They were in the middle of an argument; it was the kind you had as a married couple with a young child. You didn’t say anything frightening within earshot, and you adjusted your tone and volume but kept the words. They’d been doing it for well over a week now and she was exhausted.
“Mommy when are we getting to the mall? How’s Santa going to know what I want?” Her son was squirming in his child safety seat and she didn’t blame him. Traffic had ground to a complete halt ten minutes before. She turned to look into his big brown eyes and explained about the road being busy.
“We’ll get there in lots of time honey. Danny why don’t you practice on daddy and me though so you can be ready?”
Her son smiled and launched into his list, lengthy as usual. Good lord she thought, how many commercials was he watching? She could hear her husband grumbling to himself after every third item mentioned.
‘Where does he think the money’s going to come from for all that?’ Joe muttered to her after Danny had finished with a flourish. She halted in her indulgent laughter at her son’s theatrical nature and turned to Joe.
“Why are you being such a Scrooge? He’s seven and thinks Santa is bringing it all, why does he need to know about our money issues?”
“Issues?! Is that the term you’ve settled on? I’ve lost my job Sarah, my job is, was my reason for living, you know that, how can you be so crass?” His hazel eyes flashed at her and his usually sensual mouth tightened into a scowl.
Sarah was gripping the steering wheel already but his last statement tightened it further. She felt hot tears forming and took a deep breath. She knew his mood was as a result of the layoff and wasn’t personal. It still hurt though. She turned up the radio and waited for the traffic news.
Joe had turned his back on her, staring out the passenger window, his view was just a line of cars and trucks as far as the eye could see. He heaved a heavy sigh and she pursed her lips. There was nothing she could say. His pride was hurt by the company letting him go and while she knew they’d be okay financially until he found another one, she wasn’t altogether positive about things on the marital front.
“This is Wendy Adams in the news chopper and boy do we have a doozy of a jam on the East 85th highway. It’s going all the way from Watsonville to the H.M. Cassidy Mall. There’s going to be some cranky people down there Bob.” Sarah tsk’d at the vapid and chirpy tone of the reporter.
“So not helpful Wendy” she shot towards the radio. She looked at Danny in her rear-view mirror and was thankful that he was such a warm and happy child. She had wanted another but Joe didn’t seem to mind just having the one. He had a son to continue his line, any other children would have been surplus to requirements. He never actually said that to her, but that was the message her heart got.
When Danny started kindergarten two years ago she returned to the company where she’d worked before marriage and motherhood came along. She was delighted to be productive and using her education in project management. Her schedule allowed her to work from home two days out of five, and it was good money which was fortunate as she was now the only breadwinner.
She jumped a bit when she heard him open his door.
“I’m going to see what’s happening up ahead, I can’t just sit here anymore.”
“Okay, be careful out there, the slush on the road will be slippery.”
“Thanks for the weather report Sarah, any other needless information?” He trudged off and she took a deep breath, faking a smile for her son when she heard him speaking.
“Mommy? Where’s Daddy going?”
“He’s just seeing what’s taking so long honey, I think he needs some fresh air too.”
“I hope he’s in a better mood when he gets back don’t you mommy? He’s being a grumple-puss.”
Sarah could only laugh, she’d made up and taught Danny that phrase a couple of years ago, and it fit Joe to a t today.
“Yes honey, he is a ‘grumple-puss. He’s upset but he’ll be happy again soon.” Danny nodded and eased back into his car seat.
Sarah turned up the radio again and hummed along to a Christmas Carol. She used to love the season and all of it’s traditions. She still did her best for Danny, made sure they got a tree and decorated the house. She made shortbread cookies for him to sprinkle red and green glitter on.
In the past they had the usual round of friends and family visits, built snowmen and all that but this year her heart wasn’t in it. She knew it was because of Randy. Her eldest brother had committed suicide in March and she still couldn’t come to grips with it. Her parents had all but shut down, her sister Mariah chose to move to California the following month to avoid all the ‘trauma.’ Sarah had taken care of the estate and when it was all done, his money went to his daughter living in Norwich.
She directed her gaze forward and noted that there was a group of men standing near a car about six forward of hers. She found Joe among them immediately, he was the tallest and best looking of the bunch. He was laughing with the men and it warmed her to see his face relaxed for the first time in ages. Their arms were moving in the air, pointing in all directions, faces showed a variety of expressions but they’d found a common bond in the traffic jam. She shook her head, ‘guys can bond or fight over anything so quickly.’
Her eyes drifted to the Christmas list she’d taken from within her purse. She’d already sent the gifts to her sister and niece as they had to be flown out. Her parents were normally easy to buy for, tools for dad, cookbooks for mom. This year they had announced emphatically that they didn’t care about the holidays, ‘Randy’s not here, what’s the point?’ her mother had sighed over a cup of tea last week.
It had hurt Sarah deeply as again she was pushed to the side of someone else’s pain. First her parents and now Joe, didn’t they realize she had feelings too, that she was suffering silently? It didn’t seem to occur to those around her that she’d lost her brother and now had to be there for a sulking husband and small child. She was exhausted and had no one to turn to. She scanned the paper she’d written her list on. Taking a pen out of her purse she added a few words to the bottom and lay it on Joe’s seat. She left her keys in the ashtray and turned to Danny.
“Honey, do you want to go for a walk in the snow? Maybe we can find Santa sooner?” She smiled at him and he unbuckled himself. She grabbed up her purse and gloves then went around to his side of the car and helped him out.
When they started walking along the sidewalk and back towards the mall, Danny was chattering happily about the decorations they could see on people’s houses. Sarah nodded and encouraged him with practiced motherhood words she’d heard from her mom years ago.
Oh really? Isn’t that great? Tell me about it. They all came in handy when a mother’s mind was on something else. She gripped his small hands and though she wasn’t rushing him, she really didn’t want Joe to reach them yet. She had told Danny that his father was going to catch up later with the car, but she honestly didn’t know if he would. The note she had left for him was open to interpretation, for instance it could be her Christmas wishes for what she wanted under the tree.
He opened the door and had started to speak when he realized the car was empty. No radio playing carols, no excitable son in blue and red snow suit and even more alarming, no strong and steady beautiful wife. He snatched up the paper on his seat and was confused at first. It was just a list of people paired with items. ‘Her ever present Christmas list’ he muttered. she’d been scribbling on it for weeks now. He scanned the names, her corrections, and additions. He marvelled at her penmanship and was about to fold it up when he saw some words in different ink at the bottom.
Joe-A new job, patience, and insight. An updated resume and confidence that we’ll be alright if we work together.
Mom and Dad-the realization that I’m still here and I matter too.
Mariah-My phone number and email so she can contact me and ask how I’m doing with everything she left in my lap.
Danny-Almost everything he wants including a happy mommy and daddy, and a visit to Santa today.
Sarah-The arms of the man I love around me when I cry. Christmas to mean something again, and for my heart to heal after losing my baby brother.
Joe dropped the paper onto the seat and hefted himself up so he could scan the traffic and the sidewalks. He spotted her brown leather coat walking hand in hand with his dark-haired son away from him. He couldn’t really blame her when it came down to it. He’d been an ass to her, blaming her when he lost his job. It was up to him now to grow up. He pulled out his cell phone and sent her a text.
‘Hi honey, got your ‘list’ and I am willing to do whatever you need. I’m so sorry. I’ll meet you in front of the jolly man, looks like traffic is about to move. XXOO’
He walked around to the driver’s side and pulled the keys out from their hiding spot. When the traffic started to advance five minutes later he was more than ready to move ahead.