Telescopic Lens
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Telescope"
Originally featured on 09-12-2007
As part of our series "Alternative Universals"

When Roger awoke, he sprang from bed and ran from his room. In his new Brooklyn Dodger pajamas, he ran down the hallway. His parents could hear the sound of his thick feet slapping the wood floor then thundering down the carpeted steps. He turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs by grabbing the banister and catapulting himself around it towards the balls, the lights, the Tree.

The white walls of the family room were dimly lit by the oscillating tree lights and the first lights of sunrise. Before crashing into the tree, Roger skidded on his heels across the red carpet. Leaning back, he landed with a thump that shook the small house.

Roger took a deep breath and then looked at the different boxes. He looked at the various wrapping papers. He looked at the different shapes. He smelled the pine.

His head shot back and forth, but his gaze kept returning to a long rectangular box with shiny silver wrapping. On the silver paper were white moons and stars. Roger imagined an orbiting sun as the yellow tree lights flashed above it. He tried not to focus on it. What if it wasn’t a telescope?

Roger sat on the carpet and waited. Frosty, named for his thick coat of white hair, came into the room and sniffed his feet. Then Frosty licked them, which made Roger giggle and temporarily diverted his attention. He found a crouch and patted Frosty on the head. Then, he resumed his gaze.

Movement upstairs. Roger heard the springs of his parent’s bed clang and then the footsteps on the ceiling. Roger’s hand rubbed back and forth along Frosty’s head, increasingly harder, until the dog moaned and trotted off into the kitchen to slurp some water.

The footsteps upstairs gradually quickened and were eventually followed by the slow creaking of steps.

He turned and looked over his shoulder. It sounded like his mother. The stairs protested much louder against the weight of his father.

Roger’s mother descended in her new blue bathrobe while the boy stared.

“Merry Christmas, honey.”

“Merry Christmas, Mom.”

“What a good boy. You waited all this time.” She walked the red carpet stopping to tussle Roger’s hair and then continuing towards the kitchen. He heard the clicking of Frosty’s nails on the linoleum floor as he jumped up and down. Then he heard the whining of the back door spring. Roger’s eyes widened as he heard the scraping of a scoop in the tin coffee can. He sighed listening to the kitchen faucet. He looked at the ceiling. Where were his father’s footsteps? Had he gone back to bed!? Roger clenched his back teeth until he heard a toilet flush and the bathroom door open. Roger started breathing again.

The stairs creaked and screamed and Roger turned to see his father turn the corner, still tying the belt on his new Gil Hodges bathrobe.

“Merry Christmas, my boy.”

“Hey Dad!”

“Been waitin’ patiently all this time, huh?”

“Yeah!”

His father laughed. “Just let me an’ your ma get our coffee, okay?”

Roger nodded. His father lumbered across the carpet taking deep breaths and then stopped for a moment and looked at the tree.

“Hey honey?”

“Yeah?”

“Something’s up with the tree lights.”

“What?”

“The ones on the top are out.”

“Oh yeah? I told you we needed to get new lights.”

Roger’s father mumbled to himself. “Goddamnit. Lights keep goin’ out.”

He looked at Roger, staring back at him. “I’m sorry Roger. I just need a minute to fix these. Coffee’s gotta brew, anyway.”

Roger watched as his father walked to the kitchen. He listened as the kitchen floor echoed his father’s footsteps — all the plates and glasses in the China cabinet vibrating. Roger’s eyebrows touched as he heard the basement door open and his father lumbering down the basement steps.

Roger mumbled to himself. “Goddamnit. They’re just lights! They’re just lights!” Roger clenched his fists and let his arms shake. He thought about when Sylvester the Cat got tricked by Tweetie Bird. “I’m as mad as Sylvester right now,” he whispered. Roger wondered if his skin had turned bright red like Sylvester’s. Then he had a scary thought. He unclenched his fists and took a deep breath so his ears wouldn’t smoke and set off the alarms.

His father called up from the basement. “Honey?”

His mother called down. “Yeah?”

“Where are all the extra lights?”

“Up in the attic.” Roger stood up and began to point through the wall at his mother. He silently yelled. Who cares about the coffee?” He pointed through the floor. Who cares about the lights? Have you two lost your friggin’ minds? He began self-hitting imaginary baseballs at them. He heard his father coming back up the basement steps.

The coffee pot made its gargling sound. The back door opened and Frosty came clicking into the kitchen. Roger frowned as hard as he could. He tried to touch his cheeks to his eyebrows. He looked at the boxes. Frosty trotted into the family room and started sniffing at his pajama leg. Roger looked down for a second and then pushed away Frosty’s face. Frosty let out a confused whimper. Roger rolled his eyes and then patted the dog. He whispered. “I’m sorry, buddy. It’s not your fault.”

China rattled, the steps creaked and Roger’s dad was upstairs. He heard the springs to the attic trapdoor in his parent’s bedroom ceiling. Roger resumed his frowning. The last time his dad tried to find something in the attic, he was up there for hours. Roger’s mom had explained, “there are lot’s of distractions for your dad in that attic.”

His mom poked her head in and caught Roger frowning. She smiled, eyes half open. “Soon honey. You’re being so patient. You’re so good!” A moment later, she was gone.

Roger felt attracted to the long rectangular box. He found himself on his knees inching towards it. He tried to resist. He thought about last year when he had opened that gift before his parents had come down. His father scolding him. “We celebrate Christmas as a family,” he said, as he was leaving to return Roger’s new bicycle. His fingers touched the smooth silvery paper. He inched his hand along it. Then he heard the thundering sound of his father coming down the stairs and jumped, falling back onto the carpet.

His dad appeared holding a mangled nest of green wires and randomly perched bulbs. “Soon, Roger.” He tussled his hair again.

Roger sat down. His heart beat on his chest and he took a few deep breaths. He crossed his legs and waited. His mom came into the room holding two mugs. His dad fumbled with lights and Roger just breathed. Eventually his dad turned and said “Okay, Roger!”

Roger fell forward. His finger nails ripped through a universe of silver paper. He looked at the box and gasped. The box had a picture of a sweater on it.

He sat there, motionless.

“It’s for when you’re out on cold nights, honey,” his mom said.

He took a deep breath.

“You know, like when you’re out looking at the stars like you do. We know how you love to look at the sky. That’s why we got you-” his dad smirked, “a sweater.”

Roger felt the swear words at his throat. He tried to swallow them. He swallowed again but they were kicking and punching his Adam’s apple. And then he felt tears in his eyes.

The doorbell rang. Roger slumped down next to the tree as his father went to answer. “Who could this be?”

He heard his Uncle James’ voice. “Hey there, Joe. Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, James!”

“Merry Christmas, Joe!”

“What brings you here?” James was Roger’s favorite uncle. He didn’t want James to see him cry, so he began to walk towards the kitchen.

“Hey Roger!” his uncle yelled. Roger jumped.

He stood, afraid to turn around.

“Come say hello!” Roger took a deep breath. He felt the tears rolling down his cheeks. He turned around.

James was standing with several gifts. Among them was what looked like another sweater box.

“Merry Christmas, Roger!” Roger tore through the paper and saw the picture of a telescope. He wiped his cheeks and James kneeled down to be eye to eye with him.

“There’s supposed to be some pretty wild things up there tonight,” James said. “You don’t have plans do you?”

Roger shook his head and smiled for the first time all morning.

Read More By Doug Dean

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