Read Hot Flash Holidays Online

Authors: Nancy Thayer

Tags: #Contemporary Women, #Fiction

Hot Flash Holidays (3 page)

Her thoughts lulled her. The sweet, heavy brandy of sleepiness flowed through her blood, weighing down her limbs. Leaving the punch bowl on the counter, Faye left the kitchen and, flicking off the lights as she went, returned to the living room. She lay on her side on the sofa, pulling a woven tapestry throw over her for warmth. This familiar old trick had often allowed her to sink into sleep on nights when she tossed and turned in her own bed. She knew she would sleep now, and she was so grateful.

The lights of the Christmas tree shone in the room, like dozens of bright angels keeping watch.

Faye woke to find the sun streaming in. Great! No weather problems would keep Laura’s plane from landing.

She stretched, feeling wonderfully rested. Glancing at the clock, she gave a little cry of terror—she’d slept almost until nine o’clock!

Racing into the kitchen, she started her coffee, then phoned American Airlines to see whether Laura’s plane had left yet. A robotic voice presented “options,” but of course the option to speak with a living human being wasn’t one of them. Faye had to suffer through several minutes of pushing buttons and negotiating with a system that somehow, even though computerized, managed to be as smug and implacable as a high school principal. And it
like being back in school; it was like taking a test. The computer had all the power. She had to concentrate fiercely on what the robot said, and if, God forbid, she pressed the wrong number, she’d flunk and have to start all over again.

The whole process was so infuriating, it made her erupt in a Mount St. Helens of a hot flash. Really, Faye thought, there should be an option for menopausal women, who could scarcely remember their own names: “If you belong to the Hot Flash Club, press
and someone will be with you instantly.”

Finally she keyed in the flight number and was connected to an information bank. Laura’s flight had not yet departed.

Oh, no! The plane was due to leave at nine in the morning, and it was two minutes after nine! What had happened? Weren’t they going to be able to make it? There couldn’t be a blizzard in California—my God! What if there’d been an earthquake?

She raced into her tiny family room and turned on the television, quickly clicking the remote control to CNN. After a few minutes of watching the news, she calmed down. No earthquake reported. No disaster in L.A. All right. Fine. Everything was fine. The plane might be late——because while it was nine o’clock here, it was only six o’clock on the West Coast, she remembered, laughing out loud with relief. What an idiot she was! She had to
calm down

She finished her coffee, then went into the dining room, found the damask tablecloth, and flapped it out— she’d always liked the way the cloth
out, exuberant, like a bird delighted to spread its white wings—over the long dining room table. As she drank her coffee, she nibbled on Christmas cookies and her homemade, salted, candied pecans. Perhaps not the healthiest breakfast, but it was the holidays, hardly time even to consider dieting.

She rinsed the punch bowl and set it on the table, then brought out the punch cups, the ladle, the Christmas napkins, the pitchers for juice and sparkling water for those who didn’t want punch, the plates, and the silver. She stacked Christmas CDs in her stereo player.

When the phone rang, she jumped so hard she nearly launched herself into space.

“Hello, my dear,” Aubrey said. “I thought I’d check in to see if you need anything for tonight.”

“Oh, thanks, Aubrey, that’s so kind of you.” His voice made her smile. “But I think I’ve got it under control. I’m just scurrying around, getting things ready for the little party.”

“Then I won’t keep you,” Aubrey told her. “But you know I’m here if you need me. You’ve got my cell phone number.”

She grinned like a schoolgirl. How sweet was that, to say
I’m here if you need me
! Oh, gosh, this really was going to be the best Christmas ever!

She unwrapped the twisted red, white, and green Christmas candles and put them in their tall silver holders. When the florist arrived with the flowers she’d ordered for the mantel, dining room table, and guest room, Faye was still in her robe, with so much left to do.

Hurriedly she showered and dressed, then drove off to pick up the turkey and the bluefish pâté from the health food store. She stopped at Wilson’s Farm to buy apples, oranges, clementines, grapes, and several kinds of sweet rolls for tomorrow morning’s breakfast. Her pantry and freezer were crammed with food already, but she wanted to have an abundance, wanted no one to be deprived of a thing.

It took her four trips to carry everything from the car to the house, and by the time she’d unpacked it all, she was drenched from a hot flash and trembling. Collapsing on a chair, she munched whatever was closest on the kitchen table. A few grapes. An onion bagel with a chunk of cheddar. She brewed a new pot of decaf with one hand while punching numbers in the phone handset with the other. Yes, the flight from L.A. had left on time, and was expected to arrive in Boston on time.

Her heart leapt with joy.

She’d better get busy! A huge pan of lasagna was in her refrigerator, dinner for tonight after the holiday cocktail party, so that was under control. It was the party itself she had to get ready for. She clicked on the radio to the classical station and heavenly Christmas music accompanied her as she chopped, diced, stirred, and spread.

Her hand was trembling. She needed something to calm her down—a glass of wine? No! She had to drive out to the airport in just—oh my God, in just one hour! She would not allow herself to impair her already excited senses. Chocolate. She needed chocolate.

From the freezer, she took a pint of Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk, which she’d always found worked better than a trip to the psychiatrist
a couple of Valium, and faster. So what if she automatically gained two pounds? It was the holidays; she had no time to worry about her weight.

She nuked the ice cream in the microwave for thirty seconds, just the perfect amount of time to get it to the perfect degree of melted richness. Digging a spoon in, she ate directly from the carton as she rushed upstairs to dress. Quickly, she removed her shirt and pulled on a Christmas sweater she’d ordered especially to please her granddaughter. Bright red, it was decorated with a scene of Santa in his sleigh, his sack bulging with presents, his white beard blowing back in the wind. The string of reindeer wrapped around the sweater, ending with Rudolph with his red nose on Faye’s back shoulder.

Admiring the sweater, her eye fell on her clock. Oh, no! It was already one forty-five. Laura’s plane landed at Logan at three! It would take Faye a good hour to drive there, and that would be only if the traffic was not too congested.

Hurriedly, she kicked off the ancient loafers she wore to do housework, grabbed the half-eaten carton of ice cream, and started down the stairs in her thick wool socks. Her purse was on the hall table. She’d pull on her boots, coat, gloves, and just
The car keys were in—

Suddenly, she slipped. Her body was sailing in the air.

“AAAH!” she cried, throwing out her hands to grab something,
In a flash, she hit the wood floor at the foot of the stairs. Her head hit
on the last step. For a moment she actually saw stars. Then everything went black.

She was dreaming of Christmas when a car alarm sounded rudely in the distance. Why was she sprawled out on the cold, hard surface of a parking lot? And who had run over her? Why wasn’t someone coming to help her?

Faye opened her eyes. She was collapsed in the front hall. Her ankle hurt. Her back hurt. Over in the corner, by the umbrella stand, lay an ice-cream carton in a puddle of brown liquid.

The noise wasn’t a car alarm; it was the telephone. She’d been lying here long enough for the ice cream to melt—Laura!

Faye pushed herself up. A searing pain shot through her, beginning in her neck and radiating out to her shoulders and back.

The phone continued to ring. Carefully, Faye turned her arm so she could see her watch. Three thirty-seven. Laura’s plane had landed, and here Faye was, on the floor.

“All right,” she said to herself in the calm voice she’d used years ago when Laura was a child, “it’s going to be all right. If you can’t pick up Laura and Lars and Megan, they’ll simply grab a cab. They’re not helpless. You need to get yourself to the kitchen, swallow a couple of aspirin, and you’ll be fine.”

Slowly, sensibly, she tried to roll over.

Her left ankle exploded in fireworks.

She fell back against the newel post, eyes closed, gasping with pain.

she cursed. “This isn’t right. This is terrible! It’s

The phone continued to ring, a shrill, demanding, exasperating sound.

Well, if she couldn’t walk to the phone, she’d damn well

Resting her left ankle on top of her right knee, she pushed with her right foot. Awkwardly, like a debilitated seal, she scooted on her back down the hall.

Someday, she knew, she would find this funny.

Right now, she felt only pain and frustration.

Tears ran down her cheeks. The phone rang and rang. After what seemed like a century, she bumped off the wood floor and onto the tile of the kitchen. A few more shoves, and she reached the alcove where she kept her phone book and phone. The demon clamped on her neck would not allow her to sit up, so she lifted her good leg and clumsily kicked at the ringing phone until it clunked to the floor.

“Mom?” a tinny voice said.

Grimacing in agony, Faye reached over and grabbed the handset.


“Mom? I’ve been calling for ages. We’re at the airport, we—”

“Laura, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

Laura laughed. For a moment, Faye was horrified. How could Laura laugh at her? Then she remembered the television ad for an alarm button one could wear around one’s neck. The actress who displayed it was a little old lady who quavered, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” For some reason, which at the moment completely escaped Faye, she and Laura had always laughed maniacally at this ad, and so had everyone else she knew.

“I’m not joking, Laura.” Faye strained to sound firm instead of frantic. “I fell down the stairs. I’ve twisted my ankle, and I’ve done something to my neck.”

“Oh, poor Mommy!”

Laura’s words were muffled. Faye could hear her repeating the information to Lars.

“Listen, Mommy,” Laura said, clear once again. “We’re going to grab a cab to the house. I want you to hang up now and phone your neighbors. Have someone get over there—”

“Darling, I can wait until you and Lars get here.”

“No, Mommy,” Laura insisted. “You need to get medical attention as soon as possible. I don’t want you lying on the cold kitchen floor, and if you’ve injured yourself, you’ll need to have it taken care of as soon as possible. Who knows how long it’s going to take us to get a cab here at the airport the day before Christmas? You should absolutely

Faye was speechless. Who
this person ordering her around? Three years ago, Laura had been a neurotic mass of indecision. Obviously motherhood had opened up new pathways in her brain.

“I hate to bother people on Christmas Eve,” Faye equivocated. “And I haven’t really gotten to know anyone well enough—”

“Then phone 911.”

Who are you and what have you done with the real
Faye wanted to demand. “Oh, Laura, surely that’s a little dramatic.”

“Mom. Can you stand up? No, right? That’s not dramatic. That’s real. Your health is real. Why do you think there’s a 911 in the first place? I’m going to hang up now. You phone 911. I’ll phone you back in a few minutes.” Decisively, she clicked off.

Faye felt like a giant tuna as she lay gasping on the kitchen floor. A really
giant tuna. She understood that Laura was trying to be helpful, but did she have to sound so bossy? Her daughter had been so officious! She’d made Faye feel like a child. A helpless, indecisive, pathetic little child! I’ll be
Faye thought perversely, if I’m going to dial 911. She wasn’t exactly old, feeble, and desolate! She had a gentleman friend— although she didn’t want Aubrey to see her like this, a quivering pile of helpless blubber. Well, she had her Hot Flash friends—Polly! Polly was dating Hugh, who was a doctor!

She pressed the dial button for Polly.

The answering machine came on. Cheerful Polly had taped a few measures of Christmas carols before and after her message, and Faye nearly snarled with impatience as she waited for the beep.

“Polly? It’s Faye, and I’ve done something really stupid. I’ve fallen, and I think I hurt my neck, and I was wondering whether Hugh might be there, perhaps he could suggest something . . .”

Faye clicked off. Who knew when Polly would get the message? Maybe she was better, now that she’d rested. She tried to sit up. Her neck made her literally scream with pain.
She punched Alice’s number.


Thank God! Alice was home. She listened to Faye’s appeal, and broke into a hearty laugh. “I told you Christmas sucks! I’ll be right there.”

Laura called again. “Mom, we’re in line to get a cab. Looks like it will be a twenty-minute wait. Did you phone 911?”

“Help is on the way,” Faye dissembled. “Now, darling, I’ll probably be gone when you get here, so the spare key is under the porcupine boot-scraper on the front stoop—”

“Gee, Mom, why don’t you just paint a sign:
Want to
burgle me? Look in the most obvious place!

Faye swallowed a retort. “Your beds are all made up, and the food for the party is completely prepared.” Without warning, an enormous wave of self-pity swept up through her chest. She burst into tears.

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