by Mary Chris Bailey
There was only one day left, and Maggie didn’t have the one thing, the only thing Rory wanted for Christmas.
Today the boss handed her a Christmas bonus check with the same smarmy smile he used when he stared at her boobs. He seemed to think because she was a single mom, her boobs and the rest of her was his to ogle or, on occasion, grab. Those sneaky pinches and tickles made Maggie feel less than human but somehow worse than that, she felt like a coward. Maggie shook off, disgust and thought, so what? It was Christmas, and the check would cover Rory’s Christmas wish.
Carly, Maggie’s friend, dropped Maggie off at home and rushed off to finish her own holiday preparations. Maggie shrugged out of her housekeeping uniform, threw on jeans, a sweater, and her old oil-stained Carhartt jacket. She let out a sigh, determined that this year would be different.
Rory was spending the night at Maggie’s widowed mother’s house, baking gingerbread men. The three of them would meet up at the local diner in the morning for sausage gravy and biscuits. It was their family tradition. Rory would push his food around and twitch in his seat until his breakfast congealed. When he couldn’t take the suspense for another minute, he’d jump up and say, “Hey guys, let’s go check out what’s under the tree.”
Last Christmas, Maggie watched Rory as he opened one package after another of clothes. She watched his shoulders slump and his smile flatten as he opened his last gift only to find a pair of pajamas. A good sport, Rory hugged her tight and gave her a kiss.
“Thanks, mom, everything’s great.”
He took his Christmas stocking with candy, an orange, and a cheap plastic harmonica to his room until he figured out a way to paste on a smile.
Maggie thought, “Not again.”
Winter nights came early Downeast. Even though it was only five o’clock, it was pitch black. The temperature was a hair above freezing, and a slushy, frigid mix fell from the sky — not a night for driving.
In rural Maine, nothing was close. The nearest Walmart was thirty-five miles away, but she had to get there, and it had to be tonight.
Two inches of ice crusted the windshield, and the car heater barely worked. Maggie grabbed the scraper and banged and chipped until she cleared a circular spot on the driver’s side about the size of her head.
The starter ground and choked until the motor turned over with the fan belt’s banshee wail. Driving down the dirt road, branches heavy with frozen sickles shook as she passed. Ice pellets plinked onto the roof, sounding like scattershot. On rural route 12, light from the full moon peeked from behind the cloud cover and bounced off the slick blacktop. It would be hours before the county trucks spread sand and salt.
As she made the right turn, her Crown Vic swayed to the left. She heard her father’s voice, “Turn into the spin.” Against all logic, she goosed the gas and tipped the wheel left. The car straightened, then swung into the road like a battlecruiser leaving the harbor. Hunched over, she peered through a porthole sized clearing in her windshield.
Almost to the Walmart, some idiot in an oversized SUV came barreling around a curve.
His high beams crashed across her crusted windshield like lightning. Startled, Maggie jammed the brakes. The car fished-tailed did a one-eighty and slid into the shallow gully beside the road as the SUV’s taillights receded in the distance.
Heart tripping up and down her rib cage, Maggie took a deep breath in through her nose and out through her mouth to steady herself. Hoping for a Christmas miracle, she pushed down on the gas pedal. The car’s bald tires spun, spit gravel, and peeled another layer of rubber from their surface. The Vic stayed put.
Opening the trunk, she pulled out two long cardboard pieces and jammed them under the back tires. Rocking the car back and forth, she found enough traction to return to the highway. Afraid to stop, she left the cardboard where it lay.
She barely made it. It was ten minutes ’til closing. Running down the toy aisle, she saw it, a Millennium Falcon, the last one. A howl of joy burst out from somewhere in the middle of Maggie’s chest. An older couple further down the aisle grabbed each other’s hands and quickly scuttled in the opposite direction. Letting loose a final whoop, Maggie tucked the package under her arm like a wide receiver taking a football to the goalposts and ran to the checkout to pay.
Her old car shuddered as she pulled out of the parking lot. The gray bag containing her treasure sat in the passenger seat. If the Force were with her, she’d make it home in one piece, get her prize wrapped, decked out in bows, and under the tree. She couldn’t wait to see the wonder in Rory’s eyes when he tore off the red and gold paper.
Flushed with victory, Maggie decided when she returned to work, it was time to tell her boss, “Eyes up. Hands off.”
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Mary Chris Bailey is a retired pediatric emergency medicine physician. Her work was in Pulse-voices from the heart of medicine, Please See Me, and Creative Pinellas. One of her stories was a runner-up in Scribble’s emerging writers’ short story fiction contest 2020. Mary Chris is working on a memoir about her youngest son’s chronic illness. She lives with her husband, Wayne, and dogs Skeeter and Bella. She divides her time between Florida and Maine.