(Sorry for being away for so long, life kinda gets in the way of practicing our craft, but here is a seasonally appropriate short, if not a little depressing.)
Hectic, this was the only word she could find to describe the holiday season. Hectic. She bent and picked up a wayward Teddy Bear from the floor in the hallway. Kids home for their holidays, grandkids…..
She paused and looked down at the dark beaded eyes of the bear as it stared blankly back at her, its little mouth in an upside down U, as if the person who sewed it had gotten it wrong. “Sad looking little thing,” she said to the hallway. She turned it over and was struck again by the thought, “Grandkids!” She giggled softly to herself in disbelief, “Where has the time gone? Was it not just yesterday I was picking up Tom’s teddy bears…and now he’s a Dad.” Her mind flooded with images of a little red-haired, green-eyed boy standing defiant at the top of the stairwell screaming. Sitting in a puddle of mud. Smiling up lovingly at her as he handed her the last shreds of her dissertation saying proudly, “Flower”. She shook her head, bringing herself out of her reverie. Her son now had those same little green eyes smiling up lovingly at him. She pulled the bear to her nose and inhaled deeply. The soft scent of baby powder and soap filled her nostrils. She smiled again and absently tossed the bear onto the nearby hall table.
She turned and faced the livingroom. Instantly her nerves got the best of her again. Hectic. Breakfast had been a jumble of people scrambling for space. Toys were strewn across the floor. She could feel each nerve firing, sending tiny jolts of energy down her arms making them tingle as she thought about breakfast. She sighed and leaned back against the wall hugging herself and rocking just ever so slightly. The volume had been deafening. Eight people all trying to talk at once, babies screaming to be fed, toddlers screaming simply to test their lungs and cellular phones ringing almost constantly. When had the world decided that each person needed their own phone? And most certainly, when did it just become normal to answer it whenever it rings??? People having conversations with other people and not talking to one another, simply sharing space and food, while constantly bumping into one another.
“Uggh.” She placed her hand on her forehead and closed her eyes, relishing the silence of her home, “just you and me again, the storm’s moved out for the short-term. We’ll get through it honey, we always do.” She said to the hallway. A vibration on her hip startled her and she jumped. “Oh for Heaven’s sake!” she cried laughing at herself as she reached down and scooped from her front pocket the new cell phone the kids had given her. “Hello?” There was no response. She jumped again as the phone vibrated in her hand. “For cryin’ out loud, how does this shiny little thing work?” She pushed a random button and placed the phone again to her ear, “Hello?”
“Oh Hi, Ma!” It was her oldest, Sandy. “Jeff and I are taking the boys ice skating at the pond this afternoon with Jen and her kids, is it okay if they stop in for a short visit afterward? I mean, I don’t want to put you out or anything, but, it’s just, we haven’t seen each other in a whole year and well, her kids are so great……and Ma, you’re gonna love her new little guy….” What could she say? No? Her kids only come home once a year and catching up means catching up with EVERYONE in the old neighbourhood……but she was just so tired these days and having this rumpus in her house was exhausting her even more so this year. “Uh, honey, I thought maybe it could be just us, you know, the family for a change, or, at least for one evening while you’re all here…..”, there was a short pause before she heard, “Oh Ma, you worry too much, it’ll only be an hour, I promise, you’ll love it.” and before she could say anything else, there was silence. “No one says goodbye anymore?” she shook her head exasperated as she stared at the little red phone in her hand.
Railroaded. When did she allow her kids to start railroading her like this? Maybe it’d always been this way, Sandy had always been stubborn, sort of like Tom. Older child and youngest child, both born with a blue streak a mile wide. Defiant as the day they were born and stubborn as mules, she guessed they’d always just gotten their way. She sighed and slid the phone back into her pocket. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever get used to that little thing, no matter how shiny and ‘smart’ they said it was. Talking without sitting down and enjoying the conversation? The world was a mighty busier place than she’d ever imagined it could be.
She made her way into the livingroom and wondered aloud, “Should I even bother picking up this mess? It’ll all be back again in a second after they get back from town.” Her oldest had three-year old twins. Her youngest had a 14 month old toddler and a five month old. Her middle child, Darren had an adopted 6 month old daughter from Yugoslavia or some foreign land, she wasn’t exactly sure which but his partner had picked the child specifically for its background, stating that he wanted a child with “striking good looks”. She huffed at the memory. Then there was Charles. She wasn’t exactly sure what Charles was, a sort of wayward young man who Darren and Steve had taken in? He was 20 years old. An adult. A little too old to be their child, but young enough……she hoped he wasn’t taking part in any………….well, she put that thought away. It was hard enough to think of her son being sexual with another man, but some of the stories she’d heard about these so-called “open relationships” that were the new fad. She shook her head, she just didn’t want to think of it. Charles seemed a sweet young man, hardly seemed gay at all, very attentive to her, but the three of those boys were tied at the hip….
She sighed again audibly and bent forward to pick up a red plastic fire engine that roared to life the instant she lifted it. Noise. People seemed to thrive on noise these days. What ever happened to quiet time? Did anyone ever just sit, relax and enjoy anything anymore? She straightened up and felt a slight twinge in her back. She tossed the little red fire engine into a nearby quilted bag and her hands went automatically to cradle her lower back. She gazed around at the some 10 or 12 brightly colored plastic pieces dotting the livingroom floor and thought better of it. Her jaw felt like it was clenched. Cleaning up this mess just instantly seemed overwhelming and not worth the effort. She made her way toward the back of the house where her rocking chair was. As cliché as it was, Old Woman in a Rocking Chair, she had one and right now she needed it.
She sat down with another sigh, her lower back instantly thanking her. She looked out the back window and began to rock. She could see out over to the hill in the neighbours field, a few crows took flight amid the sparse sprigs of straw sticking up out of the snow and flew in an arc toward the thin stand of trees separating the properties. She remembered as a young mother, taking her children on sledding trips into that same field. The fun they used to have trudging through the snow, she pulling her young ones behind her on the toboggan as they cheered and ate snow from their mittens. She smiled. She felt a slight catch of her breath and a sharp lightning pain in her chest. Where did the time go? She closed her eyes against the pain. The bittersweetness of that memory felt like it was literally breaking her heart. They were so small, so happy, so innocent. A tear formed in the corner of her eye and streaked across her cheek. She loved them so much. She did so much to make sure they had a good and well-adjusted life after their Dad passed. He’d always cut across the field in winter, taking the short cut across the pond, but in winter a pond is an unforgiving place. She placed a hand to her head, forcing herself to take a deep breath against the heartache.
Just then she could hear in her mind, little Tommy asking her, “Where Dadda?” and her mind showed her an image of a handsome young man in a black winter coat, open at the waist, with his brown scarf and big woolen sweater coming across the hill in the distance, waving at her. She opened her eyes and stared out the window toward the hill. There was a figure there, on the hill! She blinked her eyes hard in an attempt to refocus. There he was. She squinted. “Alec?” She whispered aloud as she leaned forward toward the window. “No, it’s not….” The man in the distance was waving at her just as her young husband had always done. She raised her hand to wave back. “Alec…!?” She stood up from her chair and made her way out onto the back porch. She hardly felt the snow on her stocking clad feet. In the distance she heard a faint call, “Elllaaaaa!” Tears flowed readily from her eyes now, her heart skipped and she called back in a weak voice, “Alec!! Is it really you? Alec!” Before she realized it, she was running into the snow making her way across the yard toward the property line. The man in the distance began to crest the hill and run toward her calling her name, “Ella!”
It was cold out today, she remembered she had told the kids to bundle up the babies because precious skin could freeze so easily. Scarves, hats, snowsuits, wrapping blankets, these country winds could really get you but as she ran through the knee-deep snow she hardly felt winded, let alone cold. She looked worried at her hands, she had forgotten her coat, her mitts. She stopped running and stared at her hands. They weren’t cold at all.
“Elllaaaaa!” She heard him again, nearer this time. Her heart leapt and drew her attention into the field again, “Alec!” she shouted back. He was standing not more than a few hundred yards away at the fence, she was overcome with how much she had missed that face, that smile; he waved at her laughing. She began to run again, and if it was all a mysterious dream, she didn’t want it to end. She slowed her running as she got to the fence and said in a breathless voice, “Alec? Is it really you? Just look at you, you’re so handsome. Oh, I’ve missed you my Alec.” The young man had tears streaming down his face as he held out his arms to her, “I’ve missed you, I’ve been waiting here for you for so long. My Ella.” She rushed to his arms and her heart soared as she felt his arms surround her tightly. In a motion that seemed unreal, he pulled her over the fence with him and spun her around in a circle, “You’re beautiful my love.” He whispered beaming at her as he put her back on her feet. She swatted him lovingly, “Oh pish, you, making an old woman feel young again. Oh Alec, I don’t want to wake up from this dream.” She hugged him to her again. Her hands seemed odd. Her body felt odd. She pulled away from him and looked down at her hands – not a wrinkle in the skin. She frowned, puzzled. Alec grabbed her hands and kissed her fingers, “Don’t wake up.” He said, “Stay with me, I have so much to show you, love, stay with me.” She smiled again, overcome by his stunning blue eyes, “Show me then” she teased. The young man wrapped his arm around her waist and began to steer her toward the hill holding her close. He glanced back quickly over his shoulder toward the house and when he turned back she noticed his face seemed so contented. His arm squeezed her just ever so slightly tighter to him.
She smiled at him, she was curious. She twisted her neck to gaze back as he had done and she suddenly pulled away from him and stopped walking. There in the distance was the light blue farmhouse, frost framed the back window which was lit brightly from within and shapes were moving frantically about inside. She could just make out Tom’s car in the driveway, and the flash of the ambulance lights bounced off the newly fallen snow in blue and red sparkles of light. Her hands went to her mouth to stifle a scream. Alec again moved close and put an arm around her waist, pulling her close, “Don’t wake up my love, please, I’ve waited so long. Don’t wake up.” She looked up at him afraid and he bent toward her and kissed the tip of her nose, “I’ve waited so long for you.” He whispered. She took a deep breath in, savouring the smell of him and she closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around him, “Never, I’ll never wake up, love, never again if I can stay with you.” He smiled down at her. She leaned her head against his shoulder and they continued together over the crest of the hill.