Blue Christmas Lights


Hearts were what the two sisters drew in the car. They pushed and crawled over each other to get to the window. They blew steam on the glass and then wiped it away with their fingers, making crooked figures that melted away slowly, leaving the window, with ghost images, a poorly erased chalkboard.

Their father drove though the holiday traffic in Norfolk, looking for a Christmas tree lot. The smoke from his Lucky Strike made the car smell like a bonfire on the beach. Their mother was beside him, her dark curls bouncing on the back of the seat.

“Don’t push me anymore, it hurts,” said Bridgett, the younger one.

“Stop messing it up then. Use the other window,” said Anna Lee.

“Their mother looked around and said, “Move back to your side, Bridgett, and you, Anna Lee, stop getting finger prints all over the windows. Both of you still and stay on your side.”

Anna Lee and Bridgett liked to sing and watch the moon run along when they rode in the car after dark, but it was cloudy, and drizzling that evening, and there was no moon.

They got to the tree lot and walked in the wet chill through aisles of firs and pines. Anna Lee leaned up against the trees so she could smell the evergreen. Bridgett was tired. Their mother grabbed her up and carried her, leaving Anna Lee alone in the cedar scented corridor. Anna Lee thought about Jesus in his cradle in the desert, with the magi standing before him holding tangerines and mistletoe and holly.   Holy-holly, holy-holly, oh holy-holly she sang to herself as she brushed against the trees.

On the way home, they went down Chesapeake Street, and as soon as Anna Lee saw the house with the plaster Santa and elves she knew they were on the street where the blue light house waited.  The plaster elves wore red velvet bows at their necks. They stayed their all year, along with some plaster chickens that were painted black, and were invisible at night.  Their mother once told them that the plaster figures were examples of tacky decorations.  The way Anna Lee saw it, tacky things were a punch in the eye of people who had taste.

The blue light house was humble, almost hidden as they approached it.  It’s cool lights receded beside the warmer lights that decorated the neighboring yards.

“The blue lights are coming,” said Bridgett. “I like blue. Blue’s my favorite color.”

She leaned close to Anna Lee.  She smelled like peanut butter, a good smell. Peanut butter, colored lights, and blue were all wonderful things, party things.

The sisters leaned together holding their breath and then blue splendor was before them. They bounced forward together, diving into the blue light yard where young cedars were cones of blue, the hedge a checkerboard of blue, and the front door an ocean of blue over a tin-foil seabed.  They held their breath in rapture.  It was magnificent.


“Look at those ugly, tacky blue lights,” said their mother, and she laughed.  The sisters froze. They let go of each other, and scrambled forward pulling themselves up over the front seat.  They needed to see her face, to see if she was kidding.

“Who on earth would use those awful lights”? said their mother.

“I like blue”, said Bridgett. Her voice was jittery and wet.

“Christmas isn’t blue,” said their mother. “The Christmas colors are red, white, and green.”

Anna Lee sat back on her heels for a moment, then pulled Bridgett’s arm and started to blow a great big steam ring on the window. Anna Lee drew a devil into the steam. The devil had a pointed chin and a pitchfork, and horns, but no legs or arms. Bridgett added curly lines beside the devil’s face.

They looked in unison at their effigy. Then, they, both of them, erased it.

Afterward they sat side by side facing forward. When they got home their mother lifted them out of the car, took them inside, helped them out of their clothes and drew a tub of warm water. She smelled like Jergen’s lotion, like sweet roasted almonds. She had eyes that were golden-brown and green, their beautiful mother.

She left them clean and dressed in warm pajamas and went to fix some spaghetti for dinner, good spaghetti without black pepper or sugar like the mother next door used.


  • Christine

    I love this piece! The first line is poetry, it’s just perfect! I felt like I was five years old again, with grown ups all around me and their notions I didn’t understand. The wonderful world of childhood crashing into that scary, strange but familiar and comforting world of tall people. You portray this world so well, with nuance and just the right imagery. A child’s first encounter with otherness. Love, love, love it!

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