Friday, December 16, 2011

*The Best Christmas Eve Ever--Part One"

It was snowing for real now. Cottonballs from the sky. I sprinted over to Dart Drug for a bag of kitty litter—emergency traction for the car, just in case. Back at the apartment I filled my Jazzercise water bottle and grabbed a Snickers bar—emergency sustenance for my stomach, just in case. In my bedroom I threw my afghan over my shoulder—the one Mom made me when she learned to crochet.
            “That should be good,” I told the door as I locked it.
            Back outside my breath came out in little cloudy mushrooms as I scraped and brushed ice and snow off my blue Toyota. As I waited for the windshield to defrost, I examined the blackened palms of my French’s Mustard yellow gloves. They’re wrecked. My mouth pulled to the side for a moment, then up into a grin. There’s always after Christmas sales.

            “Sis, it’s me. I’m here in D.C.,” my brother had said when he called.
            “Since when?”
            “I took the train from Charlottesville this morning. Thought I’d come up and surprise Amy and her family.”
            “Oh.” So you won’t be alone on Christmas Eve.
            “They want you to come out,” he said. “Amy’s family says no one should be alone on Christmas Eve.”
            I looked up at my bangs. “They said that?”
            “Yeah. I’m going to put Amy on. Get a pen and paper. She’ll give you directions.”

The Toyota crept from Route 50 to the Beltway. Past Fair Oaks Mall, then to an exit. Further still. I glanced in my rearview mirror. All I could see were the parallel black lines my Toyota tires had carved in the pillowy snow.
            “Usually I’m scared to drive when it’s like this,” I said to no one. “But that’s when I’m going to work. This is different.”
            I was headed for Christmas in the country. Surely, a country Christmas would be different. Better.
            I checked my odometer and slowed down. The turn should be— Oh, there it was. The private road wasn’t paved but it had been scraped recently. Bet they have a John Deere something or other for times like this.
            I cracked the window so I could hear the silence. Country silence is quieter than city silence. I imagined the world wrapped in Santa’s beard or in the wool of one of the sheep in the Christmas story.
            I shivered. Rolled up the window. The road seemed to go on forever.
            “Am I lost?” I asked the windshield. “Maybe I took a wrong turn. But—”
            Then I saw the light or rather, the lights. Dim golden polka dots lined both sides of the road up ahead. I pulled over. To see what exactly would make that kind of glow. My boots made a squawnky sound on the packed surface. The light, I discovered, came from deep bowls made of ice. Someone had snuggled them down into the knee-deep snow, about one every ten feet. Each bowl held a creamy, chubby pillar candle. The flames shimmied and bowed in the snow sequined night.
            I stood and peered up the road. Where did that come from? At the top of the hill was a house, grand and lovely. Greenery and a red bow adorned the outside of every window. A candle flickered on the inside of each as well.
            I decided to walk the rest of the way so my tire tracks wouldn’t defile the perfect snow in front of their house. Before I set out, I brushed the snow from my pants and tucked them inside my boots. Puckered my lips and applied Cherries in the Snow lipstick. I flipped up the velvet collar of my dress coat to keep the back of my neck warm, plunged my hands deep in my pockets, and headed up the hill.
            As I neared the house, my brow scrunched. I’ve seen this place before. Then I remembered where. The scene reminded me of a snow globe I’d purchased at the Christmas Shop in Manteo, North Carolina. I smiled, at the thought of the Outer Banks. And summertime.
            When I was about fifty yards from the house, I stopped. Watched the plume of my breath appear every thirty seconds or so.
            “What are you waiting for?” I asked the night. After a few minutes, it occurred to me I was wanting someone, the family who lived on top of the hill maybe, to lift the edge of the glass dome and let me in. Into their world.
            I was twenty feet from the porch when the front door opened. The silhouettes of my brother and a young woman filled the doorway. His buzz cut and her mass of flame-colored waves were backlit. I don’t know why, but I didn’t say a word. I hung back in the shadows by the side of the road watching them.
            “She’s here! She’s here!” I heard Amy say. “Her car’s out there. But where’s she?”
            “Hallo!” my brother called.
            “Hallo!” the echoes multiplied through the woods behind the house.
            I stepped into the porch light shine and waved. “Merry Christmas!” I said. My greeting went far, in every direction, in the navy night.
            Amy waved excitedly like it would bring me to her faster. I climbed the steps and she threw her arms around me while I was stomping the snow off my boots.
            “I’m Amy,” she said. “Merry Christmas to you!”
            I smiled into her hair. I’ve never met you, but you sure do seem to like me.
            Inside the front door, my brother lifted me in a bear hug. Beside him, Amy counted on her fingers.
            “Coat, slippers, cocoa.”
            I tilted my head. “Hunh?”
            She spoke slower. “Give John your coat. Change into slippers. Get cocoa from my mom.”
            I handed my brother my coat. Added my boots to the line against the wall. There was a basket of slippers, all colors and sizes, tags still on, behind the door.
            I stooped. “I’ll take . . . fuzzy and red, size small.”
            When I straightened, John and Amy had disappeared and there was Mom.
            “You’re beautiful,” came out of my mouth before I could stop it. Amy looks just like you.
            “And you,” she said, as she pressed an oversized mug into my hands.
            I stuck my nose close to the marshmallows and felt steam collect on my cheeks. I lifted my chin but kept my eyes closed. I inhaled.
            “What do you smell?” Mom said.
            My face squinched in concentration. “A peppermint at the bottom of the cocoa. Pine. A wood fire. Paperwhites. Wassail maybe? Or are there oranges studded with cloves?”
            I opened my eyes. She was still smiling. “You should be a sommelier.”
            “A some of what?”
            She chuckled and tucked her arm inside mine. “A sommelier—sort of a wine expert,” she said. “You have an excellent nose.”
            We walked down the central hallway. Suddenly she stopped and turned to face me.
            “Where are my manners?” she said. She rested her hands on my shoulders and kissed the air beside each of my ears. I caught a waft of her perfume—peonies and vanilla maybe.
            “Welcome, and Merry Christmas, dear.”
            I peeked into a room. “Where is everyone?”
            “You mean, your brother? And Amy?” she said. “Probably under the mistletoe somewhere. We’ll find them. Sooner or later. Would you like a tour?”
            I nodded, my eyes huge. “Yes, please!”


Catherine said...

The imagery in this story is just exquisite, Diane. And who doesn't love a happy ending at Christmastime?

Janet, said...

Hi Diane! I loved your story, you have a way with words. Merry Christmas!

writingdianet said...

@ Catherine and Janet--Thanks so much, friends! Glad you liked it. There's one more to this story so stay tuned:)

Sara said...

What a perfect Christmas read. I loved this story. It was simple, but complex and went down as smoothly as a excellent wine:~)

Merry Christmas and may your new year be full of new characters, new adventures and lots of stories to share.

lindy said...

Ohhh! This is wonderful! I felt just like I was there with her. I found myself struck with sadness, hope and joy. Sad that she was alone at the holidays, hopeful that she find her family in that picturesque winter wonderland you so beautifully painted, and happy when she not only found her destination, but was so warmly welcomed. Can't wait for the next installment--thanks so much for the warm and fuzzies!!:)


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