I thought I would use December to try a few Christmas stories. Some are true. Some are a figment of my imagination. Most fall in between, in that place that is fictional memoir. This one though is taken from the book I am writing.
It was early, the sun just beginning to peek over the mountains. The house was silent except for the quiet movements of Mia. She tiptoed down the hallway, her bags in one hand her shoes in the other. She reached the front door but before she opened it, she looked around the room one last time.
The tree was decorated now turning their sad, leftover tree, into something almost beautiful. Ornaments and white twinkling lights could do that, could turn something ugly and cast aside into something worthy of being the center piece of a room.
Two stockings hung from the mantle, one for her and one for her mom. They were bulkier now with Christmas presents hiding in the neck of the fabric. She had put a few trinkets she had picked up at the student store in her mom's along with some money. She could see that her mom had put something in her stocking but she could not bring herself to retrieve it. Not with her mom's words still swirling in her mind.
She turned her back on the room and opened the front door, hoping that the click of it closing behind her would not wake her mom. She was hoping to catch the morning bus back to school before her mom even knew she was gone. It was a cowardly choice, but practical. Telling her mom she was leaving would only induce another fight, another lashing of words.
She sat down on the front steps and put on her shoes tying the laces quickly. It was not a long walk to the bus stop thankfully. Just long enough for Mia to rehash the events of the night before. Things had been going so well. They had found their tree and her mom had been right. It was on sale. When they got home, they pulled out the old ornament box and trimmed the tree stopping often to reminisce. Each ornament bringing back memories; the clay hand print she had made in kindergarten, the Santa Claus stuck in a chimney they bought after watching Gremlins, the angel her grandmother had given her when she was a young girl. They drank hot chocolate and watched It's a Wonderful Life while they made Christmas cookies from sugar cookie dough they bought at the store. It was a perfect evening, movie made, until it was time for Mia to leave for church.
"Mom, I need to get going if I'm going to make it to the Christmas Eve service," Mia said. She went back to her room to run a brush through her hair and grab her jacket.
Her mom followed her down the hallway. "We aren't done yet?" Maggie said. "You can't leave now." The statement more of a demand.
"I'll be back soon. We can finish then." Mia could hear the pleading edge to her voice. She went to church every Christmas Eve so it was not a surprise. But her mom's reaction was. It shouldn't have been, her mom often swung with her words.
"The movie will be over by then." Maggie's voice calm and acidic.
"You can watch it without me," she offered. "I know how it ends. Or we can record it."
"That's not the point. You are supposed to spend Christmas with your family, with me."
"Why don't you come with me? We can go together and then come home and finish decorating the cookies together. They need time to cool down anyway." She tried to be hopeful, she tried to find a workable solution.
But Maggie wasn't interested in solutions, she was only interested in getting her own way.
"How dare you?" her mother accused. "You are such a brat. So selfish." Her words dripped with venom.
"What?" Mia was genuinely confused. What had she done? How had the conversation turned so quickly.
Her mother turned and walked toward the kitchen, though she continued to berate Mia with her words.
The kitchen cabinet opened. A glass filled with ice, vodka and a splash of diet coke.
"I'm stuck here all year because of you and you can't even spend one night with me."
Mia wanted to respond but the words kept coming only stopping for a moment as her mom took a sip of the drink she now carried around the living room. She listened to the first few but then she only heard the rest, her mind protecting her as best it could. She felt the fight drain from her body. She could never win, not if she stayed here. And so she put on her coat, found her mom's car keys on the counter and walked out the front door.
She was going to go to her childhood church tonight for Christmas. She was going to sit in a black chair near the back. She would listen to the words of the pastor who had baptized her as a child, who had served at her grandparent's funeral. She would sing Silent Night with the congregation at midnight. She would do these one last time, one last Christmas.
And now in the morning, she was going home.