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The Newest Nutcracker
He awoke to tears. Not his own tears, but someone who he loved very, very much and had never seen cry before. Someone who had been there since the morning he was born, a morning filled with cherry redness stretched across the sky.
Sitting across from him was the weeper: his mother. She had been balling all morning at the breakfast table, all due to a certain color which was missing from the family: green.
“It’s empty, all empty,” she wept before him. He didn’t think twice about putting down his spoon for his morning cereal, although he wasn’t sure if he should hug his mother or not. He was at the awkward age of 5, not knowing too much of the world, but rather only the simple things like toys, laughter, and early night stories lit by moonlight.
“We have no money,” she said simply. “Zero.”
Money? Thought the child. He couldn’t fathom what was so great about money. Why, it was mere paper colored green. Green was such a repulsive color anyway, he thought. Every time he saw the color, he was reminded of swamps and vomit.
“I don’t even have enough for…” She looked across the slanted table to her son, staring innocently back.
“No,” she said in a bold tone. “I do have enough for that.” And then she grabbed the boy’s hand and led him out the door.
Outside, white speckles blew every which way, chilling the road with an icy layer only reserved for the most durable of stone streets. She strode quickly, as quickly as one could in a blustery snow storm, ignoring the confused looks from the neighbors. The child held onto her hand and did his best to keep up with her speed, and he wondered where they were going. Hopefully not the bank, he thought.
They strode into town, weaving their way through the crooked buildings. Each one held a blazing fire seen through the windows, fires which the boy hoped would incite fears into the snow monsters and prevent them from ever returning. Old buildings leaned over him, and the town’s cathedral loomed high from across the street. Despite the blurry of snow, he thought the building had never looked better. If only he knew what the inside looked like.
The mother and the son arrived at a meek shop resting between a stout hotel and a towering office building. The boy looked at the shop’s window but only saw darkness inside. They walked in and a bell welcomed them with a small chime.
Then the boy understood.
Why, today was the 7th of December, and that meant if his addition was correct, that his birthday was only 17 days away.
Rows and rows of nutcrackers standing upon shelves awaited him. They were dressed in every outfit and color he could imagine: sailor, teacher, pirate, Eskimo, baker, and plentiful more. He always had a strong fascination with these toys, with their rounded bodies and squared mouths. They looked far from human but he thought that each one held a distinct personality, a distinct soul. And he wanted to find the right one to be his friend.
She bent to his ear, admired his astonished face, and whispered: “Happy early birthday, son. Choose any one you want.”
And so the search began. Once he delved into the labyrinthine positioned shelves, he saw a nutcracker dressed as dog (which somewhat scared him), one dressed as a scientist (which no doubt bored him), one dressed as a snowman (confused him), and one dressed in nothing, inducing shivers to his frail body. All while he scanned the shelves, his mother watched from afar, smiling a sad smile as only mother’s can do. He thought he saw tears but he refused to admit it; he just wanted her to be happy.
He came to the final row, in the farthest, darkest corner of the store. He walked in slowly, peering up and down, careful not to miss any nutcracker. He saw one dressed as a king and for a split second, thought that that was the one. But then one dressed as a jungle explorer caught his eye. He ran over to it and grabbed it and took a closer look. It’s attire was green, binoculars in one hand, a lavish sword in the other. He smiled and began to head back- when he saw something rather peculiar. A nutcracker on the highest shelf, dressed as a saint, blinked. The child took a few steps back to get a better view. The nutcracker stood tall and motionless. Perhaps it was only his rabid imagination, for it was always playing tricks on him. But this…this seemed too real.
And again, the nutcracker blinked. Excitement rang in his entire body and he rushed over and tried to grab it, but he was far too short.
And then, the saintly nutcracker wobbled closer to the edge of the shelf.
“My dear boy,” he whispered, in a voice as angelic as morning clouds breaking away from the sun. “Why is it that you are here alone?”
He didn’t know what to do- go tell his mother about the extraordinary thing he had found, or talk back? He bit his lip and then-
“My mother’s right over there,” he whispered back. “My birthday is soon and I’m going to get another nutcracker!”
“Another?” The wooden figure asked from above.
“Oh yes,” said the boy. “I have a big collection, probably twenty nutcrackers!”
“And what about your mother?”
The boy seemed puzzled. “My mother? Why…she has none. None at all.”
“And why not?”
“I’m not sure…she has seemed a bit sad lately….”
The nutcracker didn’t respond, so the boy asked: “What’s your name?”
“I haven’t been named yet, as I haven’t been brought to a family. It’s my dream to be set atop a fireplace and be a part of the Christmas celebration everyone holds so dear. And yet…here I rest, wooden, stale, and alone.”
“I can buy you! I have yet to buy…whatever it is that you are.” He said, looking questionably at the nutcracker’s unfamiliar attire.
“But what about your mother? You said she has been distressed?”
“Yes, she said something about money.”
The nutcracker closed his eyes.
The boy’s eyes, on the other hand, were wide with fascination.
“Well,” the nutcracker continued, “why don’t you choose a nutcracker for her to keep? A nutcracker that will mean something very, very special to her…a gift from her son.”
He nearly became eye level with the nutcracker for he had jumped so high with pure excitement. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it! I’ve got the perfect one!”
He began to run off when the nutcracker whispered: “Wait! Wait!”
The boy wheeled back around. “Yeah?”
“You can’t leave and not tell me which nutcracker you have in mind?”
“Oh, earlier I saw a nutcracker dressed as a farmer, and for some reason, my mother has always been so keen of cows. I’m not sure why, to be honest. Their ears are always floppy and their bodies covered in splotched black dots…but who knows. So this nutcracker that I saw had a few small cows resting beside it! I know she’ll love it!”
He began to run off again, until the nutcracker whispered, “Wait, child, wait!”
He ran back once again. “Yeah?”
And then, the nutcracker’s squared mouth curved into a polished smile.
“Happy early birthday,” is what he said. And the boy, ginning with innocent happiness, ran off for the final time, to retrieve the gift for his mother.
He remembered exactly where it had been. He grabbed it off the shelf and raced to the front of the store to where his mother had been standing.
“Mom, look! Look!” He said. He pointed to the cows and noticed, on the opposite side, an orange cat perked beside the nutcracker. “It has your favorite animals on it! This is your Christmas gift!”
The boy could hardly contain himself, as he was too excited. His mother, smiling, crying, as most mother’s do at one point in their lives, could only manage to say: “I love it but I love you more.”
After making their purchase, they left the shop. The flurry of snow had worsened, but neither of them cared. They were warm with emotions, certain emotions that his mother silently promised to bring about as often as she could. Hand in hand, they strolled back home.
Once inside, she lined up all 24 nutcrackers atop the two shelves above the fireplace. The boy watched with eagerness, as he held the newest one. Smiling down at him, his mother picked him up and brought him to the empty space at the very edge of the topmost shelf. He set the newest nutcracker there, newly polished and newly loved.
The mother and son stepped back and admired their collection. Their eyes swept past each wooden figure, until they fell up on the newest one. A spark ignited within them…a spark which beckoned for them to find gratitude among their lives and all their hardships….
A spark of love that sprang from a wooden farmer nutcracker.