Faith shivered as she shuffled into the living room, the cold hardwood floorboards creaking slightly with every step her little feet took. She held her tattered, pink, cotton pajamas tight to her goosebumped skin as she made her way over to the sparsely-decorated Christmas tree. It was not finished yet although the tree-trimming had begun half-heartedly days earlier. Faith, imbued with a fresh, warm wave of Christmas spirit, had decided that if nobody else was going to finish it, she'd do it herself. Clutched in her grubby left hand, as usual, was Mr. Buggles, her dirty little off-white, tattered stuffed bear.
The cold apartment was quiet, the most prominent noises the sounds of the light traffic from the streets below. Faith put Mr. Buggles carefully down on the floor, making sure that he was sitting up against a cardboard box of odds and ends like garland, tinsel, and bulbs. She cautiously, with her slightly sticky hands, plucked some of those bulbs out of their plastic trays and put hooks on them.
"Aren't these pretty, Mr. Buggles?" Faith asked, her little voice bouncing a subtle echo off of the sparsely-furnished, hardwood floor apartment.
Mr. Buggles looked back on her with his button eyes - one of them hanging by a thread - cold and silent. If he could have answered he would have because if he'd had the ability to love he would have loved her as much as she loved him. But he couldn't and he didn't. His creator - Faith's grandma on her Mommy's side - did not have the preternatural abilities required to give him such things. In fact, one of the reasons Faith held him so dear is because he was created by her, it's what she had to remember her by, as she had perished in a car accident years earlier while rushing to be at her Mommy's side during one of those times where she gets really sick from her medicine.
Mr. Buggles is as old as Faith is - five - as he had been given to her when she was just a baby. But he's had a much harder life than Faith has had. For example, Faith has never been run over by a car or dropped into a muddy puddle and never cleaned properly afterwards.
Faith tried not to let her persistent shivering prevent her from safely hanging the shiny green, red, and snowy bulbs onto the gangly branches of the old fake tree. It had been cold for a few days, ever since the loud heater stopped working one day. The mean old landlord had shut it off.
But it wasn't too bad. Yet. It wasn't yet like last year when the heat was shut off for a while where in the mornings and evening she could see her breath in the air.
"I like the shiny red ones the best," Faith remarked as she hung one. If Mr. Buggles had the ability to remember anything, he would have already known full well that red was indeed her favorite color.
"You know what we need, Mr. Buggles?" Faith said excitedly, just realizing something. "We need some Christmas music!"
Mr. Buggles didn't protest. Faith crept over to the CD player by the television and put her favorite Christmas album in it. It was made from an old vinyl album her grandma had had as a child, "Christmas Songs for Children" by the Marty Gold Children's Chorus. She loved hearing the soft, sweet voices of the kids singing all of her favorite holiday tunes. Frosty the Snowman was the first track.
Faith happily sang along with the lyrics as she hung more bulbs, a little more spring in her step as she did so. As she pranced around her stained pink pajamas bounced and her long, tangled black hair danced. This extra movement served to warm her up a bit.
"Mmmnnuh!" she heard a distant, muffled voice say. It had barely gotten to her ears through the semi-loud music.
"I'm going to go check on Mommy, OK, Mr. Buggles?" Faith politely said to her stuffed companion. It didn't seem like he minded so she scampered off to the bedroom down the hall.
"Mommy?" Faith whispered as she pushed open the creaky door that had lazily been pushed towards the frame and not fully shut.
Her Mommy moved around a little in the bed. The cover was half off of her, revealing to Faith that she still had on the same faded jeans and black tee shirt that she'd put on two days before.
"I'm ouddamedicine," her Mommy mumbled.
Faith saw in the dim light an empty needle lying on the floor next to her bed. She picked it up and presented it.
"Another one of these?" Faith asked. Her Mommy had bought that medicine the day before from a man downstairs.
"No, myuthamedicine," her Mommy mumbled, weakly gesturing with a limp hand to the little empty glass on the night stand next to her.
"Oooh, OK," Faith said, nodding.
Faith scampered off down the hall and to the kitchen. She slid a wooden stool over near the cabinet Mommy's "medicine" was located in and stepped upon it. On her tippy-toes she stretched up and opened up the cabinet and retrieved the glass bottle of brown liquid that her mommy needed.
"Thangshon," Mommy mumbled as Faith poured the brown stuff into her glass after she'd returned.
"Need anything else, Mommy?" Faith asked.
Her mommy fumbled for the glass, found it, and sat up just enough to where she could sip it.
"No," she grunted.
"It's cold," Faith shivered.
Mommy made some kind of noise, but not really a word. After a moment, she opened her eyes a little more and said "Yeah, it'sfugginwinner. 'Salwayscold." She sipped more of her medicine.
"OK Mommy," Faith sighed. "I'm gonna go back to trimmin' the tree."
"OK yourasweetypie," Mommy mumbled, almost smiling. "I'mgonna gobagtom'nap."
But she's been napping all day, Faith thought. Oh well. She shrugged and left.
"I'm back, Mr. Buggles," Faith told her stuffed friend when she returned to the tree. He was still loyally sitting right where she left her. "Mommy still wants to nap. Why is she so tired lately? Maybe that medicine isn't helping her."
If Mr. Buggles could talk and knew more about her mommy's medicine than Faith did, he would have told her it definitely was not helping.
Faith went back to hanging ornaments. She soon finished with the bulbs and began hanging the plastic elves with red and green felt tunics. Their cherubic faces smiled back at her as Faith hooked them onto their branches.
Faith's stomach rumbled. She was hungry. She hadn't eaten since breakfast where she had scarfed down a couple of stale donuts that Mommy had brought home several days ago.
"Want something to eat, Mr. Buggles?" she asked her stuffed companion. Pretending he'd said "yes," she walked over to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
Ketchup, mustard, various bottles of Mommy's other medicine (the ones that she liked cold), an apple juice bottle with a couple of swallows left in it, the moldy stuff in the Tupperware container (Faith forgot what it had used to be), and some milk with a "November 30" date on it.
Faith opened up the cripser drawer. Black, squishy-looking old vegetables. Faith scrunched up her nose as the acrid odor of the rancid food hit her face. She shut the drawer quickly. She opened up the meat drawer below it. It had a half-used pack of brown hamburger sitting in a pool of reddish brown blood. She quickly shut that drawer.
"Maybe there's something in the cabinet," Faith said to Mr. Buggles hopefully. All she found there were some bottles of marinades, some canned stuff - some of it very old - and a box of saltine crackers. Even if any of the canned foods they had looked appetizing, she did not know how to operate the electric can opener and there was no manual one. She sighed and grabbed the box of crackers. She pushed aside some papers saying "Past Due," "Final Notice," and "Eviction Notice," to place the box on the counter. She didn't know what any of that stuff meant but she was used to seeing it.
"I hope Daddy comes back soon," Faith said before shoving a cracker into her mouth. She grabbed a dirty glass from the pile of soiled dishes in the sink and washed it out. The cracker was stale.
Still, Faith was happy to have the crackers, to have something to fill her tummy, and some water to wash it down with.
"Well, is that enough ornaments, Mr. Buggles?" she asked when she returned to the living room. "Should we do garland next?"
Faith grabbed the silvery, shedding garland that had been wrapped around a square piece of cardboard. She struggled to begin it as high up on the tree that she could. She scowled. She grunted and tried several times, but despite her best efforts she could not start it any further than about halfway up.
"Oh, Mr. Buggles, how am I going to start it all the way up there?" she said, pointing to the nearly-bare top of the tree. "Maybe I can get Mommy up!"
Faith scampered away down the hall to her mommy's bedroom. She squeaked open the door. "Mommy?" Faith walked up to her. She was still.
"Mommy, wake up, I can't get the garland up high, I need help!" Her mommy didn't move. Faith shook her a little. She made a little noise in her throat but still didn't move. "Mommy, wake up!"
After she failed to wake her up, Faith sighed and left the room, hanging her head. "Mommy must be really, really tired," she mumbled.
Faith got the garland on the best she could. Once she did that she was satisfied that she'd done the best she could and decided that she was finished.
"OK, Mr. Buggles!" Faith exclaimed excitedly. "It's time!"
Faith turned out the living room light, rendering the apartment almost completely dark. The dim hall light illuminated the room enough to where she could see the outlet near the tree and she plugged in the lights.
Faith grabbed Mr. Buggles, hugged him tight, and gasped at the wonderful, bright, multicolored lights on the fully trimmed tree! Usually the ceremony involved more people, but there was nobody else around. She hadn't seen her older brother in month after he went across town to see some friends. Nobody at school had seen him, either. Her daddy had left a few weeks ago after he and Mommy had a terrible argument. And now Mommy wouldn't wake up from her nap.
"It's just you and me, Mr. Buggles," Faith whispered to her dirty, stuffed friend. "It's so beautiful, isn't it?"
Then the Christmas tree - and the rest of the apartment - went dark and the music stopped. In less than a second the apartment was plunged into inky blackness and eerie silence. The only things she could hear were the muffled sounds of traffic on the street below.
"Where... where'd the lights go, Mr. Buggles?" Faith asked nervously. She clutched him tightly.
After a moment she had to yell out "MOMMY!" Her mommy didn't answer. "Mommy, the lights are out!" she tried again. She was used to the heat going out, the cable television, and occasionally the water, but this had never happened before.
Faith shivered in the dark. It seemed colder than before. As her eyes adjusted she could begin to make out shapes; a small amount of dim yellowish light began bleeding through the windows from the street lights below.
"Why did the lights go out, Mr. Buggles?" Faith asked.
Mr. Buggles didn't know.
Faith sighed. "Maybe we should just go to bed," she whispered. She stood up and carefully made her way to her bedroom. Hungry and cold, and not really all that tired yet, Faith climbed into her bed. She wrapped the covers around herself tightly as she clutched Mr. Buggles close to her.
"I hope Santa comes even though it'll be so dark he can't see the tree," Faith said. "And I hope he won't mind that I didn't have any milk or cookies to put out for him."
Faith lay there staring upwards for a few moments, listening to the quiet darkness. She watched beams of light from passing cars below grow and shrink across the ceiling, hoping each time it was Daddy's car. She sighed. She could see the white puffs of her breath in the dim light.
Faith sighed again. She kissed her stuffed friend. "Merry Christmas, Mr. Buggles," she whispered. She shivered under her covers as she tried to find some sleep.