‘Tis the Season

Submitted into Contest #179 in response to: End your story with a kiss at midnight.... view prompt


Holiday Fiction Contemporary

Mirror mirror on the wall… Lisa swiped her hand over the steamed up glass and surveyed the reflection. This was not the face she saw in her own mind. The woman who looked back was old and tired and, was that a grey hair? She leaned in further, nose a scant few inches from the glass. Another side effect of the ageing process was an inability to perceive fine detail, perhaps it was a blessing. There they were, the fine wrinkles and silver wisps that were visible upon closer inspection. She stood back and stared at her body, grateful for the blurred edges, a combination of deteriorating vision and bathroom condensation.

She wasn’t bad to look at, she thought wryly. She had curves in the right places, and if her breasts were a little further south than they used to be, at least they were still full and rather perky… for thirty five. Oh god, she wasn’t thirty five anymore, she was… she mentally calculated - what year was it again? -shit she was nearly forty two. For fucks sake, where had her life gone?

Her hair was nice, it had been years since she had coloured it, though, and fortunately the silvers at the temple could still be considered highlights in her brown hair. She was lucky, so many women her age had to colour their greys every few weeks or they developed that skunk look, a strip of white at the roots. Lisa had been blessed with good genetics and a head full of mousy brown hair that, while not in any way an exciting colour, didn’t cost a fortune at the hairdresser to maintain.

She finished drying and wrapped the towel around her body as she reached for the moisturiser under the sink. ‘Fights visible signs of ageing’.

“Yeah sure, my fat arse!” she muttered to herself as she liberally applied it to her face and neck. She’d gone through this routine every morning for the last, how many years? and yet, here she was, crinkled and old. But she applied the magic cream daily, hoping for some kind of miracle. Well, it was the season for one.

When she left the en-suite bathroom she looked with some disdain at Matt sprawled across his side of the bed, snoring deeply, even though the sun was well and truly up and the heat of the summer day was already penetrating the early morning. It was promising to be a scorcher, Perth was facing a record breaking summer, so Lisa was determined to get started before the heat, knowing that there was always so much to do. Mark would laze about though, because “that’s what holidays are for!” She could hear him in her head, speaking those words as if he was right there. Well, he was right there, just not conscious. Too many beers last night, most likely. She dressed quietly, easier not to disturb him, and went out to the kitchen.

She had just sat down to have a cup of coffee and left over fruit salad when Jess emerged from her room in an urgent rush.

“Why didn’t you wake me?” the teenager cried accusingly. Her hair was wild and her Christmas PJ’s slipped precariously from one youthful shoulder. The reindeer on the front was sporting the slogan, ‘Oh deer Christmas is here’. Well Christmas was here, and now it’s gone, leaving behind the chaos of the holiday season.

“Was I supposed to?”

“I’m meeting Hannah and Julia at the DFO. We’re gonna be late, the sales will be all over!” It was surprising how fast the girl could move when she wanted to. On a normal school morning, Lisa would have to pry her out of bed with the proverbial crow bar.

“The sales run all day, and all week too, you can’t miss them, even if you wanted to,” Lisa said with a grimace. Boxing Day sales had long lost their appeal.

“But the Converse store is having a door breaker sale, and I really want those new High Top Chuck Taylor’s. You know the cute red ones with the platform sole.” She rummaged through the fridge and came up with leftover trifle.

“You’re not having that for breakfast,” Lisa said, “eat the fruit salad before it goes bad.”

Jess turned her nose up at the idea. “The bananas have gone squishy.”

“Well you’re not having trifle for breakfast, have some toast or cereal.”

Reluctantly Jess put the desert back into the fridge. “Can you drive me to the DFO? I‘m going to spend the money Nana sent me.”

Lisa waited, spoon suspended halfway to her mouth and just stared at Jess. Really, she thought, have I been that bad of a mother that I forgot to teach ‘please’ and ‘thank you’? Yep, she sighed to herself, she had obviously neglected that vital part of her daughter’s education.

“And I want a clean house, looks like neither of us will get what we want,” Lisa said with studied nonchalance, as she lifted the spoon the rest of the way to her mouth and continued to eat her breakfast.

Jess furrowed her brow, she was not usually a morning person and Lisa could see the wheels working in her brain. She nearly felt sorry for her, but one look at the leftover Christmas chaos that was her house, killed any pity she might have felt for her teenage daughter.

“But Mum! If I don’t go today, they will go back to full price and I won’t have enough money to buy them. And Hannah and Julia will be there already.”

“I seriously doubt it,” Lisa said as she continued to leisurely eat her fruit. 

The persistence of a teenager with money, and an over inflated sense of self, won out in the end. It was how Lisa found herself driving to the DFO half an hour before noon. In a negotiated compromise, Jess had hung the washing out before leaving, a small parent win, Lisa supposed. One needed to celebrate the small wins and really, Jess was a good kid, but she was sixteen, with all the self importance that that age brings.

Once they had pulled into the car park, Jess had jumped out of the car almost before Lisa cut the engine.

“Bye Mum,” she called over her shoulder. If Lisa was waiting for a ‘Thanks Mum’, then she’d have to wait a long time. She watched her daughter wind her way through the parked cars to the entrance of the shopping mall. ‘Jail-bait’, that’s what Lisa’s dad would have called her. Too old looking, dressing too grown up. The skin tight short skirt and midriff crop top showed off the youthful, just blossoming body, all coltish leg and pert curves. Mothers shouldn’t let their daughters out dressed like that, she thought to herself disparagingly. Yeah, like mothers can do anything about it. Jess met up with two friends, both dressed in equally stunning, but minuscule outfits, and they went through the doors. Lisa shut and locked the car, and followed them, she was not leaving her daughter at the shopping centre unattended, but she wouldn’t hover, that was just embarrassing for everyone. Well, it looked like she would be doing Boxing Day sales after all.

At least it was air conditioned. The midday heat was enough to melt the bitumen, and as she’d crossed the car park she had felt rivulets of sweat trickle between her shoulders. The relief of the cold air once she was inside was instant. But it was crowded, Boxing Day madness everywhere. Massive red and white signs loudly proclaiming the best sale ever, 50%, 70%, 80% off the RRP! The press of bodies as they rushed for a bargain was overwhelming. Lisa allowed the sea of humanity to carry her along, it was much easier than trying to fight her way through it.

The sea washed her into and out of various shops, as she eyed high end handbags she didn’t need, clothes that wouldn’t fit and household items that looked like they belonged in a magazine, not her crazy home.

She found herself in a shoe shop, her one guilty weakness was shoes. She loved them, and in her youth, she would have given Imelda Marcos some stiff competition for sheer volume of shoes cluttering her wardrobe. But these days, she restrained herself, shoes were functional, comfortable and practical. This shoe shop was the very definition of temptation, you didn’t need to call a sales person to find your size, the boxes were stacked beneath the display shoe, clearly showing all the sizes available. Her eye caught a lovely shoe, a nude coloured platform heel that looked both sexy and comfortable, a rare combination in the shoe world. Scanning the stack below the display shoe, she saw a box with her size and wriggled it out. The store was so busy, littered with rejected shoes, wrinkled and rumpled tissue paper packaging, and so many customers were scrambling for the perfect fit and perfect bargain, that there was nowhere to sit, so she kicked off her own serviceable sling back sandals where she stood, and slipped her feet into the nude heels. Yes, they were as comfortable as they looked.

“Oh my god, they are divine, Shay!” a high pitched voice exclaimed nearby. Lisa looked over to see a young woman strutting about in front of the little foot mirror, peering and preening at the same style shoe that Lisa was wearing on her own foot. The woman’s perfectly manicured toes peeped out the front, and her long, tanned legs appeared even longer in the gorgeous shoe. Lisa looked down at her own feet, her toenails ragged and unpolished, jutted from the open toe and the stubble of her unshaven, white legs was clearly visible. She quickly removed the shoes, carefully packed them back into their box, complete with protective tissue wrap, and tucked the box back onto the pile beneath the display shoe, before she slipped out of the store.

In the car, on the way home, Jess gushed over her purchases. The Cons came out of their box and were admired, the various other bags were upended to show off more bargains. Lisa hoped there was room on Jess’s ‘floor-drobe’ for all her new acquisitions. She made a mental note to go through her daughter’s drawers and robe, to cull any clothing for Good Sammy’s, but other than that thought, she let Jess’s prattle roll over her.

Once they were home, Jess entered the house at a run, something about Face Timing with the ‘others’ to compare their Boxing Day haul, babbled from her lips. Lisa placed her keys and purse on the bench and looked about in dismay. The bench was littered again with dirty dishes, and the milk container was left out and open on the bench. From the sound of violence in the games room, Lucas was in there with his new Christmas acquisition, something ‘Dead’ two. Matt had said that it was what Lucas wanted, and apparently Matt knew their son well, because once he had opened the gift yesterday, she’d hardly seen him. He’d ripped the wrapping off, hissed a “Yes!” and itched and twitched all morning until he could plug in the Play Station. Neither he nor Matt had been seen since, except for brief moments to eat and sleep.

Lisa did a quick tidy of the kitchen, then headed to her room. The bed was still unmade, a tumble of sheets and pillows with the comforter tossed to the floor. She made the bed and went into the en-suite to rummage through the cupboard. There she found an old bottle of bright red nail polish, a nail file, pumice stone and the foot spa that she had been given many Christmases ago. With a protective towel beneath her, she sat on her bed and began the long process of giving herself a pedicure.

When she had finished, she lay on her bed, toes in the air, admiring the shiny red tips that made her toes look like Christmas berries. She should have painted them for yesterday, she thought. They were a very festive touch and she wiggled them in the air as they dried.

“Mum! What’s for dinner?” Lucas, always hungry, yelled through the closed door.

“I dunno, leftovers,” she yelled right back.

“We had that for lunch,” he whined.

“I spent the whole day cooking, yesterday. The fridge is full. Find something. I’m not your slave!”

There was shocked silence on both sides of the door.

“Um, are you OK?” Lucas at nearly eighteen was not the most perceptive male, but he obviously recognised something was amiss. Lisa had never heard herself speak in such a snappy, bitter way, but it was as if a cauldron had bubbled over, and she was unable to stem the flow of words.

“You’re eighteen in a month, if you can’t feed yourself when you’re hungry, then you can learn to starve!”

There was silence before Lucas yelled, “Dad!” and left the door. Lisa didn’t care, the family wouldn’t starve, they wouldn’t suffer and she would not feel guilty for not having a meal on the table by six thirty.

“Honey are you OK?” Matt asked as he opened the bedroom door.

“Yeah, I’m just-”

“What’s that smell?”

“Nail polish, you like?” She wriggled her toes at him.

“When’s dinner?”

“Whenever you like. Help yourself. There’s plenty in the fridge.”

“The kids are hungry.”

“Like I said, help yourself.”

“Are you sick?” He looked at her, his face puzzled.

“I’m tired. I cooked all day yesterday. There is plenty of left over food, cold ham, salad, even cold turkey.”

“We had that for lunch.”

“Well, have it again. I’m not cooking anything.”

She wondered if she had turned purple, or grown two heads. Matt looked as if he couldn’t believe what he saw. She giggled at his expression and he frowned at her before he turned and left the room, shutting the door firmly. He would never slam it, but it was as close to a ‘Matt slam’ as she’d ever heard. Oh well, let him be pissed off. She didn’t care, well, not much anyway. She heaved herself off the bed, and gingerly made her way to the kitchen so as to not smudge her perfect toes.

Five days later, Lisa sat on the edge of the bed, staring down at her those same toes. The bright paint mocked her with its cheeriness even as the edges showed chips in the polish. She had just returned from dropping Jess at a New Year’s Eve sleepover and Lucas had taken the car to his mates place. He’d better not drink too much if he was driving. She couldn’t help worrying. He was only seventeen not quite eighteen yet, and he promised faithfully that he would not drink underage, but she was a mother, she worried and she knew her son. There would be no sleeping for her tonight!

With a sigh, she showered and got into bed determined to rest at least. The neighbours were partying hard, their music thumping and their voices raising in celebratory cheer, while she listened. Not too long ago, the party would have been at her place their friends and family all invited, but now, well, you get too old for such things. She heard Matt come in later, rummaging in the dark so as not to wake her as he got into bed. She didn’t bother to say that she was laying there staring up at the ceiling, she just couldn’t summon the energy for conversation right now. Soon, as predicted, he was snoring beside her.

The clock ticked down, there was no need to turn the radio on, the neighbours had it loud enough for all to hear. “10…9…8…7!” The countdown had begun and they chanted along… “3…2…1.. Happy New Year!” 

“Happy New Year,” she whispered.

“Happy New Year, love,” Matt mumbled, she was surprised, she hadn’t thought that he was awake. He rolled over to her and gave her a lazy, midnight kiss, while 'Auld Lang Syne' played loudly to a frenetic pop beat and fireworks boomed in the distance. She closed her eyes and remembered a time when those fireworks would have followed such a kiss. There were no fireworks any more and Matt rolled away with a sleepy, “See you next year!” 

Next year? Well that was now this year. What would she do different, what new years resolution would she have? Not much point in losing weight, history had shown she would fail at that one. No she wanted a resolution that she could not fail at, something to make her feel like she had succeeded. New Year’s resolutions sucked, they existed to make you feel bad the following year as you realised how much of a failure you were. Not this year she promised to herself, this year she resolved that she would her paint her toenails every week, each week a new colour. Because no one else would care, and because she was going back to the DFO to buy those shoes!

December 31, 2022 03:20

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Graham Kinross
23:52 Jan 15, 2023

You describe being overlooked and undervalued perfectly. She’s done everything for so long that none of them know what to do without her and they take offence when she doesn’t instead of being grateful.


Michelle Oliver
00:07 Jan 16, 2023

Thank you for taking the time to read this and to reply. That was the theme I was going for. As a woman sometimes we allow that to be our lot, and hopefully the end shows she will begin with small steps (perhaps in new shoes) to put herself first… which doesn’t mean everyone else comes last.


Graham Kinross
02:05 Jan 16, 2023

It just means that they have to say please and thank you and take their turn at things.


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Zack Powell
00:18 Jan 09, 2023

Hey there, Michelle! This was a lovely first submission. Before I get to your story, I wanted to welcome you to Reedsy. I hope you find what it is you're looking for on here - it's a great site and a great community. Now, onto this piece. I love stories like this, where a character is about two steps away from their breaking point. Makes for some nice tension and conflict from the very beginning. And boy, did I feel for this woman. Her daughter uses her for a free ride, her son and husband are practically dependent on her cooking to feed th...


Michelle Oliver
03:06 Jan 09, 2023

Thank you so much for your welcome! In a way I am a little like Lisa, not that anyone is taking advantage of me, but that I have made the decision to step outside my comfort zone and finally post something here, do something for myself. Totally terrifying for a closet writer! I really appreciate your feedback, thank you for taking the time to read Lisa’s story.


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