The wife dropped the cup to her husband’s place and said, fiercely, “Are you done? I would like a bit of interaction. Is that too much to ask? That I even have to ask…” She could gladly hit him but petted her hair instead.
And he reached for the cup and responded, his forehead rumpled and heavy, like it held back weight, “Yes, but I am doing something, you know.”
“Just what is it you are doing?” She leaned in to inspect until her husband’s shiny, downy scalp met her lips and she obliged, instinctively. He moved his arm to cover the magazine he was reading. Or was it a catalog?
“I am looking for your Christmas gift. You are impossible to shop for. You like nothing. Nothing satisfies you.”
“I find that impossible to believe,” she responded without contemplation. “But speaking of that, I had to tell you, I remembered last night, something when I was younger,” she continued, throwing up the folds of her gown and robe to sit facing her husband, a plate of crumbs and jam globs between them.
“When you were what?” He coughed a few times and took a sip, then winced as his muscles worked to push the hot liquid over his tongue and down his throat.
“Younger. A child. Baby, perhaps, I don’t know. I remember when I was just a child in bed, my sister in the next bed, sleeping, one night, really close to Christmas, possibly Christmas Eve, I swear, a man came in. Just, a man, it was dark so I couldn’t see much. I remember he danced to the middle of the room and circled—like a pirouette—snapped his fingers.” She paused to get it right, nodded, then continued, ”Then, he left.” Her face flashed and moved as she remembered, a few crumbs caught in her wind and jumped.
Her husband stared. “Is that what you wanted to interact about?”
“Yes. Did you hear my story?”
“I heard your story.” His head dropped back to the magazine. She could read him well and felt satisfied he had at least heard her. “Was that all?,” he inquired as he flipped a page.
She crossed her legs and leaned back, folds of silk followed. “I have your gift already. You are easily satisfied.”
“You are impossible. I have a vague idea for your gift … but why did you tell me that story—were you afraid?”
She said she wasn’t afraid, but then paused, reaching for the memory. She added, lifting and dropping her shoulders, “I was struck. Probably afraid then, now, struck. Who would do something like that?”
“Hardly. Not one for dancing,” she replied.
“Your father?” He reached for a piece of toast, but there were only crumbs.
“He couldn’t dance in his dreams. Nor would he.”
Her husband nodded, knowingly. Indeed, her father was not a dancing man. “Maybe your parents had people over and one of them felt a drunken whim.”
“Maybe. I was so young. And he made a noise…”
“What noise? What did he say?”
“What a bizarre thing to say! As if the whole thing wasn’t entirely bizarre enough.”
“No!” she shouted loudly, “He said….” But the thought was out of reach. She shook her head. “No. Just a sound. It was … the whole thing … I feel like I’m just remembering it now. I haven’t thought about this in years. It definitely happened Christmas Eve.”
“Sounds unnerving,” he said.
“No! Not unnerving. It was very … very…”
“Hmmm. Well, I need to find your gift now, or it won’t come in time.”
The wife began knocking her nails on the plate, and soon her knee joined the rhythm, she felt warm energy. Next, her eyes danced around. She noticed a thin tendril of spider web that had come loose from the lamp and flowed gently in an invisible and insignificant breeze. Under the mantel, a small fly. What were the chances the fly would meet the web and be trapped? Her husband made a few noises, and it became clear he was considering making more toast. He lifted the plate to her, but she shook her head.
“What. What is it? I think you are afraid,” he said.
“No…I—” She jumped up, causing her robe to move and the plate to fall. She yelled, “I’m not afraid! I just want to know why the hell don’t exciting things like that happen to me anymore? Nothing exciting ever happens!”
Her husband didn’t know what to say or even how to look, so he refrained from doing either and sipped again, wincing as he swallowed. She ignored him, twirled out of the room, silk and hair following. The tendril of web was scooped up in her breeze and connected back onto the lamp.
In a quiet voice, so his wife couldn’t hear, the husband said, “This present I’m about to purchase, that had better be exciting.”
The week passed and Christmas arrived. The night before was unseasonably warm, yet dry, as if the air could catch fire with a spark. After a solemn church service, the husband and wife returned home and exchanged gifts. She gave him a beautiful set of golf clubs. They were long and gleaming, and he spent great time and care handling and noticing each one. Even bringing one up to the bedroom for the occasional practice putt.
The arrival of new golf clubs was not unanticipated; the husband had made it known he would have been unsatisfied were he not to have a hand in choosing the desired set. His wife had nevertheless gone to great pains to hide them behind her wedding dress in their closet, out of sight.
He gave her a beautiful bracelet cuff, thick gold, with a luxury fitted box and authenticating certificate. This gift was not wholly unanticipated either, as she had received a pair of gold earrings of a similar design the year before. Her expectations were not unsatisfied, she was happy to possess the matching set.
“Are you satisfied, my love?” He put his arms around her neck and pulled her in to him, fast and tight. She nodded. She was caught in-between breaths but held still until he let go. “Yes. You?” He nodded too, released her, and took a few practice putts. Then he began to undress.
As she unfastened her dress, she remarked with a measure of casualness, “You know, this is the one night I remember, year to year. I remember it well, so well it seems no time has passed. Life, as it exists in memory, is like a necklace of precisely formed Christmas Eves pearls, separated by a woolly cotton film of everything else.” He unbuttoned his shirt as his wife continued, “I remember where I am because I’m always here. That predictability…”
“It’s comforting.” He finished her thought and sat down to take off his socks. He then asked if she wouldn’t mind using the bathroom first for he wanted another sip of whiskey downstairs and he had to file the authenticity certificate for the bracelet.
“It’s called a cuff,” she called after him, but he didn’t hear.
She cleaned her teeth. The electric hum of the brush pacified her mind.
The air was warm and prickly. In the dark, undisturbed bedroom, the wife inhaled Christmas smells, packing them tight in her mind, so they braced her as she fell hard into her pillow. What a gift, she thought, what a gift I received, this beautiful cuff. What a beautiful home I have. These smells, all these Christmas smells…. She pulled the pillow tight around her ears as the smells and the gifts and the dry, prickly air surrounded her.
In her dozy sleep, she would never have imagined that she would have been able to move so fast as to grab the long, gleaming golf club and swing it with the full power of her hips, but as she stood over the gushing head of her husband, it struck her, that must have been exactly what she had done.
A dark figure had entered the dark room, moved as if—only now she realized—making an effort to dance, a pirouette? Or was she imagining things, remembering stories from before? He had snapped, yes, that had happened. She’d heard a light snap right before the bones in her arms reverberated as iron met skull.
The room seemed to ignite after that, pulling husband and wife into the smokey, cottony fold that sometimes separated real and imagined.
His head rested on the ground, shiny, next to the thin, saturated fabric of her night gown. With great effort and desperation, he reached into his gut and pulled out a sound, “gggggggiiiiii….” She shook her head, “Dear… dear…,” and smoothed his rumpled brow. “Shhh … shhhh.”
He pushed the sound again and again, wincing as it came up from his throat and over his tongue, “ggggggi….” Try as he might, he couldn’t make the sound into a word. Then he stopped trying. She sat next to him in the dark, in the warm, Christmas air, smoothing his rumpled, heavy brow, leaving his word unfinished.
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