I crawled my way past the fake Christmas tree, a flex cord in my teeth and an expectant belly almost touching the snow sprayed floorboards under my ample kneecaps. I was almost happy until something jabbed into my skin and stayed there, hanging on like a climber that has just started a free fall. A wet tear fashioned itself by my nose. Santa’s plastic elf was unsympathetic.
A bad word started to type around my tongue. My whole face felt as if it were filling up with water, so, rather than cuss, I released its contents and my body until they both lay on top of the noxious fumes of counterfeit snowfall.
I heard someone clear their throat and unwrapped my eyelids in anticipation. What I saw was no present. Frank, my new boss, was staring at me something strange. This was the only job I’d been able to get and now I was about to lose it. Who else would hire an 8 months pregnant woman except a desperate toy store owner with a half-finished window display?
“Er, Melanie, are you sure you’re up to it, er, the job I mean?”
I lifted my soggy face, now spray painted with flecks of white plastic, to attempt a response, but one of those darned Braxton Hicks thingies made me curl up. A bit of panting later, I turned around to see Mary’s purple slippers shuffle up to my eyeballs. A hand patted my head.
“Sweetie, we’ve decided, Frank and I, to have you stay with us. That homeless shelter is not the place for you; it being near Christmas and all...” I closed my eyes in the pain of love. It had been a while.
It’s not that I needed charity, you know? I was doing ok down at the shelter and I was working on getting my G.E.D. and I had my food stamps and the smushed Focus I had almost wrecked when the ex had filed for divorce. I was doing ok.
Did I mention that Frank and Mary are two of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met?
The window display didn’t take long to finish. Seriously, I never knew I was so imaginative. Frank and Mary must have brought it out of me. They shocked me too though. One night we were in the kitchen out back. Mary had made me some drinking chocolate with her special curled chocolate crumbs on top when she suggested it—a prayer. I didn’t know what to think. I must have muttered something though, because she looked straight into my eyes and prayed about me being special and Jesus loving me and caring about me and the baby. I’d never heard a prayer like that, and I wondered about the open eyes thingy, but it didn’t matter much. I got the warm fuzzies, which she topped off with a hug. I cried.
I found myself singing silly little bits of Christmas songs around the store. My ex hated that. He hated a lot of things, until, it seems, he hated me. I thought I’d be miserable to infinity, but by early December I was almost cheerful. I couldn’t quite explain it, but all around me was this aura of happiness, like someone was walking about me with a heat lamp. It happened whenever I was in Frank and Mary’s home, in their store, around them, near their hugs and their smiles. It was something unconditional. I asked them about it.
So they told me about Jesus.
I was floored. I’d always thought that Jesus was just some, you know, baby in the manger type, or the pasty white guy with a halo around his head who wanted us all to be good. Truth be told, I always hung my head when I walked past his picture in my grandma’s house. It felt like he was watching me. Turns out he was, kinda.
I decided that I’d thank Jesus for his gift to me and hand over all the bad stuff. I won’t go into it here, but I felt as clean as a toothpaste ad after.
All that saying sorry must have worked up something in Frank, because that’s when he confessed that he and Mary had made up the whole thing about the window display. Bogus; the whole job. They’d invented it just to get me close to some love.
That’s when I started humming Love Came Down at Christmas.*
Go figure--that’s when my waters broke....
*Love Came Down at Christmas. Words: Christina Rossetti, Time Flies: a Reading Diary, 1885. Music: GARTON, traditional Irish melody
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