by Than Pence
Lois and her son, Mason, experience an early, unexpected Christmas present
|Lois wiped her nose gently with a tissue and moved to put it in her purse.
“Ma,” said Mason, her eight-year-old son. “You just used that. Don’t put it in your purse!”
Looking down at the wadded, used tissue in her hand, Lois said, “What? Why?”
“We learned in school that there’s germs in your nose, and germs make you sick. And if you wipe your nose, it usually means you’re getting sick.”
They were walking briskly across the parking lot, toward Wal-Mart. Normally during this time of year, it was becoming chilly. Having been in Georgia since July, Lois was still getting used to the lack of flurries and cool weather that they were getting in Pennsylvania. The weather so far meant she didn’t have to wear a big coat where she’d normally put her tissues to use and reuse.
“Sorry, Mase, but I don’t have my coat. So they gotta go somewhere.”
He pointed to the bins near the entrance. “Those are trash cans. You can throw it in there.” She went to muss his short, brown hair. Mason pulled away. “No, Ma! You have to wash your hand!”
Lois grimaced, wondering about the curriculum at Soap Ridge Elementary and how it was turning her son into a germaphobe. She couldn’t help but notice how rough his hand was as they walked into the store, due to over-washing. It’s like holding hands with a sandbox.
“Okay, kiddo, we’re here for groceries only. No toy talk. Christmas is not too far off and you still haven’t written your letter to Santa yet.”
She grabbed a cart and started into the store with Mason at her side. “What about video games? Can we look at them?”
Lois looked down at her son. “Look at some video game boxes?”
“There’s a demo you can play, too. I’m sure it’s germy but you have Germ-X in your purse.”
“We’ll see.” She knew he’d interpret that as a possibility of him playing the game, but Lois knew there was a chance she’d lost the hand sanitizer: her purse was a packed mess of old scraps, business cards, and a couple charging cords to phones she didn’t even have, amongst other things. If she had to, she knew she wouldn’t be able to find what she truly needed.
* * *
A week later, Lois came home exhausted. The firm was tiresome. The babysitter, Rachel, was picking up toys in the living room. “Rachel, dear, you know I don’t pay you to play with Mason’s toys.”
The long-haired teen smiled. “I know, Ms. Golembeck. I was just…”
Lois held up her hand, smiling weakly. “I know. I’m messin’ with you.” She surveyed the living room and kitchen. “Where’s Mase?”
“Oh, he had something to surprise you with. I think. He went to his room when he saw you pull up.”
“Ah, okay. You wanna stay for dinner? I brought KFC.”
Rachel smiled but shook her head. “No, I don’t eat meat now. Just vegetables.”
“Well, enjoy your gas,” she muttered.
“Nothing. Thanks. Here ya go,” she said, handing her cash. “Mase, buddy, whatcha got there?”
He handed her an envelope. Lois read the outside of it. “’Letter to Santa.’ This your Christmas list, kiddo?”
Smiling, Mason nodded. Lois knew she’d read it after he went to sleep. She started to sweat minutely thinking about the expensive things he’d most likely put on the list. She was being paid well enough working as a paralegal, but she was just getting by. Every once in a while, she’d rehearse the conversation she might have to have with her son about there not being as many gifts during Christmas this year.
Rachel left and Lois and Mason ate their bucket of fried chicken and talked about what he learned in school. Surprisingly, he talking about dinosaurs and almost forgot about making sure to spray disinfectant around the kitchen trash can. “Mrs. Marple says there’s a ton of germs in the trash.”
Lois could only nod and smile. She liked that he wasn’t obsessing over the cleanliness of the countertops like during Thanksgiving a couple weeks ago. Thinking about the holiday made her miss her mother back in Pennsylvania. Wiping the hint of a tear away, she started to her bedroom.
“Ma, I’m gonna put this in your purse,” he said, shoving the envelope into her gray, stuffed bag. “So you don’t forget to mail it tomorrow.”
“Okay, kiddo.” She worried that she might never see it again but vowed to go and get it when Mason was asleep and read it. Once she was on the bed, the tiredness overtook her and she was out, the letter forgotten.
* * *
Chiming from her phone woke her up. Lois, startled, was confused. The alarm clock was obnoxious, but to hear an incoming phone call at such an hour was weird and unsettling. Looking at the screen, it was an odd Pennsylvania number. With reluctance, she answered it.
Four hours later, Lois and Mason were on an airplane. Her mother had fallen and broken her hip. Lois had been quick to make arrangements to be away from work and the school was willing to accommodate Mason just before Winter Break.
Anxiousness was her other travelling companion. Lois knew her mother had excellent health coverage and care, but she wasn’t ready to lose her forever. She began to question her whole move to Georgia and wondered if it really was going to be worth it.
During the whole trip, Mason was silent and grim-faced. Lois chalked it up to the idea of facing the loss of a loved one for the first time: he hadn’t been born when his own father had died and hadn’t been thought of when Lois’ father had passed.
When they landed, she had forgotten to pack heavy clothing, having been distracted by her mother’s injury. A quick trip to Wal-Mart solved the problem, but Lois was confused that Mason didn’t ask to see the toys or video games, and didn’t even mention when she’d pulled a used tissue from her purse and used it to wipe her nose.
“You okay, kiddo?” she asked when they were back in the rental car, on their way to the hospital.
“Is Grandma gonna die?”
“What? No! S-she just has a broken hip.” He’d asked what she’d been too afraid to confront: she knew surgeries on older people could be complicated. “You’ll see. We’ll go in and see her and say ‘Hi’ and she’ll be fine, Mase.”
Nodding, he returned to looking out the window at the overcast day.
* * *
“Mom, I’m glad you’re okay,” she exclaimed while awkwardly hugging her mother in the hospital bed. “How’d this happen? Don’t those nursing home people help you?”
“Oh, this is nothing. I’ll be fine. And they’re very wonderful to me. Shady Pines is very nice, dear.” Her mother looked at Mason. “And it’s so good that you’re here too, Mason! I’m glad you came to see me. It’s almost Christmas. Have you been a good boy?”
He silently nodded slowly and asked more questions along the same lines, making sure that she was, in fact, going to be okay. An hour later, she was pushed into surgery and the pair was left in the waiting room.
Without warning, Mason hugged Lois and said, “You’re welcome.”
She looked down at him, incredulous. “And what am I welcome for, young man?”
“Grandma. I asked Santa to let you see her for Christmas. And he made it happen.”
Lois blinked to move the sudden build-up of water. Her skin started to warm, becoming uncomfortable. “Uh,” she began, then sniffled. “Uh, why don’t you go… check on the vending m-machine, big guy,” she said, pulling her purse off of her shoulder to crouch and reach into her bag. “Here’s some change. Can you get me a Babe Ruth?”
Mason smiled. “Sure thing.”
He rushed off. “Don’t talk—”
—to strangers,” he finished. “I know, Ma.”
Lois couldn’t breathe once Mason was around the corner, out of sight. What was he talking about? She slumped down onto the floor, her purse landing and slouching like a sack of potatoes. Through the bramble of useless papers and pointless business cards, one white envelope caught her eye.
Grabbing the enevlope, Lois opened it: it was Mason’s letter to Santa Claus. She hadn’t had time to read it.
My mom hasn’t been very happy here in Georgia. She talks about missing Grandma alot and how everything is different and how it ain’t what she thought it wood be. I made some friends at school already but I don’t know about Mom and how she’s making friends at work. It isn’t too hard. Maybe she’s scared they’ll make fun of her.
You could make my mom happy if you let her see Grandma again. I know Grandma is too old to go far and its expensive to fly back to home to Pennsylvania, but this year I want Mom to be able to see Grandma for Christmas. She’ll like that alot.
Thank you, Mason Golembeck
Wiping her cheeks with her sleeve, Lois finished the letter, slowly folded it and put it back into her purse. She pulled out a tissue and dried her eyes. “Here, Ma,” said Mason, suddenly before here and holding a candy bar out. His eyes focused on the tissue in her hand, his smile wavering.
“Don’t worry, kiddo. I’m gonna throw it away.” Her son smiled fully. “Thank you.” Grabbing the bar, she held it with both hands and thought back to when her mom would share the same candy with her. Mason’s stubborn dislike of peanuts made that impossible, but just him being present was enough.
Mason sat down in a chair and unwrapped his chocolate bar. She studied her son and wondered when he became so thoughtful, almost selfless. Most eight-year-olds were embarrassingly obsessed over toys, games, and gadgets during Christmastime. I don’t know how, but I’ve got a wonderful kid.
“Ma,” he said, surprising her. “How’d Santa get the letter so fast? And when’s Grandma gonna get to leave here?”
With a deep groan, she stood up and found her way to the seat next to his. “He’s got Christmas Magic, I guess. And soon, kiddo. I think.”
He scrunched his face up. “Santa’s weird.”
Lois let out a snort. “How so?”
“He let you see Grandma, but she had to get hurt.”
Nodding slowly, she said, “That’s how life is sometimes. You never know what’ll happen.” Smiling, she continued. “But that just goes to show that good things can come out of bad things.”
“Like getting out of school ‘cause you’re sick!”
Lois mildly scowled. “Something like that.” She opened her Babe Ruth and started nibbling and thinking about the candy, her own mother, Mason, the letter, and everything surrounding the situation. Welling up a little, she finally paused to swallow and look at her son. “And ‘a lot’ is two words, young man. Not one.”
Mason pulled his little head back, his eyes widening. He then looked down, away, anywhere his confusion would let him. Smirking, she resumed eating and waited for the nurse to come update her about her mother.
Word Count: 1,867