It’s Coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
Putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river I could skate away on
Oh, I wish I had a river so wide I’d teach my feet to fly
I wish I had a river I could skate away on ~ Joni Mitchell
I stare down at my watch. They’re late again. It had become a habit a long time ago to stare at the timepiece around my wrist even though it had never kept proper time. I loved watching how the small cuts of cubic zirconium flickered and played with the restaurant candlelight as if they were little white lights. I had first seen the glint of the watch lying amid the usual debris of a suburban street; a coke can, twigs and grass clippings.
As I observe my tacky costume jewelry I realize that it had always been worn down; empty settings where the gems had fallen out, a band I had to repair every year. The band had always been rough to the touch. It had the habit of making small scratches along my wrist; the scratches were comforting. I could always look down at my wrist and see them, know that as long as I kept the watch the scratches would be constant. When I first started wearing my new find my friends thought I had started to cut myself. When I explained to them that it was the watch, they told me I should throw it out. My parents second that idea. They call it ‘a piece of junk’.
My family seemed to always be heading in opposite directions, my mother going one way, my dad the other and me left sitting at a table waiting for their next appearance. When we actually gather together, usually at breakfast, I sit at one of the stools on the counter, slurp up my Frosted Flakes and listen to them grunt at each other. They don’t talk anymore. I can remember when they actually had real conversations. Now when they did talk it was usually about me; how are her grades, why isn’t she on the team this year, why do you let her buy the clothes she wearsæall blackæand why doesn’t she have a boyfriend? I’d listen as they blamed each other.
“No, YOUR Fault”
“NO, YOUR FAULT!”
When I went down to breakfast this morning I noticed the note left under the saltshaker. In my mother’s cursive writing the note said, “Dinner tonight . Donohue’s. Take my car. Getting a ride with your Dad. See you later. © Mom.” Typical Mom, she of course didn’t leave the time I was supposed to meet them. So I called Dad at work.
“6:30, Rach. But you know you could have just called the restaurant to find out our reservation time. I’m really busy. Love you.” Click.
I never had a phone conversation with him that lasted more than two minutes. He was always in a rush, always running out the door to some important meeting. The only time my parents seemed to spend together was at night when they were sleeping. Eight hours of unconsciousness, yeah, like that’s quality time together.
It was already pitch black as I made my way over to Donohue’s. Our next-door neighbor Mr. Mayfair was outside hanging Christmas-lights on his house. His wife Cheryl demanded that their place be the brightest, most noticeable house on the street. He had already plugged in the light-up reindeer and was focusing his attention on stringing up the icicle lights they always put on the overhang. I watched as he tried to keep his two feet on the ladder.
“Hey Mr. M.!”
“OhºUhºMiss Rachel, how are you this evening? You scared the heck out of me.”
“SorryºI just thought that maybe you might need someone to hold that ladder for you.”
“You know, that would be great!” he called down to me. “Too cold for the wife out here. I didn’t see you coming. Dressing in all black these days?”
“Not really in the holiday spirit, are you?”
“I wouldn’t say that. Just don’t feel much like color. You really shouldn’t be up there. It’s really dark out here”
“Huh? Whatcha say?”
“NothingºAnyways, Mr. M. I gotta go. I’m meeting my parents for dinner. Do you want me to get Mrs. Mayfair?”
“No, she wouldn’t come out anyways, but, thanks,” he said as he smiled at me his teeth glowed from the reflection of the icicle lights.
I got into Mom’s car and was greeted with the sounds of crashing waves, singing whales and chirping grasshoppers when I turned the ignition key. Now that is noise, I don’t understand why she says what I listen to is noise. She spends her driving time listening to screeching animals. When she gets home from work she’s always wearing this goofy smile and then she says, “Ahhhh the sounds of nature are healing.” She tries so hard to be a modern day existential woman with her prescription to the Oprah magazine, her yoga tapes, scented Pottery Barn candles and health shakes.
As I pulled out of the driveway I took out Mom’s nature noises and flipped the radio on. The speakers blasted: “ºFive Golden Rings, Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and aº.” Off. I couldn’t listen to that.
I felt nauseous as I drove past the newly decorated old colonials in the center of town. In every window was a plastic plug in candle and over every doorway hung an elongated garland equipped with tiny white lights. The town avoided the tacky and tried to stick with the classy. Every year the town tried to make itself look like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Like in that Chevy Chase movie Funny Farm where everybody was paid to fake real holiday cheer. I doubt Mr. M. was real keen on climbing up a ladder in the dark but the lights had to get put up.
I sit at a table at Donohue’s Restaurant and wait. I think they are about a half hour late but really I have no ideaæmy watch doesn’t really work. I feel a hand on my shoulder.
“Hey sweetie,” Dad says as he squeezes my shoulder.
“Hi,” I grunt back at him.
“Did we keep you waiting long?”
“Not really,” I say as I glance at my watch.
Mom strides over to us, the redness of her dyed hair is accentuated by Donohue’s candlelight. “Hello Rachel.” She kisses the top of my head before she takes her seat.
“Where’ve you guys been?” I ask them.
“A little early Christmas shopping,” Dad says as he takes out a small package from his lapel pocket. He hands the package over to me. “Open. Open.”
“But it’s not Christmas,” I mumble.
“We know. Would you just open the damn thing, Rachel.”
“OkayºOkay,” I say as I struggle with the wrapping paper. Inside the box is a new watch, one that looks exactly like the one around my wrist. I take it out and hold it in my hands. Smooth. No scratches. I give a half smile and place it in my bag. “Thanks.”
“We have another treat,” Mom says.
“ After dinner we’re all going to Roosevelt Park,” Dad beams.
“The lightsºthe Christmas-lights. Rachel, you always loved to walk through the displays of Holiday lights. Remember?”
“Yeah, that’ll be fun.”
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