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Ghost of Christmas Present

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I seem to have lost my writing mojo and am trying to get it back while recovering from yet another surgery, and a raging case of shingles.  While I am off work recuperating, I have taken to walking my dog during daylight hours…we normally walk in the dark of the very early morning before work, when there isn’t much that can be seen.  Because I have a 4 inch incision in my abdomen we aren’t going to win any land speed records.  With this leisurely pace I often find little treasures or unusual items that spark my imagination.  I’ve decided to write a short story for each discovery.

Several days ago I passed a small, unopened package perfectly wrapped in Christmas paper.  It was lying in the grass a good distance from sidewalk the first time I saw it and was propped up against a tree the next time I saw it.  On the third day it was gone.

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“I think my Mom liked you.”

“If you say so.” She sure had a strange way of showing it, I thought.  After the cursory introduction during which his mother gave me a long, thorough inspection – taking in my hair, face, body and clothing – she finally offered her hand and asked to be called Shirley.  A cigarette hung from her lips and she squinted through the smoke and offered me a beer.  After I declined she popped open the can, turned away and made her way to the kitchen, mumbling under her breath something that sounded like “another uptight, holier than thou teetotaler”  Or something like that.  I was too busy taking in the disarray that was the living room.

“No, really, she has never liked any girl I’ve brought over.  She liked you.”

“And your Dad?”

“Dad doesn’t like anyone…present company included.”

“Your own father doesn’t like you?”

“Never has, never will,” he stated flatly.

“Why?”  I could not fathom the family dynamics I had witnessed that day.  Chain smoking, chain drinking mother.  Cold distant father whose only conversations bordered on abusive tirades about the shortcomings of every family member present.  Boisterous children, and grown siblings who called each other names she wouldn’t have called her worst enemy.  I was the only child of older parents whom I had moved to Florida to care for as their health declined.  Our gatherings were quiet, usually elegant, and peaceful.  And frequently mind-numbingly boring.

“Something about being born some time after he caught my mom cheating on him.”  He shot me a sidelong glance. “With his own brother.”

“Hmmm.”  I opened my car window for some fresh air, but being Florida at Christmas time, the air was heavy and damp. I wanted the cold, crisp air of Christmases past.  I wanted the quiet of my boring little world.

I thought about the present in my purse.  I was nervous and more than a little scared.

“Want to come over for a drink?”

“No.  I can’t.” I said a little too quickly.  “I mean, I’m tired, it’s been a long day.”

We’d been dating for nearly a year. I hadn’t met his family before and although that seemed strange, after today I thought that might have been a good thing.  I thought he would have a present for me, but he hadn’t offered one so far and Christmas was nearly over.  “I think I’ll just go home.”

“Oh, okay.”    He gave me the sidelong glance again. “I wanted to talk.”

“I wanted to talk to you, too.”

He pulled into the park near my parent’s house and parked the car.  “Let’s walk off some of that dinner.”  He grabbed a small bag from the back seat,  opened the car door and came around to open mine.  I slung my purse over my shoulder and joined him on the sidewalk.  We walked in silence in the damp air.

“You first,” I said.

He cleared his throat.  He looked nervous.  He looked everywhere but at me.  He cleared his throat again.  He’s going to ask me to move in with him, I thought.  Or marry him.  I inhaled deeply.

“I know you just met my family today, for Christmas and all.  My mom insisted I invite you.” He stopped walking and faced me, but didn’t look at me.  “But, the thing is…”  he cleared his throat once more, and studied his shoes.  “My ex and I have been seeing each other again.  She’s going to move back in and we are going to give it another try.  New year, new beginning and all.”

I felt as though I had been gut punched.  I exhaled slowly – my stomach threatening to relieve me of the wretched meal I had endured with his dysfunctional clan.  The meal I had endured through cigarette smoke that made me gag, noise that made my head hurt, and interactions that had left me speechless.

I finally took a breath and steadied my voice.  “Why not take her to Christmas dinner, then?” I asked.  “Instead of me?”

“My family doesn’t like her,” he shrugged.  He handed me the small bag.  Inside was my toothbrush, my hairbrush and a few other toiletries I’d kept at his apartment.  And the condoms I’d bought but that sometimes were forgotten in the heat of the moment.

“I see.”  I didn’t really see, but I didn’t know what else to say.  I tried not to look hurt, but I’m pretty sure I was unsuccessful.

“I’m sorry to do this on Christmas Day and all but she’s moving back in tomorrow.”  He started walking again but I stood where we had stopped.  He turned back toward me.  “What did you want to talk about?” he asked.

“You wanted me to come to your place tonight and she’s moving back in tomorrow?” I could not breathe.  I was incredulous.  I wanted to scream.

He finally looked me in the eye.  “I am sorry.”  He looked sheepish, but not at all sorry.

“That’s the truest thing you’ve ever said.  You are sorry, all right.”  I paused and took a deep breath. “We’ve dated a long time with very little forward progress.  I mean it took you nearly a year to introduce me to your parents.  What I wanted to say was that I think we need to see other people. Guess you beat me to the punch.”  I took the condoms from the bag and handed them to him.

“You’ll need these before I will.”  I turned and started walking toward my parent’s home, fighting the urge to vomit.  And the urge to cry.  He stood silent in the damp air.  “Have a good life” I shouted over my shoulder.  I walked past his car and toward the street.

As I neared my parent’s home, I fumbled in my purse for the present.  The one I had wrapped so carefully after peeing on the stick and seeing the results.  I had carefully capped the pregnancy test and sat on the bathroom floor for so long my mother knocked on the door and asked if I was all right.

I looked at the perfectly wrapped gift and threw it as far as I could.

 

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