"Country Club Christmas" by Michelle Cox
I'm sitting on the bench by the hostess stand of the country club's restaurant, humming along to the song "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and thinking "Where are the Reindeer when you need them?"
Then Officer Joachim interrupts my tune. "I'm doing you a big favor," he says, snapping his notebook shut. "Procedure says someone should be leaving here in handcuffs. Merry Christmas."
"Thank you. I appreciate it," I lie, knowing he's extending me this professional courtesy because I work for the prosecutor's office. In truth, I'd love to see my mother in handcuffs.
We always go to the club on Christmas Eve. My mother – the grandma upon whom I am wishing death by reindeer – conjured up this tradition when I was a child because she hated cooking Christmas Eve dinner for my Dad's family. She told my Great Aunt Lorna that in exchange for Aunt Lorna hosting the holiday dinner at the club, we would all attend church with her afterward.
This marks our 19th Christmas Eve at Worthington Hills Country Club. However, we have never been to church with my aunt.
Tonight when I arrived at the club with my husband and 3-year-old daughter, Katie, I overheard the woman who would be our waitress talking quietly into her phone. As she talked, I noticed the scarf wrapping her bald head, a telltale sign of chemo treatments.
"Don't worry. Mommy will be home before Santa comes," she said. "Be a good girl and go to bed for Angela. We'll have so much fun tomorrow. Your Nana can't wait to see you. Love you baby."
I wrapped my arm around my daughter's shoulders and gave a squeeze as I eavesdropped on the waitress, mentally assessing her situation – single mom trying to support a kid on a waitress' salary while battling cancer; no dad; probably a small apartment. I bet Santa's delivery will be meager compared to the one at my house tonight. I felt sorry for her.
She ended the call and caught me staring. I gave her a sympathetic smile.
"Merry Christmas," I said. "I'm sorry you have to work tonight."
"It's okay," she said smiling. "We have a lot to celebrate and we’re doing it tomorrow. We've got big plans to spend the holiday with my folks. We're going to bake cookies all day. We love Christmas."
We were seated for 15 minutes at a long table with my parents, my aunt and my brother and his wife, waiting for my sister's family to arrive. When they hustled in, my mother complained about their tardiness.
"We had a neighborhood party," my sister, Janet, said. "It's not a big deal."
My mother's lower jaw seemed to unlock from its hinges, moving forward three inches to create a bulldog looking under bite that always spells trouble. She growled something to Janet through clenched teeth, but I couldn't hear because Katie was saying that she needed to "go potty."
Janet got up and stormed away from the table. I watched her angry departure and then looked back at my mother, who threw down her napkin, stood and left the table in an equally dramatic fashion.
My husband and I were the only ones who noticed this little drama unfolding. We both raised our eyebrows and I shrugged my shoulders. "Not my circus. Not my monkeys. For once I'm not the one who set mom off on a holiday," I said.
"I want to go potty," Katie whined again.
"Not right now. Let's order our food first," I said, not wanting to walk Katie into the shit storm that my mother and sister were conjuring in the restroom.
My child took the "no" in stride, climbed off my lap and wandered down to her relatives at the other end of the table.
I turned to my husband. "I'd love to be a fly on the wall in that bathroom. I wonder how Janet is faring in the ring with mom. She's not used to being on the receiving end of mom's bullshit," I said.
"I hope they get it resolved before they come back to our house for presents. That tension makes me uncomfortable."
"Get used to it, bucko," I retorted. "Tension, drama, someone – usually me -- disappointing Mom by not following the script for the perfect Christmas? That's what holidays in this family are all about."
The waitress arrived at our end of the table with a smile and asked if she could take drink orders. As she ran through the beer list for my husband, my sister-in-law appeared beside me, holding my daughter's hand.
"You're here. Thank God. I assumed it was you fighting with your mom, but I guess it's Janet. Your mom's gonna get arrested," she said breathlessly.
She explained that Katie asked to go to the restroom, but when they got there, the manager had the area blocked off.
"He told me two women were fighting and he had called the cops. Then I heard your mom and sister screaming at each other, and I thought it was you. It sounded like it was getting physical, so I hustled Katie back here."
I walked to the other end of the table and whispered in my father's ear. "Mom's finally done it," I said. "And this time the cops are on their way. This will be a Christmas for the memory books."
I watch the police officer exit the club before turning to head back to the table where my family has resumed the festivities. They are eating, pretending for my Aunt's sake that everything is fine. I'm not sure what they've told her – probably something about one of us being ill. She's not stupid and knows something is up, but she also knows my mother and understands that it's best to play along to keep the peace.
Before I reach the table, our waitress crosses my path.
"I'm sorry YOU have to work tonight," she says, giving me a sympathetic look.
© 2016 Michelle Cox
About Michelle: Michelle Cox is a professional freelance writer who sometimes misses her days covering death and destruction as a cops and courts newspaper reporter. In addition to trying to write fiction (soul food), she is the managing editor and social media director for Fiftiness.com (crazy fun), and contributes to Mamalode, 5MinutesforMom, Parent.co and Henpicked.
Michelle lives in St. Louis with her husband and their three kids. She's working on her first novel and the occasional short story -- one that was recently a prize-winner here. Michelle blogs at michellecoxwriter.com and tweets at @michellemcox.