Sunday, December 23, 2007

Powder Burn Flash # 58 - Clair Dickson

Holiday Beating
A Bo Fexler Short Story

"Amy Wilson?" I asked into my cell phone, putting my feet up on the dining room chair opposite me. I stirred my soup, hoping it wouldn't cool too much while I was talking.

"Yes. Who is this?"

"Bo Fexler, private investigator. I need to ask you some questions."

"I don't have anything to say."

It always astounds me when I get such hostile reactions based, I can only presume, on profession alone. "It's about Grace and Wendy."

"Oh. Why?"

"Wendy's family hired me. They're not satisfied with the story they've gotten so far."

"Oh. What did you want to know?"

"Were there any disagreements between Wendy and Grace?"

"No. Not that I can think of."

"Was there anything that happened during, or perhaps before book group that night?"

"No. Well, actually," she paused.


"There was a disagreement before group started. Grace was really upset about people taking Christ out of Christmas. She went on this rant for a while. Her and, I think, Anne Wilson and maybe Amy. Grace was really angry about people refusing to say 'Merry Christmas.' She said it was very offensive to her. She celebrated Christmas and that's what people should say—'Merry Christmas.'"

"Was Wendy part of this discussion?"

"Um, not that I can think of."

"So, she wasn't aware of this conversation."

"We were all aware that it was going on. I had to force them to stop so we could get our discussion on the book started. We had to wait for it to stop."

"Anything else?"


"Was there any sort of rivalry or grudge between the two women?"

"No. They got along just fine. There could have been something outside of book group, I suppose, but—" She pressed her lips together as she thought it over. "No, I don't think they met outside of book group. Some women don't, you know."

"Any political or religious differences that came up?"

"No. We try to avoid politics. That's always such a hot button. We try to stay focused on the book. As group leader, I try to steer us away from other issues and back to the book. Sometimes that's an issue because someone will insist that what they're saying really does tie into the book. But really, we want to make sure it's an enjoyable experience."

"And was the meeting that night?"


"I can't think of anything that wasn't pleasant that evening."


I set the phone aside and bent over my soup. After only two slurps that would have made my mother cringe—and chastise me-- my phone chirped.

"This is Bo," I said as a greeting.

"Oh—um, are you the one who's looking for information about the thing that happened at the book group?" The voice was soft, timid, and shaking.

"Yes. And you are?" I asked gently, trying to put her at ease.

"Betty Chalmers. Anne Wilson called me, told me that you were asking questions about it."

"Go on."

"Well, she said I should call you since I was right there when it happened. So was Fran Pallini. I don't know if Fran's going to call you. And I don't know if we can really tell you what happened. It doesn't make any sense to me." She drew in a ragged breath.

I stirred my soup and tried not to breath in the phone lest she presume I was anywhere near as impatient as I was for her to get to the point.

"It still bothers me. Did you hear that Grace is medicated now? At least they let her out of jail. I mean, it's just not right to lock up a fifty-two year old woman just before Christmas."

"Do you remember what happened that night?"

"It happened when we were leaving. We were getting our coats on and heading outside. Grace and Wendy and myself had already walked outside. We were exchanging a few comments about the book we had been reading in our group. And they talked about holiday plans. Parties, recipes. I mean, all normal things that we talk about in our book group."

"What was the last thing that was said?"

"Before—before Grace went crazy?" She sounded close to tears. Perhaps there were even tears on her cheeks. This woman probably lived a life of knitted sweaters and grandchildren's photos and happy books discussed over coffee.


"The last thing I heard was that Wendy said 'Happy holidays.'"

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I put my hand to my forehead.

"I—what? I'm pretty sure—wha?" she stammered. She started to cry.

"Sorry—it's not you. I think that well-intentioned greeting was what put Grace over the edge."

"You—you don't think she beat Wendy because Wendy said 'Happy Holidays'?"

"Well, yeah. Grace has gotten pretty militant about the whole Merry Christmas/ Happy Holidays thing. According to a friend of hers, she'd been boycotting any establishment that used Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas. She was running out of places to shop and dine. Anyway, I also found a police report where she vandalized a two of her neighbor's displays, attacking Santa and his reindeer. They let her off when she agreed to pay for the destruction. And because she's a fifty-two year old woman."

"Oh dear. I don't think that's very Christmasy at all."

"'Tis the season." My soup was cold, too.

BIO: Clair Dickson writes Bo Fexler short stories when she's not teaching alternative high school. Or sometimes when she is. She has over thirty short stories published. Visit for links and more!

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