Tom Mahony

He heard a knock on the front door as he watched the football game in the back den with his wife.

She smiled. "The Christmas carolers are here."

"Don't worry," he said. "I knew they were coming, so I dimmed the lights in the front room and turned the game on back here. They won't even know we're home."

"Why would you do that?"

"Because it's awkward and borderline tortuous to stand on the porch listening to endless out-of-tune singing and in-your-face jolliness. It's affecting my heart condition."

"You don't have a heart condition."

"I think I'm developing one from all this caroling. I can't be caroled anymore. I won't be. Plus, the game is tied in the fourth quarter."

She frowned. "But they're our neighbors. They do this every year."

"Exactly. That's why I'm watching the game in the den. They're great people, and I'd do just about anything for them, except listen to their singing."

"Is it really that much of a burden?"

"It's the principle."

"What principle? Being an ungrateful jerk?"

He nodded. "That's what this country was founded on. Do you know how many people have sacrificed for our right to be ungrateful jerks? The tally is staggering. You wouldn't respect me if I sacrificed my principles."

"I don't respect you that much now."

"Well, there you go. I have very little margin with you. What if I went to their house while they were caroling and demanded they turn on a football game? Do you see the principle at stake? It's about individual liberty and personal freedom."

"I thought it was about the right to be an ungrateful jerk."

"That, too." He tugged his chin in contemplation. "Wow. This is even bigger than I thought."

He heard another knock on the door, this time more insistent. These people were desperate to sing.

She stood. "Well, I'm not going to exercise my right to be an ungrateful jerk. I love carolers. But they'll know we're together on Christmas. Where should I tell them you are?"

"Tell them I sprained my back and can't get up."

She shrugged and walked away. As he watched the game, reveling in his peculiar genius, a stream of carolers entered the room.

"I told them about your sprained back," she said. "They volunteered to come inside and sing extra songs to help you heal." She smirked. "Isn't that nice of them?"

She reached over and turned off the television just as the game went into overtime. The carolers started singing. He forced a smile. They sang louder, drunk on Christmas spirit.

Tom Mahony is a biological consultant in California with an M.S. degree from Humboldt State University. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in dozens of online and print publications. His first novel, Imperfect Solitude, is forthcoming from Casperian Books on December 1, 2010. Visit him at