“Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were, how can they call her if they don’t know her name?”
The living room was bathed in an orange glow from the gas fireplace. An aroma of pine needles and cinnamon rolls wafted around. Vince Gill’s rendition of “Let There Be Peace On Earth” filled the air, his voice as tranquil and hopeful as always.
Mary placed her namesake in the nativity scene, her hand shaking.
Next in the box were the stockings. She took a deep breath and grabbed them, exhaling only after steadying herself. Todd’s was first. His name was stitched diagonally with white velvet, leaving plenty of room for a reindeer and a Santa on either side. It was homemade, a gift for their first Christmas. In a few weeks, it would be filled with Rolos, Tic-Tacs, and scratch-off lottery tickets.
He had made her a stocking the following year. Reveling in his hopeless artistry and sewing skills, he had written her name in permanent marker, then added black candy canes. Despite its ramshackle nature, she carefully hung it on the mantle.
Jessica’s was next. It was bigger than the rest to accommodate the loads of candy Dad would bring home. Jess had been allowed to add to it every year; no doubt she’d be stitching Hello Kitty near the toe in the coming weeks.
Tears stung Mary’s eyes. She could tell they were watching her as they decorated the tree. She smiled at them, then turned to the box.
She picked up Jayden’s stocking. She remembered making this on Thanksgiving day, eagerly awaiting his imminent birth, giggling at Jessica’s first attempt at eating mashed potatoes.
“Dad?” whispered Jessica. She finished off a row of popcorn. “Why does she keep doing this?” She watched as Mom took two more stockings out of the box, decorated but nameless.
“Don’t worry about it, kiddo,” he whispered back. “It’s just something she needs to do.”
Mary went to hang the last two stockings. She missed the final nail, unable to see it through her tears. It dropped to the ground, helplessly. She followed suit, unable to hold her weight.
She felt a pant leg brush her sweater and turned to see her daughter hang the final stocking. Jess sat in her mom’s lap and threw her arms around her. “It’ll be okay, Mommy.”
Mary stroked her daughter’s hair, staring off into the fire. And hugged her back.
DG: I like how the story becomes obsessed with details the same way Mary does in order to avoid what’s coming. The fact that the smallest stockings are blank and undetailed drives that home nicely. GOLD
DK: Maybe I’m a sucker, but this one hits that spot between spelling everything out and leaving things too vague, and fills in the hints just enough to make everything clear. All the rest of the details are thought through and amplify the emotional impact. GOLD
Thanks, guys! I hope all of you are now in the Christmas spirit. I am, since I’m not back in second place!