Maybe the wine was helping, but Kathy felt a nearly unbearable surge of warmth to see her three children all in one room. There they were---seven-year-old James, ten-year-old Hannah, and thirteen-year-old Thomas---each lined up with pen and paper in hand. The flickering candles that burned on the table before them send the shadows jumping and dancing on their faces.
“It’s time for our New Year’s wishes,” Kathy happily announced. “Does everybody know what they want?”
“I do! I do!” James shouted excitedly. “I---”
“No!” Hannah interjected. “You can’t say what it is, or it won’t come true, remember?” Geez!”
“Hannah,” Kathy reprimanded, “be nice. But she is right, James. The magic won’t work if you don’t keep your wish a secret.”
“But my wishes have always come true,” said James in genuine confusion.
“I know,” said Kathy. “That’s because you were a good boy and kept them secret.” She placed a finger in front of her lips and made a hushing sound which sent her youngest into a giggle fit. Soon, she was laughing, too, and Hannah wasn’t far behind.
Only Thomas stood apart, his dour expression turning to one of anger. “This is stupid,” he mumbled.
Kathy felt her smile drop. “Excuse me, Thomas?”
“I said this is stupid,” he repeated, loudly and proudly. “Why do we play this stupid game every year?”
Kathy inhaled deeply and began internally to plead with the universe. Not this again. Not tonight. Let’s not go into the New Year like this. “Because, Thomas,” she said when she spoke at last, “it’s our family tradition. Your Uncle Danny and I did it when we were kids and---”
“I’m not a kid!” he shouted. He seemed even to surprise himself with the vehemence of his claim.
“Oh, you’re not?” The question dripped with sarcasm. “Last I checked you have five years left before you can say that.”
Thomas threw his paper and pen to the ground and stomped his foot. “You always treat me like a baby! You do it all the time! I’m sick of it!”
“Well, then maybe you should stop acting like a baby,” Kathy shot back, “which is exactly what you’re doing right now.”
“No, I’m not!” Thomas shouted.
“Grownups don’t throw things and stomp their feet!”
“They don’t get smashed and call their ex-husbands either!”
A shock ran Kathy through. Thomas had heard. He’d been listening to her, spying on her. Before she could stop herself, her hand rose up and struck him hard across the face. He looked at her, stunned, with wide eyes and a quivering lip.
“Go to your room,” Kathy demanded softly.
He stayed there, motionless.
“Now!” Kathy shouted.
He jumped, startled into motion. In seconds, he scrambled from the room, trampling the paper and pen underfoot.
Kathy turned her attention to her two younger children who had silently witnessed the whole miserable affair. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay, Mommy,” Hannah replied. The words sounded stilted and automatic.
A moment of silence passed before Kathy felt her adrenaline settle. She forced a smile. “You… uh… you better make your wishes soon…. It’s almost midnight…. If you don’t get them in before midnight, then….”
Wordlessly, Hannah and James hastily scribbled on their pieces of paper. Then each child folded their wish and placed it on the table.
“Mommy,” Hannah asked. “What about Tommy?”
Kathy fought back the tears. “He’ll be okay, sweetie,” she said. “He’ll make his wish later.”
Hannah seemed satisfied, and the night went on.
Once the two youngest were in bed, Kathy’s floodgates opened. She collapsed onto the sofa and covered her face with her hands. In minutes, they were soaked with her tears. All the warmth she’d felt before had left her. Now, all she could seem to think about were her failures, both as a wife, and a mother. Almost without looking, she reached for the glass and half empty wine bottle that sat on the table nearby.
The next hours passed in a wildering haze. A series of disconnected snapshots ran through Kathy’s consciousness: grasping her phone, hearing her ex-husband’s voicemail message, forgoing the glassing and sipping straight from the bottle. She thought she may even have seen some brief movement out of the corner of her eye. Before she could investigate, however, the alcohol wave washed over her head and she sank to the depths of unconsciousness.
When her eyes opened again, it was well past four in the morning. Her bladder and stomach rebelled against her, and both demanded immediate attention. As soon as her work was done, the memories of the evening came trickling back in. Her anxiety and shame over her fight with Thomas still gnawed at her. She knew it wasn’t finished, but what could she do about it now?
A distraction was in order. She made her way to the kitchen. Surely the children would be fast asleep by now, and there was no danger of them waking and seeing her reading their wishes. Yes, that was her little secret. Wishes came true because Mommy made it so. One day, she would tell them all the truth just as her parents had done, but for now, she was determined to savor every minute of their childhood innocence, or at least what was left of it.
Upon passing the kitchen threshold, however, she stopped. Resting on the table were three folded sheets of paper. She suddenly remembered the movement she thought she’d seen earlier. It must have been Thomas. She knew she should be mad at such sneakiness, but somehow it only warmed her. He’s still a little boy, she thought to herself. He only wanted to save face.
Kathy took her seat at the kitchen table and scooped the papers toward her. One by one, she opened them. On one was a squiggly drawing of a bicycle. Another showed a dollhouse full of furniture. Kathy smiled. Such modest requests. The things Santa must have forgotten. Both would be easy to fulfill.
Only the last one remained. By process of elimination, she knew it was Thomas’. As she handled the paper, she suddenly realized she had no idea what a young teenage boy might wish for. As the paper unfolded, the answer was one she wished she’d never seen.
There, she saw a caricature of herself standing before what looked like a broken window. Her mouth was a gaping hole and there were two exes for eyes. Another figure in the drawing stood close by, wearing all black. His arm was outstretched, making contact with her own figure. He was stabbing her. Thomas had drawn a picture of his own mother being murdered.
A chill ran down Kathy’s spine. Her mind was blank. Fear and worry seized her muscles. From the day she learned she would be a mother, she prepared herself for as many scenarios as she could think of. This was not one of them. What am I supposed to do now? she asked herself.
She was so lost in her own thoughts that she almost didn’t hear the window breaking in the next room, or the heavy footsteps crunching the glass.
Written by Jdeschene