By Robin Rhyner
The girl saw the look of pity and puzzlement in the man’s glance as he tore their tickets, handed back the stubs. Dull shame turned her heart. She wanted to speak. To tell him they were loved, actually. But the girl and the boy remained quiet. Their words stolen by shared embarassment. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the baby wasn’t with them.
At home there were presents under the tree. There were sugar cookies made by them with their mother–the shapes of angels, stars, snowmen, and wreaths–iced with powdered-sugar frosting and decorated with sprinkles. There were stockings hung on the mantel and ingredients for a Christmas dinner in the kitchen. They were loved.
But abandoned. Alone at a movie theater on Christmas Day. The girl of eleven, the boy of eight, the baby three-years-old. Dropped off by the father who bought tickets, gave them money for snacks, asked the man what time the movie ended, then drove away.
The girl wished that the father loved them. She wished that he wanted to make a special day for them. Maybe the father could take them for a walk in the snowy winter woods, the path a few steps from their back door. Maybe the father could make hot chocolate and put in the candy canes. Maybe the father could read them a story, build a fire, make snow angels, pull them on the sled, teach them a game, sing some songs, wrap their presents, talk to them. But the father was at home smoking cigarettes in the quiet house.
He brought them here. There were three people in the theater. The girl, the boy, and the baby. The boy kept his eyes down. Looked at his shoes. He did not talk. The girl bought the snacks at the concession stand. She held the baby’s hand. She chose the good seats. She hoped the baby thought that this was an adventure.
The mother worked at the hospital. Nurses took care of patients, even on Christmas. The family would have Christmas tomorrow. The mother would cook. The mother would smile. The girl, the boy, and the baby would be happy. The father would watch the Christmas. He would see them open presents. He would take the pictures. He knew how Christmas was supposed to be.
But he preferred quiet. Empty rooms. His own thoughts. The father turned on the television without the sound. He sat in his chair. He did not think of the girl or the boy or the baby sitting in the dark theater watching the movie.
The mother worked. She took care of the dying man. She gave him the medicine, watched the machines, wrote notes in the chart, tucked in his blanket, touched his arm. The man did not speak. His family cried. The mother thought of her own family. Of her own children. Of her own dying man.
Light flickered on the faces of the girl, the boy, and the baby; not Christmas lights.