I quarreled with myself continually in the days before the trip. Wednesday morning on
the bus I thought, This is by far the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. Traffic was light on the
Drive, and I had a clear view of the frosty, choppy gray water. I wanted to spend my free time
walking or working. What stopped me was cowardice: was it pathetic to spend the holidays
alone if you didn’t have to?
A few hours later at our company luncheon, while Barry described the round-robin
visits due his scattered children (“Then I drop off Brooke and Alexis before going to my folks’
with Noah and Drew.”), I thought about the irony of involving myself with Jack. Why had I
ever chosen someone from Fox Hollow? I tried to part the clouds of confusion that overhung
my feelings for him. The immediate answers were easy — opportunity and familiarity — but
surely there was something more? If I ended things, I’d be free of the quicksand of Fox
Hollow. Almost immediately, the image of a silver-suited astronaut sprung into my mind,
faceless behind a visored helmet, floating free as the cold blankness of space spun away from
his reaching fingers. I shuddered. Why could I find no median between suffocation and
“So then the day after Christmas, the phone calls start. Last year, Brooke didn’t like
her Cabbage Patch; she wanted a kitten. Didn’t care if Alexis is allergic. ‘You keep Alexis,
Daddy!’ So I said to Marilyn, ‘Why do you do this to me?’ and she said, ‘Revenge, Barry. R-E-
“Why does she hate you?” I asked.
We sat on opposite sides of the long table, a centerpiece of fragrant, pink-tongued
lilies between us. Most of the other guests had gone, festivity departing along with their
Barry’s blue eyes looked pale in his red face. “She doesn’t. Every other time I see
her, she mentions getting back together.”
“And when you refuse, she punishes you?”
He laughed without smiling. “That’s about right.”
We sat quietly in the now empty restaurant, listening to the metallic clatter of
utensils from the kitchen.
“I think it’s that time,” I said. I had delayed packing, unconvinced I would actually
make the trip.
He sighed. “Time to face the music.”
We retrieved our coats from the abandoned cloakroom, brass hangers chiming.
Just before stepping into a wedge of revolving door, he asked, “Happy with your bonus?”
He waited on the sidewalk, a toothpick perched between his thick lips.
“I keep thinking I should go to Paris instead of home,” I said.
This year, in deference to my added responsibilities, he’d doubled my bonus to $3,000.
“Tough choice,” he called, waving as he walked off into the early twilight.
“See you Tuesday!” I called.
In the distance, he nodded. In the moments just prior to the sudden blink of
streetlights, the avenues were nearly deserted. When a lone cab appeared, I hailed it and
climbed inside, settling back to watch the wipers as they rhythmically cleared the falling snow
from the windshield.
Packing took hours. I stood before the closet for minutes at a time, unable to focus.
At one point, I found myself dozing on the couch (which I thought of as Glynnis’ with its
scrolled and studded arms, its deep, velvet nap, its boat-like heft and density). Waking, I
returned to the closet, where I chose and folded a yellow cotton sweater, then washed my
face. Hunted for slippers, then brushed my teeth. Eventually, Jack called to check on me.
“Going okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
“It’s going to be fine, you know.”
“Fine or fun?”
“Fine and fun. See you in the morning.”
After hanging up, I reached into the cedar-scented top drawer of my dresser, fingers
fumbling beneath piles of fresh underpants, unearthing Glynnis’ ticket. I tucked it into my
suitcase (still another of her gifts, meant to urge me along), behind the balled and bundled
socks in a peach-colored satin side pouch. Maybe I could apply the fare to Paris if things
went badly in Fox Hollow. Then I went to bed, where I dreamed of tangled telephone cords,
high wires, and flagpoles.