First runner-up for prose in the Holiday Blog Contest is Kate Petersen of Somerville, MA. Thanks, Kate! Please enjoy!
The sand barrels are out on my street, which puts us near first snow, and they are saying Thanksgiving’s next week already, so that's about right. Soon the sidewalk leaves that are left will freeze over and my landlord's husband will start sprinkling the sand onto the stairs in the mornings before work like preventive birdseed. I look up and wish the city would offer municipal stars, also, just as a seasonal service. And there went out a decree from Somerville Public Works that each electoral district would be apportioned with stars, each according to its property taxes.
In Arizona, I could get winter stars just by driving ten minutes north, up to the horse farm where I used to ride. There would be so many I felt I could almost get the constellations right, like it was some multiple choice test. Out there, we did not mess with the clocks and darkness, but it was also eighty on Thanksgiving. Here I have inevitable snow, and these starless preparations for it.
Another way I know we're getting close is that the soap dispenser from my mom arrived in the mail yesterday. There is a ghost, a snowman, and now a penguin, and I line them up like dolls on the kitchen sill. She buys them for me on her morning speed walks through the mall, and my dad packs and ships them with clips of the local sports page. They all smell like vanilla. She sends seasonal outfits for my wine bottles, too, the way she used to buy us extra dresses for our Barbies. So far, I have a Dracula cape and Santa suit.
Earlier at the bar, I told a woman I didn't know that maybe I should be in Arizona again, near my folks, who are not young. Her name was Stacie-with-an-ie from Cleveland, and together we watched the Browns blow a giant lead. Two drunks came and sat down next to us, one who turned out to be The World Famous Max Weissman, at least according to his friend, Jack. We both shook their hands.
-Hey hey, Max said, hey, until I turned from the TV. Hey. His eyes worked a little to focus on me. What is the last good book you read?
-Milo and Otis, I said. Stacie screamed at the Browns offensive line coach.
Last year was the first year I'd ever paid for a tree – well, half – a pretty five-footer we put on the fruit crate we usually had the TV on. We split everything: milk, eggs, trees, a mailbox.
He had the tree stand and I bought a tree skirt on my lunch hour and when we decorated, I put the ornament she'd gotten him when they were living in Vermont toward the front, because that is what you do when you want it to be true, and over.
And a bed.
In my desk drawer at home, I have been saving all the envelopes my dad sends the news clippings in, two or three a week depending on the Suns schedule. Sometimes I go through them, comparing his block lettering to itself, how the Es are getting wobblier and the 2s are less sure now, like me, that there is any reason left to be not there, meaning here.
Max kissed my hand when he left, a little bow that reminded me I have always wanted to be the person who remembers the difference between frankincense and myrrh -- Joyous, but with facts. I am not that person. I am the person who has always known how to spell myrrh.
I walked home the way I always do. The bicycle at 38 Carver is right where it has been since the summer, a white frame with road tires chained to the black iron banister in an unraked yard. In September, I wrote it down on a receipt in my pocket, for fear it would be gone. Have I not learned by now to tell the difference between what goes and what gets left?
Christmas morning was clear. The snow had come too soon, and was already gone. The treelights were on and the shades up, which is one of those things you can forget, how nice Christmas lights look in full daylight. We had both wrapped our gifts the night before in different rooms, trading off the scotch tape.
He had circled the bike pedals in a magazine for me, and brought in the mail the day they came. They were blue and shaped like eggbeaters and came in a box that looked like it was for a tie tack or a watch. I got him a book, too, of poems, and a button-down. He had asked what I wanted. I don't know, I’d said. I like surprises. Which is not the same as saying, Surprise me, but almost.
He opened the pedals first, then the book of poems, then the shirt, which I knew was going to be too big when I bought it.
-It may be too big, I said.
-Thank you, he said, kissing me. Then I opened the soft package with my name in black marker, going slow on purpose. Snow pants, khaki, and wrapped inside them, ski gloves.
-Snow pants! he said.
-Snow pants, I said back.
-Do you like them? I hugged him. Yes, I said over his shoulder.
We packed the other gifts in the car and drove to his mom’s house an hour west. I was in charge of tolls and music, and I stacked the quarters in my palm, rubbing them each like wishcoins as I watched out the window for a Phoenix exit to suddenly appear on the Mass Pike.
-He got me snow pants, I told Julie on the first Monday back. Now what? We were in the break room kitchen, which fits one person, two when there’s news.
-Have you guys ever skied together? Julie asked, putting half a hot chocolate packet in her cup of office coffee. I don’t know why everyone does that here.
-No, I said. And ski gloves.
-Does he ski? Maybe he wants to teach you. Julie wears a ring her fiancé made her by auditing a ring-making class or something. There are at least two continents on it, she showed me once.
-I think he said he did bunny slopes a couple times in high school.
-Did you maybe talk about a ski getaway? Julie asked. Like in Vermont?
I shook my head. We had not talked about Vermont.
-But do you want to learn?
-I don't think so, I said. I've never skied in my life.
-How about a ski lift, Julie said. Have you been on one of those? I could tell she didn’t like the chocolate in the coffee.
-Do gondolas count? I said. We went back to our computers. We didn’t know.
On fog days, the Carver street bicycle reminds me of the pigeon bones I'd find in the desert as a kid, bleached white and clean, no longer having anything to do with life or death or flying, beautiful and useless as the doves in the center of a sand dollar. Perhaps it’s a rule I wasn’t taught, that everything lovely requires something to be broken first.
Some mornings I would wake and his mouth would be on my neck and through my hair I could feel that he was still sleeping, and I’d turn, and think: What else is there.
I am surprised still by how complete the dark is by five. I turn lights on in the front room before taking off my coat. My roommate’s dead parsley plant stands where our tree was last year, perky and yellow as raffia, and I have considered putting lights on it if I can find a small string. There is one green bottle in our freezer, and from it I pour myself gin that tastes like every tree I can remember. I cook stew to carols, picking out the alto line as I listen for the onions to go clear, and fiddle with the thermostat, and wonder again whether the light we are saving is meant for somewhere else, or whether, like the sand, it's just for a later here.