It showed up under the Christmas tree on December nineteenth. I remember the date clearly, because it was the day my sister Holly entered hospice.
Miranda brought it to my attention. “Look, Mommy. Somebody put a bunny with horns under our tree.”
I wiped my eyes and plastered a smile on my face. At five, Miranda didn’t understand what was happening to Aunt Holly, and I wasn’t up to explaining.
She tugged me by the hand from the kitchen and into the living room, bouncing on her tippy toes the whole way.
Tucked under the tree stood a figurine poised on its tail, about eight inches from paw to antler tip. Judging by its weight, the jackalope was carved from solid turquoise, spiderwebbed throughout with copper. It was a lovely Christmas gift, and I had no idea why it wasn’t wrapped. Unless…
“Miranda.” I gave her my I-mean-business look. “Did you unwrap this?”
Her little head snapped back and forth. “It wasn’t wrapped when he put it there.”
I assumed she meant her dad, so I searched out Warren and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, sweetheart.” I nuzzled into his neck.
He brushed the hair back from my face. “I’m not sure what I did, but you’re welcome.”
“The turquoise jackalope.”
He pulled away from me. “What are you taking about?”
I explained as he followed me to the living room. We found Miranda kneeling under the Christmas watching the jackalope.
Warren sat on the ground near her and took the figurine. “Miranda, tell us about the man who brought the jackalope.”
“Not a man. An angel.”
“Is that what he told you, sweetie?” I joined Warren on the ground.
“Didn’t have to. He was big and glowy and had wings.”
Warren’s gaze met mine and he quirked an eyebrow.
I shrugged. “What did he say, Miranda?”
“He said the bunny with horns was here because Aunt Holly was leaving to be with Jesus.”
My heart seized in my chest. I was late to Holly’s. I had no time for preternatural gifts or their portents. Warren could deal with this without me.
Over the days leading up to Christmas, I spent as much time near Holly’s bedside as I could amongst meal prep, greeting family come to say good-bye, and helping Holly’s husband with funeral arrangements. Sometimes Miranda and Warren would come over and help, other times they stayed home to keep out of the way.
Each night when I arrived home to grab a few hours of sleep, I’d find the jackalope in a new location—the kitchen table, the stairs, my bathroom counter. It was a bit like Elf on the Shelf without the creativity. The night Holly lapsed into unconsciousness, the figurine crouched on my night table. Out of the corner of my eye, the jackalope seemed larger, but when I looked again, it was as I had first seen it.
The next morning, surrounded by family, Holly left us. The fragile hope I’d been holding onto, the denial I didn’t even know was there, shattered. One moment my sister was living; the next, she was not, and there was nothing I could do except stare at her breathless chest.
We held her funeral on Christmas Eve, the church decorated beautifully with poinsettias and garland. Our extended family left shortly after to make it to their homes in time for Christmas. My mind fumbled to take it all in as Warren drove us home.
The jackalope waited on the kitchen table. Miranda squealed when she saw it and took it to her room to play.
After a late night of last-minute wrapping, I curled up on the couch with my thoughts. The tree’s lights kept me company, casting a warm nimbus over the room. Memories of Holly flooded me, and with each reminder of my loss, heavy tears tumbled down my cheeks. I finally gave into my sorrow and let the sobs come.
I awoke in the wee hours of Christmas morning with scratchy eyes and a crick in my neck. The jackalope stood sentry on the coffee table. I could swear it wasn’t there earlier.
I picked it up and examined it. No markings, no date, no artist’s signature. Nothing to signify its origin. “I wish you could speak and tell me why you’re here.”
As if in answer, the jackalope warmed, no doubt from my body heat, and the weight of it in my hand was comforting. I took it with me upstairs, leaving it on my night stand, balanced on its haunches in its ever-watchful pose.
Christmas and New Year’s came and went. My heart still ached, but I did my best to keep busy until life felt normal again.
Miranda took the jackalope with her wherever she went. She’d even taken to calling it “Holly.” Each time she did so, it was like a punch in the chest, but I didn’t correct her. Everyone grieves in their own way, and who was I to begrudge my daughter the comfort of a carving, even if it was an odd plaything for a child. If an angel really had brought it, he clearly knew her likes and dislikes better than I did.
And while the jackalope was most often in Miranda’s bedroom, she left it for me to find, sometimes in the strangest places—perched in the laundry room, on the couch, on our bookshelf. It seemed whenever I felt especially sad or nostalgic, it was there.
“Miranda,” I asked her in a quiet moment, “why do you leave the jackalope in all those places for me to find?”
She looked up from the play rug next to her bed. “I don’t. I think she hops out to find you when she knows you’re sad.”
Miranda handed the figurine to me and flitted off to find her dad. The jackalope, still solid turquoise, was curled on its side asleep.
I came up with the title "The Turquoise Jackalope" for a training document, and two people then requested the story. I told them to give me a genre (fantasy) and a theme (recycle) and then I got started. Before I started writing it, I had no idea it was a Christmas story, but I guess that's what happens when you start writing on December 19th. Many thanks to Teddi Deppner for her comments and edits on "the oddest Christmas miracle I ever heard of..."
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