After a restless night, Zetta dressed quietly and slipped into the kitchen. The snow still was falling. She watched the soot absorb the flakes, then picked up an orange from yesterday’s school party and breathed deeply of its fragrance before cutting the fruit into twelve slices. Three slices went on each man’s plate and one each on hers and the children’s.
After mixing the biscuit dough, Zetta reached for her favorite skillet as Asa came into the kitchen and kissed the back of her neck.
“Christmas Gift, Mrs. Berghoff.”
Zetta put her hands on each side of his face. “And Christmas Gift to you, Mr. Berghoffer” she said. “Let me get you some coffee.”
Asa shook his head. “Let that wait. I’m gonna light the tree candles for Sister and Brother.”
But before Asa had finished lighting the candles, Rachel and Micah emerged from the bedroom. Asa pulled both children to the tree.
“Look at what Santy Claus brought,” he said. “This cradle is for your doll baby, Sister, and the dancing man is for Brother.”
As the delighted children reached for the new toys, Zetta heard the corn shuck mattress rustle as her brothers got out of bed. Soon Luttrell entered, smiling at the children. Loren followed, buckling his belt.
“You’d think you’d let a feller sleep on Christmas,” Loren said. “But instead you’re out here yammering enough to wake the dead.”
Zetta smiled. “Christmas Gift to you, too,” she said. “I swear you spent too much on these youngins.”
Loren held up his hands. “Those gifts are from Santy Claus,” he said.
Asa wrapped Micah’s little hand around the stick attached to the back of the dancing man and bounced the toy against the bare floor.
As Micah watched the swirling legs of the toy, Loren danced several shuffling steps then pointed to the mechanical bank under the tree’s branches.
“This is yours, too,” he said. “See? You balance a penny on the pig’s snout. “Then you push this level, and the pig kicks the penny into the man’s mouth.”
Loren pushed the lever, and the penny sailed into the mechanical man’s mouth. As Micah giggled, Loren slapped his thigh.
“That look on your face beats all,” he said. “Let’s see if I’ve got another penny.”
Asa shook his head. “That bank’s gonna have more money than you do. Why’d you go and spend all your wages?”
Loren balanced another penny on the pig’s snout. “Maybe I got tired of hearing about your pitiful growing up Christmases.”
Asa frowned. “Whoever said a fool and his money are soon parted sure knew you.”
* * * * *
(After a hurried breakfast, Zetta began to clear the table. Asa pulled her to the living room.)
“Let the dishes be,” he said. “The boys and me have gifts for you.”
As Asa steered Zetta toward a chair near the tree, Loren pulled a tortoise shell hand mirror from behind his back.
“Asa’s all the time bragging on your hair,” he said. “So I got you this.”
Zetta motioned for him to bend down and kissed him soundly on the cheek.
Luttrell held out a smooth board marked with black lines. A small bright blue cloth bag lay on top.
“I thought maybe you’d like to teach Rachel the Fox and Geese game,” he said. “I recollect how patient you was teaching me when we was little. Clarie made the pouch for the stones.”
As Zetta motioned for Luttrell to bend down for a kiss on the cheek, Loren came back into the room with his hands behind his back. Asa took the item from Loren and held it behind his own back.
“When Perton sent me into Hazard to pick up tools, I saw a woman outside the Beaumont Hotel wearing one like this,” he said. “I knew it would look prettier on you than it did on her.”
He held up a red sweater.
Zetta was startled but managed to say, “That’s pretty, Asa. Right pretty.”
When she didn’t take the garment from her husband, Loren laughed.
“What’d I tell you, Asa? I told you the woman you saw was a street walker,” he said. “Nobody but women like that wear red.”
Asa was bewildered, looking first at the astonished Zetta then the grinning Loren.
“But with Zetta’s dark hair, I just figured. . . .”
Zetta stood up and took the sweater.
“Asa, I’m right pleased you thought of me,” she said. “I can’t wear it just yet, what with the baby and all. But I will soon. Real soon.”
(This excerpt is from chapter twelve of Zetta’s Dream: An Appalachian Coal Camp Novel, available at http://bit.ly/Zettas-Dream. Merry Christmas! And may 2016 be filled with new blessings for you!)