After struggling to think of a short story for this month’s Short Story Challenge, this is what came to me. Though written with characters from the Thoreau Legacy, this story acts as a stand-alone and can be read without prior knowledge of the legacy.
As I left radiology, Jen, one of the nurses, smiled at me. “Big plans for Christmas this year, Clare?”
I smiled at her. “You know Frank and I always put on a big to-do.” This year, I was going to make sure it was extra special.
“Do you have anymore treatments before Christmas?”
I shook my head. “No, today I had some scans done. I finished the most recent round of chemo, so they’re going to check the scans and wait to schedule anything else until after the holiday.” I had a feeling I knew what the scans would say, but I was oddly at peace with that.
“Marty and I’ll keep you in our prayers.”
I thanked her and left the hospital. Jen, like many of the nurses here, had become one of my friends over the last year. With cancer as aggressive as mine, I’d been in here quite frequently. I pushed thoughts of my illness away, though, as I got into the car. This was a time of celebration.
I got home to find Frank in the living room frowning at the TV. I laughed softly and sat down beside him. “What has the ‘contraption’ done now to make you want to throw it out?”
He huffed a laugh and smiled at me. “Nothing. I wasn’t even paying attention. I was just thinking.”
“You shouldn’t do that, you know. It’s bad for your health,” I teased gently. “Is Shirley here?”
“Hadley came by and took her out to go gift shopping, I think. How was your appointment?”
“Oh, it was fine. You know we won’t know what the results are for a couple of weeks at least.” Frank, as usual, had insisted on going with me to my appointment, but I’d managed to talk him out of it this time. I loved my husband dearly, but sometimes I needed to do things on my own.
“I still think I should’ve gone,” he grumbled.
His grumbling brought a smile to my face. “I know, but you’ll be there next time. Now, I’m going to go do some baking. We’ve got less than a week until Christmas, so it’s high time we get some goodies in this house!”
He frowned at me. “Are you sure you’re feeling up to it? I’m sure between me and the girls, we could put something together.”
I laughed. “Oh, honey. I would almost like to see that.” I got to my feet. “I’m feeling up to it. I probably won’t do much today, but I’d like to get started.” I was going to be baking and cooking right up until Christmas day. This one had to be one to remember. “Why don’t you get the decorations out? We can all decorate when the girls get here.” Though Hadley had moved out a few years ago, she would no doubt come in with Shirley when they got done shopping.
While Frank got moving, I went into the kitchen. I think I’ll start with some cookies, I decided.
Over the next few days, I baked up a storm. Breads, pies, cookies, cakes. We didn’t keep all of it, of course. Some of it I took up to the hospital to share with the nurses and doctors; some we’d freeze and Shirley would take it back to school with her in the new year to share with her friends.
There was a short knock on the front door quickly followed by Hadley’s appearance in the kitchen. I turned away from my mixing bowl to smile at her. “Why do you knock when you know you’re just going to come in anyway?”
She smiled and came over to give me a hug. “Because.”
“Careful, you’ll get flour all over yourself,” I warned even as I hugged her.
“I don’t care.” She smiled and sat down at the table. “Gosh, Mom, it smells amazing in here.”
I beamed. “Doesn’t it though?” For the first time in a long time, it felt like the old days, before I felt too tired, too run down to cook. When the girls were young, I was always in the kitchen baking treats for their school parties or just to have as a little snack after school.
I turned back to the bowl on the counter. Behind me, I heard Hadley laugh softly. “God, that beanie. I could get you a real scarf you know, Mom.”
“Your sister gave me this! I like this hat.” It wasn’t really me, but Shirley had given it to me when I first got sick. Around the house, I’d usually just go bare-headed, but these days it was cool enough that I’d taken to wearing it all the time.
“I guess if you like it. I’m going to go find Shirley. I think we’ve still got some wrapping to do.”
I smiled and poured the muffin batter into a pan. It’s really starting to feel like Christmas.
The bunch of us all gathered in the living room on Christmas morning. The presents, so numerous they even obscured the TV set, would be opened in just a few minutes, but I took this time to look at my beautiful family. Shirley and Hadley had grown into such beautiful women. Shirley was on her way to being a doctor, and my darling, creative Hadley was getting to be quite the artist. I knew they were both going to be okay.
I looked over at Frank. He was looking at me, too, and we caught ourselves staring into each other’s eyes. His heart wasn’t what it used to be. I didn’t know how well he was going to do when I was gone. I hoped he’d lean on the girls and be okay, but I was afraid that wouldn’t be the case.
I hadn’t heard back from the doctor yet – it hadn’t been nearly long enough for the scans and tests to have all come back yet – but, inside, I knew what the results would be. The cancer was resistant to treatment. It was inoperable, as they had told me from the beginning. There would be no more chemo or radiation. But, as I’d thought when I left the hospital, I was at peace with my fate. I was grateful for the time I had been given on this earth.
I smiled around at my husband and children. “I just wanted to tell all three of you how wonderful you all are. I don’t think I say often enough how blessed I feel to have been given you two beautiful girls to be my daughters, or you, Frank, to be my husband.”
After we had opened presents and stuffed ourselves full, we sat in the living room and talked for a long time. I looked over at the tree we had put up as a family. This is the meaning of Christmas, I thought. To be grateful for the things you have, not to think of what you don’t. In the coming months, I might feel frustrated to have my time cut short, but I wasn’t in this moment. I had gotten more from my life than many people had gotten from theirs. I’d gotten to find my soulmate. With him, I’d raised two amazing daughters. I did wish I could be there to see them get married, have children, but, as I had always been raised to believe, I knew I would be able to see it.
Yes, I was truly blessed.
And, as it turned out, I was right.
The tests came back the first week of January. By March, hospice had brought everything we could need to the house. In April, a nurse started coming every day, and Hadley moved back in. I was gone by July.
But, oh, the wonderful things I’ve been able to see.