(A very first draft conversation from this year's NaNoWriMo. I don't know if I feel brave or masochistic.)
“Mick?” Sam’s voice startled me. “Your phone.”
Indeed, my phone sat buzzing on the end table, and when I picked it up to see who it was, I said, “Oh, speaking of . . . ” As I answered, I stood and started walking toward the bedroom. “Mom, hey.”
“Merry Christmas, darling,” she answered in her low, nicotine-stained voice. “How are you?”
“I’m fine.” I glanced at the clock by the bed. “Isn’t it late where you are?”
“Mmm, it might be,” she said. “I was just sitting here with a glass of wine, looking at the tree, and I was thinking about you. Do you remember the year we had your grandparents come?”
“And you and your mother argued over the turkey?” I laughed. “Yes, I remember. It was something out of a movie.”
“How’s Sam, darling?” She sounded as though the glass of wine to which she referred was not her first. “I’m not interrupting am I?”
It surprised me that she thought to ask. “No, you’re fine,” I said. “His parents are here from Seattle. We were just opening a few gifts.”
“Oh, that’s right. Did you get the money I sent?”
“Yes, thank you.” The previous Friday, a check for two hundred dollars came in the mail, as it always did.
“Buy yourself something you’ve had your eye on,” she said, as she always does.
“I will.” Out in the living room, I heard Sam laughing. “You know, right before you called, I was thinking of you too. What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Dinner with Bev and Malcolm, from down the road. Taking pity on an old widow, naturally.” She laughed. “I went in to get my hair done last week and Janine — You remember Janine, right? — Well, I went to get my hair done, and Janine said that I was lucky to have such a nice shade of grey coming in, that some people just become washed out, like someone spilled paint remover on their heads.”
My mother’s prone to simile. “Mom, you’re not even sixty.”
“Which makes the grey hair all the more depressing, darling.”
“All right, well cut the old widow stuff, at least.” Keeping the light off, I laid back on the bed and stared up at the fixture. “I look older than you do.”
She laughed, but didn’t disagree. I should point out that she hasn’t seen me in nearly two years, so imagine what I look like now. “Thank you for the flowers, by the way. They’re lovely.” She paused and I heard the click of her lighter, followed by a rough intake of breath. “Am I keeping you? What did you get Sam?”
“Gloves and uh, a book. He hasn’t opened it yet.”
“I’m keeping you.”
“No, Mom, you’re really not.” I closed my eyes. “How’s everything going? Lucinda looking after you?”
She groaned. “Oh yes, she’s trying to get me to eat salmon. You know how I feel about . . . sea creatures. I don’t care how good they are for my bones, it’s like eating, well . . . I won’t say that. It’s rude.”
My turn to laugh. “You must be enjoying that wine if you’re almost making dirty jokes. My, the ex-bohemian in you may just come out yet.”
“I’ve been very leisurely with the wine, Mick. It’s the Xanax that’s not sitting quite right.”
My mother and I are more alike than I care to admit sometimes. The comfortable haze from my gin and tonics was beginning to thin. What would the holidays be without conversation between distant family, made possible only by mind-altering substance? “You should be careful with that,” I said.
“You’re one to talk.” She paused. “How’s Laraine?”
“Oh, right about now she’s probably wishing she had other things to do.”
“Hmm, see everyone thinks that at one point, that they just can’t wait until they can have a Christmas away from their family. You think, God, how can I even come from these people? And then one day, you’re the only one left staring at that tree and that’s . . . that’s just it.”
“Mom — ”
“I’m going to slink off to bed now, all right?” She exhaled. “Give everyone my best. And tell Laraine not to be so hard on her mother.”
“Of course.” I told her I loved her, and we hung up. When I opened my eyes, they took a moment to focus while I rubbed the moisture from their corners. Blinking a couple of times, I sat up and walked back into the living room. Dan and Meredith sat watching whatever was on the television, and I heard Sam in the kitchen, so I followed the noise. When I poked my head in, he had just started opening a bottle of wine.
“How’s your mother?” he said. I opened the cabinet and took out the glasses. They were a little dusty, so I began rinsing them under the faucet.
“Lonely,” I said.
Sam and I waited to exchange gifts until the next morning. He bought me some nice shirts and some old movies I’d mentioned not having seen in quite some time. He liked book, found it funny, having entirely to do with sandwiches. The black gloves, however, did not match the boots from his parents. He insisted that they were fine, and I wanted to believe him.