SOUTH CHINA SEA (June 13, 2015) Lightning strikes the water as San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD 23) navigates between storms. The Essex Amphibious Ready Group is currently operating in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Liam Kennedy/Released)

Noel Reeks of Bleach

by David R. Dixon

We have to go to Grandma’s for Christmas again. I’m not enthused.

Cheap decorations—paper candy canes and green elves exclaiming “Happy Holidays,” the red glitter on the floor— it all about drives me to drink.

The food’s barely palatable this time—ham and peas served on trays, lemonade in 6-ounce plastic cups so that you have to get up three times for a frustrated refill.

Why don’t the damn elves just say “Merry Christmas”?

Dad informs us that we will get big checks from grandma this year, much more than usual.

Grandma has a new neighbor—a Korean War veteran. This intrigues me.

On December 25th, I stop by to introduce myself and drop off an awesome book about the Marine Corps—I think he will appreciate this unexpected present. He is asleep, respiring in fits and spurts—like trying to start an Oldsmobile sedan outside on a frosty 1980s morning.

Prudently leaning over I encourage him saying “Semper Fidelis, sir” and thanking him for his patriotism. The last words I think he heard were a few lines from the Marines’ Hymn … “From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli”

Time for church. Grandma stays in bed. Some Baptist usher accidentally spills scalding white wax all over the crotch of my khaki pants during the candlelight rendition of “Silent Night.”

We drive back to Grandma’s. I am not enthused. Most places smell like gingerbread, joy, and Douglas firs during the Yuletide season, but grandma’s smells like Clorox and Lysol.

Which I guess is necessary to cover the miasma of grief.

Although it masquerades as a stench, death becomes more of an ambience in the hospice ward.

The room across the hall: empty as of an hour ago. Just as hers will soon be.

“All is calm, all is bright”—in every clime and place.

Sergeant Palmer now guards the celestial streets.