Fictional Christmas story: Kid Sister

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 26, 2010

Editor’s note: G. Mark LaFrancis writes an original Christmas story and shares it with the readers of The Natchez Democrat. This story will appear in “A Dance from the Heart and Other Stories” to be republished next spring.

Let’s see. I’m Zack. I like football, baseball and basketball. Loved sports like forever.

Even before I was born, I guess. You’d have to ask Mom and Dad.

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But this isn’t about me…it’s about my kid sister.

So, when I was 9, Mom and Dad took me to Pizza Palace. They let me order all I wanted, even extra Coke, and dessert. I knew something was up.

“Zack,” Mom said in a voice I knew meant I wasn’t in trouble. It was one of those softer, sweeter voices.

“Remember when your Dad and I talked about having another baby?”

“Oh, crap, I thought, I don’t need a brother; I’m all they can handle.”

“Well, we’ve got a big surprise for you.”

“A surprise?” I thought. A surprise would be a Wii game, a new bike, a trip to Disney World…

Mom looked at Dad.

“Tell him,” she said to Dad, giving him a jab with her elbow.

“Son, our little family is about to be bigger,” he said with a huge smile on his face.

Mom scowled at him. “That’s the best you can do?”

“Zack,” Mom said. “We’re having another child…a girl.”

I looked down at my hands, the ice floating in my glass, the menu, my napkin.

I asked, “What the heck am I supposed to do? Give up my room? Not my X-Box, no way.”

Mom and Dad laughed. I cringed.

“Zack,” Dad said. “Everything’s going to be exactly as it is now. Except we’ll have another family member…a little sister. Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah, great,” I said. “Just great.”

I decided then I wasn’t hungry for pizza.

In fact then I decided I was miserable and angry.

My buddies had had “surprises” in their families, but I knew, just knew, my parents were not like that. They were practical, almost boring. But I guessed wrong…really wrong.

For days, the topic of the “little surprise” didn’t come up, until after school and before football practice, I asked my mom. “So when is…well…she…um…going to be here?”

Mom beamed. She was eager to talk about the “blessed event.”

I was curious, that’s it, not eager, not anxious.

I just wanted to plan ahead, if you know what I mean. Put my good stuff up high, tell my buddies not to come over, figure when I needed to put ear plugs in my ears. I knew from friends that those “surprises” have big voices.

Mom and Dad didn’t say much in the weeks after our visit to Pizza Palace. Of course everyone — even me — could tell Mom had a “bun in the oven” as one of my stupid classmates said.

“Yeah,” I said, punching him in the shoulder. “Like a baby.”

I don’t know about you, but there was this moment in my life when I felt important. I never knew it was going to happen.

I was wolfing down my Cheerios, the Honey Nut kind, and mom was eating her bowl of oatmeal. Dad had left early for work. Mom reached across the table and touched my arm.

“Zack,” she said. “You’ve been the most perfect son. I couldn’t have asked the Lord for anyone better than you.”

I wondered if I was in big, I mean big, trouble. So I sat fiddling with Cheerios and glancing at Mom.

Mom started to cry.

“Oh, crap,” I thought. “They’re giving the baby my room.”

“Zack, our baby might have some problems,” Mom said, pulling a napkin to her eyes. “She might not be as perfect as you.”

Our breakfast table went silent.

I didn’t know what to say, or even do.

“We’ve decided to name our girl after your Grandma. Her name will be Amy,” Mom said.

“OK,” I thought. “So that’s it; that’s the bad part. Whew! My room was safe.”

Mom squeezed my hand tight.

And this is the moment when my life changed.

“If Amy survives, and becomes a girl. She’ll have problems…the doctor said she might have a hole in her heart…”

By then Mom was in full tears. I always hated to see her cry, but this time I couldn’t prevent mom’s tears.

“You know, Mom,” I said gulping. “She can have … um … my room if she needs it.”

Mom laughed and reached out to hug me.

“She’s gonna need a lot more than your room to survive, Zack, but you’re so wonderful to offer.”

We hugged tight.

As I headed for school, I thought, “I’d give my room, my bike, my best football. But please, God, let Amy be all right.”

The fall season flew by… I played football … even scored a touchdown … and turned 10 … got a new bike … and felt great. Mom grew bigger and bigger.

On Halloween, Dad and I gave out candy. Mom was sick. She loved Halloween and would dress up in the wildest outfits just to give out candy. She was in bed. Amy hadn’t even been born, but seemed to demand all her effort. She even quit work.

But Mom and Dad didn’t know … no one knew … that I promised myself that I’d be the best big brother any kid sister could ever ask for. Of course, I’d rather have a little brother, but that choice wasn’t mine.

Grandma Amy brought Thanksgiving dinner, with Grandpa Al. Grandma fixed a plate of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy and gave it to me.

“Bring this to your Mom,” she said.

Mom was in her bed, she was just so ill. It seemed Amy was taking away all her strength … and happiness.

Mom looked at the tray. I could tell she didn’t want to eat anything.

I said, “I brought Amy some Thanksgiving. She needs her food to be strong.”

“Zack,” Mom said, “I can always rely on you to say just the right thing.”

I sat on the bed as Mom ate a little.

She stretched her hand to mine, and bringing my hand to her belly, said, “Feel this.”

And I touched her, my kid sister. I touched Amy.

Mom rubbed my back as I sat there with my hand feeling Amy’s movements.

I was 10.

I felt important, big, older.

Chaos broke out two days before Christmas.

Amy was trying to be born.

Dad, the preparer, had all the bags ready to go, and took me to Grandma Amy’s, and sped with Mom to the hospital.

My stomach twisted and turned, worse than before a big game, or a big test.

That night, I cried like I never had before into Grandma Amy’s shoulder as she hugged me.

She rubbed my back, just as Mom had done.

I must have cried myself to sleep on the couch. Grandma Amy woke me.

“Zack,” she said softly. “We have to go; your sister has arrived.”

At the hospital, we were brought to a hall. It all smelled like medicine, and I felt afraid and a little sick.

We arrived at a window. On the other side was a room of babies in plastic boxes. They all had tubes into them with machines nearby.

Amy was one of those babies.

“That’s your sister,” Grandma Amy said, pointing to Amy, a little, skinny thing. Only her little belly moved; she was so small.

“Do all those tubes hurt her?” I asked Grandma Amy.

“No, dear,” Grandma Amy said, “She’s on medicine.”

I stood there not knowing what to say, or do.

I thought, “But what about me? I feel.”

She was small and frail and all I could do was look at her through glass.

I was 10.

The weeks stretched into months. Amy had times where she almost didn’t live. Christmas came and went. We spent more time at the hospital than at home. Mom and Dad seemed so tired. Even Grandma Amy didn’t bake her chocolate chip cookies. She stayed at our house all the time. Grandpa Al came and fixed things and put up the tree and lights, and came to my games. I knew our lives were changed forever. And, yet, I didn’t know what to do. I felt obligated to do something. But what? I was only ten.

Amy came home in a small bed that Dad carried. It was in March, three months after she was born … three months in the hospital … three months of operations to fix her heart. Amy didn’t take over my room. She had a space in Mom’s and Dad’s bedroom with a special monitor that alerted them if she was in trouble.

Stupid me, I thought Amy would lie there forever.


She grew; she moved; she crawled; she walked; she drooled; she ate … a lot.

And I grew … and ate … a lot.

I played baseball and later football, and Dad came to as many games as he could. Mom was devoted to Amy.

But I decided that was OK.

I was doing well at school, and the guys liked me. I was a good football player, too. I was fast, so they made me a running back. I flew, and scored touchdowns. Each time I spiked the ball, I said, “For Amy.”

I never told Mom and Dad I did that. I don’t know why. But I wanted to do something important for Amy. I couldn’t fix the hole in her heart, but I could score a touchdown.

I was 13 then; Amy was 3. I helped Dad decorate the Christmas tree. Amy sucked the ornaments. I laughed. Dad laughed. Amy laughed. We finished the tree, and Dad turned on the lights.

“Wow!” I said, “Dad, you outdid yourself. We can’t even see the tree.”

Dad said, “That’s the point, Son. It’s about the lights and the ornaments.”

Mom shot out, “And Jesus…”

Mom continually reminded us that Amy was a gift from the Lord.

Amy needed a lot of attention. Mom and Dad took her to doctors all the time; some of them were many miles away. I stayed with Grandma Amy. I usually hung out in the little room Grandma Amy made for me.

I never told anyone that in those days I actually liked Amy. I used to slip into her room and make faces at her, and she’d giggle. She’d wrap her little fingers around mine, and cling tight. I can’t really explain how I felt for her, but I did. I felt she was … well important.

I was 13, but then what did I know?

I returned home after football practice, and Grandpa Al was there. He never was there.

“Gone to the hospital,” he said matter-of-factly. “Amy’s got problems.”

I shot my questions at Grandpa Al: “What? What problems? Where?”

Then I ordered, “Take me to them! Take me to Amy!”

As Grandpa Al’s pickup truck rumbled down the road to the hospital, he said in a calm voice, “Now Zack, your sister’s been mighty sick. Don’t expect much.”

We arrived at the hospital; it was decked out for Christmas, with lighted trees and garland. Some of the staff wore reindeer horns. The smell of pumpkin candles was in the air, masking the smell of antiseptic wash and other hospital smells. I had become accustomed to those smells.

I was there before…when Amy was born, when I worried if she’d take over my room. And, I was there when Amy needed her second, and third, and fourth operations. I’m not sure how she kept going … or why. In football, I’ve been hit, bit, poked in the eye, and kept going. Maybe that’s why. Because there wasn’t any other option, except quit.

And here I was twisted with the fear that she might die.

I saw Mom and Dad, and they looked grim.

Maybe, I thought, the hole in her heart expanded. Maybe she needed another heart. Maybe I didn’t do enough to help her. Maybe I should have given her my heart. I stood there not knowing what to do.

Grandpa Al put his arm around my shoulder and we sat down.

“Zack,” he said. “Amy is in the operating room; all we can do is wait … and pray.”

Dad arrived in the waiting room; he tried not to look afraid, but I knew. I was afraid, too.

The night dragged on and on.

I tried to stay awake, but fell asleep across two visitor chairs.

Dad shook me awake.

“Zack! Zack!”

I was barely able to move, my backbone and legs were twisted, and everything hurt.

“Amy? How’s Amy?”

Dad said, “c’mon with me, Son.”

I thought to myself, “What a stupid idiot! I fell asleep. And Amy … Amy …”

We walked into her room. I pulled my gut tight, fearing that Amy was …



She was not only awake but smiling … and at me.

“The doctor sewed up the hole and repaired the damage … for now,” Dad said.

The words “for now” rattled in my head like the clapper of a bell.

“So, is that ‘for now’ now, or ‘later’ now?” I asked.

“We don’t know, Zack,” Dad said, “The doctor said she’s lucky to have lived so long.”

Amy lived to “later now.”

Amy showed us all. She became a Little Sprite cheerleader, and danced as a toy in The Nutcracker.

She’d come into my room, and sometimes I wanted to tell her to go “talk to Mom” or “talk to Dad.” But I remembered what Dad said … “for now.”

She’d draw these nice pictures … of sunsets, balloons, me throwing a ball … and give them to me.

I never could get up the courage to ask her about all the operations, all the times she spent in the hospital, all the days in bed. And she never told me. We both knew.

When I was 16 and Amy was six, and our team had won the first playoff football game, and I waved at Amy in the stands with Mom and Dad, and I felt wonderful, I realized then I had grown up.

At our Thanksgiving table, we thanked the Lord for blessing our family, especially Amy, and prayed for a successful playoff season.

A week later, we were back in the hospital.

“For now…” became “now.”

The doctor said a part of Amy’s heart stopped; they were searching for a donor heart … from a child whose life had ended to save Amy’s.

I felt helpless and afraid, as if I was in a room with the walls and ceiling closing in.

This time I vowed to stay awake the whole night.

Yeah, you guessed it.

I fell asleep, again stretched over chairs.

“Zack! Zack!” my Dad said, shaking me awake.

“You fell asleep again,” he said with a tone of anger in his voice.

I glumly said, “Sorry, Dad. How’s Amy?”

He said, “The doctor’s coming out of surgery in a few minutes.”

Dad looked horrid, as if there was nothing left of him inside.

He had worked one, two and sometimes three jobs to keep us in school, in clothes, in food, in financial stability, while Mom tended to Amy.

And I fell asleep; the best I could do was to stay awake, and I didn’t.

“I need to pray. I need to cry,” I thought to myself. “I need to run away.”

I prayed, and then shot my head up as the doctor swung through the big operating room doors.

My family stood up; Dad gripped my hand. Mom came out crying.

I fell to my knees, and began weeping.

My kid sister…the one I denied my room…who I complained was getting too much attention…the one who made me laugh…the one now who I can’t live without…

I felt my life end at that moment…how could I go on? How could I ever face myself in the mirror? How could I ever…

The doctor hugged my mother, and then my father. I was still on my knees.

The room erupted in cries and tears; mine were huge and fell on the floor of the waiting room, next to the chair where I fell asleep.

I tossed some undies in my bag, and grabbed my laptop.

I looked around my dorm.

“Man,” my roommate said. “We killed the first semester of college. Merry Christmas, buddy.”

I was 19, headed home for Christmas, leaving behind college and the place that had become my refuge.

“Crap,” I said. “Almost forgot to grab the picture of my kid sister.”

My roommate said, “Yeah, you talked about her a lot … musta been a lot of love there.”

I wiped a tear from my eye as I slipped Amy’s picture into my laptop bag.

“More than you’ll know.”

He slapped me on the back. Merry Christmas.

I said “Merry….”


I looked down at my phone at the text coming in.

“Hah!” I said laughing. “She wants me home ASAP.”

“Your girl?” he asked.

“No, my kid sister. She’s dancing tonight in ‘The Nutcracker.’ She reserved a front row seat for me. She’s a real trooper.”

“See ya, Zack,” my roommate said. “Merry Christmas.”

I closed my dorm room door; I had survived my first semester in college, and Amy had survived a lifetime of medical terror… “for now.”

On the elevator, alone, I peeked into my laptop bag and pulled out her picture.

“Oh, yeah, kid sister, I’ll be there. And this time I won’t fall asleep.”