(Almost) Home for the Holidays

Submitted into Contest #170 in response to: Write about a plan that goes wrong, for the better.... view prompt

19 comments

Sad Fiction Holiday

This story contains sensitive content

TW: death.


When she’d left for her trip, they had been fighting. 


It hadn't been a big fight, but they'd been irritated with each other. Her more with him.


He always did this. Whenever the holidays came around, it was like some big surprise that her parents would want them to spend the holidays with them. And now that they had little Zia, the ask had become more of a beg. But with her parents being several states away, that meant traveling a small bit to get to them, which seemed to complicate things. At least for Jerry. Every year, booking flights was a big and unpleasant surprise for him. So, every year, they fought about it. 


Most years, it wasn’t even worth the stress for Emily, so she had always surrendered early. Your parents are closer, so we’ll just spend Thanksgiving with them.


Without a doubt, this always made things easier. Mostly. But Emily had been getting really tired of making excuses for why they couldn’t come see them for the big holidays, or simply ditching the excuses and flat-out saying no. People don’t talk about this part of being married: the arguments that fester and simmer at even the slightest indication that one set of grandparents might be more favorable. It had started to become very clear to Emily whose parents were the ones on the losing side. 


So, this year, she'd decided she wouldn’t give up easily.


“Look, if you don’t want to go, that’s fine. But Zia and I are going. It’ll be less stressful if you just stayed here," she'd said.


Jerry had agreed to that, a little too quickly, revealing his eagerness to have an eventless holiday where he could drink beer and play video games with uninterrupted freedom, devoid of any guilt or cooking responsibilities. 


When she'd told Zia they were going on a little girls’ trip to see Nana and Pop-pop, she'd beamed. “Yay! Mommy and me are going on an airplane!” She'd zoomed around the living room with her arms spread out wide. Despite their differences in the matter, the couple had adored their precious daughter’s display of excitement together. 


“This’ll be good for you two, to have a little bonding time together. You’ve never really traveled, just the two of you, like that before,” Jerry had speculated.


Emily couldn’t argue with that. Without the stress of Jerry’s misery around traveling and visiting her parents, the trip was starting to actually sound fun! She'd imagined her and her three-year-old toddler managing their way through TSA and the insanely crowded holiday travel scene smoothly and successfully, enjoying a pre-flight milkshake and some early morning French fries while watching the planes take off. She had been excited to share the wonders of the airport with her daughter, and the exhilarating experience of a plane leaving the ground and hovering above the world. 


She'd imagined mostly about the transportation adventures than she did about the Thanksgiving visit with her family, but, there is something to be said about the journey over the destination, she'd justified. 


The weeks leading up to their trip, Emily and Zia had planned out all the activities and things they would need to bring on the plane. Zia had understood that her ears might pop during take-off, so she'd been constantly reminding Emily, “Don’t forget my lollipop, Mommy!”


“I won’t!” Emily had sung back. She’d made sure to pick up a large quantity of them at the store so there were plenty to bring with them.


She'd also pre-requested all of the vox books at the local library – those are the read-along books that have a special battery-operated attachment in them with a headphone jack so Zia could have the book read to her without the entire plane having to hear it, too. Emily'd also requested some children’s audiobooks, and purchased Zia an old school portable CD player, so she could choose a story or some of her songs to listen to while she ate her snack, or colored in her new unicorn-themed coloring book (for which they also had to buy a brand new box of metallic crayons). 


Zia had talked about visiting Nana and Pop-pop every day leading up to their trip's set departure. She'd been scribbling little doodles she called “airplanes” and told her parents stories about flying high above the ground. 


Emily had been mentally packing their bags for weeks, thinking of the clothes they might need for any and all situations. Three days away from home rightfully translated to five pairs of shoes, eighteen pairs of underwear, six outerwear items (cardigans, sweaters, jackets, and vests included), a million socks, seven dresses, two pairs of jeans, three nightwear options, and one pair of shorts. And that had just been for Emily. Options were comforting for her, and she'd figured if she was going to be momming overtime, she was going to look her best while doing it. 


It was safe to say, both Zia and Emily had been excited. 


That’s why, when Zia started coughing and sneezing and snotting all over everything on the week of Thanksgiving, Emily had started to get a little worried. She'd dismissed each sickening sound that left Zia’s body, telling herself it was just allergies, and that she'd be fine soon.


And then her husband had expressed his concerns. 


“I think Zia should stay home, honey,” he’d said innocently. 


Initially, Emily had been so annoyed with him. She’d rolled her eyes, “She’s fine, Jer. Don’t start pulling this crap. Not now. Our flight’s in two days!”


“I’m not pulling anything,” he’d defended. “Think about Zia! She doesn’t look good. She can’t travel like this. She needs to be home resting.”


In her heart, Emily had known he was right, but she had not been willing to admit that. It'd felt like he was winning. Like he was some how responsible for Zia contracting a virus that made her too sick to go. Like it was his plan to undo their plans all along. And when he'd made the executive decision and cancelled Zia’s flight himself, Emily was pissed. 


“Zia’s not coming,” she’d complained to her mother over the phone. 


“What?! Why not, what happened? Are you still coming?” Emily'd heard her mom moving around her kitchen, probably prepping for Thursday. 


“Yeah, yeah, Mom, I’m still coming. Zia’s got a bad cold or a flu or something. Jer just cancelled her flight.” If an eye roll could be a tone, Emily’s voice had portrayed it. 


“Oh, no! But Zia has to come! It could be my last Thanksgiving ever!” Emily’s mom’s desperation had spliced a chuckle out of her foul mood. She said this all the time, about every holiday, or every day, for that matter. She was only fifty-nine. 


“Mom, you can’t use the “I might be dead” excuse for everything. It could be the last holiday for all of us. Age has nothing to do with dying,” she’d said.


“Oh, I know, sweetie. I’m only half-joking. Well, we’ll miss our little Zia-bia, but we’re happy you’ll be here.”


The next day Emily had comforted and cared for Zia who was bed-ridden, the poor girl, as she slowly packed her suitcase for one. She’d placed all the vox books and her coloring book and crayons next to Zia’s bed in case she felt up to it.


Jerry had been right: there was no way Zia could have come on the trip. But, still, Emily wouldn’t let go of how unfair the timing had been. And even though, rationally, she’d known it wasn’t his fault, she’d needed someone to blame for disrupting her plans to finally give her parents a holiday with their daughter and granddaughter. It hadn’t helped that she’d sensed the slightest hint of subconscious delight when her husband had told her to “enjoy yourself” on her solo adventure.


Before she’d left for the airport, Emily left the lollipop meant for Zia’s popping ears during liftoff on her pillow beside her. But, as petty as it was, when Jerry had dropped her off at the airport, Emily was short with him.


“Thanks, see you in a few days,” she’d said, pecking him on the cheek before swiftly getting out of the car. 


The TSA line had dragged on, and Emily fought the whisper inside her that told her this would have been a nightmare with Zia. There had been no time for milkshakes or fries by the time she’d made it out, as there had barely been any time to run to her gate. She’d heard them calling her name over the intercom: “Last call for passenger Emily Miller to board flight 7656, Seattle to Milwaukee.”


“I’m here, I’m here!” she’d hollered, stumbling under the weight of her carry-on and flailing her phone in the air, already open to her digital boarding pass.


The employee had looked annoyed, but scanned her pass nonetheless, wishing her a safe flight before sending Emily off down the sky bridge. 


Jerry had sent her a text thirty minutes after departure; it'd been a picture of Zia and him on the couch eating chocolate pudding, with a text that'd said, We already miss you, enclosed with a heart emoji. But Emily, being the least tech-savvy person ever, had never turned on her in-flight WI-FI that would have allowed her to read the message.


The plane hadn’t stayed in the air long; it hadn’t even made it halfway before its crash landing. No one could have predicted the plane’s automated in-flight software would malfunction, causing it to make sudden, violent jolts that the pilots had been unable to compensate for. 


While it had been a terrifying and nightmarish descent, Emily had been comforted by the hand of the man next to her, a stranger she’d barely said one word to before they'd started racing towards the ground below them. Squeezing her eyes shut, Emily had thought of her husband, how she wished she had been kinder to him when she’d said goodbye; and she'd thought of her daughter, little Zia, and how she was so incredibly happy that she had stayed home.


November 04, 2022 21:45

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19 comments

Amanda Lieser
20:14 Dec 05, 2022

Hey Anne! Oh, this was a heartbreaker. I was instantly worried by the title. My fears were realized in a different way than expected. I was so sad for all of these characters. I think a sequel about Jerry and how he put his life back together. I wonder about all the things he WISHED he had said. They seemed like a not so put together couple. I loved these characters. I can’t tell you how much I’d love to hear their story continued. Nice job!

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AnneMarie Miles
02:27 Dec 06, 2022

You bring up a good point. One other commenter had mentioned wanting to hear Jerry's side; so I will certainly consider it! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment :)

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Sophia Gavasheli
15:04 Nov 11, 2022

Oh no! Gosh, that was unexpected, even though you foreshadowed it a little with the "It could be the last holiday for all of us" comment. I like the way you characterize Emily and Jerry's relationship. I wonder if Emily's view of Jerry is a bit unreliable. Her irritation with him colors Jerry in a negative light ("revealing his eagerness to have an eventless holiday where he could drink beer and play video games"), even though he seems like a caring husband when he sends her the text. Perhaps Emily is the petty one, not Jerry. It's still ve...

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AnneMarie Miles
03:00 Nov 12, 2022

Hi Sophia! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment! You're spot on about Emily's view of Jerry being unreliable. I was trying to highlight the challenges of being a spouse and parenting together. Marriage is complex and parenting makes it even more convoluted, so it is easy for pettiness to fester and accumulate over the years, justified or not. Even the most level headed people can find themselves being unreasonable when trying to be an individual within a united pair. I didn't want Emily or Jerry to be the antagonist in this; they b...

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Sophia Gavasheli
03:23 Nov 12, 2022

Yeah, I love the idea of neither Emily nor Jerry being the antagonist; it parallels the complexity of real-life marriage, as you said. Definitely watch CYE; it's the most hilarious sitcom I've ever seen :)

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Edward Latham
19:54 Nov 10, 2022

Even with the TW at the top, the ending hit with a terribly sad and surprising punch. You managed to build a nuanced relationship that revealed at the end that they do really love each other despite the frustrations they sometimes have.

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AnneMarie Miles
23:13 Nov 10, 2022

Thank you Edward! I rushed my way through this one so I felt like the end was a little abrupt, but maybe more so a "surprising punch", which isn't a horrible in terms of writing, I suppose. Thanks for taking the time to read. I appreciate your comments!

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Edward Latham
11:09 Nov 11, 2022

Yes it was definitely a good ending! It came upon you fast, but was foreshadowed nicely by your line about age having no bearing on death so it worked!

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Michał Przywara
21:45 Nov 09, 2022

Ah, part 2 to writer's block :) I am in awe of people who write multiple submissions in a given week. The story is good, in that we get a great look at relationship struggles in general, and how one partner is coping with it. But, of course, there's more, because we also have a sudden death that adds a lot more weight to things. The grandmother jokes about dying, and the protagonist suggests it has little to do with age and could happen to anyone at any time. Apropos. The protagonist knows she was wrong, and even petty, on a deep level...

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AnneMarie Miles
22:04 Nov 09, 2022

When I first found Reedsy, I was in awe that people could submit once a week, so I am in awe myself this week! But then my relationship with writing had been somewhat of a booty call.... It seems we are now in a much more committed relationship, though, we're scared to label it because as Jerry and Emily show us, marriage is hard 😬😂 too far of a metaphor? Hopefully not... Lol Another thing that amazes me is when people point out themes in my stories that I had not picked up on yet myself - exhibit A: fairness. I like this, and I thank you f...

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Michał Przywara
21:44 Nov 10, 2022

You raise a great point, with readers noticing things we didn't even realize were there. The longer I write, the more I think a story is not actually complete until someone else reads it, and then they complete it in their own way - and so each story can be completed in multiple ways, by multiple people. Participatory fiction, maybe like a musician getting the audience to sing along.

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AnneMarie Miles
00:44 Nov 11, 2022

As someone who regularly leads families in music making and tries to get their participation, I really appreciate this metaphor, especially for short stories. They have the luxury of being left open ended; it's the same thing that draws me to poetry, and to Reedsy! We bring ourselves and our perspectives and create an orchestra of ideas and perspectives.

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Lindsay Flo
17:46 Nov 08, 2022

Good story!! I liked everything about it. The descriptions of married life and splitting holidays were spot on. Her mom's guilt-tripping "I could be dead tomorrow" - we all know a grandma like that, and it was a nicely done precursor. I really thought Zia was the one who was going to die, or Jerry was going to crash his car on the way back from the airport. So, with the trigger warning of "death" I was still surprised when it was Emily. And I think the underlying theme of how we just go through life, expecting things to happen as they are su...

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AnneMarie Miles
19:18 Nov 08, 2022

Hey Lindsay, I value your feedback and it means a lot to me that you liked this one. It was sort of a rushed piece and quite honestly it didn't feel like my best work, so the fact that any of it worked for you is a huge compliment. Its also a pleasant surprise that you didn't expect that ending. Wasn't sure if it was too obvious. Appreciate you taking the time! Thanks again!

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Rebecca Miles
07:00 Nov 05, 2022

Hi shortlist sister. That feels good to write that! As you know, I'm flying back tomorrow from my hols, so the ending made me gulp a bit...we all have these fantasies about happy holidays don't we: they'll be punctual with fries and milkshakes. We'll find prize-position seats in a protected place of calm while others stress and rush and argue all around us. Your story's end really put that fantasy under the spotlight. I'm heading off to read your second one now, very productive ( you wrote two to make up for my zero😂)

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AnneMarie Miles
13:04 Nov 05, 2022

I am flying soon too so I was a little worried about jinxing myself! But in my research, and I hope this is reassuring, it was hard to find reasons for why a plane would crash because apparently it is so rare! That made me feel a bit better, though it made writing the ending a bit of a challenge 😅 I can't believe I pulled off two, honestly. I had absolutely nothing until yesterday!

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Marty B
01:07 Nov 05, 2022

What is it about holidays that bring out the worst in people? I liked the descriptions of the 'the arguments that fester and simmer'.

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AnneMarie Miles
01:39 Nov 05, 2022

I think it might be the expectations and the idealisms. It always feel a little obligatory. Thanks for reading, Marty!

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AnneMarie Miles
21:48 Nov 04, 2022

This is indirectly a part 2 to the previous submission, "The Thinking Part"... It is also the first time I've explored this past participle tense throughout an entire story, so feel free to point out where changes need to be made in that regard. Or any regard. Thanks!

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