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Two Words: A Christmas Short Story

IN THE December 18 ISSUE

FROM THE 2019 Articles,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Paula Messina

This story has never before been published. Enjoy this Christmas story with a bit of a crime twist.

“We can’t afford that.”

Margaret had spent a good chunk of time helping a customer select a pattern and yarn. In a second, that customer’s husband killed what would have been Margaret’s best sale in months. The wife was in love with a rich emerald cashmere, the most expensive yarn Purl Nation carried. Her husband had stood there the whole time fidgeting, his impatience palpable.

His wife finally settled on a much less expensive wool. Margaret’s time hadn’t paid off as well as she’d hoped, but a sale was a sale. Life had taught Margaret to be grateful for what she had, not mourn for what was out of reach.yarn

As Margaret handed the package to the wife, Margaret said, “Merry Christmas.”

The wife smiled. “Same to you and—.”

“That’s offensive,” the husband said.

Margaret froze. The air had been electric with the excitement of Christmas Eve as customers picked out last minute presents. The husband’s angry words had destroyed the festive mood. Every person in the store stopped and stared at him.

Margaret always wished her customers a Merry Christmas. She’d been doing it since her first Christmas as owner of Purl Nation. Over the years, she’d built up a clientele that was friendly and faithful. She liked to think of them as old friends. After all, most of them had known Margaret for years. This was the first time anyone had objected to two words, two harmless, well-intentioned words that meant so much. Merry Christmas.

This man ignored his wife when she shushed him.

“Disgusting—”

“David, She’s just wishing us well. No harm—”

“Then why didn’t she say that?”

The wife pulled on his arm. “Let it go. It’s Christmas Eve, for Pete’s sake. Give it a rest.”

He complained all the way to the door. The wife looked back at Margaret and shrugged an apology.

“Talk about no Christmas spirit,” Margaret’s next customer said. “He acted like a three-year-old who’d missed his nap.”

Margaret rang up her order. “Thank you for shopping here. Have a happy holiday.”

“You mean a Merry Christmas. You can wish me a Merry Christmas any time, even in July. It doesn’t offend me. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.”

That was Margaret’s wish for herself. She wanted this Christmas to be the best ever. She dug down deep to give the customer a big smile and thank you.

The next customer, Margaret’s oldest friend, asked, “How’s Brad doing?”

“As well as can be expected.”

“Tell him I’m praying for him, and Merry Christmas.” She gave Margaret a hug. “Everything will work out. You’ll see.”

“I hope you’re right.”

After her friend left, the shop felt empty, spooky. Margaret shook off the dread, blaming it on jitters about the store and worry about Brad. Maybe everything would work out. With twenty minutes until closing, there was still time for someone to make a big purchase and put Purl Nation in the black.

It had been difficult wishing everyone Merry Christmas. Margaret had managed to keep her worries at bay and give each customer a smile, all the while knowing that this would probably be the last Christmas Eve for Purl Nation. It was one of a dying breed. Knitting stores were nearly extinct.

Margaret would miss the shop. She enjoyed helping her customers pick out yarn. She believed she was really selling love. It was woven into every stitch her customers knit for the important men and women in their lives. It lived in the warmth of the garment they snuggled up to.

She’d miss teaching too. She was a natural and prided herself on her ability to teach a brilliant MIT professor or a girl with butterfingers. She’d done it for so long that she now had pupils whose mothers she’d taught.

But it wasn’t losing her shop that worried Margaret. The medical bills had piled up, and the savings had rapidly dwindled. Her husband’s prognosis was grim. It would take a miracle for Brad to last through the winter.

She glanced outside. The sidewalk was empty. No foot traffic. No sales. It was bleak out there. Only a street lamp’s blurred, yellow glow dented the dark.

It started to snow, big, wet snowflakes. The kind Margaret loved to catch on her tongue and savor as they melted. She took it as a sign. Brad had prayed for a white Christmas. Now he’d get his wish. Things didn’t seem so grim after all.snowy street

The door opened. A customer. Another sign.

“Oh, my God.”

A man pointed a gun at her.

She started to panic, then she heard what Brad said every morning, “It’s only money. Come home to me.”

High on drugs, his hands shaking, the man tossed a bag on the counter. “Fill it.”

She opened the cash drawer and pushed money into the bag. Her fears were realized. Any chance the shop would stay open was about to walk out the door. money

He thrust the gun at her. “Hurry up.”

Tears welled in her eyes. She looked past him. The snow was coming down fast, piling up, sticking to the windows. At least her last Christmas with Brad, the man she’d loved for more than thirty years, would be white.

Margaret handed him the bag and took a deep breath. “Merry Christmas.”

He ripped the bag out of her hand. “Lady, you’re a piece of work.”

The door opened.

The man spun around.

“Drop it. Now.”

Margaret blinked. There was an angel, an angel armed with a gun, standing in the doorway. Not an angel. The angry husband, David, covered in snow. snowy street

“Police.”

The man’s gun thudded to the floor. The bag fell, spilling bills everywhere.

“Hands in the air.”

David kicked the gun across the floor.

“Kneel.”

The man hesitated.

“Do it.”

He dropped to his knees, and David put handcuffs on him.

“Ma’am, are you all right? Did he hurt you?”

“I…I’m fine.”

With his free hand, David took out his phone and called for backup.

The blue and green and red yarns turned into a dizzying kaleidoscope. Margaret’s knees buckled. She grabbed the counter for support. David’s words telling the man he was under arrest floated past her in a blur. It barely registered when the backup arrived and took the man away.yarn

When her head cleared, she realized David was picking up the money. Margaret released her grip on the counter.

“What made you come back?”

David shoved bills into the bag. He stood and faced Margaret.

“My wife said I could sleep on the couch until Easter if I didn’t apologize.”

“That was some apology.
I don’t know how to thank you.”

“You don’t owe me any thanks. Just doing my job.”

“No.” Margaret couldn’t stop the tears rolling down her face. “You have no idea.”

“My friends say I married up. Proved them right tonight. I was a complete jerk. I’ll help you close up, then take you home.”

“You don’t have to do that. You’ve already done enough.”

“I don’t have to. I want to. You taught me an important lesson.”

“And what’s that?”

“When someone wishes you well, don’t be a jerk.”

“I’m not sorry you were a jerk. I don’t want to think what would have happened if you hadn’t been.”

“Well, maybe not a complete jerk.” He flashed a sheepish grin. “Am I too late to buy that green yarn my wife wanted?”

“No, not at all.”

“Great. And before I forget, Merry Christmas.”

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories (including more Halloween ones) in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Be sure to check out our new mystery podcast too with mystery short stories, and first chapters read by local actors. The last 2 episodes are Christmas mystery short stories!

Opens to author website

Paula Messina Massachusetts-based writer and public speaker.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Claire A. Murray
Twitter: @Clamo88
December 19, 2019 at 3:50am

Thanks for the lovely story that reminds us that a brief greeting with meaning does something for us as well as for those to whom we give it.

Reply

2 maria termini December 19, 2019 at 8:07am

thank you for a most delightful article with hints of wonderful possibilities! It was perfect Christmas treat.

Reply

3 Pat Marinelli December 19, 2019 at 1:08pm

Lovely story. Great lesson. Loved the twist. Thank you.

Reply

4 KJ Roberts December 19, 2019 at 1:56pm

What a lovely story. I’m a knitter, and writer, and this made me feel good. Thank you. And Merry Christmas.

Reply

5 SV December 19, 2019 at 2:00pm

This was awesome, perfectly depicting what Christmas is all about. And how unusual life is. I love how you brought us into the scene, I could feel her stress, the winter weather outside and the horror of loss, and the lovely ending. Thank you Paula!

Reply

6 Jan Christensen
Twitter: @JanSChristensen
December 19, 2019 at 2:39pm

Loved this. Merry Christmas!

Reply

7 Laurie Schnebly December 19, 2019 at 3:15pm

What a delightful read for my first day of Christmas vacation — and thanks for the inspiration to say “Merry Christmas” even if I’m not sure whether somebody celebrates. It’s such a lovely thing to hear for those of us who do!

Reply

8 Lorna Collins
Twitter: @LornaCollns
December 19, 2019 at 5:11pm

What a lovely story! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Reply

9 Kristen Chin December 19, 2019 at 7:06pm

What an amazing piece. I look forward to seeing more of this talented writer’s work. Congratulations to her!

Reply

10 Kristen December 19, 2019 at 7:43pm

This is an incredible piece. Congratulations to the talented writer. I can’t wait to see more of her work.

Reply

11 Shobha December 20, 2019 at 6:20am

Beautiful! You are a terrific writer! Looking forward to more! And a happy christmas to you!

Reply

12 Earl W Staggs December 20, 2019 at 7:17am

A terrific,well-written story. Well done, Paula.

And. . .Merry Christmas.

Reply

13 Jack Terranova December 20, 2019 at 9:23am

I got to hear this live from the author! Merry Christmas!

Reply

14 Paula Messina December 20, 2019 at 12:15pm

Thank you to everyone for the gracious comments. They are a wonderful, heartwarming Christmas present.

Merry Christmas.

Reply

15 Russell Larkin December 20, 2019 at 1:45pm

Paula,
A minimalist beauty and I was right to zoom in on that stunning phrase, “…shrugged an apology.” Those 3 words guided me to the end. I knew apology would make a comeback!

Reply

16 lynn Mazzarella December 22, 2019 at 10:55am

Paula, I loved that story. Thank you,
Lynn

Reply

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