I was not hiding particularly, though I could see how it might appear that way to an untrained observer.
Such an observer, untrained or not, could easily have found me in my den where I was recumbent upon my favorite easy chair. My feet were up on the coffee table (in direct defiance of house rules). A fire crackled in the fireplace. Soft music tinkled on the hi-fi. A steaming mug of wassail sat beside me on the occasional table.
In short, I was the very picture of serenity and relaxation. And, by golly, if that looked like hiding to an outside observer, well so be it. I felt I deserved a little quiet time to be alone with my thoughts and to begin recovering from the lunacy of the past week. Chaos had finally packed its bags and vacated the premises. And good riddance, I say! What has chaos ever done for me?
And what better place for a man to hide from the trials and tribulations of the world than in his den? A man’s den is not merely a room with overstuffed furniture and festooned with sports memorabilia and the occasional life-sized faux moose head (won at a carnival), but it also serves as his man cave, his ready room, his monastery, his sanctum sanctorum. In this room I am I master and commander. I am lord of this modest realm. I am laird of this estate.
My absolute monarchy was suddenly challenged by the abrupt appearance of my dear wife Alexis, who burst into my den like a squall line on its way to wreak havoc on a small island paradise somewhere.
I am always overjoyed to see my better half, but her timing in this instance was unfortunate in that I had just struck a match and was waiting for the sulfurous flare to die down a bit before holding it to the bowl of my newly acquired meerschaum pipe. It had been my intent to give the Cavendish cut of Kentucky Burley tobacco the same sort of benevolent glow that I had been feeling myself up until that moment.
However, the sudden and energetic appearance of my delicate little begonia startled me so much that I dropped the freshly lit match onto my Harris tweed jacket. And while it was not a smoking jacket per se, it might easily be mistaken for a blazer if I didn’t take immediate evasive actions to avoid coming under fire.
I come from a long line of quick thinkers, but I decided to forgo the thinking portion of the show and get right to the action scene. Therefore, I jumped up suddenly and did a bit of a jitterbug to find the flaming little bugger before my jacket went up in flames with all hands on board.
In the ensuing chaos, the pipe slipped from my mouth and showered fine Cavendish-cut tobacco all over me, my recliner, and the carpet. If I’d had a faithful old cocker spaniel asleep on the floor beside me, he’d have been sprinkled with tobacco and might well have gotten himself tap danced upon in the melee. So, it is just as well that I don’t have a cocker spaniel.
The dance ended abruptly when I noted the now-extinguished match fall harmlessly to the carpet.
“What gives, my little Scarlet Primrose?” I asked, deciding not to mention that she had nearly sent her one and only husband up in flames. She tends to be highly excitable about such things. Instead I bent to casually pick up the pipe from the thick carpet that had cushioned its fall.
“What exactly were you doing?” she asked pointedly as I straightened up and brushed the fine Kentucky tobacco from my jacket. Though her stature is decidedly elfin, her piercing green eyes, tapping foot, and beautiful auburn hair could give her the appearance of a Scottish warrior princess about to give some poor peasant what for.
“Oh,” I said in what I hoped was a casual tone, “Just listening to a bit of music.”
“Enjoying the warmth of a crackling fire.”
“And that?” she asked, indicating with the merest inclination of her head the meerschaum pipe I held in my hand.
“This?” I asked as I looked at the pipe in my hand as if I’d just noticed it was there.
“Yes. That,” she said.
“This belonged to my grandfather; rest his soul.”
I cast my eyes up towards the beamed ceiling reverently for a moment. Then, looking back at the pipe, I continued, “I inherited it somehow through the mysterious machinations of probate. I was just going through some of the things he recently bequeathed to me after sloughing off the mortal coil.”
I indicated with a wave of the meerschaum pipe the open steamer trunk beside my easy chair which I’d been rummaging through just moments before. Whilst excavating its contents, I’d found, tucked underneath the usual accouterments that a man collects throughout his life, such as stamp collections and coin collections and military medals and bottle cap collections, the fine pipe which was now under discussion. And, having found it, I had decided, perhaps rashly, to give it a test drive.
“What were you doing with it just now?” she asked, continuing her interrogation.
I could tell my little flower was somewhat perturbed and would not rest until she got to the bottom of this pipe business. I felt myself getting a little warm under her cross examination, though not as warm as I would have been if my tweed sports coat had been a wee less flame retardant than it obviously was.
“Well, um, I was admiring it. The carving is exquisite.” I held it up for her to see better.
She assayed it for a nearly a moment before passing judgement. “That is the ugliest woman I ever saw,” she finally said.
“That’s no woman. That is Dionysus, who is, by all accounts, the god of wine.”
“And it’s filthy. I can’t believe you had that in your mouth.”
“That is patina, my Petunia. You wouldn’t think to look at it, but it was snowy white when it was carved in 1823 by a fine English craftsman. However, generations of avid smokers have given it a … well … a smoky finish.”
“You, too, will have a smoky finish if I catch you lighting up that or any other thing in the house. You know I could never get rid of that smell.”
“Well, I … “
“And you know I have allergies.”
“Yes, but only to cats, of which we have none.”
“And to smoke, too,” she said, a trifle defensively. “Daddy smoked like a volcano. It’s a wonder I survived to adolescence.”
“And not merely survived,” I said, thinking a bit of the old oil would soothe the savage breast. “But emerged the clear victor. A fairer lily has never—”
“And,” she said, cutting me off before I could get the old oil flowing, “You know how smoking upsets me after what it did to Daddy.”
I cast her a quizzical look. “What did it do the dear old fellow?”
“It very nearly killed him!”
“Well, I hardly think that almost choking on a smoked salmon bone …”
“Anyway, I didn’t come in here to talk about the fact that you are never to smoke in this house again.”
“Oh … um … okay.”
“Do you realize what today is?”
Only the fact that I was suddenly frozen in terror kept me from running around the room in a panic. What important date had I forgotten? Our anniversary? No, that was in June. Her birthday? No, that was … um…. on over in the summertime, I think. The children’s birthdays? No, I distinctly remember just recently having a dinosaur-themed party for one of them (the boy, I think) and some sort of sleepover glamour party for the other one (the girl, most likely).
I was completely stymied. What in the world had I forgotten that would now come back to haunt me like one third of a Dickensian tale? There was only one thing to do. I would have to dissemble like I have never dissembled before.
“I believe it is Friday, my Delightful Dahlia.”
She pursed her lips in that crooked little way of hers that makes her look as cute as the proverbial button, but which at the moment was indicating that I had guessed wrong.
“Well, that is better than one of your usual guesses,” she said, giggling. “The last time I asked you what day it was, you guessed the Feast Day of Ecgberht of Ripon.”
“Well, I panicked.”
“Yes, I saw the same look of panic in your eye just now. But I’ll end your suffering and tell you that today is the very first day of the Christmas season.”
“Good heavens,” I gasped. “It seems like just yesterday it was Thanksgiving.”
“That’s because it was just yesterday,” she said patiently.
“That would explain all those people in our house.”
“You mean our friends and relatives?”
“Yes, those are the ones.”
She sighed and continued. “Anyway, that means that today is the official start of the Christmas season. We have less than a month to go before Christmas gets here and there are a million things we need to do.”
I could tell by the look in her eye that when she said things we need to do, she very likely meant things that I would be doing under her direct supervision.
“Such as?” I asked with a growing sense of trepidation.
“Well,” she said as she began to tick things off on her fingers. “We have to get a tree. We need to get all of the decorations down. We need to send out Christmas cards. We need to decorate the tree and the house and the grounds. We need to plan the Christmas parties. And then, of course, there is all the shopping.”
“Yes, we mustn’t forget the shopping,” I said, shuddering visibly at the memories of my shopping adventures of last Christmas. Or rather, my misadventures. Just the memory of it made me take up my steaming mug of wassail and take a hearty draught.
“Exactly,” she said. “We have a million things to plan out and do before the 25th rolls around.”
“I am all agog, my Beautiful Begonia,” I said. “Where do we start?”
“I have a complete list of things that need to be done. I’ve also made a color-coded chart of who is doing what and when.”
I groaned inwardly. Her color-coded charts were enough to give Einstein a headache. She was the only one who could translate them because they required thinking in multiple dimensions simultaneously. She has tried many times to explain their logic to me, but she might as well try to teach double-entry accounting to a parakeet. The mere existence of these lists and charts means that lots of innocent bystanders (such as myself) would soon be caught up in missions so complex and so daring that hardened special operations forces would run for the hills to avoid them.
But it was too late for me. I was already caught up in her web of color-coded charts, to-do lists, and schedules. There was nothing for me to do but accept my fate. As the fellow once said, “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward.” And then a bunch of palaver about canons, jaws of death, mouth of hell, blah blah blah, and etc etc etc. But the main takeaway from the poem was that, when faced with Alexis’ schemes, it is best to just trudge forwards with blinders on, for mine is not to reason why.
“So, what is my first task?” I asked, accepting my fate stoically.
“Your first task is to find somewhere out of sight to store that unsightly pipe,” she said, casting yet another jaundiced eye at dear old Grand Pa-Pa’s prized pipe. I tucked it quickly into a pocket of my sports coat.
“I’d like you to go up into the attic and bring down the Christmas boxes. I thought we’d take the children tomorrow to go pick out the Christmas tree. Then we can decorate it tomorrow night.”
“You can count on me, my Pretty Poinsettia! I will execute my duties faithfully, or die trying.”
“Well,” she said, standing on her tiptoes and tugging downwards on the lapels of my sports coat to bring my cheek down to a more kissable height, which she did. “I’d rather you didn’t die. It would cast a pall over Christmas.”
“And it might upset the children,” I added, slipping my arms around her waist.
“It might at that,” she agreed. “Plus, then who would get the decorations out of the attic?”
She winked at me and kissed me on the cheek again before sashaying out of my den as quickly as she’d appeared. Her ponytail swished efficiently and adorably against the back of her Christmassy blouse.
The countdown to Christmas had officially begun.
Copyright ©2018 by Biff Sock Pow
All characters contained herein are also Copyright ©2018 by Biff Sock Pow