That little blinking cursor of an asshole was staring at me and I was a loss. I’ve taken such a hiatus from writing, I’m not even sure where to start but yet, I’m eager to write something. I couldn’t decide what though. Should I be clever, witty, truthful, inspirational? How do I break the ice?
Then my email chimes and this was the picture someone (Jim, it was Jim) sent me:
Perfect timing and one hell of a segue to…
PROMPTLY PENNED! YAY! SHORT STORY TIME! As you might recall, for the promptly penned entries I’ve done once or twice before, we are given a prompt and must use this to create a short story.
“It’s odd how life is rarely about those big important choices, but hinges on the small stupid choices you didn’t even realize were choices until it was too late.”
Liz dug through her center console and found a few bills, enough for a coffee without having to use her debit card. It’s not like Grandma wouldn’t have coffee at her house, Liz knew she would, but she only drank decaf. And who in their right damn mind drinks decaf?
Liz’s mother often told her, “You need to visit your grandmother more. She isn’t going to be around forever.”
Perhaps that was the first sign of her graceful fall from power. “Defcon 4. Grandma’s on decaf only. Suit up and stay alert to stay on the will.” Liz had joked. Her mother had not laughed. Dad did. Yet, she agreed to visit. At minimum, she could make sure her side walk was clear of the recent snow fall.
The car in front of her slowly rolled forward and she followed behind, trying to make her money look a little less crinkled when an overly cheerful voice spoke louder than expected over the speaker.
“Good morning! And what can I get started for you today?”
“Just a mocha please. Grande.”
“Extra shot of espresso?”
“No thank you.”
“Hot, iced, or frozen?”
“Hot.” Liz looked around at the size of the snow banks left by a snowplow lining the streets and considered the idea of a cold beverage on a day like to day foolish. Not as foolish as decaf but still…
“And what kind of bagel would you like?”
“Just the drink! Please, thank you.”
“And would you like whipped topping.”
Liz was starting to lose her patience. “No. I do not want whipped topping. And you said ‘whipped topping’ very carefully instead of whipped cream which makes me question a few things. No whipped topping. Thank you.”
“One grande mocha, hot, no whipped topping. We’ll have your total at the window.”
The line moved painfully slow but after fifteen minutes Liz was drink in hand and on her way. She turned on the radio and listened to all the school closings, church event cancellations, and postponed sports games. Local colleges were never on the list but that didn’t stop the professors from emailing the night before telling her and her classmates not to bother coming in. She wasn’t complaining about a day off from lectures though the roads didn’t seem that bad to her. Traffic was light and cautiously moving but moving none the less. The plows had been out and it was just warm enough for the salt and sand to be effective on the ice. Even if the roads had been impassible, Grandma would still be fine. She had more than enough non-perishable food and Sudoku books to last her until spring. The worst of the roads were only small patches of slush that pulled at the tires from time to time.
Grandma’s house was a small but picturesque 1950’s ranch in an older subdivision. The plows had already visited and it appeared a neighbor must have taken care of the sidewalk and the driveway before her early morning visit. Almost every house was dug out but for one or two. Grandma’s looked welcoming as always. She had her oversize wreath on the door and the Christmas tree lit up and decorated to perfection front and center in her living room picture window. Liz parked in the driveway but walked down to the street and checked Grandma’s mail box for good measure. Inside she found a few mailer advertisements with coupons printed on them and a couple high quality envelopes. Liz recognized the sender addresses as distant relatives. The types that visited during family reunions, told the same stories, said they should visit more, and disappeared into the sunset until the next reunion five to ten years later.
Liz had only taken a few steps onto the walkway when the wreath on the door jingled with movement. “Oh, hi honey!” Grandma peeked her head around the door.
“Hi Grandma. I got your mail.”
“Oh yes, thank you. You look lovely. Did you color your hair again?”
Liz touched the top of her head instinctively. She hadn’t washed in days and she was badly overdue to visit to the salon, her highlights grown out by several inches. She had placed her hair in a knot on her head because it was easy and out of the way. Now she became aware that her dirty hair, workout pants, and boots with the separating soles were not the most presentable choices. Especially to Grandma who looked, without a doubt, classy in her festive green and red dress paired with sensible house shoes.
“No, I haven’t colored my hair.”
“Oh, well. It looks very stylish. I see a lot of the young ladies in the style magazines with hair like yours.”
She meant tabloids and unflattering paparazzi pictures of celebrities, Liz let it slide.
Grandma held the door open for her. Liz stepped in and removed her boots quickly. The fireplace had been lit some time before Liz arrived and the front sitting room was warm and inviting with the smell of burning wood and the sound of it crackling under the heat. Grandma took Liz’s coat and shuffled to a nearby closet.
“It looks like you got some Christmas cards in the mail. One from your cousin Tony out in Washington. That’s pretty far away from Michigan. When’s the last time he’s been out this way? Are there any Donahue’s even around here anymore?”
Grandma stiffened briefly and then she took down a hanger to hang Liz’s coat though she was sloppy and a shoulder slipped off. Liz thought she heard a muffled swear but once the coat was hung, Grandma closed the door and gave a smile that was a little too forced.
“Oh, I’m not sure anymore. I see you have a drink there. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll bring you out some cookies I made.” Grandma disappeared into the kitchen but kept talking. “I don’t make as many as I used to anymore. Not as many people come over to eat them and I was never one for a sweet tooth. I only enjoy them once in a while. But I do enjoy baking. Now I make them for church and the neighbors and save a few for when people visit from time to time.”
On her return she presented Liz with a tray of assorted cookies from sugar cookies with a little bit of green and red sprinkles on top to Liz’s personal favorite, peanut butter blossoms. But, Grandma did not sit down. On her hand she had a few pieces of tape stuck to her fingertips. She took the cards from Liz, opened them, and taped them to the arch separating the sitting room from the dinning room.
Liz already had half a cookie in her mouth. “Aren’t you going to read them first?”
“What was that dear?”
“Sorry, these cookies are really good.” Liz finished chewing and asked again. “Aren’t you going to read them first?”
“Oh. Well. I’ll read them later.”
“Grandma, I don’t mean to be rude but, I have a feeling you’re not going to read them later. So, why are you even putting them up?”
She took a step back from the cards and studied them for a moment. “It’s just tradition.”
“Do you read any of the cards?”
“Some of them. Some of them are very pretty to look at.”
“And the one from cousin Tony?”
Grandma didn’t answer. She only put her hands on her hips while she again looked at the huge arraignment of hanging cards. There had to be at least fifty Liz guessed. While Grandma scanned all of them, her eyes always ended on the same one.
“I sure do have a lot of cards. Do you send out Christmas cards?”
“No. Mom and Dad do but only a few and they don’t get as many as you do. I think they have maybe only four or five. But that’s not saying much. One of them is from the dentist.” The card from the dentist made Liz laugh. It had been a picture of Santa smiling, the front of the card diecut so when you opened it you realized the teeth were actually snowmen wishing you a Merry Christmas. Brush twice a day to keep those teeth white as snow. It was simple and clever.
Grandma sighed. “I shouldn’t be telling you this but, I think my cousin Tony is, well, needy. High maintenance. Perhaps a little arrogant. I don’t particularly have much to say to him but he always sends a card which is very nice. And in kind, I should really send one back. It would be rude not to.”
“But you don’t want to?”
“I’m getting old and tired. There are many other things I would like to do with my time than keep track of Christmas cards. It cost a lot of money to send out so many and I don’t enjoy it. However, I feel I should. It would be rude not to. There are just – ”
“So many? Can I tell you something I shouldn’t?”
“I only remember who Tony is because on the rare occasion I see him he is always a self righteous dick. I don’t think he is worth your time or a Christmas card.”
“Liz! Oh! I mean. He is what you said, but it’s not nice to say that word in that manner.”
Liz stood up from her chair and walked over to the Christmas cards and removed Tony’s from the wall and handed it to Grandma. Linking arms together, Liz walked her Grandma to the fireplace. “You can like who you like, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want. You always have a choice. You’re old enough, and maybe, oh I don’t know, cousin Tony’s card got lost in the mail.”
Grandma’s eyes lit up with life as she looked at the dancing flames and squeezed the card in her hand. She let out a small giggle. “Oh what the hell. Lost in the mail sounds about right to me too.” With a little toss, the card fell into the fire and was quickly consumed, twisting and turning until it was out of sight.
Before Liz registered Grandma had let go of her arm, she was back at the arch pulling off more cards.
“Grandma! What are you doing?”
“Aunt Linda is a, how did you put it, a dick too. And so is this fellow from church…”
“Winters are tough in Michigan. A lot of cards are going to get lost this year.” She turned and looked at Liz with a smile.