A Jarful of Love
Hillary dropped her rumpled gift bag on the night stand as she unpacked her
suitcase and stared at it, willing it to change. A velvet box housing a pair of
diamond earrings would be nice. One of those pink and white packages full of
fancy lingerie from a certain lingerie shop would certainly make her day. The
present just sat there looking lifeless, a reminder that things rarely turned
out the way you planned it.
She looked around the cheap motel room, feeling the jagged collision between old
memories and her new life. The thin floral bedspread, rough cotton sheets,
ragged towels. So different from before. She hung her inexpensive suits on the
hangers in the corner and tucked the rest of her clothes into the rickety
dresser, lost in her thoughts. Dreams. Where do they go? Gone was the house, the
husband, all the things she’s worked so hard for. Now in their place were a room
at her parent’s house and a job on the road. And bills. Lot’s of bills.
She glanced at her watch. Six p.m. If she were at home right now, they would all
be sitting at the kitchen table, eating the hamburgers cooked especially for
her. There would be corn on the cob, fresh off the grill. Maybe some potato
salad, too. And for dessert, the girls would bring out her favorite fudge cake,
slathered in chocolate frosting. Her father would light the candles while
everyone sang "Happy Birthday". Hillary could hear the family chorus from where
she sat: the soft alto of her mother, her father's off key base and the sweet
soprano voices of her daughters.
Loneliness settled in, fuelling an ache deep in her soul. She stared at the bag.
Brightly colored circus clowns ran up and down the paper with banners that
announced various birthday wishes. She'd bought it last year for Alicia’s eighth
birthday and her ever practical daughter had lovingly folded it away after
opening her present. It made a second appearance when Mindy turned seven then
appeared for an encore when her father hit sixty.
Now, it sat on the bedside table, edges frayed, clowns slightly creased and
worn. Hillary bit her lip and blinked back the tears. Just like me. How fitting.
The ping of her cell phone interrupted her thoughts but she ignored it. She
didn't feel like talking to anyone. Instead, she pulled the bag over to her,
carefully removing the crumpled blue ribbon that held the handles together.
Gently she lifted a thin cardboard box through wads of tissue paper and sat it
on the bed. A hand made card with a drawing of a woman and three small girls was
taped to the front. All four of them were holding hands: Hillary, standing
taller than the others; Alicia, sporting her customary ponytail; Mindy in her
new short haircut and five year old Sarah with her mother's dark curls. Hillary
traced the outline of each girl with her finger then opened the card. The words
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM were scrawled in red crayon and each of her daughters had
signed their names. She kissed it and set it aside.
Next she turned her attention to the box. It rattled when she shook it, the
contents banging against the sides with a dull thud. Intrigued, she opened the
top and pulled out … Hillary wasn't sure.
It was a plastic container, about the size of a quart jar filled with folded
pieces of colored paper. She turned it around several times then unscrewed the
lid and plunged her hand in. Finding nothing solid inside, she pulled out a
fistful of papers and let them flutter onto the bed like brightly colored
butterflies. Several opened as they landed. Hillary picked them up and began to
"I love you because you always kiss me goodnight." Mindy had written the words
carefully in pen and signed her name.
"I love you because you buy me red gummy worms. Sarah.” Hillary recognized her
mother’s handwriting. She had acted as scribe for the five year old.
Alicia had used her squares as an opportunity to show off her cursive writing.
"I love you because you let my friends stay over" she had written in loopy
letters. Hillary remembered the event. The giggling finally stopped at midnight
then started up again at six in the morning. Alicia had talked about nothing
else for weeks.
Hillary dumped the rest of the papers into her lap, opening each one with great
ceremony. She lingered over the words, savoring them as if they were rich food
or fine wine. And when the last one was opened, she sat quietly for a long time,
Her cell phone pinged again softly, interrupting her reverie. There, in the
messages, was a picture of the girls holding a chocolate cake ablaze with
candles. The phone rang again but before she could say hello, a loud chorus of
"Happy Birthday" filled her ear. An onslaught of questions started the minute
the serenade ended.
“Did you open your present?”
“Doesn’t my handwriting look good?”
"Did you get your picture?"
“Gramma helped us make your present. Didn’t she do a good job?”
Hillary laughed and hugged herself, feeling a warm glow spread throughout her
body. What had she been thinking when she got to the motel? She had a wonderful
family that loved her. The bills were getting paid although some months were
tougher than others. And slowly, she and the girls were rebuilding their life.
They had all that they really needed.
“Isn’t that the best ever birthday present, Mom?” asked Alicia. Hillary could
hear the pride in the eight year old’s voice and smiled for the first time that
evening. In simple things there are such great riches.
“You bet it is, baby. And this is the best birthday. Ever.”
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