Short Fiction: Christmas in a Cup

15439882_380809305599793_991893361134236353_nBy Becky Holland 
Holiday decorations seemed to surround Frankie McIntyre. Everywhere she looked there were sparkles, lights, blow-up Santa figures, wooden Nativity scenes, Reindeer made of PVC pipe or wood or lights, and even a few camo-dressed Santas.

Dressed in her comfy Dallas Cowboy sweatpants and an over-sized thick white t-shirt that she had stolen from her best friend, Jax’s closet last time she visited him, and a pair of blue and gray fuzzy slipper socks, Frankie stood at her living room window and sighed. Even with the  festive decorations that shined at her through the night up and down her street,  Frankie couldn’t get excited.

Her dog, Walter, a mix of a Terrier, a Chihuahua and a Golden Retriever, sat on the edge of the loveseat, and watched Frankie curiously. She sunk down beside him, “Walter, I just can’t get into the spirit.”  Frankie nuzzled her nose into his neck. Walter was used to her moodiness. He turned around and licked her cheek. “Thanks, buddy.”

She normally loved the Christmas season. In fact, in her family, Frankie was the Christmas ‘child.’  She was the one who always wanted to put out the Christmas lights, the tree, the nativity cut-out, the wooden reindeer and loved listening to Christmas carols.

This year, Frankie had put out the most minimum of decorations – a Santa Claus hung on the door, a Christmas Welcome mat was below it, and there was a fake red poinsettia in her frog planter on a table between her two porch chairs.  A reindeer hung on her other door and there was another welcome mat. Inside, she had put out her dollar store nativity set with the Bible turned to the Christmas story, her Santa snow globe, the musical Rudolph  and a small table top tree, along with her nutcracker collection.

It was a small effort, but it was all that the 46-year-old could muster. Sitting on the loveseat, hand mindlessly rubbing Walter’s fur back and forth, Frankie thought about her family. Her parents were hundreds of miles away in Georgia. Her aunts and uncle were too. Cousins were in Pennsylvania, Florida and California. Her niece was in New York. Her brother was in Ohio.  She had family about two to rhree hours away, but honestly, they were not that close – as in relationship wise.  Everyone was so busy and so far away, it had been forever since they had had a real McIntyre family Christmas.

Frankie’s job as a newspaper editor had kept her from being able to travel back home since she moved back to Texas. Her mom and she talked everyday though – sometimes two or three times. She talked to her aunt several times a week. Through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, she kept up with her closest friends. With her job, she wasn’t lonely – she worked with people anywhere from eight to 16 hours a day.  Past experiences made her wonder if she was just depressed or anxious, which kept her from getting in the Christmas spirit. Nah, that wasn’t it.

“Walter, we need a shot in the arm of something… This should be the happiest time of year.” Sometimes, Frankie thought Walter really understood what she was saying. He would sit, and cock his head this way and that. If it was something serious she was talking about, it was almost as if he would frown with her.

15622249_380903638923693_6578130003985232150_nHe was named after her journalistic hero – Walter Cronkite. Walter had a personality that resembled the late award-winning broadcasters. The dog was not a quitter, and he never let Frankie feel down or quit either. Part of it was because she knew she was responsible for him, and the other part was, he nudged her along and got her busy and focused on other things when she got like that.

Which made what he did next not a surprise really.

The dog walked over to the end table next to her where she had placed the mail the night before. It was next to the window, so he wanted it clear so she could look out, or that is what Frankie thought.

The mail scattered to the floor.  “Walter.” She sighed and reached down to pick up the mess. There were a few Christmas cards – one from an aunt, friends from Georgia, friends from Alabama and Florida.  She sat back and started opening. Out of one of the cards, gift cards fell out –Starbucks gift cards.

Frankie smiled. “Whoa.”  An avid drinker of Dr. Pepper, Frankie had decided in an effort to lose the 65 pounds she needed to lose and for just general health reasons – to give up sodas. Her new addiction was coffee – medium roast with one cream.  Her family members were avid coffee drinkers. In fact, her dad is what one might call a coffee guru. When certain family members had found Frankie had crossed over to coffee, they were excited. Her aunt said, “When a new coffee drinker is out there, you want to encourage them.”

Her dad laughed at her when she bought her first K-cup coffee maker. It is not a keurig, but a Farberware k cup for one.  Frankie’s dad,  Daniel, called it the lazy person’s coffee maker. “I have tried to tell you for years how to do the right coffee.”  Frankie laughed.

She had discovered, through research after staying with friends who had a Keurig, that the Kcups might actually be her answer. Past coffee maker experiences had not always been in Frankie’s favor – there was the time the coffee pot burned, the coffee filters got clogged and so and so on. Not to mention, the mess it would make. Being a single person, it was hard to utilize a regular coffee maker. Her Kcup for one measured out the coffee by her mug and the amount of water she put in, and the water temperature was just right.  She loved it. She thought of her uncle when she drank from it.  Uncle Wayne had passed away from cancer several years ago.  But he was the coffee drinker. He went to bed with a cup of coffee – and it wasn’t decaf – and he could sleep good.

In fact, her uncle used to say that all of life’s opportunities, problems and whatever else could be solved in a cup of coffee.

Frankie wondered if a cup of coffee could solve whatever was making her feel so blah at the moment.

“Want to take a ride?” At the mention of ride, Walter jumped down from his spot of playing neighborhood watchman, and ran to the door where his leash hung on the door knob. “I take that as a yes.” Frankie laughed, and ran down the hall to her room, where she put on her tennis shoes, and grabbed her jacket and purse.  She put the Starbucks’ gift card in her pocket.

While she was sitting on the bed, tying her shoes, Frankie looked up. Walter was holding his leash and harness in his mouth and dragging it down the hall to her. She laughed. “I was not going to leave you.”

After hooking him in,  they walked to the back door. “Keys.” She grabbed her keys off of the hook on the wall next to her bookcase. Her eyes  fell on a picture in a frame. It was one of her dad, holding a cup of coffee, and her mom was standing next him, holding one too. Frankie smiled.

She and Walter were off on a journey. “11 miles to see what a cup of coffee can do for us.”

Frankie turned on the radio to her favorite station, KVNE, 89.5Fm.  Nichole Nordeman’s  Real was playing.

“Frozen statues in the cold, Washed in moonlight, blue and gold. Mary’s babe in plastic hay. Quiet wonder on her face. Mary you look so serene, Far too pretty, much too clean. We might think we know you well, but what stories would you tell? Of all the dirt and dust and shame and every burning labour pain.”

Frankie looked back at Walter in his dog seat in the back, and smiled. She turned the radio volume dial up a little.

“And as I turn to walk away. I hear you say. I am real. Don’t turn me into memory or myth.
Let me be real, real. And I’ll show you what it means to love like this. To be real.”

The song was beautiful. Frankie found herself moving to the music, and seeing someone looking at a nativity scene on a lawn. As the lyrics continued, Frankie noticed the signs for Christmas sales, holiday sales and Christmas scenes on lawns and in front of buildings she passed.

“Shepherds bending to the ground, Bethlehem is safe and sound. Joseph, you look brave and true. Do we know what it was like to be you? How many sleepless nights awake
found you desperate and afraid?  And as I turn to walk away, I hear you say…
I am real.  Don’t turn me into memory or myth.  Let me be real, real …
And I’ll show you what it means to love like this … To love like you don’t even care about the hurry and the hustle … Like you are unaware December comes with so much trouble.
‘Cause you believe a baby came, not in paintings or in plays, But every minute, every hour, every day … To be real, real. Jesus, You are real, real … Show us how to love like this …
..To be real … To be real …  More than a memory … More than a story …. Real.” 

Tears were streaming down Frankie’s face as she stopped at the red light. She wiped them away, and they kept coming. “Darn song.” She sniffed.  The lyrics had really touched her. Nichole had sung about taking away the commercialism, the anxiety that many feel about the holidays and holiday gathering and shopping and getting down to the “real.”

15589856_380809135599810_1189458898101286276_nTurning left, she saw it. Starbucks was sitting at the front of a parking lot of a grocery store – a fast food place to one side and another business on the other side. Cars filled the parking lot. “We’re here, Walter.”   Looking through her rearview mirror, she grinned. Walter knew where they were. They had been here many times since she had moved to central east Texas. His ears stood up.

Pulling into the drive thru lane, Frankie knew what she was going to get – her regular – Pike Place® with one cream – grande, extra hot, and of course, Walter was going to get a Puppuccino.

That is when she saw the coffee of the day was the Christmas blend. It was a dark roast, and she was not fond of dark roast, but the idea of Christmas in a cup made Frankie wonder. She placed her order – and asked for two creams instead of one.

At the window, she handed the barista her gift card. Walter barked. The barista smiled, Frankie smiled, “He loves his Starbucks.”  T

Shortly after, the barista arrived at the window with her order.  Frankie took the napkins and both cups. The barista handed her a dog biscuit wrapped in a bag. “Thank you.”

“Ya’ll have a Merry Christmas. Jesus is the reason for the season,” the barista called as Frankie stopped for a minute. She smiled. “You too.”

She pulled into the grocery store parking lot, away from traffic, and unbuckled herself, and turned around to face her dog. “Here you go.” She opened the lid of the Puppuccino. Walter couldn’t wait. She held it out to him so he could lick some of it. While he did, Frankie watched the cars and the people in the parking lot. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry.

Frankie felt discouraged as she watched a car pull out in front of another and horns started blaring. Walter turned his head away from his Puppuccino for a minute to look.

“Sometimes the real is not very pretty, is it, Walter?”  Frankie said. She took the Puppuccino and put the lid on. She wiped his face with her hands. “You can have the rest when we get home.”

Walter looked a little dejected, but he knew the routine. Frankie turned around, and buckled herself in. She thought about her family all over the US, and wondered what they were doing.

“Probably not sitting in a parking lot feeding their dog a Puppuccino,” she mumbled to herself. As she turned the engine on, Frankie took her cup, and blew on the hole in the lid. She took a sip gingerly.

Her tastebuds were instantly hit with a well-balanced mix of spicy and sweet, and a bold, but not overwhelmingly boldness. It wasn’t full of the chocolatey taste that most dark roasts have – nor was it full of a ‘frufru’ taste that add flavors give coffee.

Looking around at the buildings, the people and the varying displays or non-displays of Christmas surrounding her, Frankie laughed. “Yeah, this is most certainly Christmas in a cup.”

Did Frankie’s mood lighten? Did her ‘blahs’ go away because of the coffee? No, dear reader, but for that moment, that one moment, Frankie saw Christmas as it was and how far it had come from what it should have been.

And she drank her coffee to the last drop.


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