Christmas Story
Bobby C. Rogers

Christmas Story

Christmas Eve and they’d missed the weather, just a few scarves of sandy snow snagged
++++++along the road edge. Now the cold
had settled in, mercury crowding zero on the darkest night of the year. They’d lingered
++++++too long over presents and family talk
in his in-laws’ living room where the same tiresome stories were exchanged year after
++++++year, how an orange, some nuts, and a piece
of hard rock candy made a stocking they were glad to get. The evening was almost done
++++++before he could leave off worrying

about the pipes in their poorly insulated rental house. Leaning hard on midnight when
++++++they rolled up the driveway, the black sky
pierced with stars sharp-cut as the points on new finish nails, another of the holiday
++++++memories strange enough or bitter enough
to stay remembered. He wanted to remember the weight of his sons as they each carried
++++++one up the steps and to bed. There were presents
to arrange under the aluminum tree so their own Christmas would look more prosperous
++++++when the kids ran in in the morning, making

their own memories. Then, tired as he was, still in the new wool topcoat his mother-in-
++++++law had given him so he would know
he didn’t dress well enough for her daughter, he went out to the dog pen at the back
++++++edge of the property to check on his bird dog, fat
with her first litter. He’d never bred a dog before and only knew what he’d been told
++++++about it—the pups could suffocate
if you piled too much hay in the house—but he could see his mistake as soon as he
++++++aimed his flashlight through the doorway, a large litter

he hadn’t expected for another week yet, birthed on the almost bare boards of the
++++++doghouse, failing to nurse. He picked one up
and it was cold as a brick paver pried out of the ground and just as dense. He opened
++++++his new coat and began to tuck them
inside. They drew so much warmth out of him, his ribs ached. As fast as he could he
++++++shuttled them to the kitchen. Some of the pups
would rouse resentfully from their stupor when he rubbed them in his chapped hands.
++++++The room’s raw light hurt his eyes. He warmed milk

on the stove and tried to get it in them with a medicine dropper, but they wouldn’t
++++++take it and were soon still again. Sometime
during the night his wife came in and shut the cabinet doors. “You’ve ruined that coat.”
++++++Blood and hay were pawed into the weave,
a button was missing, the Hart Schaffner & Marx label was still sewn on the sleeve.
++++++The muddy pointer bitch and her frozen litter
were arranged on a mound of their best bath towels in an oil-stained pasteboard box
++++++from the garage. It was possible

he hadn’t done anything right. By the time he gave up, you could wring milky dawn-
++++++light from the curtains above the sink. The kids would soon
be screaming over the electric football game already set up by the tree, too absorbed to
++++++be surprised at the bird dog in the house. He unfolded
a brown paper bag from the IGA and collected the litter. Outside, the cold hadn’t
++++++gone anywhere and the wind lay perfectly still. The lid
of the garbage can had been flattened by a car tire. Nothing was going to get buried
++++++with the ground frozen too hard for a shovel to dent.

Bobby C. Rogers

is the author of Paper Anniversary, which won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. He has received grants from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Endowment for the Arts, and was named a Witter Bynner Fellow at the Library of Congress by Poet Laureate Charles Wright. His latest book, Social History, is out from LSU Press in their Southern Messenger Poets series.