by Jane Doe
The next night after church, David and I drove down to the river by the bridge. From up on the hill, the fire seemed puny in the vastness of the night – shrunken since we had been there only a sun day before. There were just as many kids popping in and out of the wavy, feeble shadows as there had been yesterday. The party was in full swing.
"Do you want to go down to skate?"
"I'm happy right here." I didn't want all those little scouts to capture and carry David away. Not now when I sat so close to him, you could have gotten two more people in the front seat. David sat with one hand on the steering wheel, the other around my shoulders, tucking me against his jacketed chest. Being held like that, by someone I felt I could trust there were no words for this.
"What did your folks say when you asked them if I could bring you home from church tonight?"
"Nothing much. I think dad was glad he didn't have to get the car out again to drive into town. Also, he knows you and he feels I am safe with you." For the compliment, I got a boy scout kiss.
"I'd better get you home on time so he keeps on feeling that way."
"Mother said I had to be home by nine because of school tomorrow. Dad reminded her that it's vacation, so she amended it to 9:30.
For this joke I got an "until it's time to go home" kiss.
That night in bed, to stop my head from reliving and reliving the evening with David, I started thinking about what I wanted for Christmas. My parents hadn't asked what I wanted this year. In my thinking, I hoped this meant they still had doubts as to what I should be given and would leap at the chance to get me what I really, really wanted. White ice skates. The longer I replayed their reality in my memory movie, the more I saw my parents as they were and not as I wished them to be.
Mother always did her Christmas shopping early in November when there was “still a choice,” as she put it. On the evening of Thanksgiving Day, she addressed her Christmas cards. By the tenth of December all of her gifts were wrapped and hidden. Not hidden from me. She made a big deal of telling me where they were hidden so I wouldn't accidentally find them while looking for something else and spoil all the surprises. That was the way she told it to me. I felt it was some kind of a test of my honor and integrity.
One year, when I was eight or so, I had wanted a certain large doll. I was in such a state of panic that I wouldn't get exactly what I had asked for, that I felt my existence was getting crimped – out of shape with my wanting. So one day, I went to their closet, the usual, original hiding place. I closed my eyes until I turned on the light. I opened them only long enough to ascertain if there was in deed, a box large enough for that doll. I was afraid, that for the sake of economy, they had gotten me a much smaller one. One more look. There was the proper sized box for sure. My hand was still on the light switch so I gave it a hurried flick before my nosy eyes could start investigating other boxes.
The sneaking peeking didn't ruin my Christmas joy as mother had predicted it would. It made the days before Christmas calm, filled with serene anticipation of the time when I could have the doll to hold as mine. Seeing the long flat squareness of a box could in no manner compare to the ecstasy of opening that flimsy gray cardboard lid, reinforced with stripes of even thinner blue paper and seeing there, like Sleeping Beauty, the doll of my October dreams. In the catalog she was such a tiny picture.
In the Christmas morning reality she was even larger than I had hoped. I gazed at her, so dead with her eyes closed. Was she really mine? Did she want to be my doll? Was she mine to have, forever? The dolls in the stores laid in these coffin-like boxes and they were not mine.
As I lifted her out of the box, her eyes clanked open with a jerk, like her first breath. I was amazed how different the contours of her body were with the shape of her clothes. She grew enormous as I held her up before me. Comparing her size to mine, her years to mine, I wondered where she had been before she came here to be under our tree. She had evidently been as far as Chicago that was where Sears was. I didn't care. Now she was here. She was mine.
Overcoming my fear of wrinkling the gauzy pink dress, I clasped her to my heart to feel how she fit in my arms. Perfect, as I had hoped. Heart to heart, two beating one very loud, and one so faintly that only I could hear it.
This story reassured me that my folks did try to get me what I wanted for Christmas. Perhaps Saturday afternoon dad had gone by the hardware store on his way to the cleaners, and had stopped in to chat with Mr. Jones and just happened to notice the display of skates with silver tinsel draped around the shelves covered with the funky printed wrapping paper that hardware stores favor at Christmas time. With the long cold spell surely all the other parents in the whole town had the idea to give ice skates as the Christmas gift. Was my size still there? Did they even carry my size in white skates?
There was still Monday. Dad had to go to work. Perhaps he and mother talked it over and decided that he should take part of his lunch hour to look in the city for white skates in my size. I enjoyed the thought of dad sacrificing his noon hour, rushing from store to store, bucking the swarms of holiday shoppers, anxiously asking shop keepers if they had white ice skates "for my daughter's Christmas." Would he really do that for me? Reason told me it was more likely that mother would go into town on Monday, and if they had decided to get them, she would simply stop by Jonesy's, point to the box to say, "Those Jones, and can you gift wrap them? Oh, I want a receipt. If they don't fit, we'll have to bring them back on Wednesday."
I needed a plan to stop all these thoughts, or I'd never get to sleep. If mother went to town tomorrow I'd look in her closet to see if dad had gotten the skates on Saturday after he left me at the river. If there was no box there, I would observe mother closely when she came back. If she shooed me away and insisted on bringing in the groceries herself, I could be pretty sure that somewhere in that trunk was a thick square box wrapped in paper with faded evergreen boughs holding muddy-looking pine cones which stuck out under red bows. So organized, I slept.
Sure enough, Monday morning dad got a ride to work so mother would have the car for shopping. Just to be a brat, I asked to go along. When she found out, with many questions there was no good reason for me to go, she got out the newspapers, the rags, the bottle of cleaner, the pink polishing cloth and the chest of silverware. Therapy to keep me out of mischief while she was gone, she joked. I didn't find it too funny, but the hope that there were skates, either in the closet already, or soon in the trunk of the car, fasten my wagging tongue.
As soon as I saw the car turn out of the long lane onto the road, I headed for their bedroom. Being a real criminal, I opened the window so I could hear the car coming if she happened to forget something to return unexpectedly. I didn't want to be surprised by her finding out I was as dishonorable as she thought me to be.
I pulled a dining room chair into her closet. I only had to move her big straw garden hat to see the assorted lumps and bags of my Christmas. Being careful not to disturb their order, I cautiously lifted, with one finger, the various packages. There was nothing that even slightly resembled a box of ice skates. Disappointed, but determined to find something good to look forward to receiving on Christmas, I lifted and pushed more of the thin flat boxes around. Mostly, they appeared to have clothes in them. Nice, but I wanted a toy. Something to do something with.
On the top, and nearly sliding off, was a irregular package, obviously just wrapped in paper because its odd form didn't fit into a box. Trying not to tear the thin paper on it, I touched its contours, fishing in my mind for a use for that strange form. I caught nothing. Deciding that if I had been this dishonest, I might as well go the whole way and undo a piece of the scotch tape to satisfy my curiosity. I did. It was a bullet reading lamp for the wall. For the wall; not for me. It felt more like a furnishing for the room than some thing for me. Perhaps, I was just being sour because there were no skates. If skates came, too, then a new reading lamp would also be a nice gift.
I rearranged the packages as best I could, wishing I had taken another couple of minutes in the beginning to closely observe the patterns of their hiding. I laid the straw hat back in front of the almost Christmas. Something else caught my eye. Behind a wall of shoeboxes was something obviously quickly hidden. I could feel the haste with which it had been jammed into its secret place.
Something black, rolled into a ball. I reached behind the boxes to touch it. It was silky – something sexy. Slowly I grasped it, the way one picks up a scared cat hiding in a corner – gingerly, for fear it might scratch or bite. In the light it was indeed a wadded up ball of black satin. Still standing on the chair, I pinched a bit of the material together to let the rest fall in front of me. It was a full length, black nightgown. The whole top was only lace. No collar or sleeves. It didn't look very practical for cold weather. I knew it wasn't for keeping warm in the way my flannel jamies kept me warm.
"That sexy old thing," I thought, referring to my mother, "she gets all dressed up like the ladies in the movies who let cigar smoking men slap them in the face. Does dad like it when she does dirty things like wearing something like this? I thought she only wore the cotton pajamas like I occasionally glimpsed her wearing when I was suddenly sick in the night, or came into their bedroom during a thunderstorm. What if I came in their room some night to find her wearing this? What would I say? I wondered how she looks in this with her bulges and fat legs?
I got down from the chair to hold the gown up before me. The length was right.
I was already taller than mother. I went into the bathroom to the mirror. I could look at the black flag of a gown molding my form as I tucked the top under my chin to use both hands to pull the sides around my hips, but I couldn't look into my own eyes. Feeling disgusted with myself and mother, I quickly balled the darn thing together, probably with the same haste she had, and slung it with all my might behind the shoe box wall.
Totally disorganized inside, I put the chair back at the dining room table, checked that I had left the closet door, not latched, but just shut as she had left it, went into the kitchen, picked up a fork, smeared some polish on it and rubbed it until it turned black. I didn't know what to do with the knowledge that evidently my mother wore sexy gowns, evidently to excite my father. I felt I didn't know to polish silverware either.
I knew they "did it." That I had seen with my own eyes. Once. Did they do it more than once? How often? Did they still do it? I had no brothers and sisters. Was I going to get one? I hoped not. So do they "do it" just for fun? Like David and I kiss?
I couldn't imagine "doing it" with David. I couldn't imagine doing any of those things with David which Jane and I had written and talked about so much. David was sweet, gentle kisses. That was all. That was enough .
I heard the motor of the car straining up the lane. The window in the bedroom was still open. Jumping up I ran in to close it. When it was shut, there were my silver black finger prints on the white sash. Incriminating evidence. It was hard to be the perfect criminal.
I was sitting innocently before my silver polishing mess by the time mother came in the kitchen door with her arms loaded with groceries.
"Jane, come help me carry in this pile of stuff." I ran to help her set the brown paper sacks down on the counter. "But wash your hands first, they are filthy!"
"So are you, you dirty old lady" I thought to myself. I was eager to give the car a once over for a big square box. She must feel either pretty confident that I don't suspect that she went in to town to get the skates or else she has them hid. As I walked by the car my glance bored in every crack and cranny. There was a pile of grocery sacks. The whole Greer family of about thirty people was coming tomorrow and they were all big people with appetites as hardy as their jokes.
The more sacks we carried into the kitchen, the less there was in the car. At last there was nothing more in the trunk but a spare tire, some tools, and a blanket, with nothing under it; I looked to make sure.
The knowledge came gradually, while I put away the groceries. Mother had bought a lot of stuff, but she had not bought ice skates. As the day wore on and the chores became more tiresome, my hopes for the skates faded. By the time I went to bed I had given up on ever getting them. That made the gift of the reading lamp, turquoise, for crying out loud, more of a mean joke than a Christmas gift.
Then, lying there in bed it dawned on me what I wanted most in the whole wide world to get for Christmas. I couldn't write to Santa for it, I couldn't ask my folks for it. Only God Himself had the power to grant my wish. I got out of the warm bed, knelt down on the cold linoleum on my black and blue ice-scraped knees to pray with all my heart.
I know I rather doubted the creation story in the Bible. I wish I hadn't. I'm sorry I 1et all those questions into my head. You know how badly I want my period to start. Would you please, please, let it start on Christmas Day? That would be the finest gift I could receive. Perhaps you could let it be a sign. If you make it start on Christmas Day then I will know the Genesis story is the truth and the only truth and I'll never doubt another word in the whole Bible ever again.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010