Fall finally arrives. The world’s gone yellow, orange, gray, the glory and decay of autumn. When the morning air hums of cold, she feels as if she should be about something grand. This time of the year, she spends a lot of time hoping people will believe that she’s an enlightened, expansive sort of soul.
She sips her coffee and stares out the big picture window at the crescent of fog ringing the edge of the pond out back. “This room needs a good cleaning before the masses descend,” she thinks. She plucks a pair of muddy Converse off the dining room table and turns to the kitchen to get the broom.
The first child stumbles in, rubbing sleep from his eyes, talking of homemade waffles. Her day begins. Words like grand, words like expansive, they’re as defrayed as the yellowed light of the sun shining through the murky clouds. She’s about car pool, she’s about the Brownie sleigh ride, not getting groped at her husband’s office party, writing the cards, the buying, the wrapping, the obligations of the commonplace, the ordinary.
At the post office, the clerk ho-ho-ho’s every customer. The customers stand in an interminable line, their faces reddened by the snap of wind outside. They smile politely at the holly jolly clerk, and when it’s her turn she does the same. That’s how you’re supposed to act at Christmas. She sees people in this other gear, this Joyeaux Noel peppiness, and it’s like the language of Swahili to her. If this cheer is a disease, she’s never caught it, but she doesn’t want to be known as a Christmas hater. So she fakes.
Late in the afternoon, after she’s done three days’ worth of man work, she digs in her garden while the children play in a pile of leaves. They sing Jingle Bells. The little one shouts, “Chipmunk style!” They sing Jingle Bells again, their voices pinched and high. At least they speak Swahili, she thinks. I can be proud of that.
She wishes it could feel different, without this fog of expectations she’s laid on herself, to make it perfect for everyone else. She kneels in the garden watching the leaves fall. She reaches down to brush the dirt off her knees.