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2015 anagram short fiction contest | FIRST PLACE WINNER

by Aša (Whitney) Ricciardi

Editor's comments:  The primary challenge to all contestants was to use at least one Anagram within their story.  The secondary challenge (implied but not necessary) was writing a holiday theme that was not necessarily "traditional".  Aša did both flawlessly.  Aša also used a unique writing style, which I did not edit in the least.  Her drift from traditional holiday celebrations; unique writing style; and her ability to capture the essence of family - in these endeavors Aša took top honors.  Aša is now also eligible to recieve the 2016 Edward Bulwer-Lytton Award, which will be awarded to one Black Ink Contests literary artist that best exemplify originality, creative writing skill and the emergence of a personal voice or vision.  Congratulations again, Aša!

by Aša (Whitney) Ricciardi 


     It was Christmas Eve and I could hear my Mom chanting a Hare Krishna in the kitchen. I groaned. She couldn't just sing Deck the Halls like a normal Mother. It was the smell of gingerbread pancakes that got me out of bed. I shuffled down the hall in my flannel jams, and yawned as I sat down on the stool at the kitchen island where she was flipping the pancakes.  "Morning my little Marzipan!" "Morning" I said while rubbing the sleepers out of my eyes. My name is Marzi. While I'd like to say that the adorable nickname, Marzipan, only comes out at the holidays, it's unfortunately not true. I get called Marzipan all year long from teachers, friends and grocery store clerks who think they're clever.  Marzi is an Arabic Name, and it is a boys name. I am neither Arabian nor a boy. My Mom is what you might call, 'eclectic.' I learned that word this semester in English class. Turns out, 7th grade is good for something. Anyway, she likes a little bit of everything and believes a little bit of everything.  "Here's the first batch. Eat up. That's real maple syrup in the pitcher and here's whipped cream with nutmeg and cinnamon. How about that, eh? Pretty good, right?"  "Umhmm" I mumble with the first forkful already in my mouth. I don't feel like talking.  Yesterday, we had Red Velvet Pancakes, and the day before that Hot Cocoa Pancakes with a Marshmallow Cream. She is trying to butter me up, I know it, and even though my stomach can't say no to pancakes, it doesn't change a thing. If we could, I would just roll up under my comforter and skip Christmas.

      "So Marzi, I was thinking, since this is the first full Moon on Christmas Day and all in, well, years, and the first time since you have been alive. I thought we could do something extra special tonight to celebrate the transition. It is the darkest time of year, you know." "Wow, Mom, way to bring Christmas cheer to a whole new level." I said without looking up. I knew where she was heading with this.  "I thought we could have a ceremony to celebrate the coming Light."  There it is. Another ritual. The woman likes to anoint the door frames of new homes with oil, and plans baby showers where the women wash their hands in rose water and paint the bulging belly with henna. It seemed cool to me when I was younger.  We celebrated lots of different holidays and I thought it was great how much she knew about the world, but now, it's just plain kooky. And like I said, it'd be better if we just forgot about Christmas altogether.

     When she started to talk about the Moon she was bound to talk about our feminine cycle, and I didn't want to throw up my pancakes this morning.  She never hesitated to give me all the details of my own birth and how she and Dad were in awe of how sweet and beautiful I was. When I was little, and asked how babies were made, I learned all about how the man's thing works with the lady's thing, but I also learned the more important truth about where our souls come from.  "Your Dad and I gave you the physical container for your beautiful soul, but before that, you were a bird singing in the tree of life in the other realm. One day, after years of watching humanity triumph and fail, again and again, there was something so intriguing to you about life on Earth that you just had to know, so you flew down and became a baby in my belly."  "What was it that I had to know?"  "I don't know. You'll have to tell me when you figure that out one day." When I was five, I told them that I wasn't a bird but a dinosaur They thought I was being cute; I was being serious. If the soul used to be a bird, than mine was a pterodactyl. "Holy Cannoli, can't we just watch The Nightmare Before Christmas and call it a Happy HoHo?" I said the last bit with no small amount of sarcasm. She used to insist we say Happy HoHo instead of Merry Christmas so we could be inclusive of all the holidays celebrated in December. Happy HoHo is short for Happy Household Holidays, which I guess is less offensive than Merry Christmas, since you know, that fat, fimo baby Buddha I made years ago that my Mom keeps in the manger of our nativity scene isn't offensive at all. Not at all. Nope.  "Of course we can do that too, Marzi. This spirit of the season is forgiveness, right? So, I thought we could find something to burn in the fireplace as a way to let go of anything blocking our ability to forgive, and more forward. What do you think?"  "Not again Mom, " I groaned. "I'm fine, okay? I've forgiven God or life or myself and everything. Okay. It's fine. I don't need another fire ceremony."

     Here's how it worked: she'd have us write down issues or problems in our life that we needed to get rid of and then we burned the paper.  We wrote phrases like, "getting angry because people don't say my name right," which was a bad habit she thought I should burn up a few years back, or "clipping my toenails in bed," which was her bad habit. I think she threw in the notes with these silly, bad habits to help with all the big feelings that used to come out like, " I'm stupid," and "It's my fault Dad and Grandma died."  I try not to think about that last one. I have burned enough scraps of paper and the feelings are still there. I decided fire was the wrong route. Burying it, that's the thing to do, way down deep where I don't have to touch it except at Christmas when everything reminds me of them.

     It was five Christmases ago that my Dad, my Grams and I went out to cut down a tree for the first time. I had learned from my friend Jess that her family cut down their own tree at a small tree farm on the outskirts of town. My Dad loved the idea. He said the fake trees were so creepy. My Mom said it was murder to chop down a tree. I insisted. We went out and found a scraggly thing I thought needed loving, and were headed home, singing Christmas Carols and laughing about how our yule log cake looked infested because I went too crazy making the marzipan mushrooms that decorated it. The roads weren't that icy or anything, and I remember the sky was even a little blue.  We had to take the highway and well, there was a guy in a truck, in a hurry, and in the end, I remember that the slow motion of exploding glass looked really beautiful, like snowflakes, as my world spun upside down, but that crunching sound when my leg broke, that was awful and I wish I could scrape it from my ears; but, it was nothing compared to the awful silence that answered, when I called out to my Dad and Grandma for help.

     I shuddered and Mom asked if I was okay.  "Yeah. Fine. I told you. I'm fine, but I'm not burning anything this year. Capeesh?"  "I don't know Marzipan, I think this is your year. I can feel it. It's a special one with the full moon and all. How rare, huh?"  "I really don't care. Full Moons happen every month of every year, what is the big whoop about it now?"  "I don't know, I just want us to enjoy Christmas again, you know? I think they'd want us to be happy."  "I think they'd want to be alive," and with that I stomped back to my room.  I threw myself on the bed and began to sob. I stuffed my fists into the backside of the pillow and punched them into my eye sockets to keep from feeling the hot tears on my cheek, like I could stuff them back into my eyes and keep them there.

     It was late afternoon by the time I decided to leave my room. I didn't want to fight with my Mom, but I could not understand why she didn't still feel terrible and depressed. I didn't want pancakes to make things better. I wanted my Dad to lift me up to hang the Star of David on the top of the tree. I wanted my Grandma, who would laugh and make all her jingle bell jewelry jangle. It wasn't the same without them.  She was still in the kitchen, this time spreading something in a pan. I was about to ask what she was doing, when my eye caught the open page in my Grandma's old cookbook lying on the counter.  "Holy Guacamole! A Mocha Yule Log? Mom! Are you kidding me? I yelled in disbelief. She didn't move. I couldn't believe it. We stopped making yule logs after the accident. It was a tradition she had with her Mom since she was a little girl and swore she wouldn't make another one without her. I was fine with that.  I moved toward her, ready to punch the cake pans to the ground, but then she looked up.  I saw the red eyes. There was a streak of flour across her cheek that was getting gooey from her tears. Her hair was all frizzy  and loose in her bun, and she looked so pathetic standing there. My fist froze by my side, and my eyes started to burn and well again. I didn't try to stop them.  We stood there, looking at each other, crying, and then she pulled me into her chest and hugged me. When I stopped choking on the sobs, she stepped back and said, "I want to finish it together, yeah? I need this Marzi. I need to feel close to them, to her."  "Yeah, okay." I said nodding my head and sniffling. I wiped my eyes out with the palm of my hand and asked, "What can I do?"  "You can put this pan in the oven. This is the thin cake layer that needs to bake before we roll the cream inside and frost it. While it bakes, we'll go work on the marzipan, sound good?"  "Yeah, yeah." I put the pans in the oven as she took the marzipan from the fridge. "Let's go work on it in the living room in front of the tree."

     We were shy at first with each other, unsure of what to say, just rolling the white chunks into mushrooms and shaping the green into holly leaves. I broke the silence. "Remember how many mushrooms I made last time? You could barely see the log." I laughed uneasily.  She chuckled, "That's right. You were only eight, and Grandma said it was your special job. You took it so seriously."  "I take everything seriously."  "That's true," she said with a laugh, "and I take nothing seriously. What a pair we are."  We smiled at each other. Then she looked down, "You know I miss them so much. Every moment of every day. I just want you to know, that I am so thankful that I still have you. You are the light to my dark mornings when I wake up and see an empty pillow besides mine, and all day long when I feel like crumbling and crawling into a hole, I think about you. You and your sly grin and quick wit. You're my reason. The reason I wanted to fly down and live this life: to hold you, to love you, to meet you and watch you grow. You are still the most beautiful thing I have ever laid my eyes on."  "Oh, Mom!" I was teary eyed again and I reached over and threw my arms around her neck. I felt warm. I felt like something lifted in me and I could breathe more easily than I had in a really long time.  "I love you, Mom," I told her, then jerked my head up sniffing the air.  "Hey, what's that smell?"  She was on her feet. "Oh my gosh, the log!" and raced into the kitchen. I followed quickly. The kitchen was full of smoke. I opened a window and she shut the oven off and grabbed the cake from inside.  The jelly roll pan was black inside. The kitchen smelled gross. "Oh no Marz! Oh geez, it's ruined. Dang it!" she moaned.  I looked at her shoving a fork into the edge of the pan and lifting it to nibble on a blackened bit.  I started laughing a little, and then I started laughing a lot.  "Hahaha! Hooboy. You don't think it's funny?" I asked.  She stared at me quizzically.  "Not really, no. What's so funny about it?" she asked hesitantly.  "I refused to burn anything today and be a part of your hokey forgiveness ceremony, and yet, here we are with the full moon in the window and a burnt yule log on our hands."  She smiled at that and then started to laugh too.  "I told you it was a special Moon!" she said.  "Mom, you're so weird, but I wouldn't change you for the world. Happy HoHo!" I said as I raised a mushroom into the air.  She picked up a marzipan mushroom and clicked it to mine in a cheer.  "Merry Christmas, Marzi, and Happy Kwanza!"

                                                                                                                                        THE END


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