Sam, punched in Ruth’s number.
“Has ‘Scrooge’ been around?” he asked.
“Ran into him at the grocery store last night. I was hoping he found someone else to annoy.”
“I should just fly down.
“Sam, don’t worry about me. I’ve handled him every year. Drive your car down.”
“I want him to see my mug when he opens the door.”
“Just get here safely.”
“Things have changed. I plan to leave a few days early; probably Monday after the recycling’s picked up … if that works with your schedule.
“Sure. What happened?”
“They fired me, Ruth. The board says I’m pushing people around too much. Maybe I’ll leave this weekend—or tonight, pack the car and just head out. I don’t mind driving in the dark—”
“Sam you got your presentation. You’ve been working on it for weeks.”
“My heart’s not in it.”
“Finish it, Sam. You need to stick close to earth, selling cars instead of planes, hanging out with this old broad in Florida.”
“That’s that psyche part of you—reading my mind again.”
“You mean psychic, Sam. I’m not that either, just an old practicing Catholic who got lucky with great legs and good skin.”
“I might never come back to Ohio you keep talking about legs and skin.”
“Of course you’ll go back. You’ve got your boys, your grandkids—”
“Maybe I should just split it down the middle—six months in Palm Beach; six up here?”
“A lot of people do.”
After talking with Sam, Ruth went back and checked the oven timer on her cookies. For ten years since her husband passed, Caesar Vincenzo had rung her doorbell within weeks of Christmas, standing in his dark suit, gift in hand, unlike last night’s visit at Publix with a warning, not a gift. Years ago, she’d take the present reluctantly, close the door, and immediately tossed it in the trash. Now she just opened the door, said a few choice words, and slammed it in his face. Sometimes he tried to hand her an envelope, saying he had gotten her tickets to a holiday play or movie. One year Sam opened the door and Caesar did an about face and left with the gift.
With Caesar on her mind baking had become drudgery. Only her love for her grandchildren and their love for cookies pulled her through it.
The fridge displayed the kids’ drawings held by magnets, the most recent, a Christmas tree with an enormous angel atop it. Hung next to it was a grinning pumpkin with black, diamond-shaped eyes. A few days ago she had started putting Christmas out. Sitting on the window sill was an ancient cloth elf with a sharp smile, and alongside the toaster a cookie-jar Santa who bellowed ‘Merry Christmas’ when you tilted back his head.
She had always felt peaceful in her house, especially while cooking in the bright kitchen with her family seated around the small island, gossiping, teasing the kids, everyone seduced by the aroma of chopped garlic and a pot of bubbling red sauce on the stove, full of meatballs and sausage.
She was still admiring the crayon angel when the wind suddenly pawed her kitchen window and she shivered. Outside, the morning sky darkened with the prospect of rain. She decided to leave as soon as the cookies were done.
Grabbing the hot pads after the timer dinged, she opened the oven door and winced at the blast of hot dry air. Closing it, she said aloud, “Dear Mary, forgive me for not saying the rosary this morning. That’s why I’m so full of dread. You have my word I’ll pray to you tonight. Dear Mother of God, give me strength.”
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