Christmas Inside the Walls | A Short Story
This story is an honorable mention from the 2016 ‘Basket of Cheer‘ Christmas Contest
Fifteen minutes. No more, but definitely less if there was a problem or I didn’t feel comfortable staying for the entirety of the allotted time.
“If you feel at all threatened, don’t be afraid to leave early or call for help. We’re here to make sure there isn’t any trouble,” I was told by the security man.
“My brother would never hurt me,” I had said. He gave me a strange look.
“You would be surprised.” The real message was only barely concealed.
He killed three people and injured a fourth. You can’t trust someone like that.
I felt like yelling at him that my brother isn’t a psycho. But if I did that, they might not let me see him. So I just kept my mouth shut and shrugged.
I was shown into a large, windowless room that was used for the visiting area. There were several old tables and chairs, and on the back wall a row of metal screens to separate the highest security prisoners from visitors. A security camera and a guard watched everything, the former from the ceiling, the latter from a post next to the door.
Nothing could happen in this room without the prison authorities knowing about it. And the visiting rules had already been explained to me in triplicate. Don’t touch any of the inmates. Don’t sit next to the person you’re visiting, sit across from them. Don’t give anyone anything without permission.
Don’t accept anything from the inmates without permission. Do try to be a good influence, will you? The last was partly advice, partly a plea from one of the security men who looked utterly exhausted, like he’d been working there too long. The idea of my brother spending the rest of his life here was killing me.
He was already there in the visiting area, sitting at one of the tables off to the side. He lit up with a smile that felt decidedly out of place when he saw me and raised a hand in greeting. The orange jumpsuit he was wearing made his perpetually messy dark hair look even darker than usual.
He had turned girls’ heads left and right before, with his good looks and rakish charm. But that was then – before he lost any good reputation he’d ever had within one day. I smiled back and walked over to join him.
“Hi, Corey,” I said, pulling out a chair.
“Hey, little sis! It’s been too long. I haven’t seen you since the trial, so that makes it, what, six months? And you’re my first visitor, so that makes it even more welcome!” The way his words poured out of him gave me the feeling that he hadn’t talked to anyone in a long time, and he had lost some weight, but otherwise he seemed to be okay.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to try and spread the joy of the season.”
“It’s Christmas already?”
“Yeah, today’s the twentieth. There’s only four days left before Christmas Eve.”
“I must be losing track of time more than I thought,” he said, looking a little worried. Then he shook it off and asked, “So, how’s life outside the walls?”
“Pretty much normal.” I tried to think of something that might interest him from the outside world. “There’s nothing but junk on the radio – you know, those awful rewrites of classic Christmas songs. Trigonometry is terrible, but I’m pretty sure I’m doing well enough to get a passing grade. Oh, my college application got accepted!”
“Awesome. Where are you going again?”
He gave a bemused smile.
“I can’t believe you’re actually going to college next year. Didn’t you just start high school, like, yesterday?”
It might as well have been eternity. Everything has changed beyond repair since then.
“That’s what it sure feels like. Anyway, we haven’t gotten the tree yet, even though Christmas is only five days away. Mom and Dad are like they always are -”
“Like they always are? It’s really that bad?”
“Yes. It is. They actually don’t know I’m here. They think I’m at a friend’s house making cookies.”
He clicked his tongue.
“Lying to your parents? I thought you were supposed to be the moral one in the family.”
“I didn’t lie. I just didn’t mention that I’d be stopping here before I went to Wren’s place.” I shot him a look. He had taken her out a few times, and they had really gotten along well. “She misses you, you know. When she heard…um…what happened, she took it hard.”
Corey looked down at his hands. It was impossible to tell whether he was embarrassed or sad.
“She’s a nice girl. Too bad life imprisonment doesn’t lend itself to romantic involvements.”
There was a long, awkward silence. I took a deep breath. I had told myself sternly before I came that I wouldn’t bring up the incident that had cost him his freedom, and I had already managed to break that promise.
I wasn’t here to ask him why he did it. I was here to try and make his Christmas a little merrier. I started to say something, but he cut me off. He was clearly trying to avoid thinking about all he had lost by focusing on other things.
“Speaking of romantic involvements…,” he leaned forward, “how are things going between you and Jake?”
“Um, well. Very well,” I mumbled. I could feel myself turning red. “And he prefers Jacob.”
“Jake, Jacob, same difference. ‘Well’ like what?”
“Aw, come on. There’s nothing to do in this place! You wouldn’t grudge a guy a little curiousity, would you?”
I looked away. He laughed.
“Oh, all right. Keep your female secrets. But if he’s not treating you right, you send him here and I’ll have a talk with him. No one hurts my little sister and gets away with it.” I didn’t doubt that. Corey had been suspended once for getting in a fight with a guy who had said something indecent to me.
He was always the protector, and I was the listening ear. I guess I didn’t listen well enough, because we’re sitting in a prison visiting area now. Could I have prevented this?Or would it have happened anyway?
“Thanks. Now, how have you been?”
His smile faded.
“Well, I’m alive. My shoulder’s fully healed by now. My cellmate’s a nightmare. The food’s not too bad. Like I said, there’s nothing to do. I’m not mistreated or anything, but the lack of contact with the rest of the world is starting to get to me. I don’t really know what else to tell you, Mouse.”
The use of the pet name he’d given me when we were little melted the last of the awkwardness I felt.
“How long did it take you to heal?” He had been shot in the left shoulder when he was captured. He was really very lucky to be alive, because the cop had been aiming for his heart.
“A few months, I don’t know.”
There was a pause.
“You said I’m your first visitor. Hasn’t anyone else come to see you?”
“Who would? Mom and Dad disowned me. The rest of the family remains shocked and disdainful.”
“What about your friends?”
He gave a short, bitter laugh.
“What friends? Let’s face it, you’re the only real friend I’ve ever had.”
As much as I wanted to deny it, I knew he was right.
How can a guy with a magnetic personality be the loneliest person in the room?
All I could think of was the memory of the two of us lying on the floor of the tiny bedroom we shared for most of our lives, playing checkers. He taught me how to play, and taught me well enough that eventually, most of our matches turned into stalemates. But it was fun all the same.
“Well, I’m not allowed to stay much longer, so down to business,” I said after a moment. I pulled a plain brown cardboard box out of my bag and pushed it across the table to him. “Merry Christmas. It was wrapped, but they made me take the paper off so they could check it,” I added apologetically. Corey looked between me and the box in surprise.
“A Christmas present? Really?”
“Of course. You’re my brother.”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just surprised they let you.” As he started to open it, he asked, “How many hoops did you have to jump through to get permission?”
I shook my head.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Wanna bet?” Corey pulled back the lid of the box took out a sketchbook and set of pencils. I smiled at his expression.
“I put all of your old drawings that I could find in the front.”
“This is awesome, Mouse. Thanks. I just wish I could give you something.”
I waved it off.
“Hey, this is what siblings do for each other.”
“I’ll think of something anyway.”
He flipped open the front of the sketchbook to where all his old drawings were. The one on top was from several Christmases ago, when I was twelve and he was fifteen, of our small living room with the tree in front of the window, and me doing homework at the kitchen table. I had helped him with his research report before starting on my Algebra. He was an artist, but couldn’t write to save his life.
“That we the first Christmas we went to church, just the two of us. Remember?” I said softly. Corey nodded slowly, his smile more sad now than anything.
“Yeah. I remember.”
Remember when we were kids, before all this happened. Before he got involved in that gang. Selling drugs. Before he shot two cops and a bystander while trying to get away when the police finally shut down the gang. A child half our age got hurt by accident. Living with all that is killing him. It was simpler when we were kids.
Corey said quietly, “Thanks, Monica. Really. This is probably the best gift I’ve ever been given. But, more than that…” He struggled to find the right words. “Thanks for just coming. Being able to see you again…means a lot.” It must have, because he doesn’t open up like that often. And it was the only time in the entire conversation that he called me by my real name. For a second, all I wanted to do was hug my brother and tell him that nothing had changed in the way I felt about him. But the prison guards probably wouldn’t take too kindly to that. So I just said, “You’re welcome.”
One of the prison guards came up behind me.
“Time’s up, miss.”
I stood up.
“Careful driving home. It’s probably icy out on the roads,” Corey warned. He taught me how to drive when Mom and Dad couldn’t be bothered, even though he wasn’t legally old enough at the time.
“I’ll be careful,” I answered. Then, “I love you, Corey.”
His smile crept back.
“Love you too, Mouse.”
The day before Christmas, I got a letter in the mail. It was from my brother. There was no letter inside, just a neatly folded piece of paper. I unfolded it to find that it was a sketch of the two of us at church that Christmas I had reminded him of. At the bottom of the page was a note:
‘I told you I’d think of something. Merry Christmas, little sis. Corey.’
“Well? Is there anything interesting in the mail?” Mom asked without looking up from the news stories on her phone.
“Nothing to speak of,” I answered calmly. They wouldn’t understand.
“At least there isn’t another one of those holiday catalogs. Buy this! Buy that! Never mind that you don’t need any of it! That’s all you hear this time of year,” Dad grumbled.
I smiled to myself, refolded the drawing, and put it in my pocket. Outside, snow was drifting through the air. One of those awful rewrites of classic Chrismas songs was on the radio.
…peace on Earth, good will to men…
Good will to all men, not just the select few, the practically-perfect. Because the ones who make mistakes want to be loved too.
I mentally added the words to the song and went back to decorating the tree we had gotten earlier that day.
About Eleanor Fisher
Eleanor Fisher, is a 15-year-old Seton student, and wouldn’t trade homeschooling for the world. She loves reading, running, singing, acting, and playing bells in the church bell choir. This is her second year of Confirmation preparation, and she is very involved in music ministry, and the Journey In Faith high school youth group. She wants to be a published author when she grows up, and writes not only because she loves it, but also because her head might explode if she doesn’t get her ideas out somehow!