Christmas Soldiers

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Christmas Soldiers.


Life Story Pictures

The trees lined up, erect and stately, like soldiers in perfect formation, in their gold, green and red finest. Garlands sparkled, reminiscent of golden sashes across deep-green chests. Crimson orbs shone, resembling medals earned for bravery and duty in battle. But fluorescent lights invaded the splendor, imparting an offensive glare to the ornery and removing the glory.

The girl looked up from her crouched position on the concrete floor, stiff from bending and stretching for several hours. Without success she attempted to blow away some hair strands stuck in her mouth from sweating in the smoldering heat. Her mother always wanted her to cut it short, which was more in vogue at the time, but she liked her long hair and so far had refused to have it chopped off no matter how enticing the hairdresser made a new hairdo sound. The girl tossed her head back, finally dislodging the offensive strands. The swishing sound of her hair made her all the more aware of being alone. She realized she must have slept for a while because now, all human sounds had disappeared and she was alone in the cavernous underground cave-like space. She had enjoyed her chore of decorating the Christmas trees, just as she enjoyed most other solitary activities. She loved to drown in a book, swim laps until her muscles were exhausted, thinking of little except the water streaming over her tanned body. She even enjoyed cleaning the fridge at home until it sparkled and shone and was so clean you could eat off it. Still, now she felt abandoned, worried, and even a little scared even though she was so familiar with this place.

To change her thoughts, she studied her creations with pride. Her “soldiers” made her feel secure. It had taken her many hours to decorate over 10 five feet tall plastic Christmas trees, lugging a wooden Coca-Cola crate from one to another, securing the stars on top. Now her “soldiers” gave some consolation to the fact that she had been sitting and waiting for hours to be picked up by her mother, who had left her here after she returned from school. By now she had finished all her homework, studied for the history test next week and outlined her essay on Travel. She had laid out her own travel to and from school, which was a daily ordeal. Getting from home to school took about 2 hours each way. Mostly she had to hitch-hike, unless one of the local “Guanchos” came by. There she would ride in a crowded van beside some fat “senora”, dressed in black akin to all other hoary “senoras”, smelling her sweat, and sliding as far towards the window or edge of her seat as possible. Often the “senora” would have a chicken in her lap which wanted to peck at her. Better a goat or two that stayed off the seats, she thought! Once an old man had brought a rooster that had ‘kakadoodledooooooo’d’ continuously during the 25-mile ride.  Everyone had drawn an audible, deep sigh when he finally got out of the van. When she arrived in the city, she had to grab a bus, which was often late, and as a result, to the dismay of her teacher, she was often tardy for the first class of the day. She made up for the situation by being promptly ready with homework and scoring top grades. This was one of the advantages of the long rides – she had ample time to study.

Today she had gone to her mother’s work instead of continuing home through the winding roads to the little fishing village where they lived. The village was quickly turning into a tourist location and construction of new bungalows on the hills was vigorous. Her mom worked as a director of entertainment at a large, swanky hotel and Sophia enjoyed visiting her there, and tagging along as she ran around making sure tours, activities, lodgings, and bus services were in order for the tourists.

“Sophia” you are an angel for offering to get these trees ready for the bungalows,” her mother said earlier today, cocking her hip to the side in her mini-skirt, while drawing deeply on her Marlborough and letting the smoke swirl through her nose in that sexy way Sophia thought so sophisticated. “I’ll be back to see how you are doing in an hour or so and then we’ll go home. If you are hungry, just go over to the kitchen and ask them to make you something.”

“And honey, you do whatever you want as far as the colors go,” continued her mom. “Either way I know you’ll do an excellent job. That’s why I’m letting you do this, honey.” With a peck on the cheek her mom turned and trotted up the ramp of the underground utilities space and around the corner to where the door let her out into the blinding sunlight. Before going out her mom had stopped and peeked back at Sophia.

“Remember our rule,” she had yelled. “You don’t move from where we part, so stay here until I pick you up. I don’t know exactly what time I’ll be done, okay.”

That was at 4.30 pm and probably 4 hours ago. Sophia wasn’t sure since she had left her watch at home today. She looked again at her soldiers and drew a deep breath of relief. They would protect her she fantasized. She sat back down on top of her history book, opening her backpack to see what else she could do to pass the time. She pulled out “Beginning Spanish” and began working on the following day’s lessons. “La casa esta blanca” she read. “El perro se llama Toto” the lesson continued in its banal way. Why couldn’t they write about more interesting things, she thought? Like horses for example. “El cavallo se llama Taurus” she said out loud. Riding was something she loved to do and she thought about the horse she rode at the horse rental ranch. She would sit in the stall of Taurus, unafraid of his hooves and read or do homework, dreading the time that some tourist would decide to rent him. When that happened she would reluctantly saddle him whispering in his ear to throw the person, and come back right away. That’s exactly what happened most the time. He’d come trotting back, snorting, and she’d be asked to take Taurus in and bring out another, more amenable horse, to the embarrassed rider. She’d gloat inside Taurus’s stall on those occasions. She wanted to be the only one to ride the feisty Taurus. He had thrown Sophia too, but always waited around for her afterwards. She had no fear of him.

She spoke out loud and felt more secure hearing her own voice echo through the underground industrial floor of the bungalow complex. Here the cleaning staff kept their dirty, sour smelling mops and rags and here was the kitchen, which only served breakfast and lunch, and which had long since been vacated from cooks and dishwashers leaving a pungent smell of fried eggs, sour coffee and burnt steak. She shifted her position from one butt-cheek to another, and looked back down at her Spanish book, thoughts drifting. Her hair fell down around her face, touching the book and shielding her from her loneliness.

She studied her soldiers again and rose to perfect one where the garland had slipped to the concrete floor. Her light cotton T-shirt stuck to her, front and back, with sweat. She looked down at her chest trying to detect some breasts. All she saw were her nipples poking out. Not yet ten she couldn’t wait to look more like her mother. Her mother had small, round breasts that looked just right on her model-like figure. Sophia loved it when people likened them to sisters. She would sit on her mother’s bed, as she prepared to go out dancing, and study her as she applied thick purple eye shadow, black eyeliner, and sparkling transparent lipstick to her generous lips. Sophia would sneak peaks at her as she pulled on panties, short-shorts or mini-skirts, and some see-through blouse that revealed her breasts. She would mimic her mother’s bell-bottom style, and walk around barefoot making sure her jeans frayed properly at the bottom. The rare times her mother was home they would listen to Jimmy Hendrix and Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow,” laughing and dancing on the porch at night.

Her reverie ended as she thought she heard steps coming down the stairs around the corner. Her heart pounded and she quickly hid among her trees, not truly frightened but imagining her soldiers protecting her, in case it wasn’t her mom. After a while she realized she had probably heard one of the night guards walking around the bungalow complex, on top of the utilities space where she was waiting. What was keeping her mother so long? This was not the first time she was “forgotten” and taken longer than she said. She was probably just busy with one of her guests or maybe the owner, John Hardenberg. John was always flirting with her mom and liked to take up her mom’s time. As Sophia listened, she thought she could hear the crickets playing their monotonous concert in the distance. Tourists thought the cricket sound was piped through loudspeakers around the bungalows but she knew better. The time had to be 9.00 PM or so, she figured.

She extricated herself from the prickly trees, careful not to touch any of the globes. She sat back down, lotus position, ignoring the scratchy feeling of the cement on her legs. She listened to the crickets. Crickets would stop rubbing their legs together, and the sound would abruptly die, if someone approached. They were playing a symphony now so she figured she was still alone.

Resting her eyes on the trees, wishing they were real, smelling of pine, she moved to a crouching position with her elbows on her knees. She was getting really tired and hungry. Again, she heard a noise and this time she was sure it was footsteps. She realized she couldn’t hear the crickets. As before, she got up and hid among the trees. She was so hoping it would be her mom.

“Darling, I went all the way home and then realized you were not there and remembered I had forgotten about you and left you here. I am so sorry! Will you forgive me? Are you okay?”

Sophia bit her lip, bent down to pick up her backpack, and walked up to her mother. Her mom said nothing about the trees she had labored on to impress her.

“I’m okay. Let’s just go home,” she said. She didn’t say anything more. She was just too tired, and realizing how little her mother cared, she internalized what had happened and hid it away in that private part of herself, which no one could see nor reach. As they walked out, her mom, now in frayed bell-bottoms and bare feet, Sophia gave a passing glance at her trees. “Useless soldiers,” she thought.

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