She spread the wrapped gifts around the base of the four-foot artificial tree, its tinsel needles shining on fake limbs beneath the low, lamp light emanating from two lamps flanking their fading couch.
She turned out the lamps, sat down on the couch, and began working under the light of a pine-scented candle burning on the Brazilian coffee table sheâ€™d picked up at a Sao Paolo bazaar. In Mariaâ€™s mind, the pine candle somehow compensated for the scentless, artificial tree and relaxed her while she worked.
She surveyed the three stockingsâ€”Conchitaâ€™s, Ericâ€™s, and hers. Seeing Ericâ€™s empty stocking, she felt his absence.
He wonâ€™t be home this Christmas. The thought surprised her even though heâ€™d been gone a month. The plan was always for him to be home by Christmas.
Conchita will miss him, Maria thought.
A part of Maria mourned the loss of him; a part wanted him to pack up his stuff and leave. Heâ€™d grown so belligerent lately. Sometimes, his mood disorder would dominate his personality; so much so, heâ€™d curse her and take money out of her purse to buy God knows what.
During Thanksgiving, he finished a bottle of Sherry and called her a harlot in front of Conchita, just because Maria mentioned she really liked â€œLong, Hot Summerâ€ with Paul Newman.
Heâ€™d make hurtful comments like that, but then could be so sweet. After he’d insulted her, Eric complimented her on the food and insisted on doing all the dishes.
But the infidelity was what broke her. When he became manic heâ€™d go on the prowl, ending his bartending shifts with barflies heâ€™d gathered. The memory of walking in on him pressed on Mariaâ€™s mind. She fell back into the couch, sobbing silently, her sides aching with emotion.