Short Story: "Mariah at the Holiday Gathering"

(Photo: Free images)

Mariah leaned against the door frame as if she'd like to melt into the wood, becoming part of it, making herself invisible to the loud group that gathered.

She made standing on the periphery an art, just as she noticed her cousins clustered close to the punch bowl and relish trays, where the crowd was thickest and conversations mingled in a blender-like buzz.

Sentence fragments floated her way during lulls:

"Out bounced her hearing aid into my cup..."

"My boss called to tell me the news..."

"When did you say your plane flies out?"

"In theory it was a great idea, but it turns out monkeys like to fling their dung..."

Mariah smiled to herself as she caught these detached story snippets, glad to be free from the responsibility of keeping a conversation going.

She glanced over the room, candlelight reflecting off the gold Christmas trimmings, and found her mind drifting back to holiday gatherings of the past, much less elaborately furnished, with fewer guests and smaller quarters.

No matter where the party or who had been invited, Mariah would stay with the group long enough to finish dessert, then the lure of a novel hidden in some fold of her coat would be too great to resist, and she'd find a quiet nook somewhere, making the excuse to her mother that she was tired, or simply slipping away when the moment was right, spending the rest of the night curled up reading in a window seat or in an empty side room.

During the drive home, her exasperated parents would lecture her about her antisocial tendencies, but Mariah always felt assured that no matter what they said, her way of enjoying a party was just fine. She'd heard the laughter and mingled conversations from her perch, away from the crowds, and felt comforted by relatives' proximity and the warmth of family love, but far enough removed from it that her imagination could stretch its legs and breathe life back into her drained body. That knowledge filled her with a peace all its own, which her social parents could never understand.

Isn't imagination its own gift, its own reward? This thought returned to Mariah now, in her young adulthood, as she stood surveying the gold-trimmed room and propping up the door frame.

She wandered over to the snack table and filled a plate with crackers and veggies, pausing to compliment a cousin on her excellently baked pie from dessert earlier in the evening.

The Nutcracker Prince takes Clara's hand. (Scene from 1990
animated film "The Nutcracker Prince")
As she said the words, Mariah's mind flew off to the Land of Sweets, where a glorious dance hall awaited, bedecked with Russian candy canes, chocolates from Spain, Arabian coffees and all the tea in China. She let her mind's eye linger over each delicacy, watching Mother Ginger dance with her many flower children, skimming through the room on the Nutcracker Prince's arm and out the doors to a coconut-frosted garden, with swans pulling purple-cushioned boats across a punch-colored lake.

Mariah sighed. "You see?" she said to herself. "Imagination wins again."

Read more of my short stories here.

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