The Surprise Envelope

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In three days, it will be Christmas. Despite the decorations illuminating the streets, the wreaths of mistletoe attached to the doors, and the decorated trees that he glimpses through windows, Hector does not feel around him the joy and excitement of the previous years. The magic of Christmas has evaporated. The people he meets no longer smile. In a rush, they hurry from one place to another, barely muttering hello, with their heads down, their eyes staring vacantly. Even at home the atmosphere is gloomy. This morning, he was excited to decorate the tree with his mother, but as soon as they began to remove the lights from the box, the phone rang. “Go on without me, I’ll be back,” his mother said. When she hung up, the decorating was over. His older brother Yohan had been too busy with a video game to help him make little shortbread cookies shaped like moons and stars. As for his father, he broke his promise once again and didn't find time to play basketball with him.

Hector nestles under his comforter and lets out a big sigh before turning off the light.

That night, Tallulah, his Indian grandmother, comes to visit him in his dreams. She left them in the spring to join the great white falcon in the sky. In her gentle voice, she whispers: “Hector, it's up to you to reinvent the magic of Christmas. You can change things. Search in your heart and you’ll find the solution.”

When he wakes up, Hector thinks about his dream. “Reinvent the magic of Christmas,” Tallulah said. He thinks it over and jots down ideas on a sheet of paper, but crosses them out one by one. Suddenly, his face lights up.

After lunch, Hector hangs a “Do not disturb” sign on the door of his bedroom, closes the curtains, and sits down in his laboratory. This is what he calls the little corner he has set up in his room. A wooden plank across two sawhorses, a big lamp with a magnifying glass, and all the materials from the chemistry set that he got for his birthday.

All afternoon, Hector tests various combinations, seeking the magic elixir. Candy and spices that he melts in little glass bowls and mixes with plant oils that his grandmother Tallulah made. The first two tests on Zephir, the big striped cat, turn out disastrously. The first time, after sniffing the scent, the cat sneezes several times, its fur on end. At the second try, he lies down on his back with his feet in the air. Hector adjusts the quantities, replaces some ingredients with others. On the third try, he looks at Zephir and lets out a joyful shout.

Licorice, chocolate chip, cinnamon, star anise powder, three drops of Ayahuasca, a drop of the small seed of Nahele, and two drops of moonflower. He has found the magic formula!

Using colored paper that he has taken from his mother’s desk, he cuts, folds, and glues. Thirty little envelopes that are red, green, blue, yellow, or purple, and into which he has put two drops of his mixture before closing them carefully. On each one, he places a sticker he has printed out on the computer: a sketch of a little elf, with a sentence written in capital letters.

The next day, after lunch, Hector gets on his bike. Along each street in the village, he slips a colored envelope under the door of the first house, on the left side and on the right. Once his rounds are done, he goes back home. In his room, he sits down on his bed and waits. When it's 5 o’clock, he comes downstairs, checks to see that no one is looking, opens the front door noiselessly, and then, as if he had just come in, he closes the door. He waits a few seconds and calls: “Mom, Dad, Yohan, come quick!” In his hand, he holds a little red envelope.

All four of them are in the living room, staring at the envelope. The label reads: “Open as a family. After opening me, you should close me again and slip me under the door of the neighbor to your right.”

Hector’s mother opens the envelope. It exudes a scent of chocolate, spice, and incense, which spreads into the living room. For a few seconds his parents and brother stand still as stone statues, and then suddenly, they begin to move, their eyes sparkling, smiles on their lips. His father starts to dance, grabs his mother's hand, and the two of them whirl around close together while humming. Yohan lifts Hector and spins him in the air as he did when he was little.

“How about we go out on the scooters?” his mother suddenly shouts.

Hats, scarves. They rush outside. They look like four bundled-up little elves. His brother takes the red scooter, and his father the blue one.

“Come on, princess, get into my carriage.”

“Wait!” his mother says, waving the envelope.

She slips it under their neighbor’s door, rings the doorbell three times, and shouts, “Merry Christmas!” All four of them speed down the street. Both scooters slide on the snow and skid. Hector hears his parents roaring with laughter. He holds his brother tight.

Everywhere they go, the village is topsy-turvy. Hector laughs to himself. His elixir has worked. Mrs. Gari and Mrs. Dubois, who used to fight all day long, are building a giant snowman together. Wearing a big red cloak, the mailman has filled his bag with candy that he tosses to the passersby, shouting “Merry Christmas!” On Lilas Street, they’re attacked with snowballs. Grown-ups and children are all letting loose. On Cerfs Street, some people are playing hide-and-seek, while others are sledding, and still others are blowing up balloons and releasing them into the sky. Throughout the village, there wafts an aroma of hot chestnuts, crepes, and nougat. When they approach the church, the big carousel is all lit up. His father and mother rush over to the merry-go-round. Hector spots his teacher on the ride, sitting in a big fire truck. He waves to him energetically.

His brother comes back with two huge servings of cotton candy. They both sit down on the bench across from the dazzling Christmas tree. While enjoying his treat, Hector smiles. In all the eyes that meet his, there is that little spark that shines, a little spark of happiness that tastes like childhood. “Thank you, Tallulah,” he whispers quietly.

Translated by Kate Deimling


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