A Christmas Worth Forgetting

Sometimes the blessing is in the forgetting…

The doorbell clanged and the whole family moaned. Everyone except Florence, who headed for the door, exasperated. “Kids, be nice to Uncle Brian. I mean it. It’s Christmas Eve, for God’s sake.”

“But he’s so mean.” Jillian plopped a bowl of mashed potatoes onto the crimson tablecloth, smoothing her Christmas-colored plaid skirt.

“Not mean. Just crotchety. Do as your mom says. Play nice.” Jim leaned over the golden-brown turkey, carving generous slices, his black brows furrowed in concentration.

“Dad, Uncle Brian’s totally mean.” Kai threw a pea at his sister Jillian and got a smack on the head from her wooden spoon. “Just like Jillian,” he added, scoffing.

“Ha ha.” Jillian’s heels clicked-clicked into the kitchen. “You’re so lazy, Kai. Come help. Get some ice for the water glasses.”

Kai’s gangly teen legs kicked back his chair. “Yes, commander.”

With a blast of frigid air, the front door opened. Florence called out, “Look who’s here, even through a snowstorm!” She reentered the room with her blond middle-aged brother, whose wrinkled trench coat matched his scowl.

Jillian sighed under her breath and placed a smile on her red lips. “Hello, Uncle Brian. Nice to see you.” She gave him an arm’s length hug. It was the best she could do.

“Damn. Turkey for dinner.” Brian shook his head and threw his coat on a chair. “It’s not Thanksgiving, last I checked.”

Kai walked around the table, aggressively plunking ice cubes into water glasses.

Brian watched him with disgust. “I see Kai wants to give us all a disease. Did you even wash your hands? I’m not drinking from those.”

Kai’s face turned pink with anger, and he plunked harder.

Florence closed her eyes to gather strength and took Brian’s arm. “Come on, brother. Ease up a bit, okay?”

“Fine. I’m drinking scotch, anyway.” Brian’s eyes drilled into Kai’s. “Neat. Guess what that means? It means, no ice. And for god’s sake, won’t anyone make that boy cut his damned hair?”

“Brian! Stop.” Florence pleaded.

Kai grabbed the bottle of scotch from the counter and slammed it on the table. And snatched a large handful of ice and threw it in a scotch glass. “You’re getting it on the rocks today, asshole, and next time I’m spitting in it.”

“Kai!” Florence blanched, shocked. “Please; all of you…”

Brian didn’t even blink. He grabbed the glass and slowly dumped the ice onto the floor, smacked the glass down, grabbed the bottle of scotch, and took a deep swig. “Merry fucking Christmas.” He stepped back and his foot slipped on an ice cube. He toppled backward, smacking his head on the tile floor, and lay there, out cold.

“Oh my God! Call 911!” Florence shouted. Jillian stood for a moment, stunned, then ran to get the phone.

Florence knelt by her brother. “Jim! Kai! Help me get Brian on the couch.”

Jillian frantically shouted their address to dispatch and finally stepped into the living room, announcing, “They’re on their way.”

Brian lay still and pale on the couch, and Florence knelt beside him. Kai sat nervously in the armchair across the room, jiggling a foot, with his arms tightly folded. “Sorry, Mom.”

Florence placed ice under Brian’s head and glanced up at her son, noticing his eyes were watering with anger and guilt. “He did it to himself, sweetie. He was completely out of line.” She sighed deeply. “He’s got a goose egg, but I think he’ll be okay.” Jim rubbed her back in silence, shaking his head.

Jillian sat on the floor and took her mom’s hand. “What the hell made him like this, Mom?”

Florence smiled sadly. “Believe it or not, it was love. A few years before you were born.”

Jillian frowned delicately, her dark eyes studying her uncle’s face. “What happened?”

Florence shrugged. “Veronica happened. He fell in love. Hard. They were going to marry, but she left him at the altar. He was humiliated, and he never recovered. He said he wouldn’t ever open his heart again, and he never did. And it poisoned him. Turned him into… this.”

Jillian cautiously touched her uncle’s shoulder, as if she might get bitten by a snake. “He looks peaceful. Isn’t that strange? I’ve never seen him without a frown.”

Brian stirred, his eyes fluttering, then opening slowly.

“Hey!” Florence’s lips parted to a smile. “There you are! You scared us.”

He tried to focus. “Hi.”

Florence giggled, relieved. “Hi, back. How are you feeling?”

He touched the back of his head, adjusting the ice pack. “A bit of a headache, but other than that, I’m fine. How are you?”

Florence laughed. “I’m fine. We’re all fine.”

“And… who’s we?” He started to sit up.

Florence gently pushed him back down. “Hey. Not so fast. You fell.”

“I’m Brian.”

Florence eyed Jillian, concerned.

Jillian patted his shoulder. “Hey, Uncle Brian. That’s your sister, Florence!”

“Nice to meet you,” he said.

The doorbell rang and a moment later, a petite female paramedic was by his side with a med kit. “Sorry, we’re short-staffed. The ambulance will be late. I had to take my own SUV. This storm…”

Florence looked at her, frightened. “My brother Brian fell and hit his head. And… I don’t think he knows who I am!”

The paramedic smiled kindly at Brian and tucked her red hair behind her ear. “Hello, Brian. I’m Sophia. How are you feeling?”

His lips pulled into a grin. “I think I’m okay. I guess I fell. I don’t really recall doing it, but I have a lump to prove it!” He chuckled, wincing.

Jillian and Kai exchanged glances. Uncle Brian was being strangely polite. Something was definitely wrong with him.

Sophia flashed a light, checking his pupils. “Brian, do you know who these people are?”

Brain turned his head, examining the crowd, and pointed to Jillian. “This young lady here says I have a sister.” His eyes rested on Florence. “But I don’t really recall. Everything is just a little fuzzy.”

Florence’s eyes welled with tears. “Do you remember our house growing up? The one with the bright red paint and the swing set in the back? And our black lab, Orin?”

He shook his head, confused. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I… don’t.”

Jillian mouthed to her brother, ‘Ma’am?’

Kai stood and stepped to his side. “I bet you remember me, Uncle Brian. I make you really mad sometimes. Pretty much, all the time, actually.”

Brian’s forehead creased. He struggled to sit up, and Sophia helped him. “Why would I be mad at you?”

Kai smirked. “Because sometimes you’re a humongous ass.”

Brian’s eyes widened with amusement. “Oh! Well, sorry about that!”

Sophia laughed. “Well, Mr. Popular, I need to take your blood pressure.”

Brian grinned, examining her freckles and heart-shaped face. “I love red hair.”

Sophia raised an eyebrow as she placed the band around his arm. “Fresh, too!”

“Not fresh, just honest.”

She shook her head. “Okay, Don Juan, stick out your tongue and say ‘Ah.’”


“Aha!” Sophia stared at him, accusingly.

Florence interjected, worried, “What is it?”

“He’s got the sassy tongue.” Sophia smiled at her. “He’ll live.” She turned back to Brian. “But you’re going to need an MRI. So sorry about the delay with the ambulance.”

Jim sat straight. “I could drive him to the hospital.”

Sophia shook her head. “The roads are pretty slick. Best to just keep him here for now.”

Brian leaned back and closed his eyes.

“… and awake.” Sophia poked his shoulder.

“Always vying for my attention, aren’t you, Sophia,” he crooned.

She raised an eyebrow and turned to Jillian, teasing. “Is he always like this?”

Jillian shook her head adamantly. “He is literally never like this. This is new.”

Florence took Brian’s hand. “Actually, this is how he was, before…”

Brian frowned curiously. “Before what?”

Florence wasn’t sure if she should bring up the forbidden subject. But maybe it would jar his memory. “Before… Veronica.” She held her breath.


Florence shot a glance at Jim.

Jim folded his arms and sat back, thinking. “This is interesting. Take away the memory of Veronica, and…”

Florence’s eyes widened with hope. “And the poison is gone!”

Sophia’s head jerked up. “Poison?”

Brian asked, “Was I poisoned?”

Jim waved his hands at them. “No, no. It’s a figure of speech. He had his heart broken years ago and hasn’t been the same since.”

“Um—sitting right here, folks.” Brian added, “I’d probably be embarrassed if I could remember anything about it.”

Florence tenderly asked, “Do you remember her, at all? Anything about Veronica?”

He shook his head and shrugged.

Sophia frowned. “I don’t think we need to dredge up bad thoughts. How about creating new memories? It’s Christmas Eve. And I smell a delicious dinner.” She craned her neck. “I believe I see it sitting on the table. Why don’t you all go eat, and I’ll stay with Brian.”

“Hey, no fair. I’m hungry too,” Brian said playfully.

Sophia’s face brightened. “Well, appetite is a very good sign. Any nausea?”

Brian shook his head.


“Nope. My head is clearing, too.”

“Do you remember these guys here?”

He smirked. “No, but I sure remember this gorgeous redheaded paramedic who came to rescue me.”

She ignored him but couldn’t hide a subtle grin as she turned to the family. “Go have your dinner.” She turned back to Brian. “If you promise to behave.”

“I’ll be a perfect gentleman.”

Kai headed for the dining room. “That’ll be a first.”

To his surprise, Brian laughed good and hard.

Florence beamed and kissed his forehead. “I don’t care if you don’t remember me. I am so happy to hear your laughter!”

Brian noticed tears in her eyes. “Hey. Um… sister—Florence, is it? Don’t cry. Please. I’m fine. I feel fine. My memory will come back—right?” He looked with hope at Sophia.

Sophia leaned close to his face and said intently, “I believe it will, Brian. I truly do. But remember, your life is filled to the brim, right now, with amazing new memories just begging to be experienced. You’ve got your family here, who obviously care a great deal about you…”

Kai shouted from the other room, “I don’t.” After a pause, he added, “Just kidding.”

Brian scratched his chin. “I actually kinda like that kid. Who is he, again?”

Kai called back, “Your favorite nephew, Kai.” He came strolling back in, gnawing on a turkey leg. “Want some?” He shoved the leg two inches from his uncle’s face.

“Hell, yes!” Brian snatched it from him and took a bite. “Mm-mm, I love turkey,” he said with his mouth full. “Why on earth do we only have it on holidays?”

Sophia chuckled. “Hey, easy now with the solid food. You should be drinking water. You need to hydrate.”

“On it!” Kai ran to the table and grabbed a glass of ice water. He sauntered back. “Here you go, Uncle Brian. The ice was hand-selected by me, placed in that glass by my own fingers.” He wiggled them in his uncle’s face.

Brian took a sip. “Hand-selected? I feel so special.” He raised an eyebrow, confused at Kai’s behavior.

Jillian slugged her brother’s arm with her free hand, the other one carrying a steaming plate. “Leave your poor uncle alone.”

“What? We’re bonding. Aren’t we, Uncle Brian.”

Brian shrugged. “Sure.”

“How’s the water?” Kai stared intently at it while eating mashed potatoes.

Brian examined the glass. “You didn’t piss in it, I hope.”

Kai involuntarily spat out potatoes with a burst of laughter.

Brian groaned. “Oh, God. You did piss in it.”

Kai couldn’t breathe for a minute, he was laughing so hard. “No. I promise. Nothing but ice and water. But if you’re not nice…”

“Geez! Okay, I’ll be nice. Please don’t ever piss in my water, and this is a very strange conversation.”

Sophia packed up her equipment and tilted her head to Brian with a teasing grin, her hair tumbling over her shoulder. “Looks like you’re feeling just fine, Brian!”

Brian was caught off guard, breathless for a moment. She was just so lovely.

“What?” she asked, curious at his intent stare.

“I just hope… we can be friends. In all seriousness. I haven’t laughed for years.”

Florence nearly dropped the plate she was carrying, shocked. She turned to Jim. “Did you hear that? Is he starting to remember?”

Jim held a finger to his lips. “Shh. Just watch.”

Sophia chatted softly with Brian.

Jillian headed for the living room, but Jim touched her arm. “Wait.”

Kai, seated again in the living room chair, shot them a glance. They all heard waves of laughter mixed with gentle conversation, from Brian and Sophia.

Sophia’s brow furrowed at a new cell phone message. “The ambulance is stuck in the snow. It’s not coming.”

Brian stood. “I’m glad. I haven’t felt this good in years. Will you join me for dinner? My sister’s an excellent cook. And Jim always carves the turkey extra thick.”

Sophia grinned and took his arm, strolling to the dining room, and the rest of the family followed. “Well, look at you! You’re remembering!”

He stopped in his tracks and frowned at the revelation. He studied Sophia’s stunning emerald eyes. He turned to his punk-ass nephew, Kai, with that mop he called hair. Then to his kind sister, Florence. There was Jim—a good man. And Jillian, his teenage whirlwind of a niece. “Yes…” he said, as if a veil was lifting. “Yes, it’s all coming back to me.”

Sophia nodded. “Well, this will be a Christmas to remember!”

“No.” Brian said it sharper than he’d meant to. “I’m sorry.” His voice softened. “I just… remember… everything. I remember…” he cringed as if he’d been pierced in the gut with a hot poker. “I remember… hate.”

Sophia slipped her arm from his and said gently, “But you no longer have to claim it. Hate… that was the other guy. The man I met tonight was actually kind of sweet.” She stepped back, knowing this was a family moment.

He looked around, deeply pained. His eyes rested on Florence. “Oh. Oh, Florence. I have been so… cruel.”

Florence cautiously stepped to him. “No. Not cruel, brother. You’ve just been lost.”

His lips trembled and he hung his head. He whispered, with a broken voice, “I’m sorry.”

Florence held him tight, and, though he was a tall man, he buried his face in her shoulder and shook with silent tears.

Florence whispered, her eyes wet too, “Oh, how I’ve missed you, little brother.” He lifted his head, and his sister wiped his tears. “Merry Christmas, Brian.” Florence stood back, patting her own cheeks dry with her sleeve.

Jillian ran up and flung her arms around her uncle. “Merry Christmas, Uncle Brian. This is my first real hug from me to you.”

“Thank you, Jillian.”

She stood back and nodded sincerely.

Jim extended his hand. “Nice to have you back.” He cocked his head. “Are you back?”

Brian nodded. “I think so. Yes. I believe so.” He slowly shook his brother-in-law’s hand.

Brian looked at Kai with eyes still glassy and pink. “How shall we do this?”

Kai shrugged and extended a fist. “I promise I won’t piss in your water if you promise not to be an ass.”

Brian bumped his fist. “Works for me.”

Sophia cleared her throat. “The weather is clearing. I think I’ll just slip out. It looks like you’re in good hands, Brian. And get an MRI in the morning. Until then, if you get any headaches, nausea, or dizziness, please call 911.”

“Or… perhaps I could call you directly?” Brain gazed at her with hope.

“Oh… that is against protocol…” Sophia smiled shyly.

Brian nodded. “Of course. I understand.”

“But I would like to follow up on you. Perhaps I could have your number… sir?” She held back a smile, mustering up a professional demeanor.

Brian cleared his throat and held back his elation. “Of course—ma’am.” He handed her his card.

She smiled enigmatically. “Merry Christmas, Brian.”

“Yes. Yes, it sure is. The best one yet.”

She waved his card in the air and turned away, but he saw her reflection in the window, and she was beaming. As she opened the door to a dusting of snow, he swore he heard her whisper, “Yes. The best one yet.”