Two days before Christmas and she is returning things she bought last week—the sweater, the shirt he would have liked but not with that tie, the electronic gizmo that nobody needs but looked so . . . what? . . . modern? contemporary? What is that other word? Geeky? but in a good way.
She stands in the return-only line feeling slightly smug because the queue is short, and she knows the day after Christmas it will snake past the organizing ropes. She’s beat the rush, returning gifts before giving them, things nobody will want, not even her son who loves her or her ex, who, apparently, doesn’t.
What is the protocol here? Gifts to a man who has left, a man she loves but who has grown tired of her, weary, out of love, not in to her anymore. What kind of excuse is that? And no, it wasn’t meant to be a sexual explanation, he said with that slanted smile that deepened the dimple in his right cheek. I just don’t want to be married any more—and we’re all adults. Right?
He meant their son, twenty-one years old on June 21st, golden boy on his golden birthday. The boy was launched, and Colin was free. He didn’t say it like that, but look at what happened.
She bought him the shirt without thinking or wanting to think. She’d bought him a blue Oxford cloth shirt every year of their married lives. They met in Oxford, both on a Fulbright. She was sentimental, he humored her, wore the shirt every year on the 26th when they went to three movies in a row—another tradition.
Well, she bought the shirt, and now she was returning it early, before she weakened, wrapped it in brown paper, and shipped it to the apartment he said he loved—so urban—so much better—yadda, yadda, yadda.
The line moved forward. Maybe she should send it to him. He was still human. He’d hold the package, smile that smile, turn it over, slit the tape with his Swiss army knife, open it, see the Oxford cloth shirt and—what? Feel the pang that had paralyzed her for the last six months?
“Next,” the cashier said.
She stepped forward.
© 2012 Kathleen Coskran