All Is Bright (8)

A Christmas Eve story in 24 installments

Eight

The fight seemed to almost sober him. Almost, for he was still very drunk, though somehow more coherent and functional than he was when he first pulled into the driveway. After a few minutes he could even focus his eyes.

They fought in the kitchen, as far as possible from the living room, where their kids—ages six and four—were sitting on the floor in front of the TV, watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Daddy will come see you in a few minutes, Michelle said to them, but he and I need to talk first. Even through his still-blurred eyes, he could see that she didn’t want the kids to see him, in his condition.

Michelle had been fine with taking the kids to the early family service at Good Shepherd on her own. She had been fine with him not going with them; she knew he wasn’t a believer and never would be, and for him to be in church yawning through the service would have almost been mockery. Even the kids, despite being so young, seemed to sense that church meant nothing to him. And he never went to church the rest of the year anyway, so one more day of not being there wouldn’t make much difference. She didn’t even mind him going to a client’s Christmas party instead, even though she knew he’d be drinking and might have one or two too many.

But what she did mind was him not coming home at seven like he had promised, and missing the special dinner she had spent all day preparing, and finally showing up two hours late and smelling like a distillery.

Larry was apologetic, even repentant, and began to speak until she raised her hand to silence him. This is the holiest night of the year, she said, and even if you don’t believe, it still has to be the most special night. If for no other reason than to see the happy faces of your kids when they come home, where you’ve been waiting for them, ready to celebrate. Her voice never rose above a low growl, a skill learned from too many years of needing to express her anger without the kids overhearing. 

After his stifled attempt to apologize, he took the rest in silence, making it seem less like a fight and more like an onslaught. He knew it was best to keep silent, for he had no defense. He knew he should have only stayed for one drink at the party, said brief goodbyes to the important people, and gotten home before Michelle and the kids were back from church. 

Suddenly her torrent of words ceased, and she stood at the kitchen sink, staring out the back window as Larry watched her from across the room. To Larry she looked just as beautiful as the first time he ever saw her, and he realized at that moment how lucky he was to have her, and how lost he would be without her. He took a step toward her but, seeing him out of the corner of her eye, she said No, in a sharp voice which stopped him cold. Her voice lowered again, but was no less emphatic. I don’t want to see you right now. I don’t want you in this house.