The day is ugly like the sun forgot us. Grey rolls in heavy and dim and it still feels like night when the kids stumble - heat-starved - out to catch the bus. Winds groan and there's no way it can be five days until Christmas because the grass still waves it's 'you-should-have-cut-me one-more-time' face and mud coats the car like armor and these snow tires are kicking up back-road filth instead of any snow-globe magic. I think about carving BAH HUMBUG into the thick dust along the passenger door. I'm trying. Really, I am. Trying to catch a moment to catch the season but it's all floating about like some demented dead leaf that doesn't realize it should be buried beneath a blanket of pallid beauty. Where are you, Christmas?
Tires growl over all this dirt and I pull into a line too long but I can't face the cold so I take my place behind the white SUV with it's white custom family stickers and wait. And wait. And wait. And we're a contamination train and we're puffing our hot exhaust breath out into this world that's dying all around us and I'm pretty sure Santa is crying and baby Jesus is crying and we're all crying because...UGH!
The line crawls. I place my order. The line crawls. They're talking on the radio about some poor woman who is fighting for her right to wear a niqab on the witness stand and I think 'who is anybody to tell anybody what they can or can't wear?'
I come to the window and I'm right grim. I hold out my coin that can't catch a gleam because the sun forgot to get up this morning. The girl at the window holds up her hand in refusal, fingers peeking out the end of cut-off gloves - her face all merry and bright. "The lady ahead of you paid for this. She wanted me to say, 'Merry Christmas'."
And I take it like a punch in the chest and things are strangely brighter and I take the cup and the smell of sweetened cappuccino fills my filthy car and like the grinch I feel my heart grow three sizes. I rush forward to catch the white SUV before it pulls in to traffic, sneak up beside her and try to catch her eye with a wave. I don't think she saw me as she pulled away. Just a normal woman. Just a stranger who gave $1.94 to restore my faith. I feel the prick of a tear and the warmth of a hope and the swallowing down of a lump of guilt.
there you are...you were there all the time, weren't you?...
I just stopped looking.