The white poinsettia

White poinsettia adorned the living room area of the Grisley’s home every December. On the mantle, beside the low window sills, against the seasonal storybooks on end tables the pots of them folded in gold foil Doris Grisley took her pride. She had mastered a simple, timeless look as well as a fitting way to signal to the rest of the world Christmas was almost here and she was exceedingly happy about sharing it all with the Christmas cards she sent out precisely two weeks before Christmas.

The only problem was that Brent, her husband, did not seem to care much for all of her efforts. Strolling in from work, he’d leave his rubber-banded paper on the end table, drop his computer bag by the pot closest to the east-facing window. Entering the kitchen, he did not think it of any consequence that the greenery atop the cabinets could have been an effort on Doris’ part to leave aside his grumpiness about his unsatisfying clerk position at Staples. He’d retreat to his basement workshop where his model trains were in various states of construction.

All the while, Doris, convinced she and their two children could make the best of Christmas regardless of his inattention. Braydon was only five and Elsie just two. Both were keenly aware of Daddy’s tendency of retreat and Mommy’s wanting the perfect picture.

One particular afternoon, Doris spent hours primping her white poinsettia, nudging each pot so the best angles were put on display. Every shelf she dusted, every rug flattened, floor vacuumed. She set out to put the children in their latest wardrobe for the photo shoot that was to happen that afternoon.

“Momma, I don’t want to wear the sweater! I am going to put on my fire truck.” Braydon was the first to throw up roadblocks. Taking off from Doris’ grip, he hurried off to find his fire truck pajama pants. Elsie did not skip a beat.

“WHAAAAAAMP.” Elsie pulled away from Doris when she saw the open door. Doris had already managed to put on the pure, angelic looking costume specifically ordered for Elsie from Macy’s months before. As soon as she could, Elsie slipped through the crack in the door when Braydon stole Doris’ radar.

Doris fought with Braydon, demanding his “pajamas be put back on for BED and not before!” He carried on, “but I don’t LIKE what you picked out and it is ITCHY.” This went on long enough for Elsie to reach the living room, which had been left completely unwatched. Brent was at a very tedious moment in his model building, tied up with his bridge extending over the masterfully done river. His excitement grew as he looked on the way it appeared to move, churn with fluvial current.

Brent, like Doris, did not hear Elsie swinging her swishy dress through the curtains or her tripping and tearing them along the seam at the top. He failed to hear her footsteps on the rug, artfully finger painted with wet soil from the pots of white poinsettia. Nor was he present to see her play-acting with the crib characters which had been oh-so-strategically placed on the tile in front of the fireplace.

The trains fascinated Brent and he escaped from the life that baffled him. His wife, once graceful and eager to see what was in store for them, together, planned her calendar to keep up with the Jones’. “To ask for a timeout would be like asking for her to forget about Christmas,” he recalled saying to a friend after work over a Jack Daniels.

While the train tinkering kept his hands busy, his mind wondered to the early days of their marriage just under a decade ago. Once the tracks were set the way he liked, once the scenery was as exquisite as the river he’d run across the board, and once the train itself was properly cleaned and ready to roll, what would he do with it? What was more, what would Doris say about it? She had only related her dislike for the project when it interfered with her plans. “Come up and clear the drains, Brent,” she said last week, “We can’t have the water sitting in the sink or tub for hours. Where are you?” Another time it was the cobwebs in the high ceilings. “When was the last time you helped me with the house, Brent? Have you two eyes to see what needs to be done here?”

She only asks for me when she needs something from me, he realized. Why should I allow for that? Frustrated rage boiled up inside him until the tool he was holding shook uncontrollably. The heart within him burned so hotly so quickly he did not give himself the time to pause or to ask where the surge came from. Shoving away from his workbench and the bridge he had started to arch, he heavily stomped up the stairs to the kitchen.

It so happened the fridge was near the top of the stairs, and he went straight for the rack on the bottom shelf where the bottled beers sat. As a guy who appreciated an occasional drink, he had not gone overboard since his college days. Now he sought the beverage as a consoling tool to ponder the various things on his chest. Just as he finished the first swig he heard his wife bellowing at his son, half naked in the hall. Braydon was not making a sound, but Doris must have been on quite the rant. Brent immediately became interested in the meaning of Braydon’s quiet, Doris’ ruckus, and… Elsie? Where was Elsie?

For the first time in weeks he looked for Elsie.

Stepping into the arched doorway leading into the living room, he caught his initial glimpse of the havoc. There, from where he stood he could see a white poinsettia plant lay on its side. Following the marks of black soil across the carpet, he soon discovered the curtains, the beheaded nativity figures and torn white leaves strewn across the whole place. At the foot of the armchair he saw her.

The white once-saintly dress was covered in dark specks of soil and her face bore the triumphant gaze of pure delight. Brent’s face lit up with hers when it dawned on him all of the circumstances that unfolded before him. Picture day was today and, yes, he checked the cockeyed mantle clock to find the photographer should arrive within the hour. Elsie fiddled with her dress and moved to reach out to him.

Before he moved towards Elsie, Doris’ voice came closer and closer until she arrived to the opposite doorway from the hall. “Braydon! I will say this one more time! You can forget about….” As her voice trailed off, her expression went completely from bad to worse, the veins all seemingly stressed so as not to explode. She’d seen the damage and all went dim for her.

“Doris? Doris, listen. I will take care to tell the photographer today is not a good day. Can you hear me?” Doris fell to the floor, and leaned against the wall with angry, blind eyes. Brent went on, “Doris,… Elsie’s got something to show you.”

With all of the disarray, Brent had barely recognized the little infant child smeared with the smudge of a child’s hand, but the little thing she carried with her as she made her discoveries across the whole place. He picked up the thing now from her extended palm and took some of the dirt off from the plump cheeks. Brent looked from the eyes of the child Jesus to those of his beyond enraged wife. He knelt beside her, and looked on the glorious devastation with both wonder and horror, wonder and horror at their house.