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The trunks arrived at the theater while Elsa was pouring her third cup of
Wakeup Wallop tea.
“To Ms. Elsavere Maxine Lord,” she read on the delivery ticket.
It was from an estate executor, the estate of “Albert and Rosalyn Tremont.”
Thrilled, dismayed, Elsa felt both, like push-pull on her brain cells. The
Tremonts were the most famous couple in Chicory, Texas, actors who’d
toured the world, leaving audiences enchanted in town after town, country after
country. Far and wide the Tremonts were known, at least by older generations.
Any acting group would be delighted to own their personal costumes and props.
Would the Chicory Lord Theater appreciate the publicity such a bequest was
certain to create? Like Santa appreciated hot cocoa and cookies on his long,
cold delivery route.
As a cofounder determined to make their tiny theater a shining star on the
Texas arts-and-entertainment map, Elsa felt her heart champing wildly: O-pen,
o-pen, open those treasure chests!
But storage was going to be a problem.
A bulky, unwieldy, elephant-sized problem. She read the delivery ticket again.
“Wait,” she told the young men wheeling in two more trunks. “Is
this right? You have twenty-two trunks to deliver?”
The taller, white-haired man, with a bushy white moustache and the bearing
of a “Mover in Charge,” glanced out the door, where a red-and-green
commercial cargo van sat parked at the curb.
“Let’s see …” He looked toward the stairs, up which
he and his helper had wrestled the four chests already unloaded. “Twenty-two
in all, so that’d make sixteen, plus these two, still to come in.”
“Oh, my. We simply don’t have the room.” Again she studied
the ticket. “Were your instructions to deliver them to the theater, specifically?
Or to me?”
“Well …” A finger aside his nose, he frowned in concentration. “They
clearly belong to you, ma’am. That’s what the attorney said who
handled the estate. This was the address on the delivery bill, but you can
take them anywhere you want.”
“I see.” Her garage would surely hold them all, if she left her
car in the driveway. Sun, hail, bird droppings … she grimaced. Yet,
there simply wasn’t room here. “I live two streets over. How much
extra would you charge to take the remainder of the trunks to my house and
unload them there?”
He nodded, clearly thinking hard about it.
“Any stairs to climb at your house?”
“Oh, no. You could back in close to the garage and unload everything.”
“No extra charge, then, ma’am.” His beaming, chubby-cheeked
smile held a sparkle of relief.
Upstairs in the prop-and-wardrobe room, Elsa poured her cold tea into a small
planter that held a Christmas cactus, to give it a morning wakeup, then lifted
the cactus out of the Styrofoam cooler that kept it dark for twelve hours a
day. She examined the bright pink buds that graced it.
“What do you think, will we have blossoms for the holiday this year?
Yes, Orson, I hear you shifting around in your urn and watching over my shoulder.” She
carried the cactus to the hall window, and set it in the filtered light of
the sill, as near to its native rainforest conditions as she could provide.
The plant was older than Elsa, passed down from Orson’s grandmother.
Her husband didn’t answer, of course, but she knew he was watching the
plant’s progression from the shelf where she had set his urn on her arrival
this morning. Christmas Eve would mark the second anniversary of Orson’s
death, yet she could hear his cheerful, husky voice as clearly at times as
if he, rather than merely a pot of ashes, were sitting above the makeup table.
He never answered inane questions, however, reserving his remarks for juicier
“Dress rehearsal tonight,” she reminded him. A local playwright
had adapted a delightful play from the ever popular but boringly stale “A
Christmas Carol.” Their new version, “Christmas with Dickens,” was
set in small-town Texas, just after World War II ended, and the script was
quite a treat. The acting, however, had yet to come together, and opening night
was only two days hence.
Elsa loved acting, as did Orson, and in the first year after he passed on,
thrusting herself into various characters’ skins seemed the only thing
holding her own fragile self together. Tonight, though, she was directing.
When this year’s fall season started, the Chicory Lord’s tenth
anniversary, everyone with directing experience was otherwise occupied, so
she stepped in. Her first time behind the curtain, rather than center stage,
she’d watched the eager and talented woman who took her place shine in
the role like never before, and realized there came a time to move back and
give newcomers the limelight.
Fifty-six seemed awfully young, though, to be outdated like a can of soup.
“Eeny, meeny, miney, moe … ” She approached the first of
the four trunks. “Orson, you know I’m hoping to find magic in one
of these chests. The theater’s wardrobe allowance has gotten pitifully
small since you left. Our leading man, in particular, could use a bit more
panache to make his role come alive.”
She pried open the brass latches with surprising ease, considering how long
the chest had probably been stored. Or had the aging performers sorted through
the contents on occasion, reminiscing with the memories they evoked? As soon
as Elsa swung the lid up, a strong odor of cedar emerged.
“Thank goodness the clothes were properly preserved. No moth holes or
“They’ll need airing,” Orson cautioned. “Nothing sours
an audience faster than stink in the air.”
“Well, of course they will!” Hearing steps approach the doorway,
Elsa glanced up. “Megan, come look at this fine suit for Fred.”
Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, was played by a young man who bagged Elsa’s
groceries each week. Megan played Anne Priestly, a young reporter who interviews
Fred, Bob Cratchit and, later, each of the Christmas ghosts, to find out why
Ebenezer suddenly turned his business over to his nephew and vanished.
“Do you think it will fit?” Megan held the pants up in front of
her, peering down to check the length. “Charlie’s awfully tall.”
Elsa wouldn’t mention it, but Charlie was the only young man in town
tall enough to perform opposite Megan, who stood five-feet-twelve in her stockings.
A grocery checker at the same store where Charlie worked, they were both taking
a year between high school and college to save up tuition.
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