“Welcome to Mount Yuletide, my beautiful little Holly Berry,” I said to Alexis as she emerged from the front door of our house. I gestured proudly to the impressive buttes and knolls of boxed and binned Christmas ornamentation that we had just unloaded out of the truck. This alpine range of holiday jubilance had been assembled under the house’s portico to protect it from the intermittent flakes of snow that were beginning to drift down lazily from the gray sky.
Alexis closed the door behind her and finished putting on her coat by tying the belt around her waist with a yank. She surveyed the mountainous range of bins and boxes critically. Knowing her ways as I do, I knew she was going through her mental bill of lading to see if I’d forgotten anything.
“Did you get it all?” she asked.
“I won’t know that for sure until you tell me,” I said, “But if we would have gotten anything more than we did, it would only have been by breaking into adjacent bays and making away with other people’s belongings.”
“That’s ludicrous,” she said.
“That’s larceny,” I corrected gently.
“Where is the sleigh?” she asked suddenly.
“Fear not, my Observant Orchid. James and his three elves have taken the truck to go back and get it. It wouldn’t fit after we’d loaded the truck with everything else.”
“Wasn’t the truck big enough?”
“There was no room in the end,” I said, shaking my head. “In hindsight, perhaps we should have loaded the sleigh first, but we thought it would be better to wrangle the herd of reindeer in first. You know what reindeer are like. One must contend with recalcitrant antlers. And of course, one must avoid stacking them in a way that would appear untoward to a casual observer. Given all that, it turns out that reindeer take up a surprising amount of space.”
“Wait … did you just say ‘three elves’?” she said, rewinding the conversation to the point just before the riveting reindeer soliloquy.
“I did indeed. Even if your faith in James and I were larger than a mustard seed, we could not have moved these mountains of Christmas trimmings, frills, and furbelows by ourselves. Not before about mid-January anyway. Fortunately, it just so happens that James knows a couple of chaps who are experts in moving things from Point A to Point B.”
“Are they movers?” she asked, looking dubious.
“Movers and shakers,” I said, “who happen to be in the moving and shaking business. To wit, they are stevedores. Or, as they are more commonly called, airport baggage handlers.”
Alexis gasped and cast a worried look at the peaks and crags, the crowns and crests, and summits and pinnacles of Mount St. Nicholas as if she feared she would see nothing but broken shards of glass ornaments, snowmen split into their constituent flakes, disheveled elves, and de-antlered reindeer. However, there was no scree to be seen here at the bottom of the slopes of Mount Kringle.
“Baggage handlers?” she asked, aghast. “Do you not remember what baggage handlers did to our matched set of fuchsia Bon Viveur luggage on our trip to Monaco?”
“As I recall, they loaded it on and off the plane, though I did not witness the feat in person.”
“They absolutely destroyed it. It was completely ruined. All of it.”
“Did they?” I asked, a little surprised. “I’m afraid I don’t recall that, my Excitable Heliotrope. I thought it arrived back home much like we did; a little travel weary, but otherwise intact.”
“They put those hideous ‘opened for inspection’ stickers on them that left that sticky residue on them.”
I gasped, horrified. “Not sticky residue!” I nearly ran around in a circle holding my head in my hands, but thought better of it.
“And they scratched the handle on my makeup case.”
“I suppose that is why we have never returned to Monaco,” I mused. “One simply can’t deplane in Monaco with shoddy luggage, even if it is a matched set of fuchsia Bon Viveur luggage.”
“My point is,” she said, her voice indicating that she was growing weary of trying to get her point across to me, “Is that airport baggage handlers have a reputation for … well … mishandling baggage.”
“It’s a wonder they’re not called baggage mishandlers,” I said, stroking my chin thoughtfully.
“Did they horribly mishandle my precious ornaments?” she asked, running her hand maternally over one of the sealed bins (marked “Christmas Stuff”). “Some of them,” she continued, “are heirlooms and have been in our families for ages.”
“No doubt some of them came over on the Mayflower,” I said. “And heaven only knows how the baggage handlers on Plymouth Rock mishandled them.”
“You’re being silly,” she said, obviously not in the mood for merriment. “Tell me, now horribly did they treat our Christmas decorations? I can’t bring myself to open any of the bins too look. I’m too afraid of what I will see!” I feared for a moment she would drape herself over a stack of bins dramatically like a femme fatale in a silent movie while a placard popped up momentarily reading “sobbing inconsolably” to doleful organ music. However, she refrained admirably and merely looked up at me pleadingly. I thought for a moment that there was a glint of a tear in the corner of her eye, but it was no doubt a reflection of the portico light on the edge of her contact lens.
“Fear not, my Agitated Amaryllis,” I said in a soothing voice. “They were as gentle and as scrupulous as if they were moving sleeping babes. I witnessed the loading myself. It was a thing of beauty. It nearly brought a tear to my eye.” I decided not to tell her that they loaded the truck with all of the energy and theatrics of circus clowns juggling glassware. My confidence in the safety of her prized ornaments lay in the fact that she packs them as if she were going to mail them to Jupiter by way of the asteroid belt.
“I just can’t believe you let airport baggage handlers toss around our delicate Christmas ornaments like chaff.”
“Does one toss chaff?” I asked dubiously.
“You know what I meant,” she said, doing that cute little smirk of hers that she uses when she is annoyed with my word play.
“I assume you meant that you can’t believe I let them thresh around our delicate Christmas goods like chaff.”
“Keep it up and there will definitely be a threshing.”
“I was only chaffing, my pretty little cornflower.” I bent a little at the waist and kissed her on the top of her head.
“Well, we might as well get started sorting out these things so we can get busy decorating.”
I stared at the stacks of bins and boxes with something akin to despair. “But it will take months to open up these various vessels to see what’s inside them. We might still be out here next spring separating the this’s from the that’s.”
“Oh, it’ll be easy,” she said blithely.
I was dubious. “I don’t see how it could possibly be easy since all of the boxes are labeled identically with the less than helpful ‘Christmas Stuff’.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said, with a lighthearted laugh. “Did you forget that I used to work summers at Daddy’s toy factory helping with the inventory?”
“You never fail to surprise me, my clever little Camellia! I did not know that about you.” I pondered for a moment about whether the tidbit of information she just offered me had anything to do with the time her father’s business had nearly gone under, but I decided that was just the sort of thought one keeps to one’s self.
“Well, I did,” she said, seeming a little irked at my surprise. “And I was quite good at it. Daddy said so himself. He said he wasn’t sure how he ever managed without my help.”
“And was it there that you learned the efficacy of labeling all boxes with the same label?”
“They’re not all labeled the same,” she said, her irkiness growing a little. “See this little blue dot here?” She pointed to the upper right corner of the box, just above the “s” in Christmas.
I leaned in for a closer look. And then leaned in a little bit more. If ever there was a time that a monocle would have come in handy, this was it. But through my creative use of squinting, and by following her diminutive and porcelain finger, I was able to discern a tiny blue dot on the box.
“Yes, I see it now,” I said as I straightened back up and blinked to try and restore my depth perception.
“Each box has a colored dot on it to indicate where it is to go. For instance, blue means it contains outside decorations.”
“Brilliant!” I said. “Your scheme is spot on.”
“Ha ha,” she said, feigning a laugh at my joke, but then giggling at how effectively she feigned amusement at my ineffective comment.
“So, what do the other colors mean?” I asked.
“I will have to run back inside and get my color-coded chart,” she said, obviously excited at the prospect of getting to use her color-coded chart for something other than making my eyes glaze over. She left, looking as excited and giddy as I’d ever seen her look about nearly anything.
While she was gone, James pulled back up with the truck and after it had come to a stop, he, Ivan, Boss, and Crusher disembarked. Once again, I was impressed by the size and musculature of these three amigos. I am not a small man, but I looked like a bantamweight next to them. I was afraid to stand next to Crusher for fear someone would mistake me for Curious George and he that Man In the Yellow Hat.
“We retrieved the sleigh, Sir,” said James coolly as if he were announcing he had picked up a pizza on the way home.
“Splendid,” I said, and nearly clapped him on the back, but James is not the sort one claps on the back. So, instead, I just said, “James, you sleigh me!”
“Where shall we put it, Sir?” he asked, obviously not hearing my little bon mot.
I glanced over my shoulder at the front door of the house to make sure my lovely, retiring better half had not returned yet.
“James,” I said gravely. “You must unload the sleigh quickly and then save yourself and your men. Alexis has gone to retrieve one of her many color-coded charts.”
I have never seen James actually jump like a jittery chihuahua that was the victim of a Jack-in-the-box going off right in front of him, but I am pretty sure he blanched beneath his tawny complexion and may have aged a year or two before my eyes. However, years of chauffeuring me through the snarled and dangerous traffic of our fair city has given him a certain battle-hardened taciturnity. He drew himself up a bit as if he were about to announce that he was volunteering to fly the suicide mission far behind enemy lines. He glanced over to observe that his three compadres had unloaded the life-sized sleigh.
“Mr. Callington,” he said, and though I may be mistaken, I believe his voice may have wavered a bit. “I think perhaps you should go with Ivan to return the truck. The others and I will stay here and …. and … deal with Mrs. Callington’s color-coded chart.” He swallowed hard.
I gripped his arm with my hand, squeezing it briefly in a wordless show of manly gratitude. What else could I do? There were no words. He was offering to throw himself on a color-coded grenade for me. But could I do that to him? Could I do that to the man who has served me faithfully these past few years, nearly from the moment I lost my license in that unfortunate misunderstanding with the Federales? There was only one thing to say.
“Are the keys in the truck?” I asked.
“Yes, Sir,” he said somberly.
“You’re a good man, James.”
“You should go, Sir.” Then he turned slightly. “Ivan! Take Mr. Callington to return the truck.”
I could see James in the large side-view mirror of the truck as Ivan and I drove hastily down the winding drive to the front gate. I saw my passionate little Poppy, color-coded chart in hand, addressing James, who pointed towards the truck and said something to her, no doubt in a placating voice.
“You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din,” I muttered as we cleared the gate and turned onto the quiet lane that led into town.
“Thank you, Mr. Callington,” said Ivan. “But I’m just an ordinary Joe trying to get by.”
“Aren’t we all?” I asked philosophically. “Aren’t we all.”
Copyright ©2017 by Biff Sock Pow