BARBIE’S LAST CHRISTMAS
The year Mother burned up my Christmas presents, Mary Brewer’s father called the fire department. Wrapping paper stuffed into the fireplace had caught in the chimney cap shooting bluish-orange flames into the evening sky. Within minutes the firemen’s ladder truck skid to a stop on the snow banked street. By then the fire had died. Only tissue thin ashes wafted into the night like dusky moth wings. My dad stomped through the front door. The scent of cold and wood smoke perfuming his robe. Snow from the soles of his yellow bedroom slippers traced his steps, melting in patches on the Oriental rug.
“Damn nosey neighbors.” He threw an official looking scrap of paper on the coffee table. It landed beside his eggnog. “Fifty bucks.”
That’s when I noticed the three new Barbie outfits I’d gotten for Christmas were missing. I tore through boxes desperate to find the satiny-blue ball gown complete with matching heels, tennis shorts and sweater combo that included a miniature racquet, and the red velvet coat with real fake fur on the collar. I crawled under the baby grand in case I had kicked them under the piano in my rush to look out the front windows. Not finding the anywhere I asked my mother, “Where are Barbie’s new clothes? They were right here under the tree.”
Mother stood in front of the fireplace, arms crossed. “Now, aren’t you sorry for smart-mouthing me in front of your grandma?”
Confused, I looked to my father. He was paying no attention to either of us. Citation in one hand eggnog in the other, he muttered. “Damn Brewer.”
A strip of seared blue fabric floated behind the scorched fire screen caught in a spiral of rising heat. “I heard what you said when I told you to eat your peas,” Mother said. “‘Stupid’— is that what you think I am?”
I had directed that insult at the peas, but an explanation would only make things worse. My chin quaked. Tears gathered in my eyes. “I’m sorry, Mother.”
She put her hands on her hips, just below the cinched belt of her red and green print dress. “Does saying you’re sorry for a thing make the doing of it all right?”
A bleating sob escaped my throat. “No.”
“And the next time Grandma is here, how will you treat your mother?”
“With respect.” The words came out mushy.
“Okay then.” My mother came to me, arms extended, and drew me into a hug. I kept my back straight, arms at my sides.
“Go take the rest of your presents upstairs,” she told me. “Tomorrow we’ll go to the store and you can replace what you made me burn.”
I gathered my gifts dispirited, careful not to leave any behind.
The next day I picked out Barbie clothes different from the ones set aflame. The sight of the plastic wrapped ball gown, tennis shorts, and velvety coat smothered me with shame and a smoldering anger. I threw Barbie’s new outfits on the floor of the closet in my room — out of sight. Christmas was over.