She can’t wear silver. She can’t wear anything but pure gold. She swells up, and her skin pouts just like her lips and she gets dizzy. But she loves jewelry, and it’s either that or books for Christmas. We joke about it, and she plays like she is going to pout if she doesn’t get gold – and a book and dinner and maybe that suede jacket. We hang up the phone for today, and it is starting to snow. I’m too far from Christmas to know if I’ll make it back in time to find the right gold necklace.
It is a light snow, big wet flakes coming straight down in this windless evening in Ohio, somewhere near Cleveland. The truckstop is small, but it’s clean and the lights are shining around the windows’ edges, blinking, turning the mud and slop of the parking lot red and green. It is only 800 miles home, but to go now would mean going out again before Christmas and maybe not making it back. Somewhere there is a load with my name on it going to Georgia, where I can load home just in time to have to stay. But not tonight. There are no loads.
One pops up in the morning for my drop-deck, one piece paying good money into Roswell, just north of Atlanta. One big piece, and I will need all my tarp to cover it. But the dead head is 100 miles in the right direction, and the load is light. There will be no snow in Georgia, and the big advance will buy a little gold just in time to make those pouty lips turn up.
A load of brick out of Georgia to right downtown, 30 miles from the house, and I unload Christmas Eve morning. I go home and say hello, then go back out into the snow again, down to those little shops by the square. I know she never takes the earrings out, the same gold hoops in her ears for 10 years, a gift from another Christmas, another race against the clock, another golden year memorized and done and gone. This year we have promised to race no more, to hold the moment easily and keep it for a while, keep it alive. I call and say, “Let’s have dinner before everything closes, and I will give you your Christmas Eve present. It is burning a hole in my pocket, and I want to give it to you right away.”
So she comes downtown, and we have dinner at a place where everybody knows us, and we’re in our little booth in the back where we always sit. I give her the necklace, and her lips stop pouting for it and smile. So I say, “Put it on,” but then I get up and go over to her and put it on. I give her a chaste little public kiss, a kiss on Christmas Eve. Her eyes are bright, and we laugh and drink our wine. The gold earrings and the necklace are shining in the lights of the restaurant. Time is slowing down, and it cannot touch us here. She is beautiful and happy, and we are together now if not forever and we are laughing.
But then she turns, and I see the red welt on her neck. She is feeling it, the itch and the swelling and the end of laughter. The necklace is glittering still, shining and dangling around her neck, its one pearl deep and mysterious. We are walking out, and she covers her red neck with her scarf and starts to pout again. But her pout is real now, and she is trying to understand how this can be. How can I buy her 14-karat gold instead of 24 when I know she can only wear true gold? How can I stand here now in this snow in this perfect moment and spoil it with some cheap imitation thing?
The snow is falling softly, the same big flakes, and the gutter is red and green again with Christmas mud. She is shaking and looking at me, and then she tears the necklace off and throws it in my face. It is Christmas Eve, and I am home. Somewhere there is a load with my name on it.