Despite my significant domestic shortcomings, I like to give homemade Christmas gifts. Something about avoiding the mall prompts me to abandon my usual refusal to do anything creative and try, for example, to make snowmen out of marshmallows—one year’s disaster. Though the results have been uneven, I press on.
That year, I steadily crunched candy canes with the back of a knife onto a plastic cutting board in preparation for candy cane truffles that the “Edible Gifts Cookbook” assured me would be both festive and tasty. I was elbow deep in candy cane dust, knife in hand, when I heard the regular sounds of my husband returning from work: garage door opening, car door shutting, back door opening… The falling of one shoe and then the other was always the last of the slams and thuds. But this night, he walked past the back hall with shoes still on, so instead of the usual quiet sock padding, his arrival was marked with a crisp click of heel on wood floor.
When you live with someone for more than nineteen years, any disruption in pattern is suspect. When you have been having an illicit love affair since early in the fall, you are constantly alert to anything, any cue that what you are doing is known. I held my breath and cast my eyes downward at my work. In fiction, he would have been the one holding the knife when he said “You have to stop,” but in this real life I was holding it, and as I crunched it down to decimate the final candy cane I said “Actually, I can’t.”
My truffles never made it into the gift boxes that my kids decorated. Instead, we cut stars and Christmas trees out of dough, sprinkled them with sugar and placed them in the box on a bed of red and green tissue paper. Armed with these, we went to my childhood home for what only my husband and I knew was our last holiday as a family.
I sat close to him that Christmas Eve as we watched our two children open presents. I was clinging not to him, but to the holiday that would never be the same. And he, hating and loving me all at once, pulled me close for just about the last time.
Some years have passed, but not all that many. The scent and stick of candy canes still knots my stomach. When my kids and I travel home for the holidays this year, I will remind my parents to replace the candy canes in the candy bowl with anything, anything but those. (JB)
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