Several years ago, I contributed to a Christmas short story collection of “less than sugar and spice” Christmas tales called “FROST and other stories published by Michelle Browne. It’s still in print, but I am allowed to use it as I wish. I thought you might enjoy this intriguing Christmas misadventure, so I’m going to publish my short story here in three parts over the next couple of weeks before Christmas.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Santa’s Secret Helper – A short story (part 1)
Martha Lanston stomped around the kitchen as she cleared the breakfast dishes, loaded the dishwasher, wiped down the countertop near the sink and vehemently whispered, “That lazy bum. I’m so sick of him!”
She opened a drawer and brought out a small plastic bag of finely ground powder. She measured a teaspoonful of the light brown mixture and sprinkled it into a coffee mug that was printed with “Hot Stuff.” The mug had chili peppers stenciled on the outside upper edge.
Martha ran tap water until it was hot to the touch, remembered the instructions not to use boiling water, and filled the mug three-quarters full. She gently stirred the mixture until the powder went into solution.
She took a deep breath and thought about her life—a successful schoolteacher for decades, presently retired and devolved into a housewife and servant. Yes, that’s what she was, nothing more than a servant. That thought encouraged her to continue her plan.
Martha squared her jaw, clenched a fist and whispered again to the four walls, “No, he’s not getting away with this anymore.”
She picked up the hot mug, blew heat from it and walked into the living room. As usual, her husband Jake was reclining in his favorite chair and thoroughly engrossed in a crossword puzzle.
“I made you some tea. Flor says it’s a special brew that she drank all the time back in Argentina. I had some yesterday at her place and it’s good. Here, try it.”
Jake didn’t react at first, as if the request needed further thought. He frowned, looked suspiciously at the tea and then up to his wife. Without saying a word, he took the cup, set it on the end table next to him and returned to the crossword puzzle.
As he did so, Martha thought about her visit the day before with Flor, the neighbor next door who happened also to be her best friend. Martha remembered how she had tearfully told Flor how Jake was acting. They were both retired and Jake had lots of free time also, but all he seemed to do these days was work crossword puzzles, take naps and read books. Martha did all the housework, the laundry and the cooking. Even mowing the grass had become her responsibility.
“That man is crazy,” Flor had said. “You’re a good wife. He needs my tonic tea—my yerba mate. I’ll fix some for you. If you like it, I’ll give you a small bag for Jake.”
“Will it give him energy?”
Flor smiled, lifted one shoulder and tilted her head. “It may even make him feel sexy.”
Martha smiled and took a sip of tea. It was rich in aroma and warmed her insides. She decided to take some for Jake. After all, Flor seemed to have the energy of two people. The sexy part didn’t interest her, but maybe it would help Jake get off his rear and help around the house.
Suddenly, Martha heard Jake say, “Are you deaf?”
“What? Oh, sorry, I was just remembering my visit with Flor.”
“Well, you’re right. It’s tasty.” He drained the cup. “How about fixing me another?”
“I’ll make you a cup after lunch.” Grinning, Martha strolled off to sort laundry.
+ + + + +
Flor’s son, Max, walked into the house and gently closed the door behind him. He was tired and needed sleep. Tall, burly and used to getting his way, he turned into a mouse around his mom, who didn’t like him staying out all night and this was the second time in a week. He tiptoed toward his room, all the time looking around to make sure his mom wasn’t around.
As if by magic, Flor appeared from around the corner near the kitchen, stood rigid with her legs apart and arms folded. “Again, Max? What do you do all night?” She sniffed the air and wrinkled her nose. “You smell like a brewery, and you’re smoking again.”
“Ma, please, I’m over 21. I pay rent. I can come and go as I please.”
Flor stretched her five-foot-one frame as tall as she could and pointed an index finger at him. “My house, my rules. Now get some sleep. You have class this afternoon. You need to be smart, make good grades, graduate college before you’re thirty, for God’s sake.”
Max started to protest, but Flor held up her full hand this time and pointed toward his bedroom. Without another word, Max headed down the hall.
+ + + + +
That afternoon Martha made another cup of yerba mate tea and Jake gulped it down in three large swallows. Martha decided to make the tea a daily ritual.
She called Flor to report that Jake liked the tea and wanted to know where to buy it. Flor had responded that her special yerba mate was a personal blend and, since there was only a little left in her pantry, she would need the afternoon to prepare the ingredients and make a supply for Martha. Flor said that she’d call to let Martha know when her special tea was ready for pick up.
+ + + + +
Max had one ear squeezed into the small space between the door jam and his almost-closed bedroom door. He was too wired to sleep and needed to make his batch of product so that he could deliver it to the buyer the next day. He heard his mom talking on the phone, but then she started rattling around the kitchen, banging pots and pans, and opening and closing kitchen cabinets.
When she was done, she left through the front door. Her car started up, moved down the driveway and the engine sounds faded as it headed down the street.
He smiled, nodded to himself and took the brick of cocaine that he had bought the night before out of his backpack. It was good stuff, had cost him a bundle, but he could cut it with sugar, starch and some of his mom’s tea blend to stretch it and make a good profit.
He’d watched his mom make her special tea before. It was a blend of dried holly leaves, the kind from Argentina that had lots of caffeine in them, and crushed holly berries. That was her secret. The dried holly berries, when crushed, made the taste a bit bolder.
Since he was family, his mom had shared her recipe with him so that he could make it for himself after she was gone. His mom had even requested that he serve it to friends at her funeral party.
Max went into the kitchen, cut the coke brick with powders from the pantry, including the remainder of his mother’s tea blend, and started to put the brownish mixture into small plastic bags. Suddenly, he heard a car come up the driveway. He looked out the window and saw that it was his mom.
He panicked, pushed the few small packs of mixture he had made into his backpack, stuffed the remaining blend into a large freezer bag and hid that behind some cans of soup in the pantry. He swung the backpack over his shoulder and hurried to his room, reminding himself that he’d need to make a small batch of his mom’s tea later to replace what he had used.
Flor opened the front door while holding a shopping bag full of dried holly berries that a friend had been saving for her. She shed her coat, put her purse down on the couch, went straight to the kitchen and pulled out a large mortar and pestle from a cabinet.
After placing a handful of the dried berries into the ceramic bowl and using a vigorous twisting motion with the pestle to crush them, she transferred the resulting fine powder into a larger bowl and set that aside.
Next, she went to the pantry, took out the box of dried holly leaves that her cousin in Argentina had sent the previous month and measured a generous portion into the mortar. As before, vigorous twisting motions with the pestle to crush the leaves produced uniform minute granules.
She added the ground leaves to the berry powder, mixed the powders together until well blended and repeated the crushing and blending process several times until a large bowl of yerba mate tea resulted.
“Now to package this up,” Flor said aloud. “I’ll have enough for Martha and still have plenty left over for me.”
Moving into the pantry to get a box of large freezer bags, she spotted something behind some cans, looked closer, pushed the cans aside, and found a large freezer bag full of a previous blend of her herbal tea mixture.
“That’s strange. I don’t remember having this much left,” she whispered. She inspected the bag once again, gazed at the shelf behind the cans one more time and finally shrugged. “Such an odd spot. It’s a wonder I even found it. I must be getting senile.”
Flor tried to remember when she had last made a batch of mate tea. It had been months ago. She thought the mixture would be good for a long while but wondered if it had lost some potency from sitting on the shelf so long, and even questioned if it was from the last batch or from the time before that.
Deciding to mix this batch into the new one rather than waste the old by throwing it out, Flor rationalized that if some potency was lost, it wouldn’t be much and not even noticeable after mixing it with the fresh one.
When everything was mixed well—new with old—she bagged the entire blend into eight one-gallon freezer bags, placed six of them on one shelf in the pantry and kept two out for her friend Martha.
She went to the phone and called Martha. “I have your tea ready. Anytime you want to stop by is fine with me.”
“Now, Flor, are you sure you have enough to share?”
“Oh, I had plenty of ingredients, and I even found more tea in the pantry that I had forgotten about. So I’ve got lots to share and more if you need it.”
Martha promised to come by later that afternoon.
( PART 2 – To be continued on Dec 17th)
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