Slowly she pushed herself up from her chair and walked over to the cubbyhole under the staircase. Kneeling down she unlatched the door. There inside, just where she’d tucked it away so many years ago, was the box with the few glass ornaments and the Johnny doll. The stiffness in her joints complained as she lifted the box and carried it to her chair by the window. She looked at the Johnny doll nestled amongst the ornaments in the box and thought, Yep. It looks just like Johnny.
She propped the doll on the windowsill and looked down the street at the Mitchells’ house. Maybe one of Wanda and Owen’s kids would like this doll. Wouldn’t it be something when they opened their door on Christmas morning to find the Johnny doll on their doorstep? She looked at the snow piling up and wondered if she could make it across the street and down three houses. She thought she could.
She bundled herself in her long woolen coat, a scarf around her neck, and woolly mittens that she’d knitted years ago. Snow fell into the tops of her snow boots with her first step into the deep snow. She was glad that she brought her cane to help keep her balance. By the time she reached the Mitchells’ porch, she was dog-tired and cold to the bone. She placed the Johnny doll at the doorstep and turned back for the trek to her house, the only house on the street with lights still on inside.
As she stepped from the Mitchells’ last porch step, she felt the exhaustion of lifting her feet above the level of the snow. Snow was packed into the tops of her boots, which only made her legs heavier. She tried planting her cane in front of her and sliding her feet through the snow. It was a fruitless effort as her feet were unable to move forward.
She reached the street and saw her house shining like a beacon through the falling show. She leaned on her cane and thought, I’m not going to make it. She hadn’t any delusions about her age, she knew she was old. What in the world had made me think I could walk through two feet of snow in the middle of the night to the Mitchells’ house? She was so tired. Her legs couldn’t take another step. She sank to the ground and lay down in the snow at the side of the street. It felt good to rest.
Owen Mitchell was damn cold. With no money and nowhere to stay, he’d decided to at least stay on his street close to his family. He had parked his car across from Mae’s house. Aside from being cold it’d been a magical evening watching the snowfall. Still it did little to lift his spirits. That damn Wanda … I should be home, inside with my family, he thought. He’d spent his last few dollars on presents for the kids, which were stacked in the backseat of the car. He imagined their faces as he knocked on the door Christmas morning, his arms loaded with gifts.
It was amazing how quickly the snow buried the car. At first he ran the wiper blades every 30 minutes or so to keep the windshield free of snow, but then he fell asleep, and the snow had piled up too deep for the blades to scrape away. He wanted to look out—keep an eye on his house. He knew the moment he opened his car door the warmth would dissipate. Still, he felt damn claustrophobic. He’d have to climb out and scrape the windshield.
With his ice scraper in hand, Owen reached across the windshield to pull the snow to the side. His gaze extended to his house, and there in front at the curbside he noticed what looked like a body. My God, he thought, some drunken sap didn’t make it home. Owen set his scraper on the hood of his car and trudged through the snow to the body. If it wasn’t one thing it was another. Why didn’t I remember to grab my boots when Wanda kicked me out?
Owen didn’t expect to find Miss Mae curled in the snow as though she were sleeping. He picked her up easily and carried her home. Once inside he laid her frail body carefully on the couch, removed her boots, and piled her with blankets from her bed. He found a heating pad in the bathroom and tucked it between the layers of blankets. Mae opened her eyes and looked at Owen, so Owen figured she was OK. She seemed more tuckered out than cold.
Owen sat down in the recliner to watch over Mae and soon fell asleep as well.
Mae heard Owen rise and begin putting on his overcoat. She opened her eyes and said in a whisper, “Stay a while, Owen.”
“Miss Mae, it’s Christmas,” Owen replied gently. “I got some presents in the back of my car that I’m goin’ to take over to the kids. Then I’ll come back. You just rest up. I’ll be back to fix us some eggs.”
Once Owen left, Mae pulled herself up from the couch wondering where she’d put the aspirin. This is one of those days, she thought as she rubbed her knees. Everything ached. She looked out the front window and saw Owen climbing the porch steps to his home. He stopped when he saw the Johnny doll, set down his bag of gifts, and glanced back. He waved the Johnny doll above his head at her.
Mae sat down in the chair by the window, the same chair she sat in as a child, and looked at the deep footprints she and Owen had left in the snow. Maybe Owen could stay here with me while he and Wanda work out their troubles, she thought. God knows I know how to live with a difficult man!
She picked up the box that once held the Johnny doll and looked at the few glass ornaments that she’d saved that last Christmas when she’d decorated and thought about all the Christmases missed. “I am so sorry, John,” she whispered. “I am so sorry.”
She rose stiffly and made her way to the mantel. Gently she lifted each glass ball from the box and placed them on the mantel until there was a string of ornaments across the mantel’s ledge. She made her way back to her chair and sat back down—so tired. She gazed at the houses on her street and imagined each household as families began to wake to Christmas morning … Betty Olson and her grandson; the Sanchezes would soon be carrying on; Lydia would sleep on this rare day off, her Christmas present to herself. Mae guessed everything was going OK for Owen, since he was still inside his house. She picked up the hairpins she’d set on the windowsill the night before, wound her hair back into a coil at the back of her head, and pinned it into place. She loved this street.