Now, as we pull into our driveway, I don’t feel as good, but I can still smell the evergreen sap of the three decorated trees in the sanctuary. Once inside, Kathy, Mary Ruth and I head to our rooms to change into slacks, and as though she’s read our minds Mommy says, “Don’t get too comfortable, girls, we’re due at Downers Grove in an hour.”
“Couldn’t we just stay home, nice and cozy?” Kathy asks. “Absolutely not. Christmas is a time to be with family,” Mommy declares.
“The Rusas are not our family,” Kathy says. “They’re nice people and all, but it’s not the same a having Gramma and Unc over. Why can’t we have them over instead?”
“Yeah, like we used to do,” I add. “We haven’t spent one holiday with Gramma and Unc since before Daddy died.”
“I don’t have to answer to you, justify these decisions. We’re leaving in half an hour.”
“I’m not going,” Mary Ruth says. “Neither am I,” Kathy says.
Mommy turns her gaze on me, “Are you coming, Laura?” I don’t say anything. I just wonder why things always have to be so hard with Mommy. Like she matters, and we don’t matter at all. I feel like a charity case at the Rusas. I don’t know why we can’t just spend holidays with Gramma and Unc like we did before.
“Come on, honey, let’s get ready now. I need to wrap a couple things to bring along,” Mommy says, a sweet smile on her face. I wonder about that smile, enticing me, trying to swing me her way. How sincere is it really? If she really cared about me and Kathy and Mary Ruth, if she were really and truly our mother, wouldn’t she want to see that we were happy, at least on Christmas?
“I don’t want to go either,” I blurt out.
“You what?” Mommy says, raising her voice. “I want us to all be here together,” I say.
“Fine, so you’re just like your sisters now, are you, Laura? I’ll go by myself, then.”
“We don’t want you to go by yourself. We want you to stay here with us,” Kathy pleads.
“Yeah,” Mary Ruth and I chime in.
“I’ll go by myself and tell all the Rusas that you three girls think you’re too good for them,” Mommy threatens, storming into her room.
She comes out a few minutes later wearing lipstick and mascara and with her hair brushed off her face. She looks nicer than she has in quite a long time. She goes into the kitchen. We hear foil ripping and crunching as she wraps her offerings for the Rusas. Then she limps to the coat closet, pulls out a car coat I’ve just outgrown—the turquoise one with black collar, sleeves and pockets, the one I wore to Daddy’s funeral. She puts it on, buttons it up, and steps outside into the cold.
“What do we do now?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I think we should commemorate this occasion. The day we all stood up to Mommy together,” Kathy says.
“Yeah,” Mary Ruth says, “we were a united front.”
“We should stick together all the time, you know, have a plan, to help us get through this,” Kathy says.
“It should have a name, then, shouldn’t it?” I ask. “What should have a name?” Mary Ruth asks. “Our plan,” I say.
“Yes, a name. How about Plan X? She won’t know what we’re talking about if we say Plan X,” Kathy suggests.
“Yeah, Plan X. The three of us sticking together,” Mary
Ruth says, “Let’s shake on it.”
We stand up facing each other in a little circle of three. We put our hands together in the middle, layering them palms down, and we shake our hands up and down and say, “Plan X, Plan X, Plan X, Plan X,” until the muscles in our arms hurt too much for us to continue.
When we stop, I ask, “Now what are we going to do?
How can we celebrate Christmas all by ourselves?”
“We’ll have to think of something special,” Mary Ruth says.
“Like cook our own dinner,” Kathy suggests.
We all like that idea, but we know Mommy would have a fit if we take any of the food she is storing. Even though she has cans and cans of vegetables downstairs, at least two dozen cans of tuna fish on a shelf under the stove, two entire cabinet shelves full of cake mixes, one shelf full of assorted cereals, and an entire freezer stocked with food in the basement, she notices if even one little candy bar is taken. None of us knows how she can possibly keep track of it all, but she does. So we go to our rooms and sift through drawers, pockets, purses, looking for every piece of change we have. When we regroup at the dining room table we count out $3.87. We put on our coats, hats, scarves and boots, and set off for the Food Mart, a new store that is open seven days a week, including holidays.
A light snow starts falling, but the wind isn’t blowing. The temperature is up in the 20s, so we are comfortable enough walking along the completely empty streets. When we reach the Food Mart we look in the frozen food section and find Salisbury steaks on sale for $.33 apiece, and frozen peas. They seem like the best ingredients for a meal. We load up. And there is a Sara Lee cheesecake. We grab that for dessert.
We take our goods up to the counter. Kathy pays in exact change. We have enough left over to buy some Tootsie Rolls, Mars Bars and Snickers too. As the tall, dark-haired man behind the counter bags our food and hands it to Kathy he says, “Merry Christmas, little waifs.”
“Merry Christmas,” we all say one after the other.
We begin laughing after we leave the store, calling each other little waif this, little waif that. And we start singing Christmas carols, first the real ones and then goofy versions that have been going around at school for years like “We three kings of orient are puffing on a rubber cigar. It was loaded, it exploded, poof!” We all scatter at the poof, pretending to fall down. Then one after the other we slip on the ice and fall down for real. But we have on so many clothes, it doesn’t hurt. We are laughing so hard, none of us can get up until the coldness of the ice starts seeping through our pants. I am thinking: see world, we can make our own Christmas, and it can be a happy one.
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