The winter air ached in her throat. She pulled her scarf tighter and wished for more functional gloves. He had said these ones were delicate just like her. Leather with long barely-lined fingers. She bent them at the knuckle.
“Are you listening to me?”
“What? Sorry.” She ducked her head.
He took a deep breath and slammed the car door. “I swear I don’t know where your head is lately.” Opening the trunk, he pulled out three big red bags with white handles. They were filled with presents, glittering boxes and bags all with dangling decorative tags. Her perfect cursive handwriting covered them all. “Come on. We don’t want to be late.”
They were celebrating Christmas at his parent’s house tonight. His grandparents would be there, she loved them the most. Married for over fifty years, they had matching holiday sweaters, held hands at the dinner table, and kissed under the mistletoe.
The bottom of her boots slid on the icy sidewalk and she automatically braced one hand out and one hand to her belly. The long car ride had left her slightly queasy. “Uh huh.” She answered vaguely. He had started in on his cousin Rebecca who would be there tonight, just returned from her worldwide travel expedition on less than five thousand dollars.
He stopped to wait for her to catch up, “It’s outrageous! I could never travel that way. Can you imagine? Sleeping on dirty floors and never having a plan. I just hope she doesn’t drink too much. She always does at the holidays.”
“Maybe this year will be different.” She pictured the green tablecloth his mother would lay out, embroidered with golden snowflakes. There would be one tall white candle on either side, flickering golden light over the cranberries and fresh rolls baked from scratch. She inhaled deeply and her nose hairs froze.
They reached the top of the hill and stopped to take in the view. The city was glowing below them, the lights a flagship of life in the darkness. The moon hung in a black sky, her white orb rounding to fullness.
“I don’t know why we do this. Next year we should just go to the Bahamas. We should take a cruise. Every year it’s like they don’t even see that I’ve changed. They don’t see how successful I’ve become! I’m just the same high-school kid with big glasses.” He stood beside her but miles away. His eyes were focused on a large white sprawling home a few doors down. The outside was decorated with tasteful white icicle lights and Silent Night drifted through the doors.
She pictured the lilies she had lain on her mother’s gravestone that morning. Shivering on the hard ground and speaking into the frosted air. Palms up and open with hope. She remembered Christmases from her childhood with cans of soup and oranges. Her mother going without coffee or stockings to buy her one small toy, lovingly wrapped. Alone in the world from the time she was nineteen, his family had appealed to her as exotic animals. Large and wrapped up in each other the way only large families can be. History that spilled out in stories, gentle mocking, and a surety of roles. Ownership of their places. A sideline character, she disappeared into the furniture.
He straightened his perfect Windsor knot. They walked the rest of the way to the doorstep and stood on the mat. She saw their shoes side by side. Her shiny black boots with impractical thin heels. His heavy-soled black leather boots taking up all the space. A wreath of dark green, gold and silver hung on the red door, winter perfection in the lamplight.
“God, I just don’t want to do this again. Family. It’s so messy and complicated, I’m so glad you don’t have any. This way we only deal with one. Truly I don’t know how you’ve put up with mine all this time.” His smile was an offering, it was praise.
She felt a snowflake hit her cheek. She looked up into the sky and felt another. The wind blew her bones cold and clean. She opened her eyes and looked at him steadily. “I’m pregnant.” Her voice was bold in the quiet air. She rang the doorbell.
Savana Lee is a writer, artist, yogi and happiness seeker from Colorado. She is currently at work on her first novel.