Wineskins Archive

January 8, 2014

A Christmas Fable (Nov 1992)

Filed under: — @ 6:55 pm and

by Thom Lemmons
November, 1992

7Sarah leaned wearily against the glass doors of Sears and Roebuck. The small, generic vestibule smelled damp and musty, perfumed by the fatigue and frantic urgency of the shoppers rushing to complete their holiday missions. Inside the store, the Muzak system was gently exuding the strains of “Silent Night” onto the heedless heads of the scurrying hordes below.

As she stared around for a moment, orienting herself and remembering what she had come for, Sarah found herself absently humming the refrain to the carol: “sleep in heavenly peace ….” Sleep. That sounded pretty good right now. But she had no time for slumber. Too many things to do.

Jack had insisted it wasn’t necessary to buy him anything, but she was too adept at reading between the lines to accept his generosity at face value. He would be hurt if he didn’t have a present under the tree, just as much as the kids would be. Oh, he wouldn’t say anything but he would find a way to let her know. It wasn’t worth the silent price she would have to pay, Sarah decided. Jack would get his present, too.

As she shouldered her way through the crowd toward the men’s department, she ticked off in her mind, for the hundredth time … The List. Each Christmas season, Sarah became intimate with The List for several weeks, each morning and evening keeping a running tally of her progress through its obstacles. She was nearly finished; the goal lay at hand. With the trophy she was about to wrest from the frantic scrabbling in Sears’ men’s department, she would complete the gauntlet. Everything would be bought, all the bases covered. her family would be happy. And that was her goal, after all: to keep everyone happy. Besides, wasn’t this supposed to be the season of Good Cheer? There would be Good Cheer at her house, capital letters and all, or she would know the reason why.

She selected a suitably fashionable sweater from the rack, noting almost subconsciously which of Jack’s slacks were of co-ordinate colors, which shirts would be appropriate. Gaining momentum, she homed in on the trouser section, wresting from the serpentine tangle of hangers, display stands, and other shoppers’ hands a pair of khaki slacks in the style she had heard Jack mention – oh, so casually – that he liked. On a whim, she plucked from a display a brace of pairs of socks displaying a mildly chaotic color scheme, then hustled over to settle in to the three-person-deep queue in front of the cash register. Tucking her selections under one arm, she began fishing about in her purse for a suitable piece of plastic to hand to the clerk.

Eventually, Sarah fought her way from the cash register and the harried, desperate looks of the sales clerks. She headed toward the aisle leading to the door. The muzak was now oozing “Mary Had a Boy-Child.” Images of that first Christmas flitted through Sarah’s mind. A tiny corner of her consciousness wistfully considered that ancient, simpler time: no shopping lists, no crowds, no hurry-and-scurry, no MasterCard; only a stable, a husband, and a baby. Slowly, her mind began to unfurl, began to gently relax along the soft contours of a night in Judea, the lilting lines of a song which might have been sung by angels ….

… And then a shopping cart crashed into her left side, knocking her packages from her arms. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” the cart’s driver said quickly, “I was in such a hurry and I was looking down at my list, and I guess I just didn’t …”

By the time the offender had gotten that far, Sarah had regathered her wares, glared at the heedless list-reader, and stalked off toward the exit. “Boy,” she groused to herself, “some people have about as much couth as Attila the Hun.”

She finally made it to her car and stowed the package, gift-wrapped by the store for only 50 cents extra, atop the pile of joy stacked in the back seat. She leaned back in the driver’s seat and took one long, relieved breath, then, two, then three. Finished. The List was complete. Now all she had to do was get home through the frozen-molasses traffic creeping along the wet streets in the gray, misty December morning.

She started the engine, then snapped on the radio. As she flipped quickly through the dial, she paused to listen for a moment to the local Christian station. They were broadcasting a message sponsored by one of the local churches, urging everyone to remember “The Reason for the Season.” Cute slogan, she thought absently. “Nothing on I really want to listen to,” she decided. Switching off the radio, she put the car in gear and eased out into the mall parking lot, headed toward the nearest exit.

Driving home, she ticked off in her mind the itnerary for the evening. The baby-sitter was lined up, she had RSVP’d the Nelsons for the party, her dress was dry-cleaned (Jack was supposed to pick it up on his way home – she hoped he remembered) . All set. And then, with a flash of horror, she suddenly realized she had forgotten to thaw the popcorn shrimp for the dip she was supposed to take. Emergency plans ran helter-skelter through her mind as she searched for a way to salvage her breach of memory. She couldn’t show up at the Nelson’s without her dip; it would be too embarrassing! She had to get home immediately – she had to figure out what to do!

Suddenly each car in her path became an opponent to be bested, each yellow traffic signal an exhortation to speed, each red signal a curse of fate. She muttered irritably, she changed lanes for the slightest advantage, she drummed her hands impatiently on the steering wheel. “Come on, come on, come on!” she chanted impatiently at the traffic, the traffic lights, the circumstances, and herself.

At last, she squealed into the driveway. She bolted from the car almost before it stopped, slamming doors and yanking packages out of the back seat as though someone had declared a National Emergency. Rushing in the hosue and dropping the sacks onto the couch, she raced to the fridge and searched avidly for something she could throw together in 15 minutes or less; something to help keep the schedule on track. The schedule had so little room for error.

She heard a car door slam, then moments later Jack came into the house, whistling “Away in a Manger.” He walked cheerily into the kitchen, leaned over and kissed her on the back of the neck. “Hey, babe. How’s your day been?” Surely an innocent question.

She wheeled on him, a bright gleam of desperation in her eyes. “Jack, could you please go get the kids from day care? I remembered on the way home I hadn’t thawed the shrimp for the dip for tonight, and I’ve got to put something together real quick so I can get dressed and ready to go and I won’t have time to do this and pick them up too. hang my dress on the back of our bedroom door and ….” She paused, as Jack grimaced and smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand.

“I can’t believe it … Sarah, I forgot to go by the dry cleaners!”

“Jack, I told you ….”

“Yes, I know you did … Look, I’m really sorry.” There was an uncomfortable, angry silence as each of them considered an array of less-than-optimum choices. “Look … I know what,” Jack said finally, “I’ll go get the kids and run by the cleaner’s and be back here in ….” He studied his watch a moment, mentally calculating the length of time needed to complete the route, “… in 20 minutes. You do your thing, and I’ll handle everything else.”

Spinning on his heel, he abandoned the field, strategically retreating toward the front door. Sarah stared angrily after him until she heard the front door slam, followed by his quick footsteps up the sidewalk. The car ground into life, and Jack’s tires squealed as he backed hurriedly out of the driveway. Sighing a sigh of deep exasperation, she jerked a cookbook from the shelf and carried it to the table, thumbing through it until she arrived at the “Dips” section. Staring dully at the index, she contemplated the greatly narrowed range of options remaining to her.

Sitting at the kitchen table, a sinking, sick feeling settled into the pit of Sarah’s stomach. Unraveled – it was all coming unraveled. She had planned, predicted, thought ahead, prepared for this day and the days preceding and following it. She had been determined to keep it all together, and still it was coming apart on her. The tears began to seep from her eyes as she sat, slowly but surely losing the skirmish with despair. Fatigue and despair, always close allies, seemed almost omnipotent during this time of the year. “Why should that be?” she thought. “Isn’t this supposed to be the season of Good Cheer?”

They had forgotten, she told herself wearily. That was all there was to it, they had forgotten, and that was the cause of the problem, the frustration. Getting up from the table, she sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand as she reluctantly faced the fridge. Depressed byt he silence of the house, she switched on the radio over the sink. “O, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie …”

She wondered if they had forgotten anything else. Forgetting suddenly seemed so easy. Still sniffling, she tugged open the refrigerator door.Wineskins Magazine

Thom Lemmons

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