Emily held the crayola in her chubby fist, fingers curling around the skinny red stick. She pushed it against the paper, cheeks puffed the same colour red. “Do you think he’ll like it this time?” The question moved slowly out of tight lips.
“He’ll love it,” her mother scraped another batch of burnt cookies into the garbage can beside the stove. “You keep working on the card, and I’ll keep working on these cookies.” Kate’s cell phone beeped from the bottom of her purse, but she ignored it.
“Aren’t you going to answer it momma?” Emily looked up from her task for just a moment.
“I’ll answer it later. They can leave a message.” The bowl in her hand spun circles now as the spoon made its way around the batter. “One more try and it’s to the grocery store I go,” she said, more to herself than to Emily.
“Yah,” she picked up the sentiment. “And me to the store too, to buy a card. I can’t do this momma. You know he won’t like it anyway.”
“ He loves your cards sweetheart,” Kate gave her daughter a small hug of understanding. But she couldn’t explain. She was too young.
“He loves your cookies too momma,” Emily reminded her mother. “He keeps them for a very long time.”
“Yes, well,” Kate slid another tray of chocolate chip batter into the oven. This year would be different. She was sure she had the recipe right now. No glucose, no nuts, no wheat, no flavour. She didn’t blame him. After all, he didn’t eat much of anything these days.
“There momma,” Emily folded the card in half and held it toward her mother. “What do you think?”
The front of the card held a cotton ball, stuck against it with a dab of glue. Across the front was printed Mery Christmas. Kate didn’t mention the mery, but opened to see inside.
Inside were two simple words. Love, Emily, in careful block letters. And the school picture she had taken this year, two long blonde braids on either side of her head, like a frame. She looked so much like her grandma. Sometimes too much.
“Do you think he misses her?” Emily seemed to read her mother’s eyes, focusing on the photo, with a small twist of a smile on her lips.
“I’m sure he does sweetheart. I miss her too.” The oven bell rang, blending in with the beep of her cell phone again. This time she dug through her purse to answer it, leaving the cookies in the oven.
“Kate, finally.” Her brother’s voice was frustrated, almost angry. “He tried again. I’m at the hospital. He’s okay, but get here when you can.”
She dropped the phone back into her purse and pulled the cookies from the big white mouth. Burnt again. Oh well, she thought, he never ate them anyway. Never opened Emily’s cards either.
“Em,” she said, grabbing the card and a few lesser burnt cookies. “Get in the car. I’ll drop you at Auntie Jenn’s. I’ll be back soon.”
Emily knew not to ask any questions. She knew the look, knew it meant something was wrong with her grandpa again.
In the hospital room, Kate stood at the side of his bed, looking down at the pale aging face. He looked up with a tired smile.
Kate dropped the card and the cookies on the table beside him. “Here,” she said, in frustration. “This is all I can do anymore. All any of us can do. She opened Emily’s card to show the inside. To let him see the Love, Emily. To see the long blonde braids of a little girl that carried her grandma’s beauty, the softness of the eyes. “Momma’s gone dad, and I know Christmas is hard. It’s hard for all of us.” Kate’s tears were a mixture of helplessness and anger. She let them run down her face seeing the streams of wet coming from his own eyes, sliding onto the pillow.
That night, the handmade card sat on the nightstand by his bed. Mery Christmas in child block letters seemed to fill the empty room. On the inside her eyes flashed life, love, somehow making up for the missing R on the front, for missing her.
“Hello Emily,” the cell phone recorded his message. “This is grandpa. The card is beautiful. And tell your momma the cookies tasted just fine. I’ll see you Christmas morning sweetheart. I love you too.”
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