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Annikas christmas, p.1
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       Annika's Christmas, p.1

           Philip Fraterrigo
 
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Annika's Christmas
Annika's Christmas

  Philip Fraterrigo

  Copyright 2010, Philip Fraterrigo

  Annika's Christmas

  Annika always wanted a sister but it was not meant to be. Instead, she had Emily. Emily was Annika's doll and the two of them had tea parties and birthday parties and shared secrets and dreams. When the nighttime became dark and frightening, Annika held Emily close and together they warded off the demons of the night. Emily was the closest thing to a sister she ever had.

  That morning as Annika was dressing for school, her mother called from downstairs, “Annika, hurry up or you'll be late for school.” She had just finished brushing her hair and was looking for a good hiding place for Emily. Her two older brothers teased her constantly and she feared that they would remove Emily's head or arms for fun if they found her lying around unprotected.

  “I'll be right down,” she answered as she climbed down after depositing Emily in a dark corner on the closet shelf.

  Downstairs, her mother continued to fret as she watched Annika's two brothers finish their bowls of hot oatmeal, laced with sugar and cinnamon. “Annika, please hurry. Your oatmeal's getting cold,” she called up the stairs.

  She finally came down and hurried into the kitchen. Her mother quickly looked her over with a trained eye. She noted that her light brown hair was neatly brushed and she wore a pair of jeans with a fairly nice matching blouse. The family budget didn't allow for many new clothes but her mother made sure that the ones she had were as neat and clean as possible. “Yes,” she thought, “my little girl looks very good this morning.”

  Once she finished her breakfast, she donned her hat and coat and pulled on her boots in preparation for the walk to school. Though it was still two weeks until Christmas, the winter snows had arrived early causing the ground to be slippery and the streets to be a slushy mess. Out the door the three children went while their mother watched them from the window until they were around the corner and out of sight. She felt good knowing that Tommy and Jason, ages twelve and eleven, were with Annika and would watch out for her should any problems arise. For her part, all eight year old Annika knew was that she had to walk to school with her two brothers who loved to tease and otherwise aggravate her.

  Two and one half blocks later, they reached the three story, red brick school which had been built in the previous century. Annika's mother attended school there as a child but of course it looked nothing like it did in her day having since undergone extensive renovations. Up the front steps they went, the granite worn slightly in the middle from the thousands of nameless children who had trod the same path over the many years.

  Once inside, the three children split up and headed for their classrooms and when Annika reached her room, Mrs. Tolliver was already there. Mrs. Tolliver taught Spelling among other subjects and she was Annika's favorite teacher. She never raised her voice and was very helpful and supportive whenever a student had a hard time with any of the words. Most importantly, she never made anyone feel stupid in front of the class. “Good morning children,” she said, “Before we begin today I would like to talk to you about something that is very important. Christmas is two weeks away and I know all of you can't wait for it to get here so you can open up your presents and play with all your new toys. But, did you know that there are many children your age whose parents can't afford to buy them presents and unless they get help from other children like yourselves they will have nothing to open up on Christmas morning? Can you imagine what that would feel like?”

  A picture of two small children formed in Annika's head. In that picture, the children were sitting on a couch crying while watching other children around a Christmas tree opening up many presents. Annika felt the tears begin to well up in her eyes and it took a determined effort on her part to keep from crying.

  Mrs. Tolliver continued, “We'll be sending a note home with each of you asking your parents to donate a new or like new toy to our toy drive so that those poor little children will have something to open on Christmas morning and we want each of you to talk to your parents and ask them to help if possible.” Mrs. Tolliver scanned the room looking at each child individually as if she were reinforcing the message. “Can you do that, children?”

  “Yes Mrs. Tolliver,” answered the children in unison.

  “Good, very good,” she said, “Now let’s take out our spelling books and open to page twenty seven. Who would like to start with the first word today?” A few hands were raised in response but Annika just sat there unable to drive the image of the crying children from her mind.

  All the way home from school that day her brothers threw snowballs and splashed in the half water, half slush puddles that lined the curbs but Annika refrained from such behavior intent as she was on protecting the note as if it was the most important thing in the world. When they finally arrived home, the boys threw their notes on the kitchen table and went upstairs to change out of their school clothes. Annika sought out her mother who was in the basement washing clothes. “Mom,” she said as she extended the note in her direction, “I have something very important for you to read.”

  Her mother was about to protest that she was too busy to stop and read the note but she sensed the urgency in Annika's voice and paused in the middle of folding the dark colored clothes. She began to read the note and as she neared the end, Annika piped up, “Can we maybe buy a Barbie doll or something like that Mom? I think the poor kids would really like something like that.”

  Her mother continued to stare at the note as if she was still reading. “How do you tell a child like her that we're just barely scraping by and if things don't get better soon, she may be one of those poor kids?” she thought. Not knowing how to respond, she looked at Annika and said, “We'll see.”

  Annika bounded upstairs to her bedroom but before she got there, she encountered her brother Tommy who was on his way down to watch television. “Where's Mom?” he asked.

  “She's in the basement washing clothes,” responded Annika, “and I asked her first to buy a toy for the poor kids and she said 'okay'. So that means I'll be the one who gets to bring it to school.”

  “Really?” asked Tommy. “She actually said 'okay'?”

  “Well, I told her about it and she said 'we'll see',” responded Annika.

  Tommy began to laugh. “I thought so,” he said, “Don't you know that when a grown up says 'we'll see' it really means 'no'?”

  Annika didn't know what to say. “Is he teasing me again or is it true?” she wondered. She thought back to when Jason had asked his mother for a dog and she said, “We'll see,” and when she had asked for a cat and got the same response. To that day there still wasn't a dog or a cat to be found in their house and she realized that Tommy was telling her the truth. “Well I'm going to ask Dad when he comes home from work. He'll say 'yes',” she blurted out as she ran into her room and slammed the door. Reaching up to the top shelf of the closet, she pulled Emily down and sat her up against the headboard of the bed. “Dad will say 'yes',” she told her, “I know he will.”

  When Annika's father came through the door that night he was immediately accosted by Annika who began to tell him all about the poor kids who had no Christmas presents. Then she asked him if he could buy a toy for her to take to school next week. One look at his wife who was standing behind her, told him that she had already passed her judgment on the subject and he was the “court of appeals”. Being tired after a long day at work and not wanting to make a decision without getting his wife's input, he replied, “We'll see.” Annika stood there gaping as he continued on past her and headed for the kitchen where dinner for the family had been waiting on his arrival.

  Later that night when they were alone, Annika's father asked, “So what's t
his toy thing that Annika was talking about?”

  Her mother showed him the note and he began to read.

  “Jim, I really wish we could help out,” she said, “Annika's so sincere about wanting to give something but there's just no way, not now with all the Christmas bills and especially the way things have been since you've been working that job at the high school. Have you checked with the union lately?”

  “I checked with Bert at the union hall yesterday and he said that there are guys with eight to ten years more seniority than I who are still waiting to get called back to work on the assembly line. If car sales don't improve, I may never get called back. I'll end up being a custodian the rest of my life,” he replied.

  “Maybe I should go to work. I was a pretty good secretary when I was younger,” she said.

  “Lori, we've been through this
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