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Extended Holiday

his hands while he cooks

He made squash for Thanksgiving dinner. He had to work that night, but he made this wonderful squash dish as his contribution. His love in a side dish, so we wouldn’t forget. There was a moment at the table, one moment, when everyone was eating and someone tasted the squash and exclaimed over its flavor. Then someone else had to try and soon everyone was eating squash and exclaiming, so I got to brag on my beloved, which made me beam. I adore him.

“Where is he?” They all asked. “It’s so awful he has to work!” And then they pat my cheek while I insist that I don’t mind, I’m used to it. He’s worked every single holiday for every year I’ve known him, eleven years last July. I long ago gave up on the idea of spending holidays with him. I resented it for years until I figured out that holidays don’t have to be celebrated when everyone else celebrates and new traditions can be invented every year. Now I kind of love it. He works on holidays so we’re forced to draw them out, add an extra day of celebration to the week. An extra day to feel grateful, safe, loved. An extra day to sleep in and eat good food. It turns out to be pretty fabulous.

This year we shared a romantic Thanksgiving for two on Michael’s day off. We ate meatloaf leftovers and worked on a Christmas craft project inspired by the Dia de los Muertos display we saw earlier in the month. It turns out that clay people and cardboard houses are waaaaay harder to make than you’d think. Three hours of work yielded six naked, faceless people, one house with an unattached roof and only half a paint job, and a miniature wiener dog. If we actually want a whole village we’ll be working on this every year for the rest of our lives, but then again, isn’t that what it was all about? Creating a new family tradition.

He’ll work Christmas Eve and Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. We’ll wait until his next day off to celebrate together, the two of us, alone in our little home with the beasts and their endless shedded tufts of hair. We’ll cook if it sounds like fun or we’ll order in. We’ll nest. We’ll watch holiday movies or go adventuring, build tiny dream homes out of cardboard and hot glue or spend hours in bed. Whatever we do won’t matter as long as we’re together, uninterrupted, happy and in love.

This is my fourth week linking up with Just Write. You should totally link up too.

The cat on the table and the child in my head

I’m chopping vegetables when she starts crying, a plaintive meowing. She paces across the kitchen table, coat gleaming, belly hanging, begging for my attention. “I’m sorry, Cat. I’m fixing dinner. I’ve got nothing for you.”

In my head she’s a little girl. Three or four. Her eyes wide and pleading, “Mama, play with me!”

“I’m sorry, Baby. I’m fixing dinner. Papa will be home soon and I’m hungry! Would you like to help?”

She peels the garlic and breaks heads off brocoli stalks. “They look like tiny trees!” She is gleeful. I’m in awe of her strong little hands and the pleasure she takes in such simple tasks.

And then I chide myself for being so stupid. Getting lost in childish imaginings. Children are not in the picture. Not now, not for years, maybe never. Maybe because you never know and maybe because it just seems impossible. The other day I asked Michael, “How will we know?”

“When I have a job and we have health care and we’re ready to buy a house and we’re not worried about paying bills every month. Maybe then.”

Maybe we’ll wait until we’re in our forties and adopt. I can see myself, like all those women I watched in Manhattan with long silver hair and ethnic children. I could love any child I held in my arms, I know that.

By now I’ve peeled and chopped a whole garlic bulb, but I don’t care. I sprinkle it over the vegetables, slide it into the oven, set the timer. I over-season everything. Fresh cracked pepper makes raw chicken black. Kosher salt, onion flakes, garlic powder, oregano, basil, sage smells like pee but I sprinkle on three-times the amount you would anyway. The chicken will come out of the oven crunchy for spices but I don’t care. I like it that way. Just like I like my food burned crisp. Everything tasting like it came out of a campfire. Smoky.

I reach for another beer. Dinner is in the oven but Mike won’t be home for three hours at least. I’ll eat alone while I balance the budget. Wait up for him. Reheat a plate for him. Press my face into his neck while he eats. Breathe. So glad he’s home.

This is my second installment of Just Write, an exercise in free writing your ordinary and extraordinary moments, begun by Heather of the EO. You should totally join in.

Not So Friendly

waiting for their walk

Waiting patiently for walkies

It’s dark out. Not late, but dark. Some of the street lamps are out and I feel uneasy as I head down the block, but the dogs need to do their business and they are happy as they sniff about. I shuffle after them in second-hand sweatpants, wool hiking socks, crocs, and one of my husband’s dog hair infused fleeces. I haven’t brushed or even washed my hair in days. I push my glasses back up my nose and stare out at empty space while the dogs snuffle something in the grass. There is a man walking down the sidewalk from the other direction. He is carrying a paper plate of food. It looks like rice and something else. I think, maybe the dogs will poop here and then we can go home, up the stairs, curl up on the sofa with a bowl of salted caramel ice cream, a plate of cheese and crackers, and the latest episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. I just want to bury my head in the sand.

There are quick movements at the end of the leashes and I realize the dogs are eating something. The man with the plate of food stops in front of us and says something about the dogs eating and as I try to reel them in, away from whatever offal it is they are stuffing down their doggy throats I say, “Yeah, I know. It’s disgusting. I just hope it’s not poop.” I gain control of them, manage to pull them away from their prize. The man laughs and says, “No, no. I asked if they are allowed to eat people food.” He holds out his plate of rice and what looks like chicken.

He is nice looking. Broad shouldered, blond, mid-thirties. He smiles but the smile is not sincere. It is the smile of a single man who sees a girl walking alone and thinks she might be easy. There is a lilt in his voice I do not like. It is patronizing and it makes my hackles go up. I am not alone. Valentine lunges at the man’s legs, barking, growling, teeth bared. He takes a step away and I let her leash go long.

“Nope. They don’t eat people food. In fact, they aren’t very friendly.” I practically have to yell over the cacophony of barking, because now the wiener dog is barking too, the force of his voice lifting his feet off the pavement in little wiener dog hops.

The man smiles. “What about you?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Are you friendly?”

I pause for a moment. Really? I’m dressed like a homeless lady and my dogs are trying to kill you. How desperate does a guy have to be? “Not so much.”

Two days later I’m walking the dogs again, this time on the other side of the street. Someone calls out to me. “Hey neighbor! How are you!” I look up at the man addressing me. My mind is blank. He smiles and points to himself. “I’m Roger. We met the other night. I wanted to feed your dogs.”

It all comes back to me. “Oh. Right.”

“What are you up to? Want to hang out?”

“Not even a little.”

“Alright. I get the hint.” He looks angry when he walks away. What else was I supposed to say?

This is my first post for Just Write, an exercise in writing begun by Heather of the EOWant to join?