top of page
  • Writer's pictureTim McDonald

Middle Class Christmas

The hills of home were hewn with gray—gray, gray, gray—haunting gray. Their house stood silent, still, upon the hill—it never sold—perhaps because my parents had taken their own lives, each with a .22 pistol, facing each other, cross-legged in the living room with blinds closed, two years ago.  

I received a letter.  

The night’s darkness deepened this drowning feeling, this sinking, gloomy feeling, like crows watching from overhead singing eerie dirges—this air of imminent death. I went home to fulfill a promise, one so black and twisted it remained to be seen if I could do what those before me did in their darkest hour.  

It was Christmas Eve and in the black of the night, I went to the canyon—and trepidation crept up, crept up, crept up. The canyon, caustic like his own cancerous mind, cascaded down, down, down to a river beyond their house, the river wherein we used to play. I saw him standing statuesque on the old wooden bridge, motionless, poised to fall. How could I forget his blackness—boots, pants, coat—his heart reached out to me, corrupting all my thoughts. 

I went to him. 

“You got the letter,” he said, his voice raspy as if he hadn’t spoken for some time. “Yes,” I responded robotically. 

“Then we’ll do it in the house.”

“Yes,” I whispered. I remembered when we had been in foul moods; for months we were in foul moods. If we had ever seen too much, done too much…and now my parent’s demons were out to destroy. 

We scaled the canyon walls wading through the sagebrush as one wades through the people at an airport. Every sensation from the touch of the harsh brush to the burning of my thighs was distinct and powerful—these moments, these thoughts, these feelings were our last. I was a few short steps back from him, my stomach twisting and turning as do the pigs being lead to the slaughterhouse. I thought of what comes next: green, gorgeous fields, a white house with a woman, one who loves and loves to be loved, waiting, just waiting for me. He and I would be together as we envisioned as youths: grow up, live together, play video games at night and program games during the day— and our wives would play too and love us, but that could not happen in this world, not anymore. 

We reached their house, and my legs, bloated and full of trepidation as if it were served gratuitously at dinner, stopped and my mind froze. Their house stood before me like the closed coffin that it was. 

“There’s no going back now,” he said. “We promised each other, and we have nothing left.” 

What did I have? For months I had no doubts. The marriage had collapsed; the divorce was finalized. She now wanted nothing of me, and I couldn’t live without her. She had stayed with me as long as she could, but I wanted the impossible: the wife, asleep in bed, waiting with open arms after I took a night of sexual reveling with the bar floozies and ex-girlfriends. I wanted the days with her and the nights with them. And the day she had said she was through, I had thought then she would be back. I was her world. But I was not her world; and she never came back.  

I went into the house and it reeked of decay; the dust of two years' time unsettled with the door opening wide. The house was dead and there was dread—dread engulfed my every sense, my skin hairs prickled up and my heart beat to the beat of the drum—ba beat, ba-beat, ba-beat, ba-beat, ba-beat, ba-beat— 

—And it was Christmas Eve! 

“We’ll sit there,” he said. 

“Where they were,” I said. I had found them Christmas morning. I had opened the door to the horrors of blood, to two visages I could only identify by the clothes they had worn. I had vomited and closed the door quickly, but the image was forever lodged—my father, slumped against the wall, cross-legged, my mother blasted to the side. 

I looked now at the floor and the walls, empty save for the dust. Who would find us, bloodied and unrecognizable? 

We sat facing each other like they did. And we each in turn pulled out the .22 pistols, those same pistols.  

“When I went to war, I thought I was fighting a global enemy,” he began. “I remember it had been a hot, hot summer day, July 14th. I was positioned in the tower. There was no fan, only a little space to move and no time to take a shit or a piss. I just had to watch.” He shook his head slowly from side to side as if what he was about to say he could scarcely believe. “It was early afternoon. I had been up there for five fucking hours. And then a little boy came out of the market and the sun lit up his face and I remember him looking right up at me. And then he walked with his eyes squinted from the sun right towards the base. I yelled for him to stop, but he didn’t. And you know what I did…? I put a bullet into his head. And you know what? There was no bomb, nothing. My first kill. It was easier after that: a woman with a strange backpack, a man wearing a cast, the list goes on. A license to kill. I had smiled at the faces of the dead. Now it’s their turn to smile.” 

And then he paused. “When the world offers you nothing…” 

“We each in turn offer nothing back,” I said.  

“Then on three,” he said. 

And then to my horror, we both put the guns to our heads, the sweat poured from my hands, my legs, my body—but he was stone, set on destruction, hollowed face, shallow voice, cold heart. But for me, the passing of passivity had begun—I remembered them, tortured minds, bullets ending everything. They left me to grieve, to wonder…

“Three, two…,” he begun. 

What had it been? Financial ruin…gambling debts, a lost mortgage, I couldn’t remember. Their credit cards had been scattered about them. They left me with their debt, their demons, but more so, questions, so many questions and no answers. I thought of her and what questions I would leave her… 


“Wait…,” I said.

He pulled the trigger. His last action: shedding the tears he couldn’t before let go, a simple movement of his finger that ended it all. 

I saw green, gorgeous fields turn to smoke, a white house turn to ash, a woman who loves and loves to be loved turn to blood, and us, I saw us—him turning down and me turning away. 

What he saw I will someday know, but what I saw, he will never know.


Tim McDonald grew up in the Pacific Northwest, went to school at Pacific Lutheran University for creative writing, and has worked in copywriting, teaching and the wine business. He currently owns and operates a small Italian restaurant in north Seattle. 


bottom of page