The windows creak and click as ice spindles its way across the panes in feathery patterns. The fire’s burning so hot I’m worried it may bulge and pop like a cartoon bomb. I turn to Joseph, his cheeks rosy, his hair tucked into a woolen hat, “You look ridiculous.” I say, swiping the hat off his head and throwing it at him. He grins at me and grabs at my waist, hooking his finger in my belt loop and dragging me to him. I fight, but not very hard. He pulls me into his lap and kisses my neck. It tickles and I strain away from him, casting my eyes over the pile of fabric at his feet. Deep reds and forest greens.
“What is this stuff?” I say picking it up like it’s a smelly, wet towel from the bathroom floor.
“Addy gave it to me.” Joseph says with a shrug. “She wanted me to hang it somewhere near the fireplace. There’s one for each of us.”
I swing Orry’s boot shaped decoration in front of my eyes, noticing the exacting needlework that spells out his full name in gold stitching. I frown. “What’s it for?”
“It for this Christ…mass thing they keep talking about.” He says the words like they’re foreign-tasting on his tongue.
“Oh yeah,” I say rolling my eyes. Addy had mentioned something to me earlier in the week. Clasping her hands together like she was plotting something, her scratchy voice piercing the higher octaves in excitement. She’d said, “Just let me handle it.” She’d rattled my arm, her loose skin flapping like runaway curtains in the wind, her sharp fingernails scratching my skin, “Come to my house on Christmas Eve.”
“When’s that?” I’d asked.
She’d shaken her head in pity, her grey hair flaking over her head like wisps of a broken spider web, “Oh girl. So much to learn.”
“So are we going?” Joseph asks as he very un-carefully knocks some nails into the wall, just splitting the plasterboard and making a mess of white powder and paint chips.
I rush to him as Orry starts crying. “Oh my God! You go get Orry. And give that to me before you hurt yourself.” I snatch the hammer and smile at him. His eyes glint and he gives me that ‘only girl in the world’ look. Then he stomps into the bedroom to grab the squawking baby.
I carefully hang the stockings on the wall behind the scorching fireplace. Its grill smiles at me all orange and laughing smoke. I trace my fingers lightly over the golden lettering. Our names together, side by the side like this gives me a strange, warm and vulnerable feeling I’m not sure I like.
Joseph’s arm links in mine and pulls me back from the stool I’m standing on. “Looks good!” He says his eyes skimming the giant hole he’s made in my wall.
“Next time find the stud before you go randomly hammering stuff into the wall,” I snap. He gives me a confused look like he has no idea what a stud is and pulls me out the door with Orry in the crook of his big arm.
We walk down the street, linked like a golden chain, the cold wind pushing on us and trying to break us apart. But we melt the snow with our glowing footsteps. We are on our way to celebrate our first Christ...mass. And even if I don’t understand it, the lights, the sapling decorated with paper-chains and popcorn. I am willing to take up anything. I’m going to garner these new traditions, pick them up like lost treasures I’ve found trodden into the dirt and gather them in my skinny arms. Because anything that’s different, anything that celebrates rather than punishes has got a shine to it in my eyes.