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The Perfect Christmas Present

Brittany Morris

(12/09) "Mommy, I want that one!!"

This was the chorus that little Tommy sang every time they passed the new B&O Railroad train set in the local toy store. He had done this since the new collector's item had hit the stores in September, claiming it was all he wanted Santa to bring him for Christmas. Considering that it was the weekend before Christmas, his mother had been constantly reminded of this need of her son's and made it a point to try to stay away from the toy store at all costs. But today it was unavoidable. Kelly, Tommy's mom, had to buy a Christmas present for her three year old nephew, Tommy's little cousin.

Kelly had become an expert at navigating through the toy store, away from the trains. Today, though, Tommy insisted that he get to stay and look at the train set, but Kelly was on a tight schedule. Instead of causing a scene, Kelly decided to strike a deal with her five year old son. She told Tommy that he could stay and look at the train for five minutes while she went to find a birthday present for Matthew. She had one of the store clerks get the train set down so that Tommy could look at it while she went two aisles down.

Kelly knew that Tommy would be fine; she had done this kind of thing with him a few times before. Tommy would become so immersed in his toy that he would barely even know that Mommy had left.

While Kelly was trying to decide between which Bob the Builder story book to buy for her nephew, her cell phone buzzed in her bag. She saw it was a call from her mom; Kelly thought this was random but figured she was just checking in on her daughter and grandson.

"Hey Mom," Kelly answered her phone.

"Kelly…" Her mom's voice shook as if she was really nervous.

"Mom, is everything okay? You don't sound good."

"Kelly-it's Dad. He-" Her voice broke, and she started crying.

"Mom! What happened?" Kelly was starting to feel her chest constrict and her hands sweat.

"Honey, your father was having trouble breathing earlier this morning." Kelly's mom's voice was more stable, but Kelly could still tell that her mom was trying to hold back tears. "I called 911, and he was taken to the hospital. He had a heart attack, Kel." Then her mom started crying all over again.

"Oh…my…gosh…" These were the only words that Kelly could form as the tears slid silently down her face in the middle of the toy store.

Kelly must have missed the next thing that her mom said because the next thing she heard was her mother calling into the phone, "Kelly? KELLY? Are you still there sweetheart?"

"Yea… what is it, Mom?" Kelly heard these words as if she was listening in on a stranger's conversation.

"You should probably come to the hospital, sweetie. The doctors are saying they are not sure what the effects of this will be…They are running tests now."

"Okay, Mom." Kelly hung up the phone and tried to compose herself. First, she was in a toy store, crying for what seemed like no reason, and she had to put on a good face for her son.

As Kelly wiped away the final tears from her eyes, she turned the corner and found Tommy right where she left him: longingly gazing at his coveted train set.

Look at him, she thought to herself. My little, innocent son. How am I supposed to tell him this and break him from this protective shell in which he's been living, where nothing bad happens?

She took a deep breath and started towards Tommy.

This train set is so awesome, Tommy thought to himself, sitting on the floor of the toy store. I really hope Santa gives it to me for Christmas. That would be the best Christmas present ever!

As Tommy stared at the shiny box with the picture of the sleek red and black train, he imagined it in his basement, interwoven with his eight other train sets. But this one would always stand out and be his favorite among all the others because Pappy used to be a conductor for the B&O Railroad. He had even taken Tommy on his own private train ride with his friends when he turned five this past summer. Tommy imagined pushing this train along the tracks with Daddy and making up stories about the conductor and all the passengers: why they were on the train, where they were going, what they did while on the train. He and Daddy did this for hours sometimes.

Tommy's daydreaming was broken, however, when Mommy walked over to him and abruptly picked him up off the floor.

"Tommy, honey, Mommy needs to tell you something important." Mommy looked different than normal. She was not smiling, and her face looked white like it does when she is sick.

"Okay Mommy." Tommy was confused but tried to act like a big boy by standing straight and looking right into Mommy's eyes.

"Tommy," Mommy started again, talking very slowly, "Pappy was not feeling well this morning, so Grammy had an ambulance take him to the hospital so the doctors could take care of him."

"Is Pappy ok? Will he be home for Christmas?"

"I don't know, Tommy, but we are going to visit him in the hospital. Okay?"

"Okay, Mommy." Tommy did not know what to think. He had never been to a hospital before. Were the doctors nice? Would he be able to see Pappy? Would he be able to talk to him and tell him about the train set he wanted? Yes, he would tell Pappy all about the train set and make him feel all better so he could come home for Christmas, and they could play with it together!


Kelly's hands kept slipping on the steering wheel the whole drive to the hospital, and she was trying to control her breathing so as to not scare Tommy who was sitting in the back seat. She had given him his Thomas the Tank Engine coloring book to occupy him, just in case.

If only Tom hadn't had his business trip this weekend, Kelly thought to herself. Having him here would make me feel so much better.

Her husband went away on business trips every other weekend, and this was one weekend that he was away in California. He was also Tommy's hero and namesake, and if he had been here he would have been able to comfort both Tommy and Kelly with his winning smile and sense of humor that was fitting for every occasion.

Kelly tried to stay as faux-optimistic as she could, for Tommy's sake. She was playing Christmas carols on the radio and singing along. Every once in awhile one of the ones Tommy knew, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman, would come one, and he would join in the best he could. But in reality Kelly's insides were twisted in knots, her throat was raw, and her mind was racing with "what if" questions.

What if Dad doesn't make it?

What if I have to celebrate Christmas without him?

What if Dad is already dead when we get to the hospital? What will I tell Tommy?

What if Tommy is scarred by this and hates Christmas forever?

Tons of questions were running through Tommy's head as he and Mommy arrived at the hospital, too.

What was it like to ride in a ambulance?

Did Pappy get to work the sirens?

Would Pappy be sleeping when they got to see him, or could he talk to Pappy? (Mommy had said Pappy would be in a bed and might be too tired to talk to anyone).

When they did walk into the waiting room on Pappy's floor, they saw Grammy waiting for them. She was crying. She rushed over to Mommy and whispered something in Mommy's ear that made her start crying too. They both seemed to forget that Tommy was there for a second, and Tommy started getting scared because they were both crying and he didn't know why. He started wondering if he should be crying too, but he had no reason to be sad. Pappy was being taken care of by the doctors; everything would be okay.

Then Mommy started walking over to Tommy. The tears were still rolling down her cheeks; Tommy had never seen Mommy cry this much before. Something really bad must have happened.

Mommy bent down and took Tommy's hands. "Tommy," she said, "Pappy is not doing well at all. He is not awake right now, and he might not wake up ever again. And if that happens, he will not be able to celebrate Christmas with us."

Mommy swallowed really hard, and her lips were shaking. She blinked her eyes a lot, but more tears came out of them anyway.

"But Mommy, I don't want Pappy to not wake up." Tommy felt tears forming in his eyes too, but he did not understand.

"I don't want that either, sweetheart. We just have to ask Jesus to let Pappy wake up and be with us on Christmas."

So Mommy, Grammy, and I sat in the waiting room at the hospital, our heads bowed, tears running down our cheeks, praying for Pappy. And for the first time since September, I did not care about getting my special train set for Christmas. All I wanted was for Pappy to be there with us when we had Christmas dinner. Then my Christmas would be perfect.

Brittany Morris is a senior at Mt. St. Mary's majoring in English. In addition to perusing her passion for creative writing, Brittany is a student teacher at Tuscarora High School & Editor of the Mount's Lighted Corners Literary Magazine.

Read other articles by Brittany Morris