Tonga For Christmas

Tonga For Christmas 

A Short Fiction

So this is how I ended up in Tonga last year for Christmas.

You see, I was married to this guy for like five years, Charlie.  Charlie was all right but it wasn’t like I was in love with him or anything.  I’m mean it’s not like he was the love of my life, not that I’d know what that is.  I’ve never had a love of my life, I don’t think.  Either that, or love is way over-hyped, making me expect something that just doesn’t exist.  How can it be that some people feel all that birds singin’ stuff, fly me to the moon, rock my world, really?

It’s true that Charlie knocked me off my feet when we first met, but I don’t think what happened is what they’re talkin’ about when it comes to love.  I was out front watering my lawn one day, standing on the sidewalk since I didn’t want to get my shoes all wet.  My neighbor on the corner keeps his hedges real high so that he doesn’t have to look out to the street or sidewalk, since he hates everybody.  Because of the leafy green ramparts, it wasn’t until the last minute that I caught from the corner of my eye a flash of movement coming my way.  I’m 5’1” and weigh 105 lbs.  The rapidly approaching mass was over a foot taller and easily twice as heavy.  It was almost as if he was pushing a wall of air, tsunami like, to where I felt him bearing down on me before I actually saw him.

Snapped from the mind-wandering task of watering the yard, deer in the headlights, I looked up and froze.  Heading straight for me were a glistening, sweat-soaked jogger and his panting, black Labrador.  There was a chain leash, a metal umbilical cord, connecting beast to owner that threatened to scythe me in two.  Intent on holding his stride, at the last possible second, the owner jerked the chain and the dog veered around me, almost.  Its paws were the size of horse’s hooves, and damned if that four-legged, black devil didn’t glance against my knees and send me for a loop.  With no time to consider how I might break the fall, my face found the pavement first.  Boom, I hit with such force I thought I had broken my jaw. 

Charlie never would have even turned around except that while I was flying through the air my hose got out of control and doused him real good up and down his back with water.  He was shouting a profanity when he did a 180 and finally caught sight of me splayed out on the ground.  I reached up to my chin and felt warm blood pumping through my fingers, but it was the crunch of my glasses under Charlie’s Shaquille O’Neal feet that really killed me.  I’m blind without my glasses.  I didn’t have to be Dr. Miranda Bailey to know I was going to need a doctor, stitches, pain pills and antibiotics as quickly as possible.  I needed to get to a hospital, but if I couldn’t see, I couldn’t drive. 

“Oh man!  Are you alright?”   

“Ah, I don’t think so,” I mumbled, not wanting to move my jaw, but also trying to turn my head away from the dog that was eager to lap at me and my bloodied face.  I needed to gather my thoughts, which seemed to be cast across the grass like the thousand droplets of water shimmering in the sunlight.  What was I going to do?  Before I could sit up, I asked him if he’d turn off the water faucet; a puddle was forming around me, and my clothes were getting soaked through.  When he came back, I looked up at him, and from the ground, he was gigantic.  “I need a doctor.  I can’t see now that my glasses are crushed.”

Only then did he notice the wrecked lenses and smashed frame.

“Oh man!  Did I do that?”

“I need to get to the hospital.  Can you drive me?” I said, feeling faint.

“Ah, sure.  But it’s gonna take me a while to get my car.  I live over near Serena Park.”

“My Car,” I said trying to use my mouth as little as possible.

“Oh.  O.K.  Sure.  I guess I could do that.  Can Bubba ride in your car?  I can’t go if my dog can’t go.”

I nodded.  “My keys.  Purse in kitchen.  Grab towel,” I said through clinched teeth.

Under normal circumstances I never would have let a complete stranger into my house, alone, with my purse.  I had to trust that the worst of my day was over.  I had to trust that he wasn’t going to rob me on top of everything else he had already done.

 My fears were allayed when he returned without hesitation, but then I became concerned over what I must look like because the sight of me so visibly shook him.  He was surprisingly gentle getting me into the car, but once I was buckled in, he drove like a maniac, again scaring me half to death.  I didn’t dare pull the towel from my throbbing chin for fear that the sight of so much blood would turn my already nauseated stomach.  I suspected that getting vomit into my wound would not be a good idea.  I also didn’t have the nerve to pull down the visor to examine my face in the passenger side mirror.

The hospital Emergency Care Center was packed.  I had to wait in a line ten people deep to be looked at and checked-in.  I wasn’t given a number because they don’t do first come first serve, it’s by severity of malady, and on a scale of one to ten, ten being life threatening, I was probable about a five.  Thirty minutes into my wait, I asked the admittance nurse to call my mother.  I didn’t want to do that, but Charlie was getting real irritated because it was taking forever.  I tried to get comfortable, but that was impossible.  I sat hunched over in a chair, holding myself against the pain that was now radiating from my nose, cheekbone and forehead.  The triage nurse was kind enough to give me some ice, but there were at least twenty people moaning and looking miserable already waiting ahead of me.  Charlie was pacing the floor like a caged Bengal tiger.  He kept going outside to check on Bubba, and I half wondered if he might just drive off and leave me to fend for myself.  He had to get home he said; it was poker night.  When I told him he could take my car as soon as my mom arrived, he huffed and wanted to know, “How long is that gonna take?” 

I didn’t have it in me, in that moment, to go into detail about my mother.  I could only say that she would show up as soon as she could.  Every time the loud speaker summoned a new patient to the doorway into the medical inner sanctum, Charlie would sigh loudly, exasperated that it wasn’t me they were asking for.  Without my glasses, the waiting crowd was a blur.  I could hear an elderly man doing his best to cough up his phlegmatic lungs, and there was an inconsolable toddler wailing in her mother’s arms.  At one point, a little boy appeared in front of me and asked if I had been in a car accident.  He was sweet and chatty, and needed to tell me all about the car accident he once was in.  Finally, his dad called from across the room, “Joey!  Get over here.”

I had no way of knowing what would happen first; either I’d get ushered into one of the sterile medical rooms beyond that extra wide admittance door, or my mother would show up.  An hour had passed when Mumzie showed up.  Charlie was very nearly apoplectic by then, but as soon as he laid eyes on my mom, his mood shifted dramatically, and he became Mr. Concerned Citizen.  I think her Mink coat and Louis Vuitton bag had something to do with it. 

I’ve never known Mumzie to simply enter a room; she makes grand entrances, and that day was no different.  She looked at the pathetic crowd in the waiting room and like a silent film star she struck a dramatic pose as if to brace against a great shock.  She did nothing to hide the expression of horror on her face.  With a barely audible voice I called to her and raised my hand, but I was stiff and sore and my gesture was too feeble to get her attention.  She approached the receiving nurse and demanded, “Where’s my daughter.”

“Excuse me,” the nurse replied, clearly unimpressed by my mother’s haughtiness.

“My daughter.  You called me and said my daughter was here.  Where is she?”

This was not going over well with the lady at the desk.  “Who called you?  I didn’t call you.  What’s your daughter’s name, ma’am?”

Needless to say, the entire waiting room ceased whizzing, bawling, studying magazines and cell phones to take in the bizarre character that had entered the scene.

I shook my head and elbowed Charlie, “Go get her, would you please?”

“That’s your mother?” Charlie asked incredulously.

“Yes.  Get her before she gets us all kicked out of here.  Please.”

He popped up and was delighted to have a legitimate excuse to engage her. 

I watched as he introduced himself and extended his hand for a shake.  But she would have nothing of his hand and pulled back to scoff at the cheeky, gloss-jersey clad jogger.  He pointed my way, and again I raised my hand.  She pulled away from Charlie’s guiding motion and marched straight to me.

“For the love of God, what in the world have you done to yourself now?”

“Mumz, sit down.  You’re making a scene.”

“Ha!  I’m making a scene?  Do you know what you look like?  I’ve got Frankenstein telling me that I’m making a scene.  Ha!”

“Mom,” I entreated.  “Mom, this is Charlie.  His dog accidentally ran into me, and I fell.”

“A dog!  Whose dog?  Any dog that could do a thing like this needs to be put down.”

“Mom, listen, Charlie was nice enough to drive me here, but he’s got to get home, and we used my car.  I need you to wait for me and give me a ride home after I’ve seen a doctor and a pharmacist.

“Well, what are you waiting for, then.  See a doctor already.”

“I’m sure they’re going to call my name any minute.”

And as if on cue, my name was called.  Charlie said he’d bring my car back the next morning, and my mother said she needed a cigarette and would be waiting for me in “the Caddy,” her Cadillac. 

So a long story made short, Charlie came around the next day, and the next day, and the next, and again and again.  He was full of compliments and asked lots of questions about my mother.  He wanted to know all about the business my father had been in before he died.  Charlie brought flowers and candy and was constantly complimenting me on my improved complexion.  He was relentless in his pursuit, and I mistakenly thought he had done that falling in love thing.  With every visit his ardor seemed to increase.  By that summer he had me convinced that we should go to Reno and get married. 

I know.  I was a fool.  No sooner had we said, “I do,” and signed the papers before Charlie fell out of whatever infatuation he had been in.  He spent our wedding night gambling and drinking.  I was bored at the Poker table, so I went to our room, expecting that he would follow me very soon.  When I woke up the next morning he was nowhere in sight.  I ordered room service and ate breakfast, and still there was no Charlie.  I found him looking like a wild man inside one of the dark nightclubs that ringed the casino floor.  He was half passed out, but with help from one of the bouncers, we were able to get him to my car.  Four hours later when we pulled into my driveway, he was still snoring like a chainsaw stuck in mud.  I left him in the car and figured when he came to he’d be able to figure out where he was and come inside.                    

In terms of husbands, on a scale of one to ten, I’d give old Charlie a four.  I could’ve done worse.  He never hit me.  Most of the time he had a job.  He’d shower every day, and whenever I got sick he’d stay away so as not to bother me.  But after five years, I’d had all of the gambling and drunkenness that I could handle.  He’d go off for days at a time, and I’d not hear a word from him until he’d drag his sorry, pitiful self through the front door.  The last straw was when he came home with crabs, not dinner crabs, but crabs-crabs…STD crabs in his mustache.

Christmas was coming and although I didn’t love Charlie, I was feeling lonely.  Sometimes when I’m feeling lonely I go to the grocery store.  If you hang around the aisles long enough pretending to shop, someone is bound to come along who talks to anyone who will listen.

I was in the coffee aisle when a big white lady wearing a Hawaiian Muumuu passed me and stopped very nearby. 

“Ovaltine, Ovaltine.  Where are you Ovaltine?” she was saying to herself, out loud.  “Now where are you?  You were just right here last time I bought you.”

I didn’t say anything at first, but I was sure she’d keep fishing for conversation, and it came.

“Excuse me, do you see Ovaltine on any of these shelves?”

“Ovaltine?  Do they still make that?”

She thought that was funny.

“You bet they do.  They better.”

“Ovaltine, huh?  Secret decoder ring Ovaltine?”

“Oh my God!  Yes!” 

“What do you do with Ovaltine?  Isn’t it a kid’s drink?”

“Oh, I buy half a dozen of them and take them with me when I go to Tonga.”

“Tonga!” I exclaimed.  Where is Tonga?”

“Oh Honey.  Tonga’s great.  If you’ve never been to Tonga, you’ve got to go sometime.”

“Where is it?  What’s so great about it?”

“I’ve been going to Tonga every Christmas for thirty years.  You can’t beat it.  It takes

a day and a half to get there, but once you’re there you forget about all the travel time.  It’s paradise, is all I can say, simply paradise.”

“Really?  Tell me more.”

“Well if you’re so curious, why don’t you come with me?  My sister was going to go, but she’s been too sick with rickets to travel.  I’ve got an extra ticket, and the lodging is all paid for.  And you know what’s so great about Tonga?  They love their women!  The men don’t let the women do any work because they think hard work makes women look ugly.  Ain’t that a kick?”  Then she closed her eyes and swayed her rather rotund body as if it were floating on a tropical breeze.  “Oh! And Midnight Mass will blow your mind.  They hold the service on the beach with hundreds of coconut shell candles lining the silky, sandy path.  Nobody wears shoes, and most of the men, women, and children are in their finest traditional costume.  You just have to see it.  In Tonga, the people celebrate Christmas by giving the gift of their talents, there’s almost nothing about giving presents.  Thank you Jesus!  It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or not, the service and the people are wonderful.  Come!  You won’t regret it.”

“You know what?” I said to her.  “I’m sold.  When do we leave?”

I called my boss and told him that I was finally going to claim some of my vacation time, and I’d be back to work at the end of January. 

Three days later Emma Jean and I landed in the capital city of Tongatapu.

This year Emma Jean and I left a week earlier and plan to stay one week longer.  Mumzie had a stroke and died two months ago.  Old Charlie didn’t get any of the three million Mumzie left to me.  I’m so happy.  I’ve never been this happy in my life.  You know?  Maybe I am in love.       

Hey everybody, I wish you all the goodness of the season.  Have a great week and I’ll post again next Friday.

4 Responses to “Tonga For Christmas”

  1. Rita says:

    Ha Ha. Chuckle chuckle. I enjoyed this.

    Happy New Year,

  2. Dick Jordan says:

    Very clever little story. Sounds that it all really happened.

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