Friday, December 3, 2010


The harsh fluorescent lights of the Walgreens drugstore made everyone look sick even when they weren’t. It was the Sunday after Black Friday, early evening. She was maybe in her early fifties, dressed in black but very stylish for a Sunday night in the Midwest. Her hair was dyed a soft red, not a brassy color red but the color of faded rose petals. It was unseasonably warm. She wore a black shawl flecked with platinum over a loose black blouse and black Argentinean gaucho pants covering the tops of her high-heeled black boots with the slouchy folds indicative of fine leather. She almost bent down to touch my shoulder but then she walked away, down the aisle of Christmas candy and outdoor lights. I couldn’t get up off the floor. I stayed squatting, my knees bent with my hind end resting on my heels, the box of lights clutched in my hands. I couldn’t believe there were still boxes with the image of our old house in Andes cleaving to the shelves of a Midwest drugstore. Each year I think it’ll be over, that the supply will have dribbled out and a new home will appear on the infinite rows of boxed Holiday lights, a newly crowned symbol of a Merry Christmas. It’s a simple image of icicle lights outlining the eaves of our old house shot with a star filter so the lights seem to twinkle. The picture was taken with a hint of snow on the ground at sunset when the sky seems painted with magenta and deep blue, a huge Douglas fir silhouetted in the background. Our antique white wicker furniture put back on the covered porch completing the vignette. I fight the urge to begin ripping the box apart, my fingers making deep grooves in the cardboard. The holidays bring with them memories, memories that now cut like knives on my attempted recovery. It seems as if hours have gone by. I had only come in to pick up some black and white film so Emmy could finish her photography assignment. I never intended to spend any time here paralyzed on the floor, held captive by a photo. A photo that unfolded like a scrapbook in my mind of past Thanksgivings our friends lined up the back staircase with sated smiles the snow circling around the kitchen windows. Then the harsh image of old toilets lined up across our front yard put there by a neighbor who wanted to see us gone. The joy that house gave us and the pain it had to endure all collided in that unexpected moment over a box of Christmas lights on a shelf in a holiday aisle in a drugstore in the middle of the Midwest. I found the strength to rise from the floor and make my way to the cashier. The lady in black stood ahead of me at the checkout counter. She didn’t look back at me clutching the film I had come in to buy perched on top of a box of holiday lights I couldn’t leave behind nor shake from my memory. It seemed better to purchase the memory and erase one more box from the shelf of regret and wait for a new Christmas where the past is the past.  

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