“I want Daddy to get better for Christmas.”
My boy sits crisscross applesauce on the floor in front of our 19-inch, watching “Rudolph.” He looks small in his baggy sweats and giant black glasses.
“He will, baby. I promise.” I kiss the top of his head, his hair shiny but messy. Crossing to the front door, I look at him. “Listen, I’ve got a few errands to run.”
“Where you going?” He smiles at me, the type of grin you only see this time of year.
“You can’t ask questions like that so close to Christmas.” I zip my jacket and open the door. “Don’t answer the door or phone. If daddy wakes up tell him, I’ll be right back and then you go read in your room.” I feel nervous leaving him. “Just be quiet.”
“Yes, mom.” He turns back to the screen. The little ceramic Christmas tree glows green and red behind him. I want to grab him and run away. Not yet.
Pop’s Pawn is two blocks down so I walk, passing Bull’s Billiards, already open. Fast-Stop cash checking then a narrow side street with a used-up Lincoln parked to the side. The engine is running, exhaust pours from the tail pipe.
Inside, a scrawny man sits in the back, a giant sits behind the wheel. Fat Ronny and Little Steve. I hear their names all the time, usually when we’re hiding in the apartment, lights out, television shut off.
Past Lonnie’s Qwik-Mart, I step into Pop’s. It’s bright and loud. Two television sets and a radio buzz over the bell clanging on the door.
“Hey there Sherry. Haven’t seen you in a while. What’s going?” Pop is old. He’s been selling appliances, fur coats, guns and gold since I was kid.
“Not much.” I pull a handkerchief out of my pocket, lay down everything I have.
“Someone’s getting ready for Christmas.”
He reaches over, pats my hand. “I’m sorry for all your troubles.” His touch, his voice and I almost cry. He knows. I guess everyone knows.
“Well,” shaking my head. “Let’s see what damage I can do with this.” I show him my jewelry. Twenty minutes later I’m outside, a secret in my pocket. I feel the hardness through my wool coat, hear the crinkle of the brown bag.
Past Lonnie’s, to the side street with the skinny man and the big guy. I slide money through the cracked window of the Lincoln. Nasty fingers return a tiny piece of wrinkly cellophane. I want to tell him it’s not for me but I don’t think he cares. I put this secret in my other pocket. Rush home.
“Hey baby,” into the warmth of our tiny apartment. “Daddy up?”
“Good. Go brush your hair, sweetie.”
I open my bedroom door. Inside smells of sweat and sick. He’s under a pile of blankets, snoring. When I put the cellophane on his night stand, under the light, it unwinds a little more, the rock inside his gift.
“Wake up.” I touch his shoulder, turn on the light. He grunts. “I got you something for Christmas.” Rounding the mattress, I slide the bag from Pop’s under my pillow. “When you’re done, come have Christmas with us.”