“A Christmas Miracle,” by Margo Hollingsworth

Dec 20th, 2019 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Kelsey was dead now, but it was supposed to be a Christmas surprise.

Kelsey’s dad was turning eighty-seven years old on Christmas Day, and Kelsey wanted to surprise him. That Christmas would be Kelsey’s twentieth birthday, too. Daddy never remembered her other half brothers’ and sisters’ birthdays, but he couldn’t forget Kesley’s! Her half siblings were older than Kelsey’s mom. Her mom was no longer invited to family events, but Kelsey was her dad’s favorite child.

Diane was Kelsey’s oldest half-sister. She had turned sixty-one in November. She had made a big fuss about returning everyone’s birthday gifts to Target. “Ninety three dollars and nineteen cents!” She had written in a group email to all of her siblings and ex-stepmoms. “I returned all of the gifts you cheap sons of bitches got me, and the total value was ninety three dollars and nineteen cents. And thank you to Kelsee” (Diane had never spelled Kelsey’s name correctly.) “for the twenty dollar gift card so I didn’t have to bother returning it to see what you spent!”

That email came after three pm,a few of the recipients made puns in forward emails to one another about “Chardon-rage”. The rest just rolled their eyes and moved it to the trash.

Kelsey responded using her pet name for Diane: “Hey Die-already, that was the gift card you got me for my high school graduation, and I spent $12.31 of it already, so I guess it’s really only $7.69.” Kelsey was a genius at math and loved to use her prowess to make her family look and feel stupid.

Diane had sent another email to the whole family the week before telling them that she was taking them all on a three-week cruise to Italy to celebrate Dad’s birthday. They would leave the day after Christmas.

Although generous, the whole family knew Diane’s constant mission to outdo her siblings each year on Christmas. As a kid, she had always given dad the best gifts of all her siblings, and she loved the attention her dad showed her on that one day, his birthday and Christmas. Even into adulthood, Diane counted on getting her dad the best gift. No one even tried to compete with her. Diane had the competition licked. This all changed in 1997 when Diane bought Dad a car for his birthday, Kelsey was born two weeks early, on Christmas day. Dad had called Kelsey his best Christmas gift and Diane never forgave her.

After that, Diane never recovered. In fact, Diane had a knack for giving a second-best gift every year, and no matter how hard she tried to be thoughtful, she had never recovered what she so desperately wanted: to be the best gift- giver. Every year, Diane tried to get Dad the perfect gift, but she could never reclaim her former glory. All the kids loved when Dad made a big deal about them and their gift. He would call around and say, “And you won’t believe what Laura got me this year! An exact replica of the plane I flew in Korea! I love it!” Diane had gotten him a small silver paperweight shaped like the Red Baron’s bi-plane that year. Her dad didn’t mention it, although it still sat on his desk in the upstairs office.

The year Dad got a Mickey Mantle baseball (for which he bought a safe and has never taken it out since to anyone’s knowledge), Diane had gifted a Mark McGwire hat. The next year, a brother had procured a Honus Wagner baseball card (also in the safe), which overshadowed Diane’s Darryl Strawberry baseball card. The next year a half-sister mailed him a real gold nugget from the 1849 gold rush for the safe and a replica of that 1849 gold nugget that he wouldn’t be afraid to display on the mantle. Diane, like Cain’s similarly unworthy gift, presented a silver nugget from the Comstock Lode and pen shaped like the Golden Spike that united the transcontinental railroads. The next year, having admittedly given up a little bit, Diane’s offering (cologne in a bottle that looked like a hand grenade) was shattered by an authentic de-fused WWI landmine.

This year though—this year would be different. She had been saving for seven years. She had originally planned this for his ninetieth, but when Dad had a heart attack at eighty five, she realized time was running out. She had to win Christmas before Dad died. She got a second job and canceled her cable. Not only would she give the best gift—she would coerce her siblings into giving dad jack shit. “This year, no one will try to top my gift,” she’d explained in an email entitled, Listen up, Fuckers. “Twenty dollars or less is acceptable, and nothing too thoughtful. I will anticipate and destroy any efforts to outshine me this year.”

Kelsey laughed as she deleted the email. She wasn’t about to kowtow to Diane’s tyranny. Diane would would be expecting some sort of math-related plan, obviously, since Kelsey was a math genius, so she decided to do something completely different.

She bought some footie pajamas with reindeer on them and a giant red bow that she put on her head. She bought an enormous suitcase at Big Lots!, and her plan was to stuff herself inside of it, (something she knew she could do because she could easily calculate her own volume and the capacity of the suitcase in her head) and give her old dad the gift of Kelsey for Christmas once again. “Suck it, Diane!” she said to herself as her boyfriend zipped her in.

She had to get her boyfriend to help, because the plan was very complicated. Too bad they were both math geniuses, but not real geniuses.

She stuffed herself inside the before-mentioned suitcase and had her boyfriend wrap it like a present.

They giggled while they decided the return address should say, North Pole. “Cute and clever, just like you!” her boyfriend said.

Then, her boyfriend dropped her off on her dad’s front porch on Christmas morning. Her whole family was there celebrating, since the cruise left the next day, but Kelsey had pretended to have a math conference in Rome. She knew that dad was disappointed they weren’t celebrating their birthdays together.

Kelsey expected her dad to rip open the package, and she would bust out of the suitcase, just as her mother had busted out of a cake on the night she had met Kelsey’s dad, and just like the time she had busted out of her mom on Christmas morning. She would, once again, be the best present Dad had ever gotten, and Diane could go suck pennies.

Of course, Kelsey was worried that the thrill and surprise might kill her eighty-seven-year-old daddy, so she packed an emergency defibrillator that she had stolen from a hallway in the mall just to be on the safe side.

As she huddled in the darkness on the porch, she heard the door open. Diane’s dusty voice said, “Hey guys—there’s something out here for Dad.” Kelsey smiled and could barely contain her glee, covering her mouth with both hands. Her revelation was so close, and she couldn’t wait to see her dad’s face.

“Who sent it?” a male voice asked- probably one of her brothers. (Maybe Dave?)

“It just says North Pole,” Diane read. Kelsey giggled at the memory and the silliness. She clamped her hands harder over her mouth. There was silence outside. Had Diane heard?

“Yike—let’s hope it’s not an ex-wife,” he (definitely Dave) replied. Kelsey let out a breath, (quietly, quietly) of relief.

“Yes,” Diane replied. “Hey Dave,” (yes!) “Go inside and get Gary. Tell him to help you bring this in, would you?”

“Whatever you say, Diane.” Most of the siblings ignored Diane, but Dave was usually content to just grumble and obey her. That pattern continued with his boss, his wife, and his three terrible kids.

Kelsey heard the door close.

“Listen up you fat little bitch!” Kelsey jumped when she heard Diane’s pet name for her right next to her ear.

“You wanted to top my gift for Dad again this year? Wasn’t being born enough for you? Why won’t you ever just let me win? Well, if you want to make a scene for Dad’s birthday. Don’t worry. I’m going to help you out. I don’t know how yet, but I will figure out a way, even though I am not a math genius like you.”

The door opened again and Diane stopped talking.

“Alright, Diane, where do you want this box?” Dave asked.

She felt herself being picked up and jostled.

“Living room. Is it too heavy for your back, Gary?” Diane asked.

“No way, Diane, this is light as a feather,” Gary responded. Gary was the family comedian.

“Fuck you, Gary.” Diane replied.

They put the box down roughly, and Kelsey’s elbow hit the defibrillator. “CHARGING” the machine said. Damn it! This machine talks! She quickly flipped the switch to OFF, but it was too late. Her brothers and sisters were freaking out. Kelsey heard voices overlapping and panicking.

“What is that?”

“Let’s open it?”

“Get it out of the house!”

So many voices were talking at once, Kelsey got confused and couldn’t figure out the next step. She should have busted out then, or whispered to her siblings, but she said nothing. That left an opening for Diane to exact her revenge.

“It’s a bomb! Call the police!” Diane screamed.

Voices called all at once in wavery panic.

“A bomb!” “Get the kids out!” “Where’s Dad?” “Who did this?”

“Dave, get Dad!”

“I don’t see why Gary couldn’t—” Dave’s voice trailed off as he walked away and Kelsey couldn’t hear the end of the sentence.

She was busily trying to figure out what to do when she heard sirens on the street. She needed to get out, but when they put her down, she had lost hold of the suitcase’s zipper, and her boyfriend had tied the ribbon so tight around the package, Kelsey could barely move. She stretched her fingers until they touched the flat backside of the zipper pull. She hooked her fingernail to the edge, but it wouldn’t budge. Her finger slipped.

This was a failure. It was time to let everyone know it was her.

“Hey guys!” she called. “Guys! It’s Kelsey! Help me out!”

No one responded.

Kelsey heard more screaming and soon voices came closer. They were in the foyer by the front door, about 11 feet behind her.

“Dad! Dad! Hold on, Dad!” Dave cried. “He’s having a heart attack! Diane, call an ambulance!”

“Does anyone have a defibrillator?” a hysterical half sister or sister-in-law called.

Kelsey again said, “Hey guys!” but no one could tell where it was coming from. She needed to get out of there, now.

Kelsey had a brainstorm! They would definitely hear this: she pressed the on switch for the defibrillator. “CHARGING” it said in its monotone voice.

She heard screams and panicked voices. Children were crying and then the door slammed and almost at once it was silent. Everyone had run out of the house.

She heard the door open and loud footsteps.

“HELLO!” she cried.

“Police! Everyone out!” the voice answered.

“In here! In here!” she called, and within moments, the wrapping was off and the zipper opened. She had closed her eyes, and now she opened them to see the bared teeth of a growling German Shepherd held back by a thick chain seemingly millimeters from her face. Her eyes followed the chain up to the gloved arms of a man with BOMB SQUAD written across his shirt. He and two other cops were staring at her, in her footie pajamas with a bow on her head.

No one moved. No one said anything.

“What the fuck?” One of them whispered.

“I have a defibrillator.” Kelsey offered while recoiling from the vicious dog. “Save my dad!”

Snapping to action, the officer holding the dog pulled him back. Kelsey did a visual assessment, using the shadow from the leash to calculate the dog’s distance from her face. 8.14 centimeters. The other officer grabbed the defibrillator and turned to run, but Diane was walking in.

“It’s too late!” Her face was red and purple and white in blotches. Her unironic Christmas sweater was torn for some reason. Her hair was decidedly un-coiffed. “You killed Dad, you stupid cunt!” Diane fell to the floor crying. “You always ruin my presents!”

The officer’s arm loosened his grip on the dog’s leash for a moment, torn between helping the distraught woman and the teenager in the suitcase. That was all it took.

As Kelsey’s face succumbed to the dog’s teeth like a CPR dummy’s, her soul squeezed from her body with a sucking noise and a pop, and her consciousness rose above the horrifying situation. Diane certainly wasn’t thinking about herself now.

She felt a warmth, and turned towards the light. She saw her dad, walking towards her, his arms outstretched and his whole being suffused in a soft, white warmth. He looked younger, stronger. He hugged her for a long time. Then he pulled away, and held her face in his hands. He looked into Kelsey’s eyes and said, “Kelsey.”

“Yes, Daddy?”

“Let’s haunt the fuck out of Diane.”

Hand in hand, they walked away from the light, and towards the late-middle-aged woman weeping in the foyer.


Margo Hollingsworth is not a math genius. She studied at the George Washington University and currently teaches high school English in Sacramento, where she lives with her daughter and her cat. She has been published in Mutha Magazine and once told her college roommate that she was not interested in learning about hashtags or how to use them.

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