By E. L. Blizzard
With shaky hands, he forks ramen into his mouth, skimming the latest news. After an unmasked party of hundreds dance and celebrate at a famous self-help corporation, doctors beg for the behavior to stop.
Turning to his wife he asks, “Want some?”
“No babe, you finish them.”
He stares at her. “Don’t worry. I ate,” Sheri says, as she finishes wrapping a book for their son, sticking a homemade tag on the brown paper.
After slurping the last noodle, Kevin goes into the kitchen and opens the pantry. Counting, he figures they have enough for six days before next Monday’s visit to the foodbank. Sheri comes up behind him, puts her arms around his flat belly, and stands on tiptoes to kiss his neck.
“We should save what’s left of the rice and beans for Christmas.” He squeezes her hands resting on his chest. “And there’s fruit cocktail for dessert.”
“Good idea,” she whispers, reassuring. “It’ll be perfect.”
After hours spent on job search sites and sending out resumes again, Kevin grabs a grocery sack and heads outside to clear his head. He gathers up the last walnuts not taken by the squirrels and puts them in the bag for Daniel’s stocking; he’ll add them to the two lollipops they found in the last food box. It’s an incredible stroke of luck for them that Daniel likes walnuts. It’s then he spies the branch among the leaf mold.
I could make a magic wand, Kevin thinks.
He remembers how Uncle Danny used to carve small, special things for him years ago. How he taught Kevin to carve them too. How he taught him that it’s not what a person has that matters, but how well he loves.
Kevin steadies himself on the fence line and stays there, not wanting his family to see him so shaken. After putting himself back together, he looks at the branch again and decides that although it’s not even close to any of the toys Daniel wanted, he has a strong enough imagination to transform it. And it will go great with Sheri’s old copy of Harry Potter she wrapped for him. They’ll enjoy reading it together.
Dropping his plastic dinosaurs to the floor, Daniel walks into the kitchen looking for crackers. He watches his mama stir together flour, sugar, and the last of the butter.
“What are you making?”
“A Christmas surprise for Dad. Shortbread cookies.”
“Can I help?”
“Yes,” she says, motioning for him to wash his hands. “I need all the help I can get.”
“I like that you and Dad are home a lot now.”
Sheri’s eyes fill. “It’s nice, isn’t it?” She breathes in the smell of his hair as he sits under her, carefully patting out the dough for his father’s surprise.
“Mama, can I stay up ‘til midnight on New Year’s? I really want to this year.”
“Sure, you’re big enough now.” She holds him a little tighter. “We’ll all celebrate together.”
“It’ll be the best year ever,” Daniel sing-songs, leaning back into her arms and licking his sticky hands.