|This Week’s Theme: What happens when your character gets dragged to a solstice celebration?|
I knew I was in big trouble when I saw the "Wicca for Dummies" book poking out from under Saturday's newspaper. Pushing aside the paper, which once again screamed about slumping home sales, I gathered a breath and readied for the coming inanity.
"Mm hmm?" Mom did not look up from her cookie spritzer as she squeezed out another perfect little dollop of... wreath, or maybe camel. No, it was a Christmas tree. Or maybe a star?
"What's what, honey?" She pried the cookie dough off the tip of the spritzer, mauling it into some other unrecognizable shape. At least the cookies would taste good. She licked her fingers, wiped them on her green apron, and then plunged them into the bowl of dough to fill the spritzer again.
"This, Mom." I held the book up and raised my eyebrows. I knew what it was. It was the latest in Mom's quest for meaning since Dad died so suddenly two years ago. She had tried Buddhism (fortunately I convinced her not to shave her head), escapism (in four months she hit every roller coaster in California), and even Church. I sighed. At least she was trying.
"Oh!" No pause in her cookie work. "You should read that. It's fascinating. I've only read the first two chapters, but I'm hooked. By the way, I hope you brought your boots." She hummed a few bars of "Let It Snow" to herself as green sprinkles skittered over the blobs of dough on her cookie sheet.
"I'm afraid to ask..."
"Didn't Jake tell you? Oh, that boy. I made him promise to tell you."
"Tell me what, Mom?" I tried to keep the frustration and apprehension out of my voice, I really did.
"We're celebrating the Solstice today! I've picked out a lovely spot out in the back woods, some beautiful trees and after last night's snowfall it should be just like Heaven." She seemed not to notice the irony in her choice of simile. "Though," she frowned at nothing in particular, "it might be cold even in the sun." A glance out the window and a quick shrug, and she was back to her multicolored dough blobs.
"Where is your brother? He's always late."
"I don't think he's coming, Mom," I said, not admitting out loud that had I known her plan I'd have stayed away, too.
"But my whole knitting group is going. Liz is bringing her new gentleman friend, and Peggy has invited her children." She had come down the stairs with her long overcoat already buttoned, a thick, black scarf wound round her neck and Dad's old hiking boots on her feet. The gap between Dad's gray wool socks and the bottom of the coat showed bare legs where I expected slacks.
"Mom, are you wearing a dress?" I wasn't sure she even owned dresses any more.
"Mmm. Now, where is your brother? Well, we'll just have to go. I've left a note for him with directions to the spot. He'll just have to show up when he shows up." She popped open the door and bustled out into the sunny but chilly day. "We need to get there by noon or they'll start without us."
I followed, shaking my head at her naive exuberance. We listened to her Nat King Cole CD of Christmas songs on the way down the highway, pulling off at a trail head mostly frequented by teenagers looking for a good place to drink beer on Friday nights in the summer. I followed her up the trail, neither of us talking. The day really was astonishingly beautiful. My breath hovered in wisps before me, and the new snow sat on the naked branches with grace and serenity. One tree near the top of a rise had frozen into a crystal wonder and glistened in a way that no artist could ever have recreated. Mom trudged ahead with purpose and resolve.
After a few minutes, she followed footprints off the side of the trail, and I heard a murmur of voices. We emerged into a clearing where a dozen people loitered, chatting with each other. Mom turned to me and said, "Oh, good. We're not late."
I saw Peggy and Liz, her reluctant boyfriend hovering behind her with a blue beret on his bare head. He wore a suit as if dressed for Christmas Mass, and his eyes darted from woman to woman like a cornered animal looking for an escape route. I tried not to give the same impression.
I recognized them all. My mother's friends from the past thirty years--women who changed my diapers. Women who brought meals to my mom and sat with her late into the night after Dad died. Women who had come to my high school graduation, who had sent me generous gifts when I graduated medical school. Women who had come to my E.R. with fake ailments just so they could be treated by their friend's daughter. I smiled to see them all supporting her once again, even this nutty idea of a solstice celebration.
Peggy came over to us. "Oh! Wonderful! Now we can get started!" She turned to the group. "Ladies! And Ken, of course." She winked in his direction. "It's time to start the revelry!"
I started at the resulting whoop from the other ladies. Then my eyes went wide and my first thought was that they had all been drinking. I glanced at Ken to see his reaction mirrored mine. All at once, the ten old ladies, every one of them at least sixty years old if they were a day, threw off their overcoats. And every one of them was naked except for wool socks and heavy boots.
They leapt about and formed a circle in the middle of the clearing, and they started dancing about. Some twirled, some bounced up and down--which was not flattering from the front or the rear--and others pranced around and around the circle. Every now and then one of them would whoop or shout something subtly Christian like "Praise be!" or "Hallelujah!"
I stood rooted, unable to move. I could tell my mouth was agape. The doctor in me started worrying vaguely about frostbite and heart conditions, but the daughter in me was nothing but mortified. I couldn't stop myself from looking around to make sure no one but us saw this. I glanced at Ken, who seemed to feel as I did. Then, suddenly, his face changed. He shrugged at me, smiled, and threw off his coat. As he started unbuttoning his shirt, I turned to leave.
"Where are you off to?" demanded someone's voice behind me.
"I'm going to wait in the car." And if Jake shows up, I thought, I'll keep him busy so he doesn't have to see this.
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