As usual I was puttering around the house while everyone else slept, taking the refrigerator dough out, rolling it flat, dusting it with cinnamon sugar, curling it up like a rug, cutting it into disks and setting each one on a pat of butter and some crumbled pecans in the muffin tins. They’d have to rise again, for another two or three hours.
The kids got up just as I was finishing, same as always. And, also as always, my job changed at that point: now I had to keep the noise level down so that Lisa could sleep. Perversely, she loved sleeping in on Christmas morning. Perhaps because it enforced a level of consideration she didn’t feel she got under normal conditions.
It was quite a challenge. Keeping eight and nine year olds from charging up and down the halls, playing with noisy toys and fighting with each other at the top of their voices was exhausting and futile. It was like trying to keep the dog from barking when she rode in the car. Short of a sedative dart or a roll of duct-tape, it wasn’t going to happen.
So the morning was stressful, as usual. Everything happened in proper order – the stocking gifts unwrapped, while Lisa took endless pictures and we drank coffee and ate the sticky buns. Of course the difference was that this year I could escape. I would take the kids for the rest of the morning so she could have her private Christmas with Ned; but by the late afternoon I would be alone.
I watched my wife, she still felt like my wife. This cosy fake domesticity was unraveling my tenuous sense of perspective. Lisa moved around the room in her casually sexy thermal underwear pajamas. I could only glance at her, the nipples pushing against the soft cotton of the ribbed top; a furtive sighting into the drooping V neck when she leaned over to pick up her coffee cup. In an hour another man, someone we had laughed at together, would be lifting that shirt over her head, easy and proprietary after how many years of mute envy and longing? Ned had circled our dying marriage like a vulture and now it was time to feast on the carrion.
Driving back into town with the kids squabbling in the back seat, drunk on chocolate santas and cinnamon sugar, I saw Ned’s truck heading the other direction. He would be unwrapping his own Christmas gift in a few minutes.
The kids didn’t like my silence. It was unnatural and they sensed something was wrong. I started singing “Deck The Halls” and they joined in happily.
We were almost a family again while the song lasted.