|Brief story: Christmas-time, 2006.
||[Dec. 16th, 2006|11:25 pm]
Ocean of Roses
It's late, and she's tired. With her head leaned on the bus window, she wishes quietly - very, very quietly - that her headache would please go away now. The Christmas season turns everything either bright and beautiful, or chaotic and painful. At work, it has somehow managed to do both. Cheery little strings of lights flash on and off over her monitor, and in the break room, tinny Christmas carols play. On the phones, the customers and anyone else who cares to is screaming at them.|
She's worked two extra hours today, helping out when overtime was called for, in part so that Stacy could go home. Stacy may or may not make it through the season: the poor girl burst into hysterical tears at the thought of overtime, when she was asked. That was when Jenny volunteered. She'd question her sanity, but frankly, her head hurts too much to worry about it. A nice hot shower, a pill or two, food, and bed - these all sound like bliss. She only has to survive to reach them.
Which makes all the more aggravating the two children who are whining, screaming, and fighting with each other by turns in the back of the bus. She is breathing as slowly as she can, trying to restrain the urge to get up and go try smothering them. And fearful that some other passenger might literally think the idea was a good one: they are loud, they are uncouth, and why on earth does their (very tired-looking, she notes) mother have them out at this hour?
The mother says something quietly; Jenny can't make it out clearly, but she suspects it's "shut up" from the tone and what hints she does get. The elder, a girl of perhaps five, abruptly goes from screaming to quiet - then bursts into sobs. "I'm hungry, Mommy. I'm starving."
Jenny steals another glance, and even through her pounding headache, she feels her mood soften. All three of them are skinny. The mother has a beat-down look of exhaustion that Jenny knows all too well from coworkers and family. Life's hard on everyone. Even kids. And these are too young to know better.
She hesitates, then rises from her seat and slips toward the back of the bus, re-seating herself across the aisle from them. Wordlessly, she fishes in her purse, and extends to the woman the $20 gift card she got for exemplary customer service this week. She can live without it. Maybe they can, but they look a lot more pinched than she feels...and Fred Meyer's, while it has lots of things she'd like as a treat, also is a decent grocery. She sees the hesitation in the woman's eyes, and she simply looks down at the boy and girl huddled on the seat next to her, the fight temporarily drained from them.
As the woman (still looking uncomfortable) takes the card and tries to find a way to say thanks, Jenny stops those words. By beginning to sing, softly, a song currently popular on the radio. It's not one she's rehearsed to perform; she has no instrument. But perhaps she can brighten the day, and keep the kids quiet. She sticks to the first few verses, since she doesn't know their religion, and doesn't wish to offend.
The wind may not blow
Might not even snow
But there's nothing like Christmas
Right here at home
It may not be white
Might be a rainy night
But there's nothing like sharing
The sounds and the sights of ...
Christmas in the Northwest
Is a gift that we can share
Christmas in the Northwest
Is a child's answered prayer
Take away the presents
And they still will have a dream
For Christmas in the Northwest
Is a gift God wrapped in green
She trails off there. The boy has fallen asleep against his mother's side. The girl stares at her wide-eyed, with a wan not-smile (Jenny doubts she'll smile until she's eaten, if she's as hungry as she seems), and is quiet. The mother's uneasiness seems to have gone, and the woman offers a soft word of thanks. A couple other people on the bus have noticed, and smile at Jenny. Most don't look at her, but they don't look upset either.
And Jenny? She leans her head against the window of the bus, enjoying the cool of the glass against the pounding that's still behind her eyes, and smiles faintly. It's not much. But it's something.