Marie sifted through the boxes in the attic. The space felt smaller somehow. She had not been up here since she was a child. Her grandmother had passed recently and the gray clouds outside the window mimicked her feelings.
It was Christmastime and the twinkling lights from the window cast an oddly cheerful glow. Looking around the small space, she eyed a box in the corner. In search of some memory to keep forever, she picked up the worn box and examined it for any markings. One edge appeared to be chewed by rats—she shuddered, hoping they were long gone—but no labels of any sort could be deciphered.
Using her slim fingers and polished nails, she slit the faded tape and opened the top. A glimpse of red could be seen. She dug through shredded old newspapers, revealing her find.
It was a nutcracker dressed as a soldier. The wooden toy, forever clad in red with his regimental finery, was lifted free. He was a bit dusty and scraped, as if he had been in a battle. But her old friend from her childhood dreams now lay in her hands. She held him up to the light, taking in his bright blue eyes, white sculpted beard, and once-shiny medals painted on his chest. Her hand gently grasped the appendage sticking out of his back. Lifting the lever, his mouth opened wide.
She smiled, for the first time in days. She remembered when she was small and her grandmother would bake cookies and pies for the holidays. Marie had insisted on cracking the nuts for the yummy desserts. She could almost smell the cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices that Grandmother put into her recipes. She never measured anything. It was always a dab of this and a pinch of that.
A tear stole down her cheek from the memory and landed on the soldier’s face. She thought she saw him blink and hurriedly wiped her eyes. Her tears were causing her to see things.
The windows rattled as the wind blew hard outside. The grandfather clock chimed downstairs, and she looked up. Realizing the lateness of the hour, she tucked her prize under her arm and made her way down the rickety staircase.
Marie arrived back home to her lonely apartment. She heaved the heavy suitcase on the bed and began to empty it. Unpacking the Nutcracker last, she sat him on the shelf next to her bed, in a place of honor.
Emotionally and physically drained after her long trip, she put her suitcase in the closet and dressed for bed in a comfy grey T-shirt.
Marie snuggled into the covers and drifted off to sleep. Her dreams were filled of days gone by, of the grandmother she missed so dearly. She could vividly recall the way her silver white hair curled around her face while she baked. She remembered her soft laughter as she delicately cut out the man-shaped cookies, which were scented with ginger and molasses. She would scoop them up, put them on the pan, and slide them into the oven.
Her thoughts turned darker as her sleep deepened. The warm fragrant kitchen disappeared and she was lost in a strange forest. Unsure of where she was, or where the strange dream was taking her, she walked. After a while she came upon on a stone wall with a massive wooden door. It was guarded by the old soldier, who stood erect by the entrance. He was larger than life and she had to tilt her head back to look up at him.
She called out to him to get his attention, but found she could not speak. She took a step forward and his large, knobby head swiveled in her direction.
His blue eyes were intense as he tried to figure out if she was friend or foe. Marie heard a noise coming from behind her in the trees. The soldier stiffened and bellowed, “Beware!”
She turned in time to see a giant rat with a sword running toward her. She screamed a silent scream as she awoke with a start.
She was OK. It was just a dream, she thought to herself. As she looked around her room, the dawn was beginning to break and a sliver of light shone through her window. She turned to look at her shelf and expected to see the soldier. But he was gone. She leaned over the bed to look at the floor in case he had fallen, but he was not there.
Her gaze traveled around her room and then she saw him, just like in her dreams, standing next to her door—guarding it, protecting it, protecting her.
She noticed a new slash on his arm. The paint was scraped away, leaving a deep cut in the wood. He was hurt. Worried, she got out of bed and went to him. She reached out and laid her hand on his arm, tracing the cut with her finger.
“Are you OK?” she whispered, her voice once again working.
His neck creaked as he nodded slowly. Her hand traveled from his arm and slid against his broad chest.
“Thank you for saving me.”
His massive jaw opened as he tried to communicate. But he could not speak in her world, as she could not speak in his. Understanding, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him as tightly as possible. Laying her head on his chest, she wept.
She found herself being lifted by his arms and carried to her bed. His knee creaked and the bed sagged as he knelt on the bed to settle her gently down. She reached up and grabbed his arm.
“Don’t leave me. Everyone leaves me.”
The bed sagged more as he climbed on and lay next to her. His presence comforted her, but she needed more. She maneuvered his arm around her and laid her head on his barrel-like chest.
She let her hands wander about his body and felt an addition she did not remember from childhood.
She looked up at his face and was slightly amused to see the red blush spreading across his cheeks.
Her hand moved down to explore her new find. His other arm moved to stop her. She looked up at him and he sadly shook his head no.
She moved her hand up to cup his cheek, with its painted white beard.
“I know we are different, I know this is odd, but somehow we have a connection that nobody else has. I don’t know why, but I want you, I need you, and I think we need each other.”
And with that she placed one small kiss on his lips as her other moved down to grasp his wooden sword. She felt him move and was surprised when he lifted her and settled her over him. She smiled and kissed him again. She then moved to straddle him as she pushed herself up, aligning his rolling pin-like appendage to the entrance of her core. Her eyes locked with his as she let gravity help her accomplish this monumental feat. She let out a small hiss as he filled her like a cream puff. Taking in as much as she could, she began moving slowly, finding her own rhythm.
Thoughts danced through her head: This is wrong. This can’t be real. Will I get splinters? She pushed them away as an electric tingle began inside of her. She felt him grab her waist to help guide her along their journey. She cried out softly as they shuddered together. With him still inside of her, she collapsed on top of his chest. She lay gasping for breath as he hugged her and kissed the top of her head.
Christmas is magical!