“I’d be careful with listening to jingle bells if I were you.”
“What do you mean?”
She is talking crazy again. She does that. All the time. Convincing me of things that I know can’t be true, but still she does. Like I can’t help it.
“Try not to listen to them.”
“Yeah, you know what I mean,” she hesitates, I bet for dramatic effect, “the broken ones.”
“Don’t be stupid,” she is getting annoyed, “they sound odd those jingle bells and you know it.”
She looks down. Kicks into the snow. More than once. It seems to bother her that Christmas is coming. She doesn’t like Christmas. I do. I always have. Everything about it, the tree, the decorations, the food, the gifts and of course the songs. Maybe the songs most of all. Makes me feel all warm inside.
Casey doesn’t look like she is all warm inside. She looks pale. Really does, her cheeks haven’t gotten rosy from the cold.
“Are you okay?”
“Of course I am,” she says. She doesn’t want to talk about it, I get it.
“But all this talk about…” she won’t let me finish. Has had enough. “Oh shut up,” she says. I can barely hear her, but she gets her will. I don’t say anything more. Just look down as my feet make new footprints in the snow. This white road. Surrounded by trees. Big ones. Really old I bet. All white now that the green has been hidden by the snow. Stretching their branches out, reminding me of hands trying to catch more snow.
It has been snowing a lot lately. Seems like the world never has looked this white before. Almost too white. Pale you might even say. Like the world has become pale, just like Casey. I bite my lip, don’t want to be worried. She coughs a couple of times. I count. Try to remember how many times she has coughed these last few days. Too many times probably, and in a distance, far, far away, even if I don’t want to admit it, I can hear the faint sound of jingle bells.
“You’re back already?”
Mum looks surprised as we come into the kitchen. It is already starting to smell like Christmas in our house. Mum is always baking it seems. More than we can eat. For sure. Casey doesn’t say anything just heads for the stairs. “Yeah.” Does my voice sound a bit insecure? “Too cold outside.”
“Oh,” mum is looking towards the stairs where Casey just ran up, maybe she has noticed too, that she is coughing too much again and that pale skin. Damn. Maybe mum even knows something that I don’t know. “Eat something,” mum turns towards me, smiles, but I can see that she is worried. She has noticed. I pick up a small piece of one of the brown cakes. Don’t really know what it’s called. Tastes too much in my mouth, too sweet and bitter at the same time. “Can you go check on grandma,” mum says as she puts a tray of gingerbread people into the oven. She loves to make whole families of them. Mums and dads with their children. Sometimes she makes cats and dogs as well. They all get to live in their gingerbreads houses in the end. “Ask if she wants some gingerbread?” I nod. Don’t know why I suddenly have become this silent kid, but it feels like too many thoughts are roaming around in my head and if I open my mouth the wrong one might come out.
Grandma is sitting by the fireplace. Reading a book like she always does. The radio is on in the background. No big deal. Playing Christmas songs like a radio should now days.
Dashing through the snow
I go toward the radio. Stand there looking at it.
On a one horse open sleigh
It doesn’t sound dangerous at all, does it?
O’er the fields we go
No, it doesn’t. It sounds sweet like it should. Nothing broken about it.
Laughing all the way
Still I can see my hand reach towards the radio. There is no need to turn it off, is it?
Bells on bob tail ring, making spirits bright
I just can’t help it, got this urge to turn it off.
What fun it is to laugh and sing
“No, Molly, leave it on,” grandma turns towards me. “I am listening to it,” she smiles. Looks up from her book. “Your grandpa always liked that song so much.”
A sleighing song tonight
I know he liked it. Maybe he liked it too much. Listened to it too much. You can do that, you know. Listen to a song too much.
Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells
Grandma doesn’t seem to think so though, even closes her eyes as if to really hear every word even clearer.
Jingle all the way
“These ones are not broken,“ I whisper to myself, over and over again. Probably sound like a crazy person, “just regular, normal jingle bells.” A bad habit I picked up after grandpa died, talking to myself. I guess it was comforting in a way.
“Molly, are you okay?”
Grandma must be worried. I have been sitting quiet for a long time. Just staring into the fire. Listening to the sound of Casey coughing upstairs.
“Of course,” I try to smile.
She sighs. Looks at me likes she doesn’t know what to think.
“You’re worried about Casey?” she finally says.
I bite my lip. Feels like I’ve been biting it too much, like it may start to bleed or something if I’m not careful.
“Because of the coughing?”
I nod. “It doesn’t mean that she’s sick again,” I know grandma’s right. People get colds all the time. They get well again. No problem.
“I know,” I can’t really look at grandma when I say it, feel so stupid. Feel like a little kid again, “It is just,” I hesitate, “the last time it started the same way,” my hands are shaking, don’t know why I get so upset just because she is coughing. I have to get used to Casey getting colds. It’s just all her talk about the jingle bells. Broken, damn jingle bells. I wish she wouldn’t have said anything.
“Don’t worry, Molly,” grandma looks at me almost as if she is just as worried about me as I am about Casey. Silly really. There is no reason to worry about me. “It has been a long time and Casey is doing fine. The doctors said that there was nothing to worry about.” I really don’t want to talk about it anymore.
“What are you reading?” I don’t really want to know what grandma’s reading, but I would say anything to get the conversation away from Casey.
“Oh just a book your grandpa liked,” she smiles, “I can’t help thinking about him this time a year.” Grandpa used to love stories, when I was a kid I would sit in front of him for hours, just listening to him. Dad would laugh at us, saying we were too much a like for our own good. “He used to love how a story can change without us even noticing,” she says and of course I know she is right, he would say stuff like that, “how something can seem to be one thing, but then turn out to be something totally different.” I remember grandpa telling me all sorts of strange things, and sometimes I didn’t get it, but I always did try to listen. “You know your grandpa thought Christmas used to be something else,” grandma shakes her head, she used to do that when grandpa was alive as well, telling her his crazy ideas.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh nothing,” she sighs, “he just thought it used to be something else and that traces of what it used to be could still be found in what it had become.” I don’t want to look at grandma. I know she is looking at me. Probably worried again. My hands are shaking. I can feel it. Casey is coughing upstairs, probably getting paler by the minute.
“Like jingle bells?” I whisper.
Grandma looks surprised, but doesn’t seem to get it. Why would she.
“What do you mean, Molly?”
“That maybe jingle bells could be about something else than Christmas?”
“I’m not sure I understand what you’re thinking of. Jingle bells just make this jingling sound. I don’t think they are that important.”
“No of course not,” I hesitate, “but you can hear someone coming if they have jingle bells.”
Grandma really looks worried now. I really shouldn’t have said all these things. She will probably say something to mum and dad about me being this way.
“I guess you are right.”
“Like a warning,” it just slips out. I should have stopped talking a long time ago.
I’ve been sitting outside on the porch for too long. My hands have gotten really cold even if I have mittens on. It is snowing. Seems like it is always snowing. Getting whiter and whiter, or paler. I can’t help the feeling that everything is getting paler. I’m not really outside because of the snow, I just didn’t want to hear Casey cough anymore. So I sit her and look at the snowflakes. Watch them intensely. Like some crazy person. I just need something to focus on, something to make me forget about all sounds.
Dad opens the door. Has this big cup in his hands.
“Hot cocoa?” he holds it out for me. I take it. Not because I actually plan to drink it, but I know how worried he’ll be if I don’t. “How you doing there kid?”
He brushes the snow of one of the chairs, sits down.
“You’ve been out here for a while.”
The cup warms my hands. Still it doesn’t really help. Snow is still falling down. Everything is still getting paler.
“Casey has a cold,” he says it as if he has answered some question that I have asked, but I haven’t asked. “She will be fine soon enough.” I don’t say anything. Just look down into the cocoa. He has even put cream on top of it. Just the way I like it.
He too looks out against all the snow. Does he like it? Does he think that it is magical and white? Some would. I know. I would. Just a couple of days ago.
“Your grandpa loved this time of year,” dad says, as if all the snow has reminded him of grandpa rolling around in it, laughing. Trying to be a kid, even when he was old. That might be it, or maybe dad does see it the same way as me. Grandpa got pale in the end as well. I remember. Coughing. Being pale. They said it would be fine back then as well. It wasn’t really. “Has some of your grandpa’s stories gotten stuck in your head,” dad hesitates, “is that why you’re so worried?” Grandpa’s stories. Me always sitting there listening to them. Things get stuck in your head whether you want them to or not.
“Dad do you ever hear jingle bells?”
He looks surprised.
“What do you mean, Molly?”
I bite my lip, can almost taste the blood, but just almost.
“I don’t know,” I hesitate, can’t find the right words, “you know, like a faint sound,” he doesn’t get it I can see that, “like something that is far away,” dad’s worried eyes looking at me. I shouldn’t have said something, “but like it’s coming closer.”
“You hear jingle bells?” He says, reminding me of grandma. Just as worried. Thinks I have gone crazy. Doesn’t even get that Casey is the one that he needs to worry about.
“Nah, not really.”
I look at the snow. All that snow. Feels like it won’t stop snowing ever again.
It is that moment, when you know that you should shut up. That you already have said too much. That you’re not making anything better. You’re just making it worse.
“Broken ones,” I whisper, “I hear broken ones.”
“Are you awake?”
I look into her room, almost hope that she is sleeping, but she isn’t. Casey is sitting by the window. Paler than ever. Seems like she has gotten skinnier these last few days, don’t know how that could happen this fast.
She turns, looks at me. Looks tired. Like she hasn’t slept in days. “So you’ve got a cold,” the words feel strange in my mouth, sound like I don’t even believe them myself. She doesn’t answer. “You’ll feel better soon,” I sound like the others. Like mum, dad and grandma. Casey will feel better soon.
“Will I?” she smiles, but it doesn’t really reach her eyes. She just looks so tired. I don’t remember her looking this tired before.
“Of course you will,” I look down. Look at my feet as I go towards one of the old chairs. Sit down. “Isn’t it cold to sit like that by the window?” I say instead.
“Maybe,” she turns again to look outside I guess.
Then it becomes uncomfortably quiet. I don’t know how long we sit like that, but it feels like too long. Like we both are sitting there wanting to say something, almost saying it over and over again. Almost. Until finally she says it.
“You hear it too, don’t you?”
It is a strange feeling when she has said it. Just like that.
“It is getting closer, isn’t it?”
She looks at me again. Pale and skinny. Does she look like grandpa did in the end? He did get pale and skinny. Couldn’t even eat the Christmas cake that mum tried to tempt him with. He didn’t look tired though. Not like Casey looks.
“I don’t know, Casey.”
It is a lie. We both know it. It gets closer and closer for each day that goes by. The sound of those broken jingle bells.
“Just like when grandpa died.”
It feels like something gets stuck in my throat when she says it. Like the words can’t get out, not the right ones at least. “You remember that night, don’t you?” Her eyes look so big and scared, and I really want to say something to make it all better, but I just can’t open my mouth. “When the jingle bells woke us up and we ran to the window?” I shake my head. Look away. “I just don’t know what to do, Molly,” she whispers, “cause it is coming,” her voice sounds so weak as if there is no fight left in her, “and when it comes I will have to go.” I need to say something. Need to make this better.
“No, Casey,” I sound some dumb, “you’ll be fine,” sound so dumb I almost can’t believe it myself, “nothing bad will happen.”
Jingle bells. Loud and clear. Broken ones. So strange. They’re finally here. I look down as I open the door. Look at my feet as they press the snow down. Make more footprints. There is a sleigh. A dark one. In the middle of all the white. The horse is kicking fiercely into the snow as it see’s me. A dark horse with its dark sleigh and those damn, broken jingle bells. It is hard to breathe as I take a few steps forward towards the hooded figure on the sleigh.
“So it is you,” I can hear it say.
“It is me,” I whisper.
I remember it well that night me and Casey woke up. Christmas Eve. Grandpa had been sick for such a long time. Mum and dad had prepared us that it might be grandpa’s last Christmas. I had been sitting in front of him for weeks, listening to every word he said. Every crazy story that only he could believe in.
I slept in Casey’s room that night. I think she was scared. Too be honest I think I was scared too. I don’t know what time it was when we heard them, but it woke us up. Broken jingle bells. Both of us hurrying to the window. We said nothing. Just stared outside. That dark shape. Looking up at us. Casey cried, but not loud. Almost like we knew. That it wouldn’t help. That it would only make it worse. The next day they told us that grandpa had died.
“I thought it would be the other one.”
I don’t look up.
“No, it’s me.”
I take a few steps closer. Can hear her hands as they slam against her window. I look up at Casey. The key to her room is in my pocket. She is to weak to get out of that window. It will be too late.
“So you’re ready?”
I nod. Reach for the sleigh. Take a deep breath as I get in. The dark eyes look directly at me.
“Your grandfather is tired,” it whispers, “he needs your help.”
I nod again. Look up at Casey. Raise my hand and smile, even if I know my hand is shaking.
“Don’t you worry,” I say, probably more for Casey than to the creature sitting beside me, “I’m ready.”
I hope you have enjoyed ”Broken Jingle Bells”, the story as well as the song, and I really hope that you would like to hear more songs and read more stories.
About the song: Broken Jingle Bells is my ukulele cover of the original Jingle Bells song written by James Lord Pierpont.
If you like the images that have been used to illustrate this short story, they are all from morguefile.com. All the photos have been edited, but the first photo is by sasha7, the second photo(SoundCloud) is by kconnors, third photo is by mensatic, the fourth photo is by doctor_bob, the fifth photo is by ren and the sixth photo is by jackietrains, the seventh photo is by earl53 and the last photo is by Moonlightway.
© Hilde Therese Juvodden, MyStoriesWithMusic, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Hilde T. Juvodden and MyStoriesWithMusic with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. – Simply don’t steal my stuff 😊