I was seven on the Christmas Eve my mother baked a birthday cake for Jesus. When she finished whipping the cake batter, she passed the bowl to me and I lifted shining drops of chocolate, like speckled ornaments, to my lips.
It occurred to me as my fingers lined the batter bowl that we would be the only ones to eat the cake. If he came at all to the birthday party in his honor, Jesus could only watch—and who would blow out the candle?
Christmas Eve came. Snow sparkled on our lawn and in the street and curled against our front door like a rumpled blanket until my sister and I took a shovel and scraped the snow and ice from our steps. My grandmother was too frail to walk up our icy stairs, and soon she and my grandfather would be here, bearing bags of presents. We knew already we would get pajama sets with sleeves that dangled inches past our arms. We knew there would be Barbie dolls for my sister and me, and model race cars for my brother.
Andy Williams sang “The Little Drummer Boy,” and my sister and I strained to see the brightest star flickering like a dim nightlight behind lazily drifting clouds—the star of Bethlehem burning thousands of years and thousands of miles away from that first Christmas.
After dinner, we all huddled around the kitchen table as my mother lit the candle on Jesus’ birthday cake. “Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus blew out the candle?” I announced loudly. My grandmother shushed me, and we all sang happy birthday to Baby Jesus, whose place in his cradle of straw in our family manger would not be filled until he was born on midnight, Christmas Day and my mother placed him in his crib. We sang and I silently prayed to Jesus to please come and blow out his birthday candle. I promised I would be good for the whole year if he would.
The singing stopped and we all looked at each other. My mother raised her knife to cut the cake. Suddenly the church steeple lamp next to the kitchen table started flickering, and all eyes turned toward it. “What’s wrong with it,” my mother said and her voice and the voices of the other adults seemed very far away.
A whoosh of wind burst through the living room and the Christmas garland rustled. I thought I heard the front door opening, then slamming shut. The church lamp stopped flickering and we all looked back at the birthday cake. The candle was blown out, and a long plume of black smoke rose where the flame once danced, moments earlier.
“He blew it out, he blew out the candle!” we kids exclaimed. I leaned toward the cake in awe. “No,” Mom said, “Your grandmother did it when everyone was looking at the lamp.” But my grandmother shook her head, looking as surprised as the rest of us. “It wasn’t me!” she said gruffly.
Then what about the wind and the sound of the garland, rustling? I wanted to know. “It probably fell down again,” my mother said. We all got up from the table and went to the living room. The garland had not fallen down. But it had moved. My mother had hung it over the hole in the wall separating the living room from the kitchen. We all saw that the ends of the garland now met over the doorway, framing my mother’s ceramic Jesus, smiling down at all of us. To this day, no one could explain where the wind had come from and how the garland had moved, and if my grandmother did blow out Jesus’ candle, she would never tell.
Robin Dawn Hudechek received her MFA in creative writing, poetry, from UCI. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her poems have recently appeared in Calibanonline, Silver Birch Press, Chiron Review, Poemeleon, Verse-Virtual and Then & Now: Conversations with Old Friends. In October 2015, her chapbook Ice Angels was published in IDES: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks. Robin lives in Laguna Beach with her husband, Manny, and two beautiful cats, Ashley and Misty. More of her writing can be found at https://robindawnh.wordpress.com.