You can almost see the morning sun trying to break through the misty winter fog. The sun is trying to bring warmth and pink to the sky – but the gray fog and mist will have nothing of this brightness.
He took his coffee black before he drove off in his 1967 Chevy. He turns just before he reaches the grocery store with a pole decorated in fake grass where bananas hang on hooks. He drives on past the hardware store, that doesn’t really look like a hardware store. The shelves are full of the crocks, pressure cookers, canners and kitchen gadgets. The nails and brackets and tools are in the back; the clerks bring you what you want, in little brown manila bags with clasp tops, marked in pencil, 5 ¢.
He passes the five and dime store, its windows charmingly decorated with fake snow piled in the corners, and snowflakes around the top. A miniature train circles around the Christmas tree in the window.
He speeds up the car as he passes the candy store, where everything is just a little too expensive, but every taste worth the penny. He’s on the highway now, on to the next town, where he can shop the nicer stores. There is snow on the ground, dissolving under a misty rain that came with this unexpected warm front.
All year long he works at a factory job, sometimes nights, just to pay the bills. He struggles, as it’s getting harder to make ends meet. The grocery bills from the banana tree store are “sky high.” That foreman job was a sure thing – and the extra money would have helped. But someone younger, from a fancier neighborhood, beat him out of the job. And, because of this new foreign competition from Japan, he doubts he’ll get a raise this year. But today, he’s not thinking about the money. Today, he’s buying her Christmas present.
There is a nice dress shop in this town. The mannequins wear the kind of dresses you would wear if you were going to a fancy party. He spots a scarf; the clerk helps him find a silver scarf ring to match. She puts it in a pretty box, lined with tissue paper. Maybe a nightgown for her. He eyes a pink one, with matching robe. He says he’ll take that too, along with the matching slippers with fur around the top.
They gift wrap everything for him, and put the packages in fancy paper bags with handles. He walks out of the store, using his coat to block the rain from staining his packages. He heads two doors down to the soda shop, where the tiles are brown and gold checkerboard. They serve a great bacon and egg breakfast, and the coffee is strong. He sits at the counter, making small talk with the waitress; he waves to a few buddies. It’s morning, but it already smells like popcorn and roasted peanuts inside. He pays the bill, and leaves a tip.
He’s got one more stop to make this morning. The card shop. This is where he will spend most of his morning. There is so much to say to her, but he doesn’t really have a way with words…
Hallmark does this so well for him; every year there is a large pink envelope on the tree on Christmas morning. The card he picked; the one that has the perfect expression of how he feels about her. That she is the apple of his eye; the sunrise and the sunset. He’s read just about every card in the Christmas Sweetheart section, and he thinks he’s found the right one. He takes it to the cashier, and pays the .75 ¢.
Today, he doesn’t think about the bills; the foreign competition; competing for the foreman job; or the long hours he will stand in the machine shop on Sunday night. Today, he’s buying her Christmas present. This warms his heart.