Tire Center Christmas (Part 5)

The Writer opened the door to the room and set the leaf bag down. The girls bolted inside and dived on the two queen-size beds. The woman followed, unpeeled her backpack, cranked up the heat, and inspected the room. He’d booked the largest one, a suite, with a kitchenette, couch, a huge television screen mounted on a wall.

“I can’t wait to take a shower, a long hot one,” she said.

It was the first sentence she’d initiated with him.

“How about we go to the store and get some things, and then I’ll be on my way.”

“Okay,” she said. “’Girls, we’re going to the store.”

They girls burst into glee and scrambled off the beds.

Tinny Christmas music emanated from a speaker mounted over the entrance to the store. Inside, a clerk, an elderly woman wearing angel wings and a halo stood behind the counter barking out sales transactions and wishes of Merry Christmas to a line of the finest weird-looking holiday-attired miscreants assembled south of the North Pole. The clerk was assisted by a young man wearing a Grinch costume. Grinch served up corndogs, nachos and Upton Sinclair nuggets and ran the Lotto tickets and overhead cigarette bin.

It occurred to the Writer that not a single person in the store had driven a vehicle there because no vehicles were in the parking lot. How they got there and where they might be going on Christmas Eve in an ice storm dumbfounded him. Who were these people? He’d never seen them before but now they surrounded him.

Before venturing into the aisles, the Writer huddled together with the woman and girls and rattled off the game plan. He was making it up like a schoolboy drawing up a football play on a sandlot field. Invariably those plays called for the bomb, the long pass, the touchdown. They rarely worked. What always worked were short passes to move the ball down the field. Nothing flashy. Just consistent attention to detail.

The play the Writer drew up went something like this: you each get one of the carry baskets and have ten minutes to fill them with anything you want in the store (Mom gets final say, of course). Then you head back to the room and celebrate Christmas Eve.

The girls looked at each other, eyes like full blue moons, smiled, screamed, hugged. The woman brought over the baskets as the girls celebrated. She hadn’t said a word during the play call.

“You can only have as much as you can carry,” she said to the girls, “because that’s all you need.”

The Writer heard the words. They drilled into him. He picked up a basket, too. He couldn’t wait to get to it!