Jan was having the devil’s own time this holiday season. It was Christmas Eve, and for once in her ninety-three years, she had nothing to look forward to. Her ginger cat, Charles, curled in her lap as she sipped her morning coffee. Her late husband’s budgies squawked in their cage more aggressively than usual–as if they, too, knew nothing good could happen that day.
Usually, her Victorian home yawned with possibilities on Christmas Eve. The house was a warm, inviting embrace between her famous stove-pot potpourri and the crackling hearth. Generations of her family came from multiple states every year. Engagements and baby announcements were a few of the added celebrations that had been sprinkled through the decades. And just last year, their youngest son had shared his unexpected but happy retirement news.
She finished her last sip of coffee and patted Charles’ behind until he yowled and jumped to the nearby couch. Setting her mug down, she went through the steps it took her to stand: lean, hoist, grab. Once she had a firm hold of her walker, she was able to take her mug along for the slow journey to the kitchen.
Cleaning products rested on her kitchen counter like a shrine. She refused to make eye contact with them, but they grew in her peripheral vision, myth-like, until she did. She frowned at the Clorox wipes and Lysol spray, missing her good old-fashioned white vinegar and the lemon water that had gotten her through the better part of the century. After washing her mug, she had to hold onto her walker as hard as her hands would allow. Their morning coffee routine was one of the things she missed most about her late husband. She closed her eyes and conquered her breathing. The budgies continued to screech in the silence of her house. She had threatened her husband countless times that she would get rid of the birds. Their mess extended to a two-foot radius around their metal cage, but his tenderness with them stopped her from ever following through. They were now her greatest reminder of him, and she knew she’d be stuck with them until she was finally able to see her husband again on the other side.
Wiping her eyes, she reached for her various pills: one for her blood, two for her heart, three for her bones. They told her she was high-risk, which meant she hadn’t left the house in over nine months. Even when her husband died. Especially when her husband had died: it was the peak, they said. Unavoidable. They had brought her his ashes and had promised to have the mass another time.
One at a time, she unscrewed the bottle tops and tossed back the pills. She unexpectedly looked forward to this morning chore. Day after day, it was a slow conga line of medicine going up and down the counter. It was a little celebration of her still being alive. Although these days, she wasn’t too sure she wanted to be. She was more than ready to be claimed by the good Lord, but she wasn’t sure if it was blasphemous or not to think it.
Next to her cleaning products was her favorite face mask. It was green and matched her favorite wool scarf. It beckoned to her, taunting her to go outside. With all of the holiday shoppers, her oldest daughter had made her swore not to venture out. Unbeknownst to her, Jan’s doctor had also made her promise. Her last physical hadn’t gone so well. The heart could only sustain so much, and hers had been through too much the past year.
It would be her last Christmas. She knew it the way she had known other things in her life, like how she knew she would always marry her husband and that she would have five children with one being stillborn. She always chalked it up to a life’s mystery, but just like those things, it was a truth whispered to her soul. She didn’t want to spend it inside with the constant reminders of the past with only Charles and her husband’s budgies for company. She just couldn’t wait any longer.
With only a little effort, she put on the green mask and shuffled to put on her going-out coat and her wool scarf. A quick glance out the window told her that it was snowing. It would be a white Christmas after all. She would have to be careful to not trip and fall. She opened her front door. A few snowflakes got in past the storm door, bringing the cold air in with them. Her downtown street was beautiful. The snow was sticking and the decorations were done heavy-handedly. In fact, her house was the only one without any decorations. However, she was happy to see that her stuffy neighbor’s yard was full of those tacky blow-up things. They were currently face-down on his yard. Her husband would have called them flaccid, being the joker he was.
Jan took a moment to mentally prepare herself to open the storm door and edge down her precarious front steps. Even in the summer months, she had to be careful not to fall. With her osteoporosis and arthritis, she had a high risk of falling. And, as her doctor loved to remind her, hip displacements were a life-threatening emergency.
She threw back her shoulders and lifted her chin. She was ready for the journey, no matter what the consequences.
A squeal of tires stopped her. The blue car edged into her driveway. Hands waved, faces smiled.
A car door was thrown open before the car was fully in park. Her great-grandson, Lucas, ran from the car. He was named after her late husband. “Grandma Jan!” he yelled. His face was flushed underneath his mask as he ran up the steps to her front door. He pressed his hand against the glass storm door. With care, she took one hand off of her walker and met his hand on the other side.
“How’d you know we were coming?” he asked, looking behind him. A whole caravan of cars parked one-by-one in her driveway. She noted her four living children and their families as well as two of her nieces and three of her nephews. Her gray eyes extended from her and flowed into her family tree. She watched as her family piled out of the cars with presents and balloons and posters. Even with everyone being masked, she could sense the smiles in their eyes and felt the tears in her own. Her heart soared. Even the pain in her bones faded away until there was only that moment and her heart, full to the brim with love.
She turned back to Lucas, their hands still pressed together on either side of the door. She winked at him. “Just call it Christmas magic,” she said.
She could hold on a little longer.