Authors: Nancy Thayer
Tags: #Contemporary Women, #Fiction
“Mommy?” Laura’s voice softened.
“I won’t be here to see Megan see her bedroom and her little tree!” Faye cried.
“Well, of course you will,” Laura said sensibly. “Your injuries don’t sound life-threatening. Look, Mommy, don’t worry about anything. Just focus on taking care of yourself, okay?”
“Okay,” Faye agreed. She knew Laura was being kind, but her words made her feel like some kind of decrepit old invalid.
some kind of decrepit old invalid, if she couldn’t even get up off the floor!
Really, she couldn’t believe this. Not this, now, on Christmas Eve. Not with her granddaughter coming. Faye couldn’t help it. She broke into serious sobs of self-pity, boo-hooing so hard it hurt her neck and her sinuses clogged up with mucus and she couldn’t even get up to get a handkerchief to blow her nose.
The front door banged and Alice swept into the house. From Faye’s vantage point on the floor, Alice looked even taller than she really was. She wore her ankle-length mink—no one would dare spit on Alice!—and it billowed around her like a monarch’s mantle as she strode across the kitchen floor.
“Good grief, honey, you look awful!” Alice knelt next to Faye. “Where does it hurt?”
“My ankle. And my neck.”
“Your neck, huh? Can’t take any chances with that. I’m going to call 911, get an ambulance here. Don’t argue. And you’re cold as ice.”
In just seconds, Alice had the phone in one hand and a blanket in the other, multitasking, as usual.
Four hours later, at eight o’clock on Christmas Eve, Faye was released from Mount Auburn Hospital. She’d been examined, x-rayed, ultrasounded, fitted with a soft ankle cast, presented with crutches, and enclosed in a neck brace that squeezed the flab around her jaw-line up, so her head seemed to be resting on a ring of Silly Putty.
“I look like a walrus,” Faye complained.
“And a very pretty one, too,” Laura assured her.
Alice had stayed with Faye for the first three hours, until Laura could get her husband and child settled in her mother’s house. Then Laura drove Faye’s car to the hospital so Alice could return to her own Christmas Eve plans.
The good news was that no bones were broken. Faye’s ankle was only sprained, but sprains could be the devil to heal, the physician assured her. She had to stay off her feet.
Christmas, and she had to stay off her feet!
The bad news was that the tests had revealed Faye’s neck showed signs of osteoarthritis, caused by aging. Faye moaned when the physician told her
Now, when everyone asked her what had happened, she’d have to confess that she was
As if it weren’t already apparent. None of her vertebrae were cracked, but she was supposed to wear her neck brace for the next few days, to support her neck and her weakened, arthritic old neck bones.
“It couldn’t have happened at a better time,” Laura assured Faye as they drove through the dark evening. “Lars and I are here, we can take care of you. You can lounge about in bed or on the sofa and we’ll wait on you hand and foot.”
“But it’s Christmas!” Faye protested. She’d forced herself to be cheerful in the hospital, but now here came the tears again. She’d had the pain medication prescription filled but refused to take one of the pills until bedtime. She didn’t want to be dizzy and drugged on Christmas Eve. She
taken two aspirin, which helped, but they didn’t completely alleviate the pain. The whole time it was as if someone were pressing an iron set to “linen” up against her neck.
Laura reached over to pat her mother’s hand. “Hey, remember. If Fate gives you lemons, make lemonade!”
“Oh, no!” Faye groaned. How many times during Laura’s childhood had Faye given her exactly that advice? “Did that irritate you as much as it irritates me?”
Laura tossed her a grin. “What do you think?”
Faye smiled, sniffing back her tears. It was, after all,
to be in her daughter’s company again. And if Laura had become, well,
that was a good thing, a sign she’d really grown up. Faye closed her eyes, resting. She’d have some Champagne when they got home. Certainly there’d be plenty of it. The new
competent Laura had used her cell phone to call everyone who was invited to the Christmas Eve party to explain Faye’s fall and regretfully cancel. What a disappointment for Laura and Lars, to miss seeing their friends! And all that food going to waste!
Aubrey had been wonderful, though. He’d wanted to come to the hospital, but Faye had asked him not to— she hadn’t known how long she’d be there, not to mention (and she did
mention) how very much she did not want him to see her in such a vulnerable and unattractive state, carted around in a hospital gown like a suet pudding.
When Faye got the news that she was going home, she’d phoned Aubrey again, and he agreed to drive to her house so he could meet Laura and her family. So, they would manage to have, if not a
Christmas Eve, at least a pleasant one. The blow to Faye’s vanity from Aubrey seeing her in a neck brace and on crutches would be balanced out by the windfall of his very presence in her life. She was so glad to have her daughter know she could attract such an elegant, charming man. She was even a little proud about it.
“Your new house is adorable,” Laura said, as they pulled into Faye’s drive. “Gosh, is that a Jag?”
Faye’s spirits rose as they parked behind her beau’s elegant vehicle. “Yes, it’s Aubrey’s.”
“He’s nice, too.” Faye smiled like a satisfied cat. It was all going to be all right. The lights on the Christmas tree twinkled gaily in the living room window. The wreath swathed in candy-stripe ribbons brightened the front door. Soon she’d be settled on the sofa with a glass of Champagne and her granddaughter on her lap and her loving family gathered all around, getting to know her delightful gentleman friend.
Laura rushed around to open the car door and assist Faye in the cumbersome task of hopping out and onto the crutches without hurting her neck or ankle. Slowly, Faye toddled up the walk, swinging the crutches clumsily, not yet used to the rhythm, feeling rather like a piece of unassembled furniture.
Laura opened the door. Faye bumbled inside. Too eager to wait to take off her coat, she clumped into the living room, leaning on her crutches, her head wobbling on its brace like a bobble-head doll.
Aubrey was standing by the fireplace, a glass of scotch in his hand. Lars was kneeling by the Christmas tree, Megan next to him, looking at all the packages.
Sweet, darling little Megan! She wore the red sweater with the white snowman that Faye had knitted for her. And a pair of jeans, and a pair of those dreadful Doc Martens boots the young seemed so obsessed with. Why would Laura buy those for her little girl? Still, it was
“Megan!” Faye cried with delight. She swung one of her crutches forward, hurrying toward her granddaughter.
Megan’s eyes grew wide with alarm as she watched Faye lurch toward her like a creature from a sci-fi film. With a shriek, she threw herself into her father’s arms.
“Honey, honey,” Lars soothed. “It’s Nanny. You remember Nanny. You talk to her every day on the computer phone. She gave you your pink princess doll.”
Megan stared. Her lower lip quivered.
“It’s the crutches.” Faye hurried to make excuses for her grandchild, even though her feelings were crushed. “And the neck brace.” She backed away, not wanting to traumatize Megan any more than she already had, and as she did, a fierce hot flash exploded through her. Sweat popped out on her forehead. Her underarms were ovens. Her entire body itched with heat and irritation. In front of everyone she loved, she was turning into a walking prickly pear cactus.
Dropping her crutches, she hobbled around on one foot, clawing at her coat, desperate to get out of it.
Megan gawked and tightened her grasp around her father’s neck.
Laura hurried over. “Here, Mommy, let me help you.”
“I’ll support her while you take her coat off,” Aubrey suggested.
Together, Aubrey and Laura got Faye out of her coat and onto the sofa, with her bad ankle elevated. Aubrey put a flute of cold Champagne in her hand.
“Thank you,” Faye said. “Just what the doctor ordered.” She tossed back a hearty slurp, then held the cool glass to her forehead.
Megan clung to her father, peering in Faye’s direction from the safety of his shoulder.
“She’s gotten shy recently,” Laura confessed, easily curling up on the floor next to Faye. “It’s not just you. I’m sure she’ll come around.”
“Did she see her bedroom?” Faye asked.
“Oh, yes, Mommy, it’s
Although Megan’s going to sleep with us while we’re here. The shy business again. I know she’ll get over it, but until she does, we’re allowing her to sleep with us whenever we’re away from home.”
“Oh,” Faye said in a very small voice. “I see.”
“I think Megan’s hungry,” Lars announced. “I wouldn’t mind eating, either.”
“The refrigerator—” Faye began, automatically struggling to get off the sofa and into the kitchen.
“Don’t move, Mommy,” Laura ordered. “I’ve seen the tons of food you’ve prepared. I’ll organize a dinner for us all, here in the living room. We’ll put everything on the coffee table. Lars and Megan and I can sit on the floor. It will be fun, like an indoor picnic!”
“Let’s go help Mommy.” Lars carried his clinging daughter out of the room.
Faye looked mournfully over at Aubrey. “I feel like a beached whale.”
“You need more of Dr. Sperry’s Miracle Tonic.” Aubrey poured more Champagne for them both, then gently lifted her legs so that he could sit on the other end of the sofa with her feet in his lap. “Merry Christmas, Faye,” he said, raising his glass in a toast.
“Merry Christmas, Aubrey,” Faye echoed. She sipped the cold elixir. “Oh, Aubrey, I’m so glad you’re here! But with this neck brace on, I look like—
Aubrey laughed. “That’s all right, Faye,” he assured her, patting her ankle. “I can’t see very well.”
Their mutual laughter made Faye relax, surrendering into the comfort of the cushions. The Christmas tree twinkled merrily, and from the kitchen floated the aromas of food being warmed. It wasn’t the Christmas Eve she’d dreamed of, but it would certainly be one Faye would always remember.
POLLY STEERED HER CAR INTO THE GARAGE AND clicked the door closed. She staggered into the kitchen, her arms full of last-minute holiday groceries. She’d probably bought too much, but better too much than too little, that was her opinion.
The light on her answering machine was blinking. She listened to the message as she took off her cap, gloves, and muffler.
Faye, asking for help!
“Oh, Faye!” Polly cried. Hurriedly, she dialed her number.
A male voice answered.
“Hello, this is Polly Lodge, I’m a friend of Faye’s, she phoned—”
“Hi, Polly, this is Lars, Faye’s son-in-law. Faye’s gone off to the hospital with Alice. Laura’s on her way there now. I’m here with Megan.”
“Is Faye all right?”
“I think she will be. She fell down the stairs. Sprained or broke her ankle, did something to her neck.”
“Oh, dear, and at Christmas!”
“I’ll have her call you when she gets back, okay?”
“That would be great. Thanks, Lars.”
Polly hung up the phone and just stood in the middle of her kitchen, miserable.
She had missed a rare opportunity.
As the newest member of the Hot Flash Club, she often felt like the baby sister scrambling to catch up with the big kids. Faye, Alice, Marilyn, and Shirley had met a year before Polly met them, and during that year they’d gotten up to all sorts of adventures and formed a tight bond of sisterhood. Polly was thrilled to be admitted to this casual club, but she wanted more. She wanted to be closer to all of them, or at least to one of them.
Looking down, she saw her ancient basset hound, Roy Orbison, sitting patiently at her feet, staring up at her.
“Oh, Roy!” She knelt to pet and hug him. “You’re right. I can’t stand here daydreaming! We’ve got a lot to do.”
Her son, his wife, and their toddler, little Jehoshaphat, were coming to her house for Christmas Eve. Polly felt like she was preparing for a delegation from another planet.
David dwelt with his vegetarian wife Amy and their darling baby Jehoshaphat on a farm outside Boston. Amy’s parents lived there, too, just up the driveway, and together they all grew vegetables and ran a precious little country store full of sour homemade jellies and scratchy hand-knitted apparel affordable only to the wealthiest and purest of souls.
Polly often wondered at the currents of fate driving her family line. Her grandparents had struggled to survive on a potato farm in Ireland. Her parents had lived as penny-pinching but respectable citizens in South Boston. Polly had gone to college, where she met and married a handsome, adventurous, unreliable travel writer and explorer. Scott got Polly pregnant, then roamed away, eventually dying in a scuba-diving accident. Polly had raised their son David alone, until she met the love of her life, Tucker Lodge, a banker. Their marriage had been a happy one. David had adored his stepfather and, after college, had gone to work in Tucker’s bank. Then Tucker died of a heart attack. And David married Amy. And now Polly’s son was a farmer planting potatoes on Amy’s parents’ farm. Was there a potato-planting gene in her blood?
Well, Polly thought as she unpacked the groceries, wouldn’t it be nice if that was the explanation? Wouldn’t it be helpful if, in future years, scientists isolated genes responsible for certain life choices, such as marrying someone diametrically different from one’s parents?
had certainly done that, shell-shocking her timid, safety-loving parents when she married her first husband.
Since her son’s marriage to Amy, Polly had spent hours examining her early life choices. Really, she didn’t think the desire to shock, hurt, or impress her parents had played any part in her marriage to Scott. She’d been infatuated, completely
by the man. He’d seemed so glamorous to her, and the life she’d lived with him, traveling to Peru and Mexico and the wild Newfoundland coast, had been exciting beyond her wildest dreams.
Life after the divorce had been difficult, though. She’d made her living as a seamstress, and dedicated herself to providing a happy and safe home for her little boy. When David was twelve, Polly had married Tucker Lodge. Tucker was a reliable man, a wonderful provider, and a loving stepfather. His death three years ago had devastated Polly, and she knew David mourned him deeply, too.
Was it possible that Amy and her family, so entrenched in their farm, with their smug rural virtues, were as dazzling and fascinating to David as Scott had been to Polly? Certainly David was thriving, if you could call changing from a wiry, energetic banker who liked theater and opera into a lumbering, overweight, red-faced, tractor-driving, potato-planting country bumpkin
Oh, Polly wouldn’t care what David wore or did, if only Amy would allow her to see more of her grandson! Vegetarian Amy and her family acted as if they were civilized human beings while meat-eating Polly was some kind of Cro-Magnon creature, hooting and picking fleas off her fur. When Polly helped her mother-in-law, the year she was dying of cancer, Amy had not allowed her to see little Jehoshaphat, claiming that Polly might transmit dangerous germs. For a year, Polly had felt like some kind of leper.
The silver lining had been that she’d taken a membership at The Haven, hoping to work off some of the stress. There, she’d met three younger women who became her friends, and later, the members of the Hot Flash Club, with whom she could laugh about the gritty realities of aging. Thanks to all her new friends, she’d developed the courage to persist in her attempts to forge some kind of relationship with her grandson and his mother’s tightly knit, terribly superior family.
And tonight, on Christmas Eve, Amy had agreed to come to Polly’s house! This was a magnificent milestone. Jehoshaphat was fifteen months old, and he’d never visited his grandmother before.
Polly began arranging her evening’s culinary offerings as artistically as possible on plain white ironstone platters.
“Let’s see, I’ve got cheese made from the milk of goats fed by the Dalai Lama and crackers made from flour ground by French nuns during a full moon,” she joked to Roy Orbison, who waddled hopefully at her feet, waiting for something to drop. “I have several kinds of fruit. I have plain nuts and salted nuts. Carrots and celery. Everything from the health food store.” Because it was, after all, Christmas, she’d also used her grandmother’s recipes to make the gingerbread cookies and sugar cookies David had always loved.
She carried the platters into the living room, setting them on tables out of the dog’s reach.
Back in the kitchen, she surveyed the drink possibilities. From a health food store: mango juice, carrot juice, papaya juice, apple juice. Also beer, which David used to drink, and Champagne, just in case. And eggnog, whole and skim milk, sparkling and plain spring water, and a staggering assortment of herbal teas.
She glanced at her watch: five thirty. They would be here in an hour. She rushed to the living room to double-check everything. The tree’s lights—the only non-organic decoration—were glowing. Gingerbread characters grinned from the boughs, among angels, elves, and animals that Polly, who was a talented seamstress, had made from scraps of fabric. Presents for everyone lay under the tree, wrapped in paper Polly had recycled from brown paper grocery bags and tied with yarn. She was especially proud of this touch of environmental support; Amy
to approve of that! From the mantel hung stockings Polly had made herself for Amy, Jehoshaphat, and Polly’s boyfriend, Hugh. David’s stocking she’d made years ago, when he was a toddler. She’d considered giving it to Amy when they married, but quickly realized Amy would want to hang stockings of her own choosing.
She nodded admiringly at her mantel, decorated with laurel and candles. “I bought the greens myself, at Odell’s farm, which is totally organic,” she told her hound. “The candles are beeswax, also organic. I bought the wooden candleholders at a farm fair this fall. Can’t wait for Amy to notice
“I know, you think I’m going overboard, trying to please Amy, but come on, Roy, David’s my only child. And Amy’s the mother of my only grandchild!”
Her grandfather clock chimed. “Eeek!” she cried. It was time to shower and dress.
She’d laid a fire of natural woods—was there any other kind? Now she knelt to light it, so it would be blazing heartily when David and his family arrived. She clicked on the CD player, and Christmas carols rolled their golden notes out into the room. Everything was clean, dusted, polished, shining. She lit the candles on the mantelpiece. Their little flames danced, giving a lively, festive touch to the room.
“I don’t think Amy can complain about a single thing,” Polly assured herself.
She hurried up to her bedroom, stripped off her clothes, and turned on the bath water. As the tub filled, she stared in the mirror at her naked, sexagenarian body. She looked grandmotherly. That was appropriate. After all, she
But she was also, to her surprise, at her advanced age, newly in love, or at least in serious like.
After Polly’s mother-in-law died last year, her physician, Hugh Monroe, had asked Polly out on a date, at which point Polly, who liked to consider the glass half-f, decided Fate was getting around to balancing things out. Polly had taken good care of Claudia in her final months. She considered Hugh a kind of karmic reward. In her most sentimental moments, she even imagined that Claudia had engineered this somehow.
Hugh was so wonderful! Polly sank into her bubble bath and closed her eyes, surrendering for just a moment to the heat, the peace, and her dreams. Fragrant bubbles surged over the mounds of her round thighs, belly, and breasts.
Hugh didn’t seem to mind how much Polly weighed. A jovial, energetic, portly man, Hugh liked to eat, cook, and drink. Polly hadn’t discussed the philosophy of this with him, but she guessed that he alleviated the stresses of his work as an oncologist with as many vigorous sensual pleasures as he could conjure up on any given day.
She had such a good time with Hugh on their dates! He took her to elegant restaurants, but also to amusement parks where they rode roller coasters and merry-go-rounds and ate cotton candy. They’d spent a day on a small boat plunging around off Boston’s coast on a whale watch—and they’d seen two whales. Polly would never forget how her heart leapt at the sight. On his next vacation, Hugh wanted to take her scuba-diving in the Caribbean, something Polly had never done, and he was trying to persuade her to take riding lessons with him. Polly wasn’t so sure about that. She hadn’t ridden since she was a teenager, and she had visions of swinging her hefty hind end into a saddle and the horse going “Oofh!” and fainting.
The good thing about Hugh was that she was able to confide such fears to him. When she’d confessed her equestrian vision, Hugh had replied, “Ah, Polly, any horse would be thrilled to bear your gorgeous derrière!” That night, he’d given her a full back massage that ended with kisses all up and down her spine and all over her round rear end. Until then, she hadn’t realized her nerves had valiantly sneaked through the cellulite and were there waiting to receive the sweetness of his warm breath, his soft lips, like a hive when the bee buzzes back with its load of honey.
Polly smiled and hugged herself.
But enough daydreaming. She stepped dripping onto the bath mat, grabbed a towel, and began drying off. As she dressed, she could feel her courage fading beneath an onslaught of nerves.
David’s wife, Amy, and her parents, Katrina and Buck, all lived and worked on the same farm. Their schedules were closely knit together, their conversation related to matters Polly didn’t understand—fertilizer, insects, spinning wheels. The Andersons had lived on their land since the Revolutionary War, which indeed was something to be proud about, but the Andersons were more than proud. They were
They belonged to their own elite club with its private language and rituals, and Polly was not admitted. Last Christmas, she’d been invited for two hours only on Christmas night, to share eggnog with her son, grandson, and daughter-in-law while they exchanged presents that, Polly suspected, they never used.
Nothing Polly gave Amy and her family was ever good enough. When Polly mailed her grandson a funny card and present on Valentine’s Day, she never heard whether it had even arrived. Very occasionally she was asked to baby-sit her grandson, but when she did, Amy was always just in the next room. What was
Polly pulled on her wool slacks and the green cashmere sweater she’d knit herself. Cashmere and wool,
that ought to satisfy Amy. She sat on the edge of her bed to put on her socks and shoes. From the corner of her eye, she noticed the crystal bowl filled with Brach’s Chocolate Mix that she’d brought upstairs, to keep away from Amy’s critical eye.
For courage, Polly grabbed the bag, delved inside, and pulled out a chocolate-covered Brazil nut. It was especially satisfying to eat nuts, because she could crunch them.
The chocolate, sugar, and fat blasted into her system like a team of miniature superheroes, lifting her spirits high. She nibbled more as she brushed her red—well,
and red—hair and put on a bit of lipstick and eye-liner.
Any moment now, they’d be here. She’d get to hold her grandson, hand him a present, watch him as he opened it.
Where was the camera! She was standing here chewing away like a squirrel, and where was the camera?
In the kitchen? Probably.
The doorbell chimed. Polly raced down the stairs, Roy Orbison hurrying with her, his long, chubby body swaying, nearly tripping her as they went.
The air downstairs was smoky. Hadn’t she pushed up the fireplace flue? She’d have to open the windows, let the smoke out. First, though, she hurried to the front door.