Deck The Halls - New Short Story
On Thursday July 7, 2016, Danni trudges down four flights of stairs to her basement level storage locker. Right in front are the seven folded cartons labeled “Independence Day.” She pauses for a moment to eyeball the boxes labeled birthday. Danni has a September birthday followed by Halloween ,the decorating holiday to match all.
After July 4th, Danni goes into a slump as she doesn’t really enjoy the summers in Cleveland along with the absence of major holidays until fall. Danni’s total existence revolves around decorating her small one bedroom apartment for the holidays.
Once upstairs with the boxes, she unfolds and tapes each one. It’s always the same routine, Danni starts in the bathroom with the firework embroidered hand towels. She keeps the rolled up in a tray so no one would actually use them.
Danni rarely has visitors. Her sister visits occasionally from Michigan when she is in town on business. While Rhonda was in town during the last week of June, she tried to have a serious sit down with Danni.
As Rhonda fingered the firework cascading centerpiece on the coffee table, she looked to Danni, “I mean, I just don’t get it. You have all these decorations for a holiday you love. You never go out and actually celebrate the holiday and you never have anyone in to enjoy the fruit of your effort. I’m trying to understand Danni, but it’s hard.”
Danni put her hands on each of Rhonda’s shoulders and looked her sister right in the eye. “Different strokes for different folks. I’m not hurting anyone or hurting the environment. I am in good health and make a decent salary. I’m sure you want me to find a guy, get married and pump out a few kids just like you but that is not what I want. I’m happy here with my red, white and blue. And while we are on the subject, where is that flag you promised me?”
Ronda just huffed in frustration. “It’s just not right, I tell you but if this is the way you choose to live your life then I won’t stand in your way.” Rhonda moved toward her suitcase and pulled out a rhinestone studded flag she found at an estate sale. She had picked it up for Danni knowing how much she would love it.
Danni cooed. “Oh Rhonda, it’s more wonderful than the picture. Thank you so much and thank you as well for understanding. If I start to lose my mind, stop paying my rent, stop eating, start robbing banks to pay for my decorations or stop breathing, you have my permission to intervene.
As Danni packs the flag away, she reflects on the conversation with Rhonda and then says to the flag. “What does she know anyway. I am perfectly right.” Although for a moment, Danni wonders if talking to a flag might be considered crazy.
It takes about 3 hours to take down, dust and pack the 10 framed photos of soldiers, flags and fireworks, six piece setting of flag plates, cups and cutlery, firework towels and tapestries, national anthem placemats, we the people couch throw, 20 red, white and blue candles in various shapes and sizes, collection of unopened patriotic beer, wine and liquor bottles, 20 flags of different shapes, patterns and sizes, 5 door hangings. 15 throw pillows, 10 vases with fake flowers, one cake plate with fake flag cake and 40 different clothing and pajama pieces.
Dragging each box down to the storage locker, Danni sings “I’m all right. Don’t nobody worry about me.” When the last box is tucked away, Danni begins a slow, tired and defeated ascent back up the stairs to her apartment. This is always the worst part, walking up to the blank door void of a hanging. She stops and stares while wondering if she should purchase in-between decorations but decides against it feeling it’s not about the decorations but more so a recognition of the holiday and the cycle of the calendar.
Taking a deep breath, Danni opens her door and quickly engages the lock just as if she was being followed. Inside the apartment, the emptiness taunts her. It’s this way each time the decorations come down. Somehow, this time seems worse. “Maybe Rhonda is right. Perhaps I should get out.” Danni thinks to herself. Being so late in the day, she decides it’s best to just go to bed so she is rested for the Friday work day.
Danni also works from home. She is the voice of telephone and internet prompts worldwide. If you ask your phone or your search engine a question, up pops Danni, Yes, the voices are computer generated but the tone and inflection is modeled after Danni’s own voice. She will occasionally do voice overs for commercials, however, most of Danni’s steady work comes from corporations looking for the exact tone to represent their company’s customer service prompts.
Making a prosperous living, Danni could travel the world but chooses to save her money for something much bigger. Her dream is to open an international clearing house for holiday decorations. She has her eye on the prize.
During this night, Danni is restless without the illumination of the glowing Independence day lights. Each time she opens her eyes, the darkness consumes her to the point of getting out of bed to find a flashlight. Laying the flashlight on the nightstand, Danni tries to soothe herself back to sleep by dreaming up something to decorate for in August.
Thinking back to Tuesday’s work day, Danni remembers seeing an ad for the upcoming Olympic Games. Not owning a television, Danni relies on the internet for much of her news. She doesn’t even read the news online but is sometimes asked to record new prompts for highlighted world events. Once asked, Danni will go online to learn about the event to record the proper voice to reflect the celebration.
While doing the research, Danni exclaims. “Who really cares about all these competitions, the medals, the costumes and all the other hubbub?” During the restless night, she considers jumping on the Olympic wagon and doing a quick decorating to remove the current void. The idea of banner hanging lulls Danni back to sleep.
In between recording sessions the next day, Danni visits her favorite decorating sites and rush orders an array of items. By Monday, a box will arrive overflowing with international flag banners, gold, silver and bronze medal plates, cups and placemats, Olympic rings for over the picture window, torch center pieces, and a go for the gold poster.
During Danni’s lunch break, she envisions where each item will go. A rush of adrenaline moves through her body. A new holiday, new decorations and all the possibilities excite her to the point of exhaustion.
By 4:00 PM, Danni is happy to shut down her computer and moved toward her regular Friday night routine. She pulls the menu for her favorite Italian restaurant. It has been her goal to enjoy each food item at least once before moving on to a new carry out joint. Tonight’s dinner will be caprese salad, grilled octopus, garlic bread and an Italian beef sandwich.
Belonging to a monthly wine club, Danni goes to the closet to see what her options are. While waiting for the delivery, she goes online to begin work on her birthday theme. It’s going to be the big 30 so she wants the theme to go along with the milestone. Unfortunately, all she finds this search is tombstones and over the hill signs. As Danni closes the computer, the bell rings.
Grabbing her wallet, Danni races to the door. A tiny woman with jet black hair and wearing a flag shirt holds out the bag of aromatic delicacies. Normally, Danni doesn’t notice people. Maybe it’s the flag shirt so close to the end of Independence Day and so near to the new Olympic tradition. Danni shoots the woman a cute little grin. “Smells good.” Danni says while placing the bag on the entry way table and signing the bill.
“Their food is super good. One of the reasons I work delivering for them is for the discount. I could live on it.” The woman says to Danni.
“I bought enough to feed an army. Too bad you have to work, there is plenty to share.” Danni says but can’t really believe the words came out of her mouth.
Danni dated around a bit in college and even had a couple of sexual encounters. She just never felt like being with anyone long term. Even though Danni is a hearty eater and drinker while never venturing out, she is in top athletic shape due to her home gym equipment. Never watching tv and not traveling out much, when she is not working or eating, Danni is working out.
Her long hair is usually wrapped up in braids or under a hat. Having flawless skin, Danni doesn’t wear much make up. Because she doesn’t get much natural sunlight, she does use a bronzer as to not look like a vampire. When Danni does go out, she tends to be cat-called and approached by men. She never even thought about being with a woman but now there is an attractive one standing right in front of her and in a bold move, Danni invites her to dinner.
Selena looks up at Danni in shock while taking back the receipt. “I have about 4 more deliveries so maybe next time. Here is my number if you want to set something up.”
“Sounds like a plan. Ciao” Danni waves goodbye like a school girl with her first crush.
Selena thought about the queer interaction while heading back to her car. She has been out since her 20th birthday 5 years ago. Men rarely hit on her but women often do. “I guess I got the look.” She says giggling.
Danni is so shocked by her audacity, she just sits on the couch sipping wine and can’t even bring herself to open the food. “What the fuck just happened?” She groans to herself. “Maybe I have gone too long without companionship and am now joining the other team. I better investigate.”
Moving toward the computer, Danni types girl on girl into her search window. After clicking image search, she scrolls through the millions of options. Taking the time to ponder each couple and each position, Danni starts to feel a pulsing throughout her whole body. She decides to call Selena tomorrow. “What’s the harm?” She asks herself while grabbing a plate and napkins.
Being the holiday buff she is, Danni reads about the origin of Labor Day while she eats. “Not much to decorate there,” she muses while nibbling octopus. The shock of her asking a strange woman on a date compiled with the looming of a new holiday to celebrate, Danni reflects back on her holiday obsession.
Celebrating most holidays but not to any lunatic extent, Danni’s childhood memories are sweet but not too staggering. In college, she had a roommate who didn’t celebrate any holidays feeling it was only a way for corporations to get their hooks into unsuspecting consumers. While the two had lively conversations on the theory, Danni never felt affected by her roommate and never really thought about it again once out of school.
When Danni secured her first job out of school, she moved into a small apartment on the east side. There was an eccentric old woman who not only decorated her apartment for holidays but the stairwells, the laundry room and even the building façade. Danni felt it extreme but never interfered.
After securing her current voice over job, Danni was able to move to a better area and into her current apartment. Being a young single woman, she never put up any decorations for holidays or even pictures or home décor. “I’ll see it all when I go home for the holidays.” She would say when someone asked.
The winter of ’99 was particularly brutal in Cleveland. Danni was recording a voice over for Rice-A-Roni when she got the call. Her mother was helping her father hang the outside Christmas lights. Danni’s father slipped on the icy stoop and fell on top of Danni’s mother. The two were dead upon arrival to Cleveland Clinic. Both had broken necks in exactly the same location. When paramedics arrived on the scene, the couple were tangled in illuminated lights and covered with snow. It’s a picture Danni can’t get out of her head.
After the accident, Danni went to her parent’s house and claimed all the holiday decorations and vowed to decorate each holiday in homage to them. It was also at that point when Danni began to isolate herself from the rest of the world. She tried to see a grief counselor but found it too painful and decided to deal on her own.
The interaction with Selena, is the first of it’s kind since the accident so many years ago. Maybe it was the Olympic hope that opened Danni’s heart. Not really knowing much about the Olympics, Danni decided to watch some events online to see what all the hype was about.
Unfortunately, the clips coming up first are the injury clips. Video after video of Olympic hopefuls cracking a limb or falling hard resulting in the loss of a lifetime of work. The scenes are so horrific, Danni slams the computer hard and pushes it off the table along with the rest of her dinner and glass of wine. She is horribly reminded how a joyous event can bring on tragedy.
Danni walks to the computer, picks it up, opens the page with her order confirmation and quickly cancels the order. She takes Selena’s phone number and tears it into pieces and flushes it down the toilet. In an injured daze, Danni moves toward the basement and her storage locker. Finding the boxes labeled Christmas, she drags each box up the stairs.
A full weekend later, Danni’s apartment looks like a Christmas village and she feels safe once again.