Choosing

By Cynthia Stroman


"You have to decide today," I say. "Christmas is in two days. If I have to thaw a turkey, I'll need at least two days." My husband stares meditatively ahead, driving slowing down the wrong side of the dirt road. "Come on, Bill, decide. It doesn't even matter at this stage.

Turkey, prime rib, pork roast. What do you want?"

"I want to skip the whole thing." His lips tighten, and his hands grip the wheel. He aims the tire at a beer can in the road and grunts with pleasure when he expertly flattens it.

"Well, that's nice. I'll call your mother tomorrow and tell her you are canceling Christmas this year. You grinch." I toss my empty Coke can out the open window, thinking it will make a nice target on our way back. I'm always planning ahead. Like Christmas. I like to have things all lined out-place cards for the table, stockings hung, dust balls cleaned from under the bed, menu planned. And every year it's the same. Bill hates the holidays. He pretends it's not going to happen. As if he could stop his family from coming. Every third year, when it's our turn to host, we suffer the torments of the damned. "Maybe we could rent the Elks Lodge this year and cook hot dogs on their barbecue pit," I tease.

Bill doesn't even grin. This is serious.

"Okay, we'll find that extra string of lights for the tree, scrub the green junk off the brass door handle, put throw rugs over the stains in the carpet, touch up the bathroom cabinets with toothpaste and putty, and cook a -" Bill turns his head and looks venom at me, "-roast?"

"A roast is not what my family expects for Christmas."

"Okay, we're making progress here. It will not be a roast. Prime rib? Is that fancy enough?"
"You know we can't afford prime rib. Beef prices going through the roof, but a rancher can't afford prime rib." His voice breaks.

I calm him with a touch. "It's okay. I can't cook it right anyway, and it's so rich I get heartburn. So what about pork roast?"

"Greasy."

"Cornish hens?"

"Stringy."

"Turkey?" I ask, reaching my goal.

There is silence as we bounce over a cattle guard and rumble up to a windmill. Pulling to a stop beside the trough, Bill turns toward me and starts to say something. His eyes squint from the sun, and he abruptly gets out, pulling on his gloves to unload a mineral block. I wait patiently, making a list on the back of a dirty envelope from the pickup seat. When he crawls back into the cab, I slide it under my leg.

"Angie, I know I'm being a horse's ass, but I really wish we could just forget Christmas this year. It's rough enough just trying to survive everyday problems right now. To have to pretend everything is perfect and entertain my family for Christmas . . . well, that's a torture I wouldn't wish on anybody, not even Bill Clinton, and you know how I feel about him! My brother and sister drive up our dirt road in their Cadillac's and BMW's, and I feel lower than a toad's belly. I don't want them here. We don't have a curb to stop the grass. We don't have a garbage disposal. I track shit into the carpet, and the washing machine empties out into the back yard. They don't understand how we live."

"I know. Isn't that a shame? They don't know what they are missing."

"Don't be a smart ass, Ang. I'm serious."

"So am I, Bill. We have a wonderful life. We're doing what we love. Can you imagine either one of us living in Lubbock? Or Midland? Playing golf and partying with all those other doctors and lawyers? Filling our newly decorated houses with all the latest gadgets that we don't know how to operate, and worrying about whether we have as much stuff as the neighbors? Would you want to live like that?"

I point to the December sunset pouring strawberry winter light over the horizon. "This is our world, and it's heaven for us, whether we get rich or not." The windmill groans and begins to turn with the last breath of wind, and a cow bellows, trotting toward the newly filled trough. The smell of cedar drifts through the open window.

There is silence for a full minute. Bill sighs, starts the engine, settles his hat on his head, and looks wryly at me. "Maybe you're right. I don't look good in Polo shirts and short pants, and my golf game sucks." He heads home. "And I couldn't stand to drive anything except a Ford diesel pickup. Crawling into the cars they drive is like sliding my body into an envelope. And you'd look funny in-"

"Don't even go there!"

A grin tugs at the corner of his mouth. He thumps my thigh companionably. "Okay, get a turkey. A big one." He frowns. "And I'll even try to carve the damned thing. But don't expect me to carve it right, and don't expect me to have fun. I hate Christmas."
"Just think of it this way. They'll only be at our house for about four hours. Four hours out of one day out of the whole year. You can stand anything for four hours." I pull the list from under my leg and begin to scribble frantically.

"Angie . . . "

"Hmmm?" I add cornmeal to my list.

"On Christmas day, are you going to scurry around like a little ant and wear that funny looking angel apron and laugh at all the wrong times?

"Probably." There's no sense in lying.

"Well . . . , maybe Christmas won't be a total loss. We'll have entertainment anyway."

"I do what I can."

He squeezes my hand and whips the wheel sharply to the left to hit my empty Coke can in the road.

~ * ~

Native Shore Fiction

Word Smitten's
Annual
TenTen Award
for Fiction
Choosing - 2003 Honorable Mention
Short Story

 

But don't expect me to carve it right. Fiction by Cynthia Stroman. Title: Choosing.

 

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