Six years since she had stood in this spot. In the middle of the sidewalk in front of the stairs with the rusty hand railing. The same discolored steps poorly shoveled of snow. The stop sign on the corner of the street had been upgraded to a stop light that shone in the night. The pear tree sapling was now circled with chicken wire and stood a few feet higher. Icicles hung from the little branches. She stood looking up at the spire, same as she had that day, with small flakes of snow spiraling down around it. Memories started to spill past the floodgates of her mind and she took a deep breath to keep them at bay. 

The snow was worse that year. Her sneakers had left deep prints in the snow as she walked down the road to the pizza place squeezed in between a dry cleaner’s and a shoe shop. They were slammed but let her use their phone to call a cab to take her home, where she packed her bags and left. That night. Six years ago she made a decision. Six years ago she had walked away.  

Today she was told to wear her Sunday best but the only thing appropriate she had was unripped dark-washed jeans and a white blouse hidden underneath her blue puffy coat. This morning she nixed her snow boots for ankle boots, a poor choice in the icy conditions. Her usually loose and curly hair was tied in a french braid that hung to the middle of her back. An older couple clung to the railing as they picked their way up the steps. The tiny parking lot was filling up quickly and cars were starting to park on the streets. Usually rowdy children walked behind their parents yawning and loudly complaining about the time. 

Midnight Mass. She didn’t attend the one six years ago, instead she turned her back on the voices raised in song. The outside of the church was decorated as nicely as it could be considering the town and who ran it. Two wreaths on the doors and some pine garland wrapped around the railings. 

A blue minivan pulled into one of the last spots in the parking lot in the edge of her vision. A few moments later a young child clung to her mother’s skirts as she was placed in the snow. Her mother protested loudly and walked to the other side of the van, where her husband was attending the baby that was strapped in. The wind that carried the snow blew the mother’s fair hair from around her face, and the floodgate broke open. 

She turned her back to the young family and pulled the collar of her coat up. Six years ago, today. She cast a side glance down the sidewalk, in the direction of the pizza place. Small crowds were forming, greeting, hugging, rejoicing. If she moved now she could hide behind them, or go straight to the pizza place. If her feet moved at all she could forget about this crazy idea and just go home. 

From behind her she heard the little girl whining. “Mama, isn’t baby going to get cold?” 

“We’re going inside, where it’s warm.” Her mother answered. 

“Well, isn’t it his bed time?” 

“He wakes up this time every night anyway. Now hush, Sasha. Let’s get seats.” 

She couldn’t contain her curiosity as she turned to look at the little girl. Fair hair, like her mother’s. Blue eyes, small nose. It was familiar. 

Her mother’s boots stopped before they reached the sidewalk. 


Stay or leave. 

“Marie? What’s going on?” 

Stay. Leave.

She turned and faced the little girl’s mother. Her mother. She looked her over and thought of her own dark hair and eyes compared to her mother’s, and the little girl. Sasha was the spitting image of her. 

“You’re here.” Her mother said. 

“So two more kids, huh.” Was the first thing Marie said to her mother in six years. 

Her mother frowned, “Yes.” 

“How old?” Marie nodded toward the baby. 

The husband stepped in front of her mother. “Come on, Celia. Let’s get him inside.” 

“You take him, I have to talk to her.” Celia handed over the sleeping baby. 

“What makes you think she wants to talk to you?” 

“She’s here, isn’t she? Go.” 

Her husband huffed but took Sasha by the hand and pulled her up the steps. 

“Now,” Celia turned toward Marie. “What is it you’re doing here? I thought Midnight Mass wasn’t your thing.” 

“My ‘thing’ is having a mom who isn’t a slut.” 

“This again? Nothing’s changed, has it.” 

“I don’t know, mom. Has anything changed? You left dad for this guy and got pregnant before you were even legally separated, and you really think you can step inside a church without bursting into flames?” Marie pointed at the spire. 

“Well, I’ve been attending Mass every year and no bursting yet. Why don’t you tell me why you’re here.” 

Marie lowered her arm and looked around at the groups on the sidewalk who had become quiet with her raised voice. 

“Maybe I’ve been thinking a lot about things lately. Dad has lung cancer. He’s not doing good. I don’t know, it...it made me think about life and what would happen if I got sick. Would I want to die knowing we left things so badly?” 

You left things badly. I was open and honest with you and you didn’t like that.” 

“I didn’t like my mom starting a new family without me.” 

Celia dipped her head, “Fine. That’s fair, I’ll give you that.” 

“And telling me on Christmas Eve that you were pregnant?”

“Okay, yes. I made mistakes. I’m sorry. Okay? I really am.” 

Marie stood facing her mother as the crowd grew around them. Heat was rolling down the church steps from the doors being held open for the crowd. The wind was starting to pick up, sending gusts and flurries flying around them. 

“So, Marie.” Her mother started. “Where do we go from here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you going to come inside and sit with us or leave again?” 

Marie hadn’t considered it. Honestly she didn’t think she’d even get this far. She had dressed and undressed at least three times before she put on her coat and left the house. She imagined what she would say to her mother, all the hurtful things. But when she finally looked into her eyes again, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. 

“I’m not sure. I haven’t forgiven you, and I don’t know if I ever will.” 

Celia hugged herself and shrugged, “I understand.” 

Her husband appeared in the threshold and beckoned her inside. The baby was awake and fussing. 

“I have to feed Garen. I’ll save you a seat if you want. Okay?” 


Celia walked up the steps and disappeared inside the church. By now the sidewalk was near empty and laughs were floating down the stairs to her. She knew she could never forgive her mom for abandoning her for a new family, but, why was she here? Something made her come to this church tonight. She sighed and thought of her father in the hospital bed. The little tree she put up in his room in front of his window. She was going over there tonight to spend the night. Maybe she would tell him she talked to mom again. 

Marie sighed and faced the door. Maybe she wouldn’t.

March 15, 2020 23:31

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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