The metro driver announced he would go no further, pulled to a stop and wished them all a happy holiday. Just like that. Powerless and without recourse, she stepped into the blizzard, eighteen frigid blocks from home. Snowbanks, sidewalks, yards and street merged recklessly and disappeared altogether as she trudged on, balancing precariously in the rutted and iced tire tracks. Blinded by sideways snow, she cursed the weather, the driver, her shallow breath and her waning stamina. Lawrence of Arabia gone Zhivago, Match Girl gone Engine that Could and Miles to go before I sleep. A few years ago, maybe a few minutes ago, a winter trek seemed an invigorating challenge, a magical adventure. Today in her sixties, she thought first of dying for trying, and finally ....... the Theme from Rocky!
There had been talk about not decorating this year. No one will be visiting, no Christmas Tree. No one will be here, why bother? The girl raised her eyebrows. "But you will be here!" she said. "Who is the only person who has been present at every single Christmas of your life? Don't you deserve a Christmas Tree?" She smiles at the memory of the conversation and the strength of that girl, her beautiful, strong, smart daughter. Snowed in, alone, she wanders from room to room, taking quiet pleasure in the lights, the ornaments,the tree.
She met him on her first day of college. He was a tall enough upperclassman. A smart enough fraternity guy. A conservative in hippyland. She typed his papers, ironed his shirts. He watched football. She read books. She didn't know she could dream.
Her eight year old cheeks burned with humiliation as the tiny wooden horse carts revolved on their track carrying her and five chunky toddlers each seatbelted into their own carts in a never ending circle. Her parents, standing nearby, tried to know whether to wave or just not notice while toddler parents gazed, gooed, cheered and snapped pictures for scrapbooks and grandma. She stared down at the fake reins in her hands, the too small seatbelt at her sides, unwilling, unable to meet their kind and troubled eyes. The baby ride continued traveling in agonizingly slow circles. Only child, only parents, only carnival in town.
They lived in a mansion on Lake Ontario. A cold drafty, underfurnished, stately "summer place" with four fireplaces, a butler's kitchen and a second story veranda over the water. The driveway was a quarter of a mile long. He was a very sweet man. She didn't know she should feel lucky to have found him. He filled the house with expensive Christmas gifts from well known stores. She could have seemed more grateful. She could have known there would only be so many Christmases. She could have smiled on his extravagance, wrapped her arms around him and said the right thing. What ever that was.
Through the woods to bran muffins and sparkling crystal water glasses, "spills don't matter" see-through-plastic over white linen. Flawlessly smooth cylinder cranberries on a saucer or the chunky sort-of -sour homemade ones in cutglass handed down from ancestors. You choose. Grandchildren most welcome. Dwight Eisenhower courtesy Cloverine Salve presided regally over Grandmother's perfect Thanksgiving table.
When she was eleven she was second in line for the playground drinking fountain. In front of her, Michael Alter leaned forward to get a drink. She loved Michael Alter, worshipped at the Michael Alter daily. She moved closer, heart pounding, focused only on the red and black plaid of his twelve year old back. The bell rang. End of recess. There was jostling and shoving. She felt herself propelled forward. Her face disappeared deep into the checkered wool of Michael Alter's back. Be still my heart. In slow, slow motion, Michael Alter's handsome face slammed into the metal spigot. There was blood.
We moved to a little bungalow on Baker Avenue and we met the nice single lady next door. It turned out she had a lover. He was old, had a big car and a fat ass. He came each night and left by seven in the morning. It turned out that he was someone my parents knew...because he was married to one of their friends. So we kept our shades closed on that side of the house.. and the nice lady never ever met our eyes. And my parents only whispered as if they were ashamed of themselves for knowing.
Connie was sly and sarcastic and mean. She considered herself an in-tel-lec-tual... her parents were en-gin-eers and lived in a messy house in the best part of town. She had an older sister Victoria who was a certified genius, and a big slobbery dog. She was a Unitarian, maybe the first Unitarian. Her house was lit-er-ary. The rest of us were ig-nor- ants.
On the brink of Junior High the family moved to a flat in new, big city. From her window she could see the driveway basketball court and the two fat girls shooting hoops. She went outside and smiled across the street. The two fat girls played in their driveway for seven more years - never smiling back, not even once.