize on Let’s Make a Deal.
“You’re telling me that this,” Moody said, gesticulating wildly at the small evergreen tree on the credenza, “Is not a Christmas tree.”
“No. It’s a bonsai tree,” Franny answered proudly. She gazed at the little evergreen lovingly. “This little fellow is over eleven years old. Can you believe it? And so tiny! I got it at a little shop in Kennebunkport. The tree was more expensive than the pot, but I think it’s worth it, don’t you?”
“A bonsai tree,” Moody repeated, hands on hips. “It looks like a Christmas tree to me.”
“Well, I suppose it does in a way. Oh, look!” Franny said, rummaging through her desk drawer. “I have their business card, if you want it.”
“No, I do not want it,” Moody grumbled. He glared at the little tree furiously, then brightened.
“Aha!” he shouted, picking up the little tree.
“Oh, careful!” Franny cautioned. “It’s very delicate and I paid a fortune for it!”
Moody pointed at the red flowers painted around the sides of the little tree’s pot.
“These are poinsettias,” he accused.
“Are they?” Franny asked, squinting at the little pot. “I thought they were hibiscus. No, they definitely are hibiscus.”
Moody set the tree down.
“Hibiscus.” Moody snorted in disbelief.
“Obviously. That’s self-evident. I could google a picture for you,” she added helpfully.
Moody grunted and stormed out.
“Please get these proofs back to me by the end of business on Friday, will you Ms. Sweetwater?” Moody asked, dropping a folder into the basket on her desk.
He and Franny both looked up to see Tracy from Purchasing beaming in the office doorway.
“I love your new curtains! Very festive!”
Tracy waved vaguely in their direction as she set off down the hall.
Moody whirled toward the window and squinted at the curtains. He lifted one corner and perused the pattern. He turned it over and squinted at it some more.
After several long moments, he dropped the curtain, gave Franny Sweetwater a long, silent, studious look, then turned and walked out.
Franny smiled. She opened the bottom drawer of her desk, lifted out her bright red handbag with the picture of Santa on the side and her red velvet purse with the white faux-fur fringe around the top, walked to her office door, and cast a long admiring look back at her new drapes. The artist had cleverly designed the mural of holiday decorations to be seen from across the room, while appearing to be a vague red, green, and gold mishmash if you were next to it—worth every penny, in her opinion.
“Very festive indeed,” she agreed with a nod as she headed off to lunch.
“Ms. Sweetwater! Are those Christmas lights in your office?”
“Don’t be silly, Mr. Moody. Why would I hang Christmas lights in my office when I know perfectly well you have a ‘no Christmas decorations’ policy? I’ve been having migraines from the fluorescent lighting, and my physician suggested something softer.”
“Mr. Moody, are you okay? You look a little flushed.”
“They. Are. Christmas. Lights.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Moody. I bought them at the hardware store, not the Christmas store. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a conference call.”
She picked up the phone and waved him out of the office as the jingle bells on her bracelet tinkled a merry good-bye.
“Ms. Sweetwater! Is this a wreath?”
“Of course not, Mr. Moody. I’m trying out a new messaging system with my staff.”
“It looks like a wreath.”
“Well, it’s a circle, I’ll give you that.” Ms. Sweetwater chuckled. “But of course, I’d never violate the ‘no Christmas decorations’ policy, Mr. Moody. A wreath would most certainly be against the rules.”
Moody frowned. “It has a bow.”
“Well, yes. I mean, it doesn’t have to be an unattractive messaging system, now, does it?” Ms. Sweetwater rolled her eyes. “If there’s nothing else, Mr. Moody…”
Moody frowned again, his eyes trailing from the sprig of holly in her hair to the sparkling red sequined jacket Franny wore over a dress patterned with jolly, dancing elves.
“No. Nothing else,” he mumbled.
“Ms. Sweetwater, are those candy canes?”
“They are, but they were on sale. Who doesn’t love a good sale? I needed something for my candy bowl. I’m hypoglycemic, you know.”
Moody shook his head. “I didn’t know.”
“Why do you hate Christmas so much anyway, Mr. Moody? What has Christmas ever done to you?”
Moody glowered. “Christmas at my house just meant my dad getting drunk and smacking me around. One year, my mom saved up to get me a Nintendo. That was the best Christmas I ever had. I played with that thing every chance I got. I was good. My Tetris time was under six minutes. I knew every Mario level. I was really, really good. And I was going to compete in the World Championships.”
Moody crossed his arms and glowered even harder. “I was. Until my dad got drunk and threw my Nintendo off the sixth-floor balcony and then gave my mom a black eye. Christmas sucks!”
He turned and stormed out.
“Oh, my,” Franny whispered.
“Ms. Sweetwater—I thought I said ‘no Christmas decorations’! What do you call these chair covers?”
“Sir, it’s only red and black plaid, hardly Christmas decorations. My goodness, what a fuss you’re making!”
“That pillow has a reindeer on it!”
“It’s an elk.”
“What’s the difference?!” Moody roared.
“Well, elk are much heavier, of course, and reindeer have larger antlers.”
“My dad’s an Elk, Mr. Moody.”
Moody closed his eyes for a moment, then turned and walked away, murmuring quietly.
“Ms. Sweetwater, are those Christmas candles?”
“No, Mr. Moody.”
“They smell like Christmas.”
Franny sniffed. “Really? What does Christmas smell like?”
Moody snorted. “You know perfectly well what Christmas smells like.”
“You know, cinnamon. And stuff.”
Franny shook her head. “Well, these candles are certainly not cinnamon. They smell like Fireball candies.”
“Fireball candies are cinnamon, Ms. Sweetwater.”
“Are they? Well. You learn something new every day, I guess.” Franny shrugged.
Moody eyed the bright red rug on the floor of Franny Sweetwater’s office.
“New rug?” he asked, raising one eyebrow.
“It matches the curtains and the chair covers,” Franny replied. She turned to her computer monitor, and Moody noticed the screensaver—the word “Believe” in flowery red script—bouncing around.
Moody shook his head sadly.
“Ms. Sweetwater! Really! What is all this?” Moody gesticulated wildly at the pile of presents on the floor of her office.
“Why, Mr. Moody, those are gifts for my staff, of course. It’s Christmas Eve, you know. I know you said ‘no Christmas decorations,’ but surely you wouldn’t prohibit me from showing my appreciation to my staff!”
Franny hunched over and started sorting through the gifts.
“Here, Mr. Moody,” she said. She handed him a small box wrapped in plain brown postal wrapping paper. The box was not adorned with ribbon or a bow, but simply his name written in Sharpie marker.
“What’s this?” Moody turned the box over and over in his hands. He scowled at her while his fingers tore at the tape and paper.
“It’s a going-away present,” Franny replied.
Moody opened the box as he asked, “What do you mean, ‘a going-away present’?”
Franny watched as his eyes opened wide and his mouth broke into a grin.
“Holy shit, Franny! Where the hell did you find this?”
Moody absent-mindedly dropped the box as he held up a gold cassette almost reverently.
“My dad found it in the back of the warehouse with a bunch of other junk. Do you like it?”
“Like it? Do you know, only twenty-six of these were even made? How did you manage to get your hands on one?”
“Well, I’m glad you like it.” Franny smiled. “I know how much you like those antique video games.”
“Wait, did you say ‘going-away present’? Who’s going away?” Moody asked. He clutched the cassette to his chest.
Franny heaved a sigh and crossed her arms. “I’m sorry, Mr. Moody, but I simply cannot work in an office where I’m not allowed to decorate for Christmas.” Moody’s gaze swept around the office, taking in the “messaging system” wreath on the office door, the Christmas mural drapes, the bonsai Christmas tree, the cinnamon candles, the “hardware store” lights, the red rug, and the most-certainly-not-a-Christmas-decoration snow globe on Ms. Sweetwater’s desk next to her sparkly red pencil cup.
He took in the peppermint-striped dress she wore, accented with a voluminous red scarf with merrily twinkling LED lights embedded in it, with matching peppermint-striped shoes, and the red velvet overcoat with white faux-fur trim and matching purse tossed carelessly across the red-and-black-plaid-covered chair next to the elk pillow and Santa bag.
Then he looked at the gold cassette in his arms and read the label: “Nintendo World Championships 1990.”
He lifted his chin and grinned. “Ms. Sweetwater, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He helped himself to a candy cane from the bowl on her desk and waved around the office. “Obviously, we go all out for Christmas around here.”
Robin Stears is a writer and crossword puzzle constructor who has published three novels and thousands of crossword puzzles. She aspires to a life of creating, drinking coffee and hanging out with Santa Claus.