Friday, October 30, 2009

Too Much to Ask?

by Joanna Mallory (pen name)

“Are you coming or not?”

Shaila Turner jumped at the sound of her husband’s voice in the hallway. She scrawled a few more lines, closed the notebook and slid it back under the papers on her night table.
Mark was pulling on his gloves as she appeared. She sidestepped the vegetable tray on the floor and shrugged into her own coat and boots.

“Nice looking veggies. I’m glad you had the energy to chop them all.”

“No problem.” He picked up the food. With one hand on the doorknob, he turned back.

“Look, Shaila, if you don’t want to go, just say so.”

Shaila shook her head. “We have to go.”

“Your enthusiasm overwhelms me.”

They picked their way along the icy walkway to the car. Mark popped in a Christmas CD, but neither spoke on the drive across town. They parked at the end of the line of cars on Scott and Emily’s street. As they approached the house, two fat, lit-up snowmen grinned at them from the lawn. Before Mark could ring the bell the door swung open.

“Merry Christmas, guys! I was afraid you weren’t coming.” Emily folded them both into a hug then led them into the crowded living room.

The annual Christmas party was the only time Shaila and Mark saw many of their old university crowd now, and most years Shaila sparkled in the thick of the conversation. Tonight, she nestled into a corner of the couch, warming her hands around a glass mug of mulled cider. The flow of happy, familiar voices washed over her.

She watched Mark trading jokes with some buddies on the far side of the room. He glanced her way, and she froze. So I’m not Miss Christmas Joy. Too bad! Everybody wants a piece of me. There’s just not enough to go around.

* * *

Mark woke her the next morning with lemon tea and a toasted bagel. Her answering smile felt wobbly. He really was wonderful, so supportive and tender. If he’d just give her a little time to work things out….

He smoothed her sleep-rumpled hair and tucked an extra pillow behind her back. “What do you say we get our tree today?”

Shaila’s smile froze. She looked at the slice of sunlight that probed between the curtains. As long as the wind didn’t pick up, it would be a perfect day. With yesterday’s sprinkle of snow, the Christmas tree farm would be beautiful.

It had been really special last year, walking hand in hand among the trees. Her throat tightened at the thought of a day outing, just the two of them, with no pressures. She crumpled the paper napkin with its Christmas wreath and blotted sudden tears. “There’s no time! We’ve got too much to do. Maybe … we should just get a tree at the lot by the mall this year.”

Mark jammed his hands into the pockets of his jeans and leaned against the wall. “What’s with you? It’s like you resent everything about Christmas this year. Is it my folks coming? I thought you liked them.”

Shaila stared at her golden tea. “They’re great! But getting ready for them is just one more thing I have to do. On top of the shopping, and the baking. And the Christmas cards that should have already been sent.”

Mark knelt and pushed the untouched breakfast tray aside. He put his arms around her, and whispered against her hair, “Why are you so stressed out about this?”

Shaila’s eyes brimmed. “There’s always so much to do! Why can’t I have a few minutes to myself?” With a shaky breath, she dragged the flannel sleeve of her nightgown across her face.
Mark released her, resting one hand on her arm. He studied her for a minute. “Honey, what it is you want to do?”

Shaila sniffed. “Gram’s stories.”

He frowned. “I thought you were going to leave that until January. You’ve got lots of time before the family reunion.”

She crossed her arms. “Look, I realize I’m not going to get as far as I wanted to this month, but is it too much to ask to have any time for it? This project is important to me!”

Mark retreated to the foot of the bed. “Well, perhaps we should postpone Christmas until it’s convenient for you. I’m going for a tree anyway. Enjoy your space.”
He left the room without looking back. Shaila heard the jangle of coat hangers, then the apartment door banged shut. She hugged her knees to her chin. Her chest hurt. “Why did I have to yell at him? It’s not his fault!”

Shaila eyed the now-cold breakfast. She couldn’t force it past the lump in her throat, and her stomach felt like a fossil. She carried the tray to the kitchen and dragged herself through the shower.

She dressed in ancient jeans, turtleneck and a faded green flannel shirt – her comfort clothes. With her feet stuffed into fluffy slippers, she padded around the apartment. This was what she wanted, time to work on her tribute to her grandmother. But Gram’s stories wouldn’t come. Instead, Mark’s words echoed in her mind. “Enjoy your space.”

Trying not to think about Mark, she fingered the line of Christmas cards on the bookcase.

Gold letters caught her eye, and she picked one up – “There was no room in the inn.”
No room. A tear splashed on the card in her hands. “Lord Jesus, forgive me!” She steadied herself against the bookcase. “You know how much Gram’s memory book would mean to our family, especially now with her tumors.”

The familiar dread twisted her stomach and her voice broke. “But … not at the expense of turning your birthday into just another chore. Show me what to do.”

She sat cross-legged on the floor. I feel so wasted and alone … maybe my prayer never made it through the ceiling.

In the silence, her grandmother’s words drifted back to her. “Use your imagination … what would Jesus say if He were standing in front of you? Just because you can’t see Him doesn’t mean He’s not here.”

Shaila closed her eyes and took a slow, deep breath. She knew what her Lord would say. “Trust me, child. Nothing can separate us. I’m here.”

She sat still, absorbing the peace. Gram’s stories could wait until the new year. Mark was right, there was plenty of time. She quelled a last flicker of rebellion. This time, she’d do it God’s way, on His schedule instead of her own. For now, He had other plans.

When she opened her eyes, she jumped up and hurried into the kitchen. Christmas cookies! A peace offering for Mark, and a treat for her Sunday School class tomorrow. And instead of the regular lesson, why not tell them about Gram’s faith – and her game of pretend?

Humming “Away in a Manger,” Shaila reached for her favourite recipe book.

- The End -

Joanna Mallory’s quirky imagination and love of fiction inspire novels about everyday women in suspenseful situations discovering more strength than they could have imagined. Her unpublished novel, Praying for the Enemy, was short-listed for the 2008 Best New Canadian Christian Author Award. She also writes a weekly devotional and review blog, God With Us: Finding Joy. Joanna is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, The Word Guild and InScribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship, and serves as Acquisitions Editor for InScribe’s FellowScript newsletter. Visit her at