“Mommy, what are you doing?”
“I’m brining the turkey.”
“I soak the turkey in salt water, and –”
“Hey,” I said, tightening the strings on my apron, “Why don’t you go play with the Starman toy I got you?”
“I don’t wanna play with it anymore.”
Kids these days. Lose interest in a new toy in an hour.
“Want to watch Mommy take out the Christmas cookies?” I pulled the tray out of the oven; heat nipped at my fingers. The cookie Jackson made was burned at the edges, and terribly misshapen. “Your cookie turned out great, see?”
“Can I eat it now?” he asked, his grimy little hands shooting for it.
“I thought it was for Santa.”
“It was, but I’m hungry. And if everyone else if feeding Santa cookies, he doesn’t really need mine, right?”
I led him into the dining room, with the cookie and a tall glass of milk. “Here you go, honey.”
He sat down. I glanced out the window; Christmas lights from the house across the street twinkled back, in the falling dusk. I patted him on the shoulder, and began walking away.
Ugh. What now?! “Yes, Jackson?”
“I hear jingling! Of Santa’s reindeer!”
“That’s nice,” I said. Probably just that old man next door, walking his corgi. But whatever – I’m not going to rain on his parade.
“I’m going to listen to the reindeer!”
Thank God! Finally, something to keep him busy.
I returned to the kitchen, and frowned at the turkey; it looked so pale and slimy. My mother would be here tomorrow, and she was so particular about it. “Don’t overcook it – it’ll be too dry. And don’t put too much salt – nobody likes a salty turkey! And don’t burn it, oh my goodness don’t burn it.” Her voice echoed in my head. “Dave made such a perfect, wonderful turkey last year. The way he seasoned it, ah, it was exquisite.”
Yeah, well, then I caught Dave seasoning someone else’s turkey.
(So to speak.)
“Mommy! I hear them!” he shouted.
“That’s great,” I call back.
Dave’s attempts to reconcile were, to say the least, lacking. Sometimes he’d leave me a voicemail – just saying ‘I love you,’ then hanging up. Other times, he’d text me a photo of his hand, wearing the wedding ring. No caption, nothing else in the picture – just his hand. And the ring was so stupid-looking, anyway – silver encrusted with a ton of tiny garnets, because ‘red is the color of love.’
Red is also the color I saw, when I found them fuc–
“Mommy! I hear them! The jingling! And footsteps!”
“That’s great, honey.”
I sighed, and rinsed the slime off of my hands. “Okay, okay Jackson. I’m coming,” I said, stepping into the dining room.
I froze. My heart began to pound.
“Santa’s here! See?” he squealed.
It wasn’t the jingling of bells, or a leash.
It was the jingling of keys –
As someone tried the lock.
I grabbed Jackson’s arm, and dragged him out of the dining room.
“Mommy? What are you doing?”
“We’re going to sit here, and wait for Santa to come down the chimney, see?” I said, my voice quavering. I eyed the back door – could we make a run for it?
“He’s on the roof!” Jackson squealed, grinning.
I hugged Jackson, holding him as close as I could –
Jackson broke free from my arms, and ran towards the chimney.
Then I saw it.
A small box, wrapped in black paper, had fallen in through the fireplace.
It was too late. He picked it up, grinning.
Then he frowned.
“It’s not mine.” He shoved it into my lap. “It’s for you, Mommy.”
Hands shaking, I picked it up.
The note read:
YOU CHANGED THE LOCKS
My heart pounding, I lifted the lid of the box –
Encrusted with a thousand tiny garnets.