The Holiday Storm - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

The Holiday Storm

“We can go some other time,” Eve says to the dashboard.

Paul glances at her.  He turns back to peer out the windshield, scared to take his eyes off the road.   Rain is pummeling the glass.  Hard.  Like someone is pouring buckets of water on it, one after the other.  He can’t see the cars in front of him on the interstate.

“I said, this is dreadful.  Let’s turn around.”

“Eve.  They’re waiting for us.  We can’t do that.”

She won’t miss you.  She doesn’t know what day it is.”

It is true.  His mother has lost her mind.  At seventy-seven, she has virtually no short term memory left.  Paul doesn’t think it is Alzheimer’s, the bad kind that would make her forget how to use a fork.  She just can’t remember what day it is.

“It’s Christmas, for Christ’s sake,” he shouts at Eve, more annoyed with his wife than he is with the downpour.

“Not for two more days, Paul.  The weather report says it’ll be better tomorrow.  And don’t take that attitude with me.  I know you are screwing that whore again.  You’re not fooling me.”

Paul stops his head in mid-turn, toward Eve.  “Dad’s waiting.  He’s expecting us.  Besides, we’re almost there.”

“I know you weren’t at the office Christmas party yesterday,” Eve says.  Her voice is low.  Sad.

“What are you talking about?”  Guilt is making him sweat beneath the thick sweater he’s put on over his turtleneck.  His armpits are moist.  So is the crack in his butt.

“I called the office and someone told me you’d left.”

“So?”  Paul drums his fingers on the steering wheel.  The office party was just a potluck, sweets and eggnog to usher in the season.  He slipped out to see Genevive.   He thinks of how he peeled off the stretchy material of her skimpy, body-hugging outfit.  Her skin was smooth when she locked her long arms and legs around him.  He wanted her as fiercely as he always had, with the baby, asleep in the next room.

“So?  Where were you?”

“Eve, I had to do some Christmas shopping.”  He says it slowly, carefully, so he sounds believable as he maneuvers the BMW off the interstate.  They sit through the first of two red lights.  The windshield is dotted with clear drops of rain as they idle at the intersection.

“So help me, Paul.  If I find out that you weren’t shopping for me, I’ll tell your parents that they have a grandchild.”  Eve’s voice is louder, stronger.  He has no trouble hearing her over the sound of the rain that still splashes on the roof of the car.

Paul’s dad grunts, as he bumps and squirms into a booth with his mother at the restaurant near their independent living facility.  “We are such a love story,” his mother says, leaning against his dad.  She looks up at him, closes her eyes and puckers her lips.  His dad, who looks embarrassed, shrugs and quickly kisses her.

“Not such a happy story the other day,” Dad says.

“Why?  What happened?”  Eve asks in a voice that Paul recognizes as one of phony interest.

A waitress interrupts them, takes drink orders.  Eve wants Chardonnay, and his mom says that’s what she wants, too.  Paul orders a Heineken and his dad asks for iced tea.  Paul’s dad continues, “We went to Nordstrom’s, on the courtesy bus.  Remember, Martha?”

“What?  No, I don’t Robert. What happened?”

Paul’s dad says,  “I’m sitting outside the dressing room, while your mother tries on something.”

“Cashmere sweaters!  Thirty percent off!”  Paul’s mother pipes up.  She thrusts her arm out.  The sleeve is white, fuzzy.  “I bought one in red, too.  For the holidays.”

His father looks at her.  He raises his hand and flaps at Paul’s mom.  “I was telling the story, Martha.”

She looks back at him, flashing him a smile.  She turns to look at Paul and Eve, across the table.   “Sixty-eight dollars, that’s all they were.”

“Each.  Martha, they were sixty-eight dollars a piece.”  Paul’s dad talks over her.  “So I’m sitting there.  Waiting for her, and I think to myself.  Gee.  She’s taking a long time.”

Paul fidgets in his side of the booth.  Eve reaches for him under the table, placing her hand on his thigh.  Her hand is warm, he becomes slightly aroused.

“And she slipped out!  Somehow!”  Paul’s dad says.

“I didn’t know!”  Paul’s mom says.

Their drinks arrive.  Paul’s dad pushes the straw around in his iced tea. “So, I get up, I look for a sales clerk, ask her to please check on my wife.  She goes into the dressing rooms, and comes out and tells me no one is in there!”

“What?”  Eve asks.

“That’s right. She slipped by me – some way or another.”

“I forgot he was there!”  Paul’s mother shrugs.

“So, I am searching for her.  I have the security people checking everywhere.”

“I was in the mall, Robert.”

“TowsonTownCenter.  Do you realize how big that place is?”  he asks, looking at Paul’s mother.  “Three hours.”  He faces the table again, looks from Paul to Eve, “Three hours I searched for her.”

“Oh, my gosh!”   Eve says.

“So, how’d you find her?”  Paul asks.

“I didn’t.  The security people insisted on calling home and guess who answers the phone?”

“Me?”  Paul’s mother asks.  Her forehead is lined and her voice is just loud enough to portray her own disbelief.

“Yup. You, Martha,” Paul’s dad places both hands flat on the table.  “She took a cab home.”

Paul is stunned. “So, I guess you don’t go back to the mall now?”

“Oh, no.  We still go.  We have to get out of that hole in the wall sometime.  I just don’t leave her side,” his dad replies.

Paul feels sick.  He takes Eve’s hand, removing it from his thigh.  Eve drains her glass of wine.  “I need another,” she says.

When the check arrives, Paul’s dad grabs it before he can reach it.  “I’ve got this,” he says, handing his American Express card to the waitress.  “So, what are the plans for Christmas?”  he asks Paul.

The lunch is supposed to be their celebration with his parents.  Eve leans into Paul, puts her lips next to his ear and whispers, “Told you.”  He can smell the garlic she’s eaten.  Anger bursts inside his head; he can feel it prickling under his hair.  He wiggles away from her in the booth.  “Shut up,” he says.  There is no time to see his folks again.  The next day is Christmas Eve and he has told Eve that he is going out with his former football teammates from college.  Eve is pissed off that he will miss dinner and Midnight Mass with her family.  Paul actually plans to spend Christmas Eve with Genevive.  Christmas Day he has agreed to go to Eve’s sister’s in Northern Virginia, a two-hour drive away.

The waitress appears again.  “I’m sorry, the card didn’t go through.  Do you have another one?”

“Jesus Christ, Martha.  Didn’t you pay the American Express bill?”  Paul’s dad shouts at his mom, who stares back at him, a scowl on her face.

“It’s OK, Dad.  Let me get this,” Paul places his hand over his dad’s.

“No, no.  I’ve got it!”  Paul’s dad struggles to retrieve his wallet from his pants’ back pocket.  The waitress hops on one foot then the other.  Paul watches his dad flip the wallet open and closed.  He clears his throat with a rolling grunt.  “Did you leave the MasterCard at home?  Martha?”  He tries to sound calm, but his voice has a garbled quality to it.

“Seriously, Dad.  I’ve got it.”  He picks up the brown plastic folder from the table.  His dad tries to grab it back and Paul notices the veins on the back of his dad’s hand are rivers of grayish skin, loaded with dark spots.  Paul thinks of how his hands will look when he is the same age.

He gives the folder with his credit card to the waitress.  “Be right back,” she says.

Eve nudges him.  “What’s the rush?”

“Fuck you,” Paul whispers to Eve.

“What did you say?”  Eve is loud, his parents stare at her.

Paul turns away from her, looks at the other diners, the empty aisle where he hopes the waitress will appear quickly with his credit card.  He counts out the seconds in his head.

“Paul?  What did you say?”  Eve grabs his arm.

Paul shrugs off her hand, “Shut the fuck up,” he hisses at Eve.  His words spray spit on her face.

She blinks, wipes a hand across her forehead, “You bastard,” she shouts.  He can hear his parents gasp.  Eve slaps at Paul’s arm, “Going back to that whore and your bastard?”

Paul sees his mother pull her head up, straightening her shoulders.  She acts as though she doesn’t trust what she has just heard.

But his dad is frowning, “What?” he says.

“That’s right,” Eve is still shouting.  Diners who sit around them stop eating, heads turn, watching them.  “You have a grandchild.  A girl.  Your son hooked up with another woman three years ago.”

Paul’s dad stares at Eve.  Slowly, he turns to focus on Paul.  “Is that true?”  his voice is cracked, broken.

A sudden, hard pain starts in Paul’s chest.  His fingers tingle and he can hear the blood pounding in his ears.  The rest of his father’s words come to him through a fog.

“Merry Christmas.  Christ.  Martha, go call us a cab.”

Paul slithers out of the booth, turns to look again for the waitress and sees thick white flakes of snow are blowing outside the windows in the entranceway to the restaurant.

“It’s snowing.  I’ll drive you,” Paul says to his parents.

“That’s fine, Paul,” his mom is sliding out of her side of the booth.

His dad’s watery, bloodshot eyes wiggle as he looks at Paul, “I don’t want you driving us anywhere.”

Paul searches for the waitress.  Leaving the booth, he walks into the next room where tables surround a bar, looking for her.  She is standing in the back, by the bartender.  Laughing.

He moves quickly to stand by her side, “Did my credit card go through?”

The waitress catches her breath.  Stops laughing and looks at him, “Oh, sure!”  She has a stack of brown plastic folders in front of her, and flips through them, handing one to Paul, “Here you go!”

“Thanks,” Paul leans on the bar top to sign the bill.  “All set,” he says, sliding the folder back into her hand.

“Thank you.  Happy Holidays,” she says.

Paul walks back to the next room, looking for Eve and his parents.  He does not see them.  Their booth is empty.  He walks briskly to the front hallway and pushes the restaurant’s door open.  The snow stings his skin as he watches Eve backing his BMW out of the parking spot.

 


About the author

Caryn Coyle

Caryn Coyle writes about arts, culture and food for the websites CBS Baltimore and Welcome to Baltimore, Hon. Her fiction has been published in a dozen literary journals including Gargoyle, JMWW, The Little Patuxent Review, Loch Raven Review, Midway Journal, The Journal (Santa Fe) and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore from City Lit Press. She won the 2009 Maryland Writers Association Short Fiction Award, third prize in the first Delmarva Review Short Story Contest, 2011 and honorable mentions for her fiction from the Missouri Writer's Guild (2011) and the St. Louis Writer's Guild (2012). Contact the author.
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