Two tiny tots had their eyes not all aglow; they crackled and burned like a beach bonfire! They made such a racket that the rest of the customers turned to observe the melee. It didn’t take long to intuit what was happening and their frowns of disapproval turned to smiles of delight. A few even clapped.
As the girls filled their baskets with toys and treats, the Writer caught sight of the woman ordering an assortment of processed foods. He noticed she was wearing an auburn-colored Santa hat that clashed outrageously with her red hair.
After placing the order, she meandered the aisles examining products. Every now and then she put something in her basket. There was zero pattern in her choices.
The Writer began shopping, but not for himself. Into his basket was: a couple of TracFone $39.99, 200-minute cards, $50 gas card, flashlight and batteries, duct tape, first aid kit, two boxes of twinkle lights, a tiny, table-top, ceramic Christmas tree, pocket knife, socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes, two bottles of water and a pack of energy bars. It was basically a survival kit for the non-nuclear disaster of the ever-increasing marginalization of American lives in the new American Diaspora. And the supplies wouldn’t last long.
A few minutes later the Writer stood face-to-face with the woman. She had just emerged from the walk-in beer cooler. Their eyes met. He noticed she’d decorated her face with glitter. He noticed she emanated a wan twirling light. She looked into her basket and then back to the Writer’s eyes. She knew he’d seen the two cans of Four Loko Frost malt liquor and a pack of Camel Crush Menthol.
“I can put the Loko and cigarettes back if you want,” she said.
“No, it’s Christmas.”
The Writer held out his basket to her. “I got some things for you, for the road, when you leave.”
“Thanks,” she said. She smiled, a jagged smile. “You like the hat?” She angled her body toward him in a way that presented the hat.
“I like the hat.”
“I got it for myself.”
“I almost forgot,” said the Writer. He handed her a stack of $1 scratch-off tickets. “There are 15 here.”
“We’ll open them tomorrow morning.”
“That sounds perfect. I hope you win.”
“It’s never worked before, but who knows, it’s Christmas Eve!”
She said it with such giddiness that he thought he might be bowled over.
They carried their loot across the ice to the motel. The woman opened the door, the girls darted in, dived on the beds,started singing some unintelligible song, and tore into the treats.
The woman set her bag down on a dresser, as did the Writer. He saw a paper pad and pen on a table. He wrote down his phone number.
“Hey, I’m going to get out of here,” he said to her. “I left my number on the table if you need anything. Call or text. I only live a few blocks away. The tires will be ready on the 26th.”
He had about a million other things he wanted to say or suggest, but he didn’t. There would be time for that later—or not. Probably not. It wasn’t necessary for giving the right way, although it is a precondition to give for many people.
“Okay, she said. “I don’t know what to say.”
She really didn’t. Why profane the moment of not knowing with a cliché of knowing?
He didn’t care. He didn’t expect her to say anything poignant or act a certain grateful way. Those contrivances were for stories and books.
He wondered if he’d hear from her. He wondered if he should do more. What else could he do? He wondered if the family would make it.
They shook hands. Her grip was still weak, but he felt more of a squeeze.
It occurred to him he’d never learned the girls’ names. It occurred to him he liked giving. It occurred to him he wanted to write. It occurred to him he didn’t know how to write, but writing was something worth knowing how to do, and doing well.
Outside the motel room, the Writer surveyed the icy 101 wonderland/clusterfuck and plotted a course for home that traversed the most grassy areas and bark-dusted flower beds. He needed them for footing.
He took a first step and began to slide. He balanced himself by extending his arms. He laughed aloud. He kept going forward. He would make it, and after arriving home, he would begin his education as a new kind of better, authentic writer. His education as a new kind of better, authentic human being, was complete.