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(Deborah Baic)
(Deborah Baic)

Tabatha Southey

Yule never believe this story Add to ...

I used to have a neighbour who was a repository for all the world's urban legends.

Legends landed with her when they had reached their apex. Certainly one might hear a story about a couple who had five boys, tried for a girl one more time and had triplet boys. But not from Rachel. From Rachel, one would hear about a couple who had 15 boys, tried once more for a girl and who had been "surprised" with sextuplet boys, that very morning.

She was a sincere person. I'm not suggesting that she embellished these stories. It just seemed to me that after a story had wended its way through the story circuit, when it was plumped and full to bursting - when, for example, every business card ever handed out by a helpful stranger at a gas station was coated with a disorienting drug designed to make one faint at the exact moment that one pulled into one's garage - it came to Rachel.

One didn't hear from Rachel when there were alligators in the sewers. One heard from Rachel when hitherto unidentified Crocodilia poured from the faucet every time one turned the handle on the kitchen sink.

In fact, by the time the story of the 21-boy-childed family reached Rachel, all the boys had hooks for hands. Myths were archived with Rachel.

Rachel had a story about a couple who went on holiday to Florida with their two young children. They were friends of friends of Rachel's, which comprised an extraordinarily unlucky group of people. The couple met another couple with two children ("just like them," Rachel said) and, after a few afternoons by the pool, it was agreed that the couples would swap babysitting duties.

This went on for a week. One couple took the children one night; the other couple the next; and then, on the last night, her friends' friends went out for dinner and then dancing and, when they came back to their hotel, the other couple and all of the children were gone.

You'll note that Evil Couple took full advantage of all the free babysitting first. Just the worst kind of criminals. And also that the good couple had gone too far that night - not just dinner, but dancing!

Rachel had a Christmas story. Likely it didn't begin life as a Christmas story, but by the time it entered Rachel's Treasury, it went like this: A divorced man was living in a motel, while his ex-wife lived in the house, with their children.

By Rachel's time, the ex-wife hadn't just met another man, nor had she just left her husband for another man, but - and I believe this was the detail, the tweak, that finally placed the story with Rachel - she had left her husband for his best friend .

As part of their "arrangement," as these things are called, the ex-husband still had to shovel the driveway at his old house. And in this story, it wasn't just winter, it was Christmas Eve. While the ex dutifully shovelled the snow as it was coming down, he looked up, said Rachel, and saw his ex-wife and his former friend, drinking champagne together and dancing, and he had a heart attack and he died.

And it kept snowing and they never found him until spring.

I'll admit this was my favourite of Rachel's stories.

"But how'd they know that he saw ... ?" I gently asked.

"So tragic," interrupted Rachel.

"But didn't she run into his body when she tried to take the car out?" I asked. "Or was he shovelling the front garden? Which is called stalking."

Rachel never answered me. She just said, "So sad," lost in - well, I won't call it thought. Lost in sad.

Every Christmas now, I try to puzzle this story out on my own.

Maybe this ex-wife and her new lover were having such a good time that they never thought to leave the house until the spring, in which case, I'm sorry, more power to them.

Or perhaps (and understand that in Toronto, where all of Rachel's friends' friends lived, we seldom get more than 10 inches of snow) the ex-husband wasn't a large man - a mere hint of a snow-dune on his former front yard, really.

He was shoebox-sized, which likely made for a trying marriage, and yes, he died an ungraceful death but … No, wait, that's not true. It was a beautiful death. I love this story. It's a Christmas story. It's so very Hans Christian Andersen.

The ex-husband is there, you see, in the snow, outside the window. He's the Little Match Girl for our time.

Did he strike three matches, the Little-Match-Ex-Husband? Did he have three visions? Did his ex-wife wear red shoes? Did the bitch get up in the morning and say, "Idiot forgot to salt the steps"?

Yes, of course she did. Merry Christmas.

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey


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