October Special: Habitual Ritual

In the second module of the Setting course, we read Forever Overhead by David Foster Wallace. It is a short story about a boy on his 13th birthday at a swimming pool with his family. It is written in the second person. You are the boy. You are having your 13th birthday. You have made the decision to jump from the high dive tower for the first time. It is really an interesting story to read. I am not a 13 year old boy, and yet, through the detailed setting and descriptions, I become the boy as I read.

For our second assignment, we had to write a short story, 500-750 words, in the second person. It had to be some sort of habit or ritual that we could easily convey in such a short span. A birthday. A graduation. A holiday gathering. A day at the office. Christmas with my family is very predictable, and when I was a kid it was the most exciting day of the year. Here, let me paint the picture for you.

The sky is still gray steel when you awake, your body too excited to stay asleep any longer. You glance at your clock. The digital readout blares 6:14 in bright red. You hold your breath and listen carefully. There are no footsteps on the roof. No jingling bells. But of course there aren’t. If Santa was real, he would have come and gone by now.

You roll out of your cozy blankets and find your fuzzy slippers at the end of your bed. They warm with your body heat as you slip out of your room and into the hall. The glittering lights in the living room beckon. They are your guiding light in the early dark.

Carefully, you descend the stairs. You skip the second step, the one that always creaks. At the landing between the floors, you peek through the window in the door to see if there are any reindeer prints on the deck. It’s not light enough yet to see much, but there was no new snow overnight to give anything away. Could they really have all fit on the roof?

You go down the second set of stairs and tiptoe into the family room. It sparkles just as brightly as the upstairs living room, but here is the sight you have longed to see all year. The mountain of tinsel and paper tumbling out from beneath the Christmas tree. The stockings bulging and overflowing in front of the glowing fireplace. The empty cookie plate and milk glass. Your little sisters faces gleefully beaming on the couch as they watch you soak it in.

“How long have you guys been up?” you whisper. They were never up before you on Christmas morning.

They shrug. “We were awake at 5:30, but we only came down a little while ago,” the younger of the two answered. They must have woken you when they took the same journey downstairs. They slide over on the couch to make room for you and you settle in with them. The colorful bulbs on the tree and the gas fireplace fill the room with a rainbow glow. The clock on the mantle ticks away the minutes until you can wake momma.

Every year you and your sisters have risen early. Last year, momma implemented a rule: do not wake her before 7am. It was agony. This year, though, you soak up the company of your younger sisters as you whisper and giggle about the festive display in front of you, speculating what some shapes might be hiding, prodding each other to guess what you got the others. For this one day of the year, you are the image of sisterly companionship.

The minute hand crawls toward the allowable time. You head upstairs to start a pot of coffee. Momma will be much more agreeable about waking if she has her coffee. Offering in hand, you return downstairs and carefully cross the threshold into the master bedroom. “Merry Christmas,” you say in a squeaky voice.

She stirs at the sound and she sighs as she inhales the scent of fresh coffee. “Merry Christmas baby girl,” she says. “Are your sisters up?” You nod as she accepts the steaming mug. “Thank you. I’ll be out in a minute. Did Santa come?”

You picture the overstuffed stockings and the handful of presents in unique wrapping paper signed in that familiar old man scrawl. “He did.”

She smiles knowingly. “Tell your sisters you can open your stockings while I wake up.” She joins you in the family room as the piles of candy and chapsticks and knick-knacks grow around each of you. Lotions and perfumes, each a different scent but personalized. Loofahs in your favorite colors. Scratch-off tickets. They won’t go back into the stockings the way they came out, try as you might. Santa knows how best to stuff a stocking.

Your mother heads upstairs to get a second cup of coffee. You hear her overhead digging in the cupboards for the round cake pans. Your stomach grumbles as you picture her popping open the cans of cinnamon rolls, arranging them neatly in the pans. A couple Hershey’s kisses make their way into your mouth to tide you over the 15 minutes until the rolls will be warm and gooey in your hands. It is a morning of sweet things.

The moment is calm. You glance at your sisters, happily scratching away at their lottery tickets. Your stepfather is in his chair, working on his first cup of coffee, asking them if they’ve won anything yet. He chuckles as they moan “Nope, nothing on this one.” Upstairs the oven timer rings. The rolls are done. You grin at the pile of presents. Soon, the carnage will begin.

Notes: So I was creeping up on 800 words at this point and I hadn’t even gotten to the best parts. This is a story I could easily expand upon. And it was a really fun experience! I’m not sure if I could ever pull off a novel-length story in this POV but it’s a neat exercise.

Alrighty, that is all I have for you tonight. I am exhausted but we did it, we closed on our first home! I’m an adult you guys. Things are only going to get interesting from here. We’ll be moving over the next few weeks but I doubt that will affect my current post schedule. Of course, if anything does come up, I’ll be sure to let you know in the Sunday update post!

Have a great night! I’ll see you Friday!

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