Tom was sitting near the artificial Christmas tree untangling lights. As Adele squeezed by, her elbow hit a glass ornament that fell and exploded, red glass spread in an imperfect circle. This was their first Christmas in the new house they bought in Santa Barbara, their first Christmas without parents. Her father died shortly after his mother last spring, and now they had no one to visit, no one to invite.
“Oooh,” she said.
He heard her and thought, she must be bleeding. Cut. But all he saw was her looking at the shattered ornament.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“That was my dad’s.”
He tried not to sigh or say anything or make a gesture because he knew a storm might come and somehow he would be implicated by thought or deed or lack thereof. He stood and carried the lights to the kitchen table. When he came back, she was sitting beside the broken ornament, staring at it.
“Do you even miss your mother?” she asked.
He sat down across from her, counting out Mississippis. “Of course, I miss her.” And he did miss his mother decorating every room of the house with tinsel and bells and baking cheese straws, hiding them in a tin until Christmas Eve.
“Why don’t you ever talk about her?” Adele asked
“I do sometimes, but she’s gone. It always comes to that,” he said. He remembered shortening phone calls and visiting less often after his father died, leaving his mother too much to her own choices. Couldn’t understand her needs.
“Do you want to forget?” Adele asked, looking at him as if he should say something more, do something. The way he should have done something for his mother.
“Are you warm?” Tom asked. He opened the sliding glass door and picked a chocolate, the pound box on the coffee table, waiting to be emptied. He sat next to her this time. “We have our lives, you and me. We have tomorrow.”
Adele pushed the glass fragments into a neat circle, then a smaller circle, and an even smaller circle. Glass dust stuck to her fingers reflecting light.
Tom left her to get the dustpan and broom.
Chella Courington teaches writing at Santa Barbara City College. Her work appears in The Los Angeles Review, Opium Magazine, Gargoyle, The Collagist and Smokelong. In 2011 Courington published Girls & Women, a chapbook of prose poetry, and Talking Did Not Come Easily to Diana, an e-book of linked microfiction.