Returning home, I was in a loathsome mood. While Maggie was pulling out New Year’s gifts from the crinkling bags, muttering something under her breath, I headed to the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee and calm down a bit. All this New Year’s frenzy, the sparkling Christmas trees in every shop window, radio commercials, and people frantically searching for gifts irritated me more than usual today. Yes, Christmas is just a little over two weeks away. So what? What is Christmas, anyway? Why do people of all ages believe that something magical must happen on this particular night? Well, perhaps children, eagerly awaiting Santa Claus with gifts, but adults should know better, right? Take me, for example, how many disappointments have I endured because of this absurdly glittering and cheerful holiday? In my childhood, I was given gifts that I didn’t expect, and in my youth, the things I dreamed of never materialized. And when I got married, every year my husband and my second mother and I celebrate in front of the television, munching on the obligatory Olivier salad.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and took out the cream from the fridge.
“Mom, can I play with this bunny for a bit?” Maggie dragged a huge blue bunny into the kitchen, bought for my friend’s daughter.
“Of course, sweetheart,” I said cheerfully. “Just in the other room, okay? I’ll have some coffee and feed you in a moment.” I didn’t want my awful mood to rub off on my daughter. She was so enthusiastic while helping me choose gifts for our relatives and friends at the mall. She’s truly a wonder, my little girl. The only problem is that she gets sick quite often, and I had to adjust my entire life for her. Who would keep an employee at work who’s constantly on sick leave? So, I had to forget about my career.
So, Christmas. I can already predict how it’s going to be. We used to gather with friends, but now everyone has families, and it’s not the same. Even my friend and her husband, who used to make this holiday somewhat bearable, are going to Hawaii. And my mother-in-law is coming from Michigan. The four of us will sit at the festive table and turn on the TV. Oh, how I dislike Christmas shows. And my mother-in-law will start talking about her relatives and lecturing me on raising my child. Who came up with the idea that this is the best night of the year?
Yesterday, my husband and I had an argument about this. My husband is wonderful too. Affectionate, kind, attentive. He can earn money and doesn’t cheat. In general, as my friends say, I should be happy.
And I am happy, except that the upcoming holiday is driving me crazy. I’m tired of disappointments. I want to go somewhere, dance until dawn, surrounded by people in New Year’s costumes and masks. Not my mother-in-law and the television. Yesterday, when I expressed this to Sam, he exploded.
“When will you grow up, finally? Look at yourself! You’re not a girl anymore. We have a family, a child, and all you can think about is entertainment! You know that New Year is one of the few days when Mom can be with us. To see her granddaughter.”
“But I really wanted a holiday. And your mom…”
“My mom is part of our family. And, by the way, New Year is a family holiday, if you haven’t figured that out yet. I just can’t understand you,” he sighed, burying himself in his laptop, “What more do you want in life? It seems like you have everything. Another person would be happy, but you keep getting these silly ideas. You’re not a child, after all. What’s so special about New Year’s Eve? It’s just an ordinary night.” He clicked the mouse on his computer and fell silent, staring at the open document.
I, of course, felt hurt, which made me even more upset. No one understands me. I just want a bit of New Year’s magic, at least once in my life.
The coffee was getting cold on the windowsill, and I stared out the window at the snow-covered trees and drifts. It was snowing again. I’d have to buy a Christmas tree. The scent of pine… No, I don’t want a Christmas tree. I don’t want New Year’s.
The door slammed, and my husband came in. I fixed my hair, wiped away a tear, and went out to greet him. Short answers. No kiss. He’s still mad at me because of my mom.
“Are you going to eat?” I asked.
“No, I’m full. Had lunch at the restaurant. Celebrating the new contract.”
Yes, he has a different life. Meetings, negotiations, restaurants. And I have Maggie and household chores. I even stopped reading books and only watch TV series. I went to the kitchen, opened the fridge, and took out borscht and cutlets. I had to feed Maggie.
Sam entered the kitchen.
“I see you’ve been shopping. Did you buy a gift for my mom?”
“Yes, I did,” I replied without looking at him. But the tears were evident in my reluctant tone. He pretended not to notice, took out his laptop, and settled at the kitchen table. He couldn’t even talk to me.
“Maybe we can come up with something fun for New Year after all?” I unexpectedly asked.
He took off his glasses and looked at me. Before he could respond, his expression had already revealed that I was in for another lecture.
In the doorway, Maggie appeared. She looked stunning. She found my short dress in some closet, which I used to wear in my youth when I confidently danced Latin dances at competitions. The dress touched the floor on her, but she cinched it at the waist with a buckle. Her long wavy hair flowed down her shoulders, and her blue eyes sparkled. In my new gold high-heeled shoes, she looked incredible. She held a long wand, covered in shiny tinsel, in her hands.
“Dad, Mom, I’ve figured out what I want to be for the nursery school party. I want to be a queen.”
“Why a queen and not a princess?” I absentmindedly asked.
“Because queens are better. All the girls want to be princesses. But I want to command all the boys.”
“Not command, but rule,” I corrected her, barely holding back my laughter. She looked so important and cute at the same time. Despite being six years old, she had a couple of admirers at daycare.
“Can I wear this dress, Mom? I’ll be the most beautiful, and everyone will be at my feet.”
Suddenly, Sam exploded.
“Just look at her! How are you raising our daughter? Is it a bad thing that she wants to be a queen?”
“Leave her be,” I grumbled angrily. “If you can’t enjoy life, don’t spoil it for others.”
Sam stormed out of the kitchen, grabbed his jacket from the hanger, and slammed the door. We were left alone.
“Mom, why did Dad get angry? Isn’t it okay that I want to be a queen?”
I smiled through my tears. It turned out to be a lovely evening. I can’t recall Sam ever leaving the house when we argued. I gazed longingly at my dress. Oh, what a wonderful time it was. The lively music played, and we danced. I had a great partner back then. Fred. I truly felt like a queen when I saw the audience’s eyes fixed on us.
“No, Maggie. Being a queen is great. You’ll be a queen. We’ll make you an even better dress. Even more beautiful.”
“Really?” A smile returned to her sweet face. “And everyone will adore me?”
I found it amusing. A line from a commercial. Children soak up everything.
“They definitely will. Let’s go, I’ll help you change.”
“Mom, can you wear that dress, please?”
“And we’ll dance. Please.”
You’d do anything for a child. I found it amusing, too. Could I even fit into this dress after all these years?
But the dress fit perfectly. I approached the mirror and looked at myself in amazement, turning around, from one side to the other. Sam was right; I shouldn’t be allowed near mirrors. But I was pleased with my reflection. It turns out my figure hasn’t changed.
“Mom, you look so beautiful. Can you wear the shoes?”
I turned and took a pair of gold high-heeled shoes from my daughter. I couldn’t figure out why I bought them back then. I had no place to wear them now. I was glued to the mirror again. It even seemed like I could hear the music. How I longed to dance.
“Shall we dance, Mom?”
It turned out Maggie had already started the music. And, somewhat accidentally, she had chosen the right CD. The rhythms that quickened my breath and made my heart beat faster. Did I remember any of the moves? But my obedient body began to move in time with the music, back to the past, where I felt like a queen.
One melody followed another. Maggie danced across from me, mirroring my movements. She was quite good at it, in fact. She is my daughter, after all. Oh, what happiness. It may not be a ball, and it may be at home, but we were dancing. How many years did I dance only at the stove? Sometimes, while whirling past mirrors, I admired my reflection. Oh, how beautiful my movements were, and how well that dress suited me.
Suddenly, in the doorway, I saw Igor watching us. I stopped so abruptly that I almost lost my balance. From his look, I understood that he had been observing me for quite some time. He had caught me in the act, as if I were committing a crime. I stood there, embarrassed, realizing how silly I looked in this glittering, short dress, out of breath, sweaty, and red. He was going to say that I only thought about having fun and that I hadn’t grown up. The music stopped.
“And Mom and I were dancing!” rang out Lera’s bright voice from the depths of the room.
“I saw you dancing,” Sam replied without moving.
I wanted to sink into the ground. I can’t stand it when people peek. That was my dance, not intended for his eyes.
I tried to slip past him, but he took my hand.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll do the dishes and change. It was Maggie who asked me to wear this dress.”
“Yes, she asked,” Maggie confirmed. “Isn’t Mom so beautiful?”
I watched him with disbelief. What had just happened? Was the world suddenly different?
“I have something here,” Sam handed me some papers. “I thought you were right; we need to go somewhere. And when I saw your dance, I realized I made the right choice.”
Barely believing it, I opened the envelope, and a sheet of paper fell out, which Maggie quickly grabbed. While I tried to read the contract with the travel agency, I heard my daughter’s voice.
“Christmas in Vienna. Dad, what’s Vienna?”
I looked at Sam skeptically.
“Christmas in Vienna? Is that true? Are we going to Vienna?”
“Yes, my dear. We’re going to Vienna. And we’ll have a real Christmas in a castle.” He embraced Lera with one hand and me with the other. “And at this holiday, you’ll be queens. I thought I was wrong. There’s nothing wrong with women being in charge at home.”