The scraping woke them. But they stayed in bed a while, tucked in by their mother’s words ten hours earlier. “Okay, remember now. No sneaking, no peeking, no coming downstairs until Daddy and I give you the all clear.” Squelching the doubt that had begun to rise, Wanda continued to pray that Dave would come home with the bicycles.
Rubbing sleep from their eyes, the girls padded toward the windows in their feet pajamas. Quarter-sized flakes danced passed their faces, tufts forming on the outside sills.
Foreheads pressed against the cold glass, their breath created widening circles of fog. “It’s Christmas!” April’s voice was still throaty, almost a whisper. “And it’s snowing!” Gail’s brown eyes were saucers.
They spied their father below, shoveling the driveway. The ’65 Ford Fairlaine was still buried at the curb. Their dad, his black fedora and khaki trench coat now white, threw the heavy snow aside with a resignation that escaped the girls. Dave could feel his daughters watching. And their excitement dangled above his heavy heart like spun glass. With each heave, the familiar wave of regret pulled him under.
He never should have dropped out of dental school. But his had been a family that stuck together, did what they had to for each other. His older brother had been helping with tuition. But when his father started having trouble supporting his two younger sisters, Dave joined him in the dress factory. He’d been there ever since, a good fifteen years, hoisting an industrial steam iron. But a presser’s salary wasn’t enough. He’d had his weekend job as a short order cook almost as long as he’d been pressing. And it was at the diner just the night before that his hopes for this Christmas had been dashed.
On his break he called the last department store he’d applied to. “I’m really sorry, Mr. Fisher. But we had so many applications for credit this year, we had to be very selective.” When he hung up the phone he caught his image in the mirrored wall, a food-stained apron tied around his waist. Disgrace flooded him as he imagined the conversation, had he written “dentist” in the occupation field.
Now it was Christmas Day. And what waited under their Charlie Brown tree was a couple of Magic Slates and Slinkies. He cried inside, knowing the girls’ hearts would tumble when they found out they didn’t get the one thing they had asked for. What they wouldn’t know until they were grown was that the one thing their father really wanted to give them was the moon.
Dave shoveled the last of the snow into the street. He headed toward the side door when he heard a car pull into the driveway. Startled, he turned around, stuck the shovel in the snow and walked toward the shiny, white van. The driver’s side window opened.
“Hey, Davie. Merry Christmas!” It was Sam, who owned the diner.
“Sam! What the heck are you are doing here?”
Wanda came running out in her fuzzy slippers, hugging herself around the oversized terrycloth robe. A puff of bacon-scented air followed her.
The portly man opened the driver’s door and hopped onto a mound of snow. “Davie, in all my years in the business, I’ve never met a guy as dedicated to work and family as you are. I don’t think you’ve missed a day of work in a decade!” Sam walked to the back of the van, opened the double doors and reached in. He pulled out a gleaming red Schwinn, then a green one. Each had a huge, white bow tied to the handlebars, which matched the long, white streamers. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation last night. I don’t usually give out bonuses, Dave, but consider this yours.”
Dave tried to speak, but the words skidded past his mouth.
Wanda wrapped her arms around Sam’s burly frame. “Oh, Sam, bless your heart!” Deep within her own, she gave thanks. Forgive me for doubting you.
Finally, Dave managed, “Sam, I don’t know what to say.”
“No need to say anything, buddy. Enjoy your family.”
As the van disappeared into the winter landscape, Dave and Wanda craned their necks toward the screeching above them. April and Gail had opened the windows. Their heads stuck out, mouths agape, eyes lit like sparklers. Tears made tiny pinholes in the snow as the parents, in perfect harmony, called to their daughters. “Okay girls. All’s clear.”
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