Christmas Scene #2
Home at Christmastime, with the big old light strand around the roof and the white fake tree over-loaded with vintage ornaments passed down generations. The sticky Santa scenes on the windows. Every surface decorated with some kind of holiday knick-knack.
The tension finally uncoiled in my belly. I patted the three-foot light-up Frosty the Snowman on the head as I neared the front door. I was going to ring the bell, just to see her face, when she opened the door.
“Merry Christmas, Mom.” I dropped my bag and hugged her. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine. It’s been a good month.”
“You look a little tired.”
“Oh, I just stayed up too late watchin’ a movie. Look at how long your hair is!” We moved inside and she shut the door.
“Yeah, I was hoping you could trim it while I’m here.”
“Sure, sure. So, how’s college?”
The living room smelled like pine and cinnamon. Mom had been in the scented candles again. “Oh, you know. Busy. Academic. Amelia says hello.”
“I wish you could study full time, honey. You’d be halfway to your degree by now.”
I put my duffle in my room. “Maybe, but I like my job. How’s the diner? You lettin’ your managers help out?”
“Yes, Della. I follow doctor’s orders. You hungry?”
I’d been looking forward to her cooking for weeks. “I could eat.”
She grinned. “I’m sure I’ve got somethin’ quick… Any special people in your life?” she asked, her head in the refrigerator. Everybody’s heard about small town gossip. The queen of it stood right in this kitchen. Mama heard everybody’s stories in the diner.
“Quit fishin’. You know I’m in no hurry to add a man to my life.”
She put a ham steak in the microwave to reheat. “Sweetie, you’re almost twenty. I’d already had you by that age. Would it really hurt to bring home a boyfriend before I’m old and gray?”
“Della, I just don’t want you to be alone. Travelin’ everywhere… I worry.”
I squeezed her hand. It was cold. “I know. But I’m fine, really. I’m doin’ good, helpin’ the world.”
“That reminds me—we took another collection at church for your organization for Christmas.”
“Aww, you didn’t have to do that…”
She pressed an envelope into my hand. “Aid organizations always need funds. Don’t argue with your mother.”
I smiled. “Yes, ma’am.” It would go right back into the fund that paid her medical bills.
Mom used a Santa oven mitt to remove the hot plate. “Cider?”
“After your snack, we’ll head over to the diner to show folks you’re home.”
“I just got home, Mom. Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”
She pouted. “Well, I s’pose so, but they’d be so happy to see you, Della! The gals live for your stories of far-off places. Most of us don’t get further than Oklahoma City, you know.”
“Yes, I know, Mama, and I will share. But not today. I wanna sit on the couch and do nothin’ but watch movies and eat your famous cookies.”
She sighed. “Very well…go sit, eat.”
“Just glad you’re home, baby.”
My bedroom hadn’t changed since I was sixteen due to me not being home much, so it felt kinda juvenile to me now. Time to take down the Britney Spears poster on the back of my door. It was obvious Mom kept the room spotless, and I felt another pang of guilt for not being here. The room existed as a shrine to an innocent girl that no longer existed.
I couldn’t tell her that, of course. If I’d merely grown up and moved out, she could turn the room into a guest room, but I didn’t. Hadn’t. Keeping my room as it was probably held both of us in the past.
Gee, gloomy enough, Della? Get a grip. It’s Christmas, for goodness sake.
The next day, Christmas Eve, we visited our friends, Mom with plates of cookies. She must’ve been baking for a whole week. We’d be at my cousins’ tomorrow for supper, so tonight was only us. After fried chicken and apple pie, we sat in front of the tree to open one present each. I wrapped the silver brush before she got up this morning and she’d be getting it tomorrow. Tonight, I gave her a pair of earrings from Greece. I’d had them in my bag for two months.
“They’re gorgeous, Della! Tell me you didn’t spend a lot on these.”
“Mom, you shouldn’t ask how much your presents are!”
“I only want you to be wise with your money.”
“I know, but trust me, okay?”
“Of course, dear.”
I knew before I opened mine that it’d be a sweater. My Christmas Eve gift was always a sweater. Mom was the type to suggest a sweater at seventy degrees. “Thanks, Mom.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart. Don’t stay up late, now, or Santa won’t come.”
I grinned. “Okay.”
Christmas Day kept me so busy, I felt normal again. Mom loved the antique brush. There were even a few tears.
I went out with a couple high school friends two days later. Walking back home in the evening, I felt a supernatural presence. I crouched under the pretense of re-tying my shoe and reached for the stake tucked into my sock. The feeling faded and I wondered if I imagined it. Could’ve been the cold giving me goose bumps.