Christmas (2007)

Twas the night before Christmas and Hollis the Mountain Man was busy scraping the crud off some milk crates he was planning to give to Aunt Winnie. Her pantry shelves were sagging under the canned goods and he knew that some planks and crates would do the job. When he’d been in there earlier in the week he noticed the mice were back. A square of baker’s chocolate had been nudged from its carton, and one corner delicately nibbled.

Hollis turned the square over in his hand, marvelling at the precisely chiselled incisor imprints. Mouse crap was a real pain to find, but every now and then Mouse World and Human World would intersect. He’d yank open a file drawer in the barn, and find a perfectly amoebic nest constructed of chewed tax returns from 1947, threads from an oil-changing rag and sawdust. Never any mice. What made them decide to change houses? Winnie’s cat was a sagging, creaking, skeletal old tom cat who, if he chased mice, chased them only in his mind as he dozed on the newspapers in the enclosed porch.

Perhaps a couple of mousetraps would be a good gift to include. Winnie was raised in a less-emotionally taxable generation and had no problem disposing of “the vermin.” Hollis, given the choice, would always let a mouse go free. A boyhood with a BB gun had disposed of any hunter urges.

As for his own festivities, he’d dragged in a tree and draped some colored twinkle lights on it. His presents lay waiting for Christmas morning. Some Christmas eves it snowed hard, and he was trapped in the Mountain Lair for a day or so. Nothing wrong with that. He was a reliable soul and along with his regular gifts to his parents (a new appliance to replace whichever one had finally gone), his friend Delia Ellis Bell (shrunken sweaters from Salvation Army ready for felting), and Lorencz the Hermit (extra cordwood on the porch for Lorencz to “appropriate” for his own home, an abandoned schoolbus in the woods), Hollis always knew what Hollis needed. And so a square carton of Pilsner Urquell, a bottle of Laphroig and a sheaf of scratchers awaited him Christmas morning. A ridiculous, preposterous outlay of cash, given that Tritown Ale was a third the price and scratch tickets were definitely sinful. But why not indulge when Christmas comes but once a year?

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