“Dunno what it is about Christmas,” she said, looking down at her empty hands. Chipped nails fiddle with the fraying edges of her cheap fingerless gloves. “Sometimes I duck into the churches that stay open overnight. Around this time of year, the choirs are always practicing. I like to sneak in and sing with them,” she explains. Her hands move to pull out the near-empty pack of cigarettes, to move through the familiar ritual of lighting a cigarette, but she stops partway through to play with the rolled-up paper, frowning at it, at herself.
“I don’t write to Santa anymore,” she adds, struggling for the words, “but I like to pick a note off the giving tree they got over at the Food & Fun, n’get a present for a little kid what prob’ly ain’t gonna get one.”
“I watch ’em skate at Rockefeller. And. I watch them light up the tree. And. I feed the pigeons in Central Park n’scare ’em towards happy couples walkin in a winter wonderland,” she says, scuffing her booted foot on the sidewalk, kicking up a whirl of dry flakes, as though she were in a snow globe.
“I sneak into caroling groups that go around to the suburbs,” she adds. “Even got hot cocoa one year. And. I work the soup kitchens three times a week starting in November. And–“
She scrubs the back of her hand across her cheeks to dash away the tears that will only freeze there, and clears her throat.
Her expression shifts from one of calm recall to one of startled pain and then she clenches her teeth against it, biting it off, and trying to swallow. “–I l-lost the guitar,” she says, and her shoulders slump, and she hugs herself, forcing the words out. “I found a place to sleep — it was warm. I hadn’t had a good place in weeks. But someone took my backpack, and the guitar, n’all the money I had saved,” she explains. “Wasn’t much, but it was all I had. I’d’ve given ’em all the money, the backpack, the food, even my boots, if I coulda kept the guitar.”
She puts the cigarette between her lips and lights it, breathing in and exhaling clove, watching the blue plumes. “And,” she says, and draws a ragged breath.
“I miss you.”