Kim would go to midnight mass. I would clean the house and go to bed.
Midnight mass at Our Lady of Peace is at 10 pm. It may have been later in the old days but that’s when it is now.
I’d let the dog out one more time, wipe her paws, and head up to bed.
Kim would come in around midnight. She’d hear the snoring and come into the bedroom quietly.
“I’m still up,” I’d say.
“Oh,” she’d say, “that’s the dog snoring.”
“Yeah. How was church?”
“Really pretty,” she’d say. “Father Gary says ‘hi’.”
She’d brush her teeth, change into her pajamas, and get into bed. She’d snuggle up to me. Not for affection but for warmth. Actually, I guess, for both.
“Oh,” I’d say, “you’re cold.”
“Not any more,” she’d say rubbing her icy cold feet against mine.
I’d twist around and look at the clock. Just after midnight. I’d look back and say, “Merry Christmas, Kimmy.”
She’d smile and give me a hug and say, “Merry Christmas, honey.” Not even a second later her snores would blend with the dogs. I’d smile and join them.
Christmas morning I’d wake before her and look over at Kim. She’d be rolled over on her side facing away from me. She must have gotten cold during the night because I’d just see the top of her hoodie poking out from under the covers lying on her pillow.
She’d stretch a big stretch – well as big as she could stretch her short little self. Her joints would crack. She’d roll over and look at me. So cute. Only her eyebrows to her nose were visible between the hoodie and the blanket.
“Good morning,” she’d smile. I couldn’t see her mouth but I knew she was smiling. Her eyes.
“Good morning,” I’d reply. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas, honey,” she’d say.
I’d reach my hand under the blankets and put it on her hip.
“What time is it, honey?” she’d ask.
I’d twist my body to see the clock. “Eight.”
“Ooh, I have to get going.” She’d roll back the other way and sit on the side of the bed stretching again.
“Want coffee?” I’d ask.
“I’ll make it,” she’d say.
“No, you have to get Maggie’s presents together. I’ll make it.”
“OK,” she’d say. “There’s Bailey’s in the refrigerator.”
I’d make the coffee and sit in the living room while she brought up the last of Maggie’s presents from the basement and wrapped them. She’d put the wrapping paper away and come back.
“More coffee?” she’d ask.
“Sure,” I’d say, “I’ll make it.”
“No,” she’d say, “that’s ok. I’ll make it.”
This year it’s different. So different.
Last night at quarter to ten a car honks in our driveway. It’s Kim’s mom. She’s going to take Maggie to midnight mass.
My sister is spending the night. She goes upstairs to get sheets and towels. Kim would have had them ready for her.
I let the dog out one more time and we head up to bed.
An hour or so later I hear the door open. Maggie’s home.
The bedroom door doesn’t open. Kim doesn’t join me in bed.
The dog snores.
I twist and look at the time. “Merry Christmas, puppy.”
The dog doesn’t move.
I don’t sleep well. My foot hurts and I seem to get up once an hour.
Soon, it’s morning and I’ve been crying for an hour for no apparent reason.
The dog wakes up and stretches a big stretch then wanders over to me. She plants a paw in the middle of my chest and licks my face. I scratch her ear.
She sighs a big sigh, turns around three times, and flops down on the bed next to me.
Annabelle is as cute as any dog but she doesn’t photograph well. I take a picture of her curled up beside me on the bed. In the background is one of Kim’s favorite paintings of a dog curled up on a bed, head on the pillows, as comfy as can be.
Merry Christmas, puppy.