A FLASH OF RED
By Joseph Walker

When I heard that the folks at Polaroid are discontinuing production of their instant film, one image came immediately to my mind – an image that I never really saw.

It was Christmas Eve.  To be honest, I’m not exactly sure WHICH Christmas Eve it was – just that I was young enough that Mom and Dad could still make me go to bed early, and old enough that it bugged me.  From my basement bedroom I could hear my older brothers and sisters upstairs talking and laughing and drinking Dr Pepper.  The thing is, I always had a hard time getting to sleep on Christmas Eve.  But with all that going on upstairs . . . well, it was impossible.  So I was in no mood for nonsense when my big brother Bud came downstairs.

“Hey, Joey,” he said as he peeked into my room.  “Are you awake?”

“What do you think?” I asked in a tone that was almost rude enough to land me on Santa’s infamous Naughty List.  “The way you guys are tromping around up there . . .”

“That wasn’t us,” Bud said.  “That was Santa!  He’s already been here!”

Suddenly my angst and frustration were gone, replaced instantly with a heady mix of excitement, exultation, jubilation and greed.

“Santa came?” I asked, sitting up in my bed.  “And there are presents?”

“There sure are!” Bud said.  “And there’s something pretty exciting up there for you!”

My heart started pounding.  My fingers started trembling.  I started feeling that old, familiar Christmas morning feeling.

“Here, look!” Bud said.  “I took a picture of it!”

He flashed a Polaroid print in front of me so quickly that I didn’t have time to focus.  The only thing I could make out was a flash of red.  Whatever it was, at least part of it was red.

“Let me see that!” I said, reaching for the photograph.

“I can’t,” Bud said, holding me off with one hand while brandishing the picture with the other. “It wouldn’t be right.  But you could ask Mom and Dad if we can open our presents now.”

That seemed like a good idea at the moment.  It turned out not to be.

“It’s just barely past midnight!”

I wasn’t exactly sure if it was Mom or Dad making that exclamatory observation.  The voice was sleepy and angry and pretty much indistinguishable.  But the message was clear.

“So I’m a little early?” I asked tentatively.

“You’re a LOT early,” said The Voice.  “We just barely got to bed!”

“OK, I’ll check back in a couple of hours.”

“Check back in about seven hours.”

“Seven?”

“Yes,” The Voice confirmed.  “Seven.  7 a.m.  No earlier.  Got it?”

“Got it,” I said, absolutely confident that I would die of old age before 7 o’clock in the morning rolled around.  I took one last shot: “But Bud said there are presents . . .”

7 o’clock!” The Voice barked.  “Now get back to bed!”

I turned slowly and started out of the room.

“But . . . Bud showed me a Polaroid . . .”

“Good night, Joe!”

“But I saw . . . red . . .”

“Joe!”

I knew that tone. It meant the conversation was over . . . as would be my young life if I uttered another syllable.  So I left their room and headed down the hall toward the basement stairs, pausing for a moment – MAYBE two – to flirt with an attractive Siren named Temptation, who – I promise – tried to talk me into going into the front room to take a peek for myself.  I’ll admit I even took a step – MAYBE two – down the hall.  But I couldn’t get past the possible long-term consequences of Mom discovering that I’d peeked.  And she WOULD discover it – make no mistake about it.  So I headed back down the stairs to begin a night-long vigil, comforted – and also tormented – by a flash of red on a little square of Polaroid instant film.

Even though I never really saw it.

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* * * CHECK OUT Joseph Walker’s LATest book! * * *

Christmas on Mill Street” - An All New Holiday Novel!