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The Christmas Legend by Devon Pitlor

Saturday, December 23rd 2006

Zachary had been on the roof all morning positioning the sleigh and
the elves. Before that he had clambered all over the sides of the house
stringing lights. He was determined this year to have a brighter house
than anyone on the cove. Within hours night would fall and a parade
of cars would be winding through the subdivision streets. They would
pause before the best decorated houses and take pictures. That gave
Zachary great satisfaction. It was part of the spirit of Christmas, and
Zachary loved Christmas. His own parents had always boasted the
best lit house on the block, and now it was his turn to carry the family
torch. Christmas was a time of lights, and Zachary had not skimped.
The thought of a late January power bill of over $700 didn't faze him
a bit. Everything needed to be perfect. The house would be seen from
a half mile away. It would draw the night drivers like moths to a
flame.

Satisfied with his work, Zachary climbed down from the roof and
walked into the house. It was warm and cozy and full of Christmas
colors. Robyn had seen to that. Knickknacks of Santas, elves and
Alpine villages were spread everywhere. Not a doorway could be
found that was not festooned in evergreen boughs, bountiful holly or
dangling mistletoe. The tree was huge, but then again so was the
vaulted ceiling in the den. At the very top was Gabriel, the angel who
announced the virgin birth of the Baby Jesus. Under the tree, behind
the multiple gifts, was the manger scene: Shepherds and animals
visiting a tiny pink Caucasian baby in a straw-filled trough. The
scene was faultless. The tree was splendorous. Christmas would be
good this year, and maybe Robyn would crown it by getting pregnant.
At least Zachary hoped so. It was time to start a family, a family to
carry on the tradition of the lights if for no other reason.

Robyn, wearing a floppy Santa hat, came into the breakfast nook and
tossed the mail on the table in front of Zachary. "You open the cards
this time," she said wearily. "I've been out at the mall all day
Christmas shopping. I still haven't found what I wanted for your
brother Evan or for Giffen and Patty either. I'll need to go out again."

"It's hard to shop for Evan," sighed Zachary. "All he wants is


electronic gear. And more tattoos. You can't exactly buy him a tattoo,
though maybe they have gift cards. As for Giffen and Patty, just get
them a new LCD flat screen."

Zachary began tearing open the Christmas cards which had come in
the mail. He mumbled softly to himself. "Ness and
Connie...Buff...Chuffy...the Plankermores...Rick's Diner...Warren
from Nationsbest Retail...The Porcelain Lady at Fixture City...Arnold
what's his face from Zaraguchi's...my old roommate Arreck...and
here's one: Dalzall and Lillian Flenze. Who in the hell are Dalzall and
Lillian Flenze?"

"No idea, sweetie," chirped Robyn from under her hair dryer.

"Oh, look here's a note."

"Read it...but loud. I can't hear much under this thing."

"Dalzall has been really sick, but he still manages to play paintball.
He'll be 88 this coming year and has cancer. We're coming to visit
before he dies. --Lillian"
"People we don't even know are coming to visit."

"It would appear so."

When Robyn finally got into her Christmassy best, she and Zachary
drove out to meet Harriet and Clayger at Zaraguchi's. The foursome,
still childless and each in their mid-twenties, had the habit of spending
Saturday nights together and listening to live bands or dancing. They
ordered cranberry mint zingers all around and began talking about
the untimely death of a television star named Reena Produggan who
had recently expired of an overdose. Then the conversation turned to
online warring games, and the women quietly speculated on exactly
what they expected their husbands might have for them under the
tree.

"I hope Clayger got me a zircon pendant," said Harriet. "I've so


wanted one for ever. I think I deserve it."

"I want a Porsche tied up with a ribbon," laughed Robyn. "I think
this is the year. We make enough now. Zack just got a promotion."

A crowd of happy, young merrymakers swirled around their table in


the lounge. The discussions were mostly about telephonic and
computer equipment and "apps." It was, after all, 2006. They were
all young...employed...and the economy was faring well.

On cue, Robyn and Harriet got up and went together to the bathroom.
The warm up band was playing a very hip new Christmas song about
a cellular reindeer. Zachary and Clayger began comparing their
incomes and further chances for promotion. Both kept glancing at
their watches. The women were late coming back, as usual, and their
husbands wanted to order and get a table closer to the band. Why did
women take so long in the toilet? And why did they always have to
journey there in pairs?

"Ever hear of someone named Dalzall Flenze?" asked Zachary


casually.

"Friend of yours?" said Clayger with obvious disinterest.

"I dunno. May have been a friend of my parents. We got a card from
them saying they were coming over this year. I guess that means
around Christmas. Dalzall is supposed to be a paintball enthusiast
even though he is 88 and has cancer."

"Well, good luck," said Clayger with a marked lack of interest.


"Nothing worse than shirt tail relatives or old uninvited family
friends. My dad knew these people named the Hagers. They came
every year with a fruitcake as hard as a cement block."

Forty minutes later, the women re-emerged from the restroom looking
exactly as they had before going in.

That evening after partying with Harriet and Clayger until around
one am, Zachary and Robyn arrived home to hear the hair dryer
roaring and water splashing in the shower.

"What the..." gasped Zachary. "Who on earth is here, and how did
they get in?"

A grizzled old man with long stringy white hair emerged totally naked
from the shower dripping wet and crossed the living room carpet
toward an open suitcase. He glanced at Zachary and Robyn and said
"Wazzamatter? You never seen a foreskin before? We're all family
here. Just give me a minute to dress."

A few minutes later, an enormously fat woman dressed only in a


bulging housecoat issued from the central bathroom with her hair
wrapped in one of Robyn's muslin bath towels. She was creased like a
punctured mylar balloon and must have been pushing 85 herself. She
bustled around the sofa and the open suitcase until she located a huge
white bra which looked like it could have been used to catch river
salmon. She put it on under her robe, and it snapped with an audible
click. By this time the old man was dressed in drooping boxers and a
V-neck tee shirt full of brown holes. His sagging body did nothing to
fill out these sour-looking clothes. Even though recently scrubbed---
with Robyn's vanilla soap no less---both had the redolence of old age,
a smell and an aura which conflicted mightily with the gay seasonal
atmosphere of the house.

"Dalzall," said the old man extending his hand to Zachary. "And you
must be little Pete. It's been a long time, boy."

"I'm Zachary," said Zachary.

"Pete, Zachary...it's all the same," said Dalzall. "It's the spirit that
counts. I have terminal cancer, and this will be my last Christmas. I
stormed Omaha Beach once, but that was a long time ago. I was
younger then."

"I suppose you were," said Zachary quietly. He switched on the


decorations of the massive tree and punched the wall toggle on his
home stereo system. A lighthearted, but nasal and twangy, Christmas
song filtered through the house like Muzak in retail outlet. "Where
do we know you from, Dalzall, " he inquired.
"No idea," said Dalzall searching through the huge suitcase for
something hidden near the bottom. "We get a card from you every
year."

Robyn looked quizzically at Dalzall. Lillian was still fumbling under


her bathrobe with her underwear. She had located a pair of bloomers
the size of a small parachute and was adjusting them around her
ample girth. Suddenly it hit Robyn. "Yes," she chirped, "you are on
our Christmas list. The Flenzes. We've been sending you a card ever
since we got married five years ago."

"Damn right," grunted Lillian suddenly. "It was high time we got
together again. By the way, your toilet is plugged. I needed to use it,
and, well, I may have eaten a bit too much yesterday..."

"I'll take care of that," said Robyn somewhat horrified and darting
out of the room.

Dalzall finally located what he was seeking in the suitcase. It was


huge, submarine-shaped cigar, which he proceeded to unwrap and
light, blowing bilious clouds of noxious smoke all around the room.
Zachary coughed a bit and stared at him in wonder. Nobody had ever
smoked in the house before.

Lillian plopped down on the sofa opposite the tree. "The nativity
scene is all wrong," she began. "The shepherds and the animals need
to be looking at Mary not the baby. The wise men look stupid, too.
They need to look wise."

"They came from the Christmas store like that," protested Zachary.
"Throw the sons of bitches out," said Lillian. She huffed up from her
seat, swooped the figurines into one hand and tossed them into a
nearby wastebasket. "Get some new ones before Christmas," she
muttered. "Wise men need to look wise."

Robyn returned to the room with a wet plunger in her hand and a
harried look on her face. She whispered to Zachary that he would
have to call a plumber the next day. "We'll all have to use another
bathroom," she said trying to act chipper. "Say, who wants to go to
bed? It's getting late."

Dalzall and Lillian looked at one another. "Not before my glass of


brandy," said Dalzall. With that, he located a bottle of brown liquor
in his suitcase, got up and went into the kitchen. He returned with
two tall water glasses filled to the top with brandy. He handed one to
Lillian and took a sizeable swig from the other, "You two go on to
bed. Lillian and I will find our own room in a little while." His voice
was commanding, and it seemed like he was only to be obeyed.
Zachary, not knowing quite what to do, took Robyn's hand and led
her off to their bedroom. "Let's just wait until tomorrow. Let them
sleep here, and we'll deal with it tomorrow before church." Robyn
looked horror-struck. Lillian had plugged her main toilet with what
was apparently a huge turd, and the house was being inundated with
cigar smoke. Two seniors dressed only in their underwear were
drinking huge glasses of brandy in her Christmassy living room and
had just savaged her nativity scene. Her last words before falling
asleep were: "We'll have to buy some new wise men tomorrow. Can't
we get rid of these people?" Zachary was too overcome with fatigue
and wonder to answer. He rolled over and fell into a troubled sleep.
He hoped the Flenzes would be gone by morning. Maybe they would
just move on automatically, he thought to himself.
But daybreak found the Flenzes snoring and snorting in the middle
bedroom. Their clothes were strewn all over the room, and an stale
odor of aging flesh choked the atmosphere. A glance at Dalzall
showed that he had slept with the extinguished stump of his cigar
firmly planted in his mouth. Lillian had taken up most of the space
on the bed and was sprawled like some enormous sea creature across
the strained mattress.

Robyn and Zachary looked at one another. It was the last Sunday
before Christmas, and they had promised their parents that they
would for this once a year attend church. They got dressed quickly,
both hoping that when they returned the Flenzes would perhaps be
gone.

As the Northside Presbyterian Church was very conservative,


Zachary had taken care to don his Rodamar single breasted suit and
to wear his best yellow silk power tie. Robyn, as dictated by the
season, was attired in green and red with Santa and candy cane pins
all over her blouse. Still shocked and not knowing quite how to
handle the Flenzes, they stood in the middle bedroom door and stared
at their guests, who were belligerently grunting at one another as they
woke up. "We'll be back soon," said Zachary timidly, "Make
yourselves at home."

As Zachary was fumbling in the living room for his car keys and
preparing to leave, his cell phone rang out with a loud "Jingle Bells"
tone. It was Clayger, who was also planning on leaving for church.
"We're leaving now," he said. "We are going down the driveway.
Now we are in the street. We will turn the corner at River Oaks. Oh
yes, here it comes. River Oaks. Now we are on River Oaks going
toward Northside. Harriet is here beside me. Now we are going up
Eastridge..."
Suddenly Zachary felt something large, hard and wet smash into his
forehead. He dropped the phone and turned around stunned. In the
hall stood Dalzall, totally naked, shriveled and holding a black
paintball pistol. He had just shot Zachary in the forehead, and green
paint was dripping all over Zachary's face, shoulders, yellow power
tie and brushed, conservative Rodamar suit.

"Put that goddamn thing away," shouted Dalzall. "Devil's own


device. Piece of shit. Worse thing ever invented." He aimed and shot
another paint ball at the cell phone lying on the carpet. The gooey
paint covered the device totally and enveloped it in a sticky paint
puddle. Lillian looked on approvingly. Robyn seeing her husband
covered with paint, shrieked and gaped at the Flenzes for an
explanation. Lillian, wearing only a laced bordered negligee,
lumbered forward and said that they hated "these little portable
phones."

"Oh," said Robyn. "Oh."

Zachary was dumfounded. He could not go to church covered with


green paint and shook his head in disbelief.

"You can't just come here and shoot a paintball gun or smoke a cigar
in our house," he said, finally mustering up the courage to confront
the Flenzes.

"We're family," said Dalzall. "You make exceptions for family."


Lillian shook her head in agreement and marched off into the kitchen.
Robyn could hear her rattling through the cupboards and clanging
the pots and pans.
Church plans were cancelled for that day. Both Zachary and Robyn
realized that before going anywhere they would have to deal with the
Flenzes before the Flenzes totally trashed the immaculately decorated
house. They retreated to their own room to discuss the matter. Who
were these people anyway? Neither Robyn nor Zachary could identify
them as members of their respective families, but Robyn was still
certain that they exchanged cards every Christmas. "We're they at
the wedding?" asked Zachary at one point. The two held hands in
despair and gazed into each other's eyes. Other than call the police,
which would be --they agreed-- rude, they seemed to have no options.

By the time they emerged from their bedroom about forty minutes
later, Lillian was sitting, still in her floral negligee, in the breakfast
nook with a huge mixing bowl full of scrambled eggs in front of her.
The eggs were filled with cloves of garlic, anchovies and sardines
which Robyn had been keeping for pizza. Mixed in also were dried
chips of onions, red pepper, and the sad-looking eggs were slathered
with Worcestershire sauce and gobs of ketchup. Lillian spooned one
mouthful after another into her bloated face. "Gotta eat well in old
age," she chuffed through a full mouth of eggs. Dalzall ate nothing
"because he had cancer" but was drinking another water glass full of
brandy and weaving about. Zachary noted that two empty brandy
bottles were lying sideways across the sink. Dalzall was now dressed
in some sort of baggy corduroy pants and wearing a floppy nightshirt.
"Christmas spirit," he said, and stumbled out of the room. "This is
gonna be my last one. I stormed Omaha Beach once, but I was
younger then."

"Indeed you were," said Lillian still stuffing her mouth.

Robyn and Zachary, fearing the worst, followed Dalzall out into the
living room. He was stumbling around the huge tree, splashing
brandy from his glass and humming some tune. "Dancing around the
Christmas tree," he sang, precariously lurching back and forth.
Finally he crashed squarely into the tree, and it came cascading down,
decorations, Gabriel, tinsel, icicles and all. It barely missed crushing
the cat, Matrix, who darted into a corner and was seen no more.
Dalzall continued "Dancing around the Christmas tree...what a happy
jolly spot." The fallen tree took up most of the space in the room now.

Zachary could take no more. He needed to get out of the house and
call somebody. He changed clothes rapidly and grabbed Robyn,
making sure she had her phone. "Let's go," he said in a panic.

Once in the car, the couple had no idea where to go. A light snow
covered the subdivision, and a cacophony of Christmas songs dribbled
from the nearby houses. Zachary drove around the block looking at
the lights. He thought of his own handiwork and reflected in pride
that come nightfall his house would still be the brightest and most
complexly decorated in the cove. No one would have to see the mess
inside and the fallen tree. No one would have to see the Flenzes.

Clayger offered no relief. Over the phone he said things like


"Bummer, man. Family's a bitch. Old people. What you gonna do,
man?"

Zachary finally hung up. With firm resolve he decided at length to go


back home and rid himself of the Flenzes, no matter who they actually
were or how many cards he had Robyn had exchanged with them over
the past five years. Gripping the steering wheel of his Acura, he
gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes. No intruders, no matter what
age, would ruin his perfect Christmas. Robyn patted his knee as he
drove. She was adept at playing the role of the perfect wife.
Arriving home, both were shocked to see Dalzall sitting in a chaise-
longue in the snow covering the front lawn. He was facing the house
rather than the street and had some sort of rifle in his hand. It turned
out to be Zachary's old pump action Daisy BB gun, a gun which he
had kept in the basement, a toy left over from his unblemished
childhood. Dalzall was taking aim at....at the Christmas lights on the
house. One by one he was shooting them out. "Gotcha!" he would
say after each of the colorful bulbs exploded.
"Gotcha...gotcha...gotcha" Lillian was nowhere to be seen.

Eyes blazing with anger, Zachary bolted from the car and ran to
Dalzall's side. A grin of intense satisfaction creased Dalzall's face.
"My aim is still good after all these years. I stormed the beach at
Normandy, and I'm still pretty accurate." He shot out another light
and looked up at Zachary. His drunken, yellow, rheumy and
bloodshot eyes seemed dead and lifeless like those of a beached shark.
Zachary snatched the BB gun from his hands and tossed it across the
yard. "Now see here," he began.

Dalzall shifted position in the chaise-longue and reached beneath his


nightshirt. "Never come with just one weapon," he muttered. Out
came the paintball pistol, and before Zachary could recoil, he was hit
squarely in the chest by another paintfilled missile. The impact was
closer than intended, and Zachary doubled over in pain. It was red
paint this time. "Looks like blood," said Dalzall, but it isn't. "Just
paint. Gotcha."

About this time, Lillian, wearing some sort of immeasurable


housedress came out brandishing a huge chunk of candied ham which
she had obviously torn from the Christmas platter in refrigerator.
Strings of ham and rivulets of juice dribbled from her mouth. "I have
the spirit," she chortled. “And it makes me hungry as hell!”
Zachary, now dripping with red paint, regained his footing and
marched through the snow toward Dalzall. "I don't care who you are
or what beach you stormed. You need to pack up and go...now!!"

Dalzall dropped his paintball gun and pulled himself slowly to his feet.
A look of intense sadness filled his weathered eyes. He glanced at
Lillian who was still tearing off mouthfuls of sugary ham. Stooped
and broken, he trudged off toward the house. Lillian followed him at
his side. Beside his shrunken frame, she looked like a protective giant.

Angry and shaken to the core, Zachary stood outside glaring at his
ruined Christmas decorations and thinking about the fallen tree.
Robyn stood at his side but had nothing to say. There was nothing in
either of their experiences to prepare them for what had happened
and how their Christmas had been ruined. Life had not yet taught
them enough lessons on how exactly to act in such circumstances.

Epilogue

Years later, there were some children who had new games that
Zachary could not understand and which Robyn didn't want to. The
incident of the Flenzes had become a sort of historical legend which
was recounted among the adults each year as the children played
oblivious to whatever conversations filled the air around them. They
were attached to devices of a new era which didn't even have names in
2006. Clayger and Harriet had long since divorced, but Clayger, now
graying slightly, sat beside his new wife and watched his own savage
children blend with Zachary's. None of them understood exactly
what the kids were doing. None of them cared to be honest. Zachary
was finishing a rum and eggnog and re-enacting what had become a
Christmas tradition, the telling of the legend of the Flenzes. Although
Clayger had heard it all before, Zachary once again finished the story.
It was almost a ritual. There were certain places to pause and then
start up again.

"And then?" Clayger urged. He knew the end was coming.

"And then," said Zachary, still squeezing, Robyn's hand. "And then
we finally went inside. Dalzall was stretched across the sofa in the
main room. He was dying. At his side was Lillian. She was patting
his chest. 'He stormed the beaches in Normandy,' she said time and
time again. 'Now it's his time.'”

The story drew to its usual conclusion: Lillian brought out another
half gallon bottle of brandy. This time they all drank, even Robyn. A
very light Christmas tune was playing in the home audio system.
Lillian had placed some candles on the two end tables near the sofa
where Dalzall lay. They all had decided to get drunk. Zachary always
said he had no idea why. It just seemed like the thing to do. In the
distance, bells were ringing. It was past midnight and already
Christmas day. As the somber bells tolled, Dalzall looked one last
time around the room, heaved his chest, and passed from this life into
whatever follows. "Merry Christmas," said Lillian. They clinked
their glasses and each wished the other a merry Christmas. Zachary
felt Dalzall's wrist. He was dead. By noon a mortuary van had come
to collect his body, and Lillian, fully dressed, followed it. Robyn and
Zachary did not know to where. She was never seen again.

"That is my Christmas story once again this year," said Zachary,


squeezing Robyn's shoulder. Robyn looked on in obvious approval.
Zachary had become a compelling narrator.
"It gets better as the years go on," said Clayger. His new wife nodded.
They looked at the insensible children attached physically to their
games. The past was a foreign country, and the future something that
they all were now prepared to explore with a greater sense of courage
borne from experience.

"Every year," Zachary sighed, "it seems to take on more meaning. I


mean like it was authentic, something too real, but real just the same."

"Yeah, real," agreed Clayger, glancing again at the children and his
later-in-life wife.

"I'm glad they came," said Robyn. She pulled out a browning card
from a rubber banded stack of old papers. In it was a somewhat
younger picture of Dalzall and Lillian. Under the season's greeting,
one of them had written: "Some day we'll find time to visit both of
you."

They all read the card as it was ceremoniously passed around.

"And finally they did visit," said Zachary conclusively.

The Christmas legend had been retold for another year. And next
year, its meaning would even grow deeper. They all knew that.

_________________________________////

Devon Pitlor December, 2009

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