You create yourself in ever-changing shapes
that rise from the stuff of our days—
unsung, unmourned, undescribed,
like a forest we never knew
—rainer marie rilke, book of hours II, 22
Thanksgiving dawned gloomy. Winds berated the little house and whipped around corners, sending cars careening down the hilly roads and trees bending precariously close to electric wires, poles threatening to charge down upon innocent squirrels chattering about the latest and most nutty gossip. In the nearby woods, a wolf howled such a raucous seasonal greeting that the brown birds scurried to find other branches and the leaves rustled in pools on the muddy ground.
Inside the house, early, when the fog was still receding back across the mushroom fields, the cold bit Miriam’s feet in the moment her toes touched the cold wood floor before slipping into brown moccasins. She rubbed the sleep dust from her eyes and stretched out her shoulders. She must have slept with them tensed up around her ears, for all her attempts to let sleep be a time for peace.
She’d been entertaining a Grinch since the Halloween spookiness had given way to commercialized joy and jingle bells and too many Christmas trees. She couldn’t go anywhere or see anyone without being reminded of Black Friday sales and grocery store madness. It made her mad. Would anyone just let her sit in her sadness for a while? She hated faking joy. It seemed to dampen everyone else’s.
She sat on the edge of the bed with her head in her hands and glanced over her shoulder at Jack. He was still sound asleep, dead to the world, a soft snore whistling over the quilt. He was one of those people who, though he himself was deeply affected by the state of the world, made everyone else around him feel like things were going to be okay.
Slipping away from the room, she shuffled to the kitchen and got out the fixings for coffee. While the coffee brewed, its murmur issuing steam into the soft morning light, Miriam wrapped herself in a throw blanket and stood by the French doors overlooking the back patio. Tree tops flung their branches out in glad tidings, entirely missing the storm on Miriam’s face.
Thanksgiving only ever succeeded in making her less thankful. Her family hadn’t had a reunion in eight years, and even that had been an experience with enough awkward moments and conflicts to fuel family gossip ever since. While she stood in her kitchen, doing the same old routine she’d been doing since marrying Jack, she knew her friends were laughing over homemade cookies, glazed hams, and jazzy Christmas music.
She wasn’t supposed to open her phone until after lunch. But she retrieved it from the laundry room where it lay next to Jack’s, and half-perched on a kitchen stool to begin scrolling, anything to take her mind off the heaviness weighing down her bones.
Picture-perfect families. Engagements. New relationships. Babies. Puppies. Snow.
As hard-pressed as she was to admit it, she felt cheated. Everyone else seemed to have big things to be thankful for. Their cups overflowed. Good things happened to them during the holidays.
She didn’t even know Jack was awake until he brought over a steaming mug of coffee and set it on the counter for her, with cream, just the amount she liked. He brushed his fingers against her knitted forehead while she held the mug to her chest.
“You know that’s bad for you, right?” he asked.
“I know,” she said. She sighed and turned off her phone with a click. He took it back to the laundry room and returned with a blanket of his own.
They shared a comfortable silence, watching a deer and her fawn wander into the backyard, stripping any remaining green leaves off their shrubs.
“There’s always going to be a next thing,” Jack said. “We’re always going to be hoping for something more. Maybe we’re made more aware of it during the holidays, when everyone else seems to be getting what they want while we’re still waiting. We feel left out, perhaps.”
“I don’t like Christmas,” Miriam said, more abruptly than she’d intended. Where was that smooth transition she’d spent the past ten minutes planning in her head?
“I know. I can tell when you’re pretending to smile. It doesn’t touch your eyes.”
Miriam blinked. “I’m not sure whether I should be afraid or relieved.”
“Just don’t feel like you need to hide when you’re not doing well, at least around me,” Jack said. “I’ll hold it as carefully as I can without letting you fall into self-pity which, if I may add, is what you’ve been indulging in since you woke up.”
“I’m annoyed because I know you’re right,” Miriam grumbled, taking a too-large gulp that was more creamer than coffee. Jack hadn’t stirred it.
The sun finally broke from behind the haze. A blue bird lighted on one of the patio chairs and tilted its head to peer through the windows at the couple.
“Well, that’s cliché,” Miriam said.
“Often God blesses us through the mundane,” Jack said.
“Stop being right all the time,” Miriam said. But Jack saw a hint of a smile twitch in the corner of her mouth.