Shishir (Winter) 2021 Stories - B.H. James


By B.H. James


Bob Sanders’s job on Christmas morning was to gather up all the wrapping and tissue paper and ribbon and take it out back to the recycling bin. This task, in Bob’s opinion, was the most important part of Christmas morning. But no one else in Bob’s family wanted Bob to do this. They didn’t like that as soon as they tore some wrapping off, Bob would scoop it up and crumple it into his bag. But Bob liked to keep things tidy. The thought of his family burying themselves in discarded wrapping was too much for him.

Bob’s grandfather, when Bob was a child, had approached the job the same way. By the time all the presents had been opened, all paper and ribbon formerly concealing those presents was outside in the burn barrel. Bob’s brothers and sisters and cousins had to keep their area organized, gifts clearly segregated from wrapping. They could only guess how many new toys went into the barrel over the years. Socks, too. While the rest of the family sat inside and drank hot cocoa and ate cinnamon rolls, Bob’s grandfather stood out back and watched it all burn.

Bob didn’t have a burn barrel. They weren’t allowed in his neighborhood. But, in Bob’s new family, there was the same speculation that in Bob’s scooping some new gifts must have made their way out back to the recycling bin. It’s hard, though, to keep accurate inventory of items you’ve only owned for minutes, or even seconds.

One Christmas, with half-a-dozen gifts to go, Bob having already dropped three full bags of wrapping into the bin, Bob’s sister-in-law, Lynne, held out her arms, as if declaring someone safe, and shouted, “Stop!”

Everyone stopped. Lynne looked at Bob, standing and holding his bag. “Where are my earrings?”

The whole family, some on hands and knees, spent the next hour searching for Lynne’s earrings, whichher husband Kyle hadpicked the night before from a clearance rack. The recycling bin was dumped out and picked through, but no one found the earrings. Lynne blamed Bob. Bob tried to argue that if the earrings weren’t in the bin, then…. But Lynne didn’t want to hear it. She told Kyle, “Let’s go” and go they did.


Lynne and Kyle lived just across town, but they stopped coming over to Bob and Linda’s. They skipped birthday dinners and game nights. When Christmas rolled around again, Lynne offered to host, and when Linda pointed out that with the baby it just seemed easier for her and Bob to host, Lynne told Linda that if she wanted to see her that Christmas, they’d be at her house at seven in their pjs.

So at a quarter to eight on Christmas morning Bob Sanders and his family arrived, Bob carrying a cardboard box full of presents, Linda carrying Little Stevie, who would turn two in a month, and Bobby Junior, nearly thirteen, carrying a tray of cinnamon rolls. Kyle let them in, and as they stood in the living room, Lynne, who had been arranging chairs, looked annoyed.

“I’m sorry we’re late,” Linda said to Lynne.

“He’s not wearing pajamas,” Lynne said to Linda.

That morning, Bob had told Linda that no-way-no-how was he going to walk out of his house wearing pajamas, Linda noting that it had been a bit of a tradition in their family, when they had been girls, and that they were going to someone else’s home and that that someone had requested they wear pajamas, Bob responding that if his father would have seen him out of bed after sunup in pajamas that would have been it, all she wrote, Linda noting that Bob’s father was dead, followed by Bob pleading, “I just can’t do it.”

So Linda and Bobby Junior and Little Stevie wore the matching Santa pajamas Linda had bought that week at Target, leaving Bob’s folded on the bed.
“He spilledcoffee on them,” Linda told Lynne. “He was so disappointed.”


They ate the cinnamon rolls. They drank hot cocoa. It was all going well, though Lynne didn’t say much to Bob and Bob didn’t say much to Lynne. Kyle cleared the plates and it was time to open presents. Bobby Junior got to be elf. Under strict orders from Linda, delivered the night before and reissued on the drive over, Bob stayed put. He just sat in his chair and openedhis presents and didn’t clean up a thing.

At first it didn’t bother him at all. No big deal. But then it started to pile up. Paper and ribbon and boxes everywhere. Can’t even see the floor. Can’t see anything. Like we’re all swimming in it. Drowning. Why won’t anyone pick it up? At least make a pile. Who can live like this? Little Stevie got fussy and Linda handed him over to Bob with a bottle while she set up the back room for a nap.

With Linda out of the room, it got quieter. The remaining adults didn’t have much to say to one another. Just the sounds of paper ripping and Bobby Junior reading names off tags.

Then Bobby Junior got to a big rectangle. The tag had a name on it. “This one’s from us,” Lynne said. Bob had observed that every time a present was from Lynne and Kyle, Lynne would announce, “This one’s from us,” even though the tag said so.

Little Stevie finished the bottle. Bob bounced him on his knee, which made Little Stevie giggle.

Bobby Junior ripped the paper off the rectangle. There was so much paper and ribbon surrounding Bobby Junior that Bob couldn’t see what the rectangle was. But then Bobby held the rectangle up. It was an Ultra Racer Deluxe Lego Set. Bobby Junior said “Wow” and Lynne was in the middle of telling Bobby Junior that it could make nineteen distinct tracks when Bob said, “I’m sorry, but no.”

“What?” Bobby Junior said.

“What?” Linda said.

“No,” Bob said. “No thank you.”


A few weeks earlier, after for the umpteenth straight Sunday Bob had had to pluck stray Lego bricks out of the vacuum cleaner, Bob went to his son Bobby Junior, who did not have an Ultra Deluxe Racer Set but who had been receiving Lego sets for who-knows-now how many birthdays and Christmases and who despite at twelve his friends saying Legos were lame loved to build elaborate Lego structures and did so regularly in alternating rooms of the house, and Bob told Bobby Junior that he was tired of finding all these little pieces everywhere, in every room, under everything, all over the house, that the house was infested, and Bob asked Bobby Junior if he was aware that his father spent half of every Sunday if not more on his hands and knees picking up one little piece after another so they didn’t go into the vacuum or into the cat’s mouth (or the baby’s!) and when Bobby Junior responded, with typical twelve-year-old attitude, that


“No, Dad, I didn’t know that,” Bob told his son that starting right that instant if he found one—just one—little plastic piece in any room not at that moment being played in then on Bobby Junior’s grandmother’s grave Bob would box up every last brick and put them in the attic, Bob revising his threat to the garage after Bobby Junior, again with attitude, pointed out that they didn’t have an attic, “Or maybe the side of the road, how about that?”

When Bob proudly reported the threat to Linda, she chose not to remind Bob that it was a version of a threat he had made (and not followed through on) dozens of times now, but when later that evening Little Stevie, sitting on his playmat, seemed to be chewing something and the something, after Bob dug it out with his index finger, which Little Stevie bit twice, turned out to be a red Lego brick, Bob did indeed box up every last Lego brick and put them in the garage, Bobby Junior whimpering just a bit as his father did so but for the most part assuming an air of indifference meant to convey confidence that he’d have them all back in no time, which, based on past practice, Bobby Junior firmly believed.


“We can’t accept it,” Bob said to Lynne.

“You can’t do that,” Bobby Junior said, still holding the rectangle.

“What do you mean you can’t accept it?” Lynne said.

Kevin didn’t say anything. He was looking out the window.

“Bobby Junior doesn’t play with Legos anymore,” Bob said. “He isn’t allowed.”

“You can’t do that,” Bobby Junior said again, hugging the rectangle.

“Are you rejecting our gift?” Lynne said.

“I’m afraid we have to,” Bob said.

“We spent sixty dollars,” Lynne said.

“I’m sorry,” Bob said. “You’ll have to take it back.” Bobby Junior started to cry.

“Hand the box back to your aunt,” Bob said.

“No,” Lynne said. “It’s yours.” Kevin was now looking at his feet.

“Hand it back, son,” Bob said.

Bobby Junior cried louder. Bob told him that he was twelve years old and to stop it.

Lynne asked Bob what was the matter with him and then told Bobby Junior again that the gift was his, no matter what anyone said, his and no one else’s.
“It’ll just sit in the garage, then,” Bob said, and that’s when Lynne stood up and threw Bob and his family out of her house.


Linda had the back room all ready for Little Stevie’s nap when she saw on a nightstand a little clown figurine she remembered from when she and Lynne were girls. It had been their grandmother’s. Linda picked it up and turned it around and then set it back on the nightstand. It tipped over and rolled and fell to the floor and cracked. Linda picked it up and ran to the kitchen and searched the drawers for super glue. She had found some when she heard crying. She followed the sound to the livingroom but it was too late.


B.H. James from U.S. is the author of Parnucklian for Chocolate and co-author of A Sea of Troubles: Pairing Literary and Informational Texts to Address Social Inequality and of Method to the Madness: A Common Core Guide to Creating Critical Thinkers through the Study of Literature. He teaches English in Stockton, CA, where he lives with his wife and two sons.


Our Contributors !!

Some of our writers!

  • We occassionally invite writers to send their musings. Do send in your work, and we will host it here.
  • Do visit the Submit page to submit your work.