Annie glanced at the dashboard clock and sighed.
Christmas shoppers, a couple semis and SUVs cutting in line had jammed the intersection again.
The state highway was the line of demarcation. South of it, the four-lane local road was lined with shopping centers, fuel sellers, chain restaurants and buildings of brick and steel that celebrated the successes of American commerce.
To the north, the local road became a narrow two-lane passage lined with angle parking and the old village huddled in its centuries-old disguise, facades zoned to a turn-of-the-century patina, single story shops that recalled imagined horse carriages, women with parasols and hoops dresses, men in dark suits and, from a modern view, a sense of Hallmark peace and harmony that calmed the seething, disruptive souls who found solace in penny candy, an old-style ice cream shop and hand-made jewelry.
She had often shopped the small, friendly stores during the holiday season, the warmth infused with the aroma of cocoa, cinnamon, peppermint candy and floral sprays; tiny train whistles, sleigh bells and random Santa laughs filled gaps in the silence. It was a push-back against commercialization of the season, she told herself, taking a stand for local business owners and skilled artisans whose goods they displayed.
The shops seemed staged, the goods less authentic, the mood less cheerful.
But maybe that alone was not just her judgement: Even as the fire department draped red and green banners across the streets and Victorian light poles were dressed in sparkling garland, she noticed a few more “Closed” signs, a couple more “Going Out of Business Sale” signs and dark spaces with windows covered with brown paper.
Come on, cheer up, she argued with her own cynicism, as she sipped coffee in the half-filled diner. Maybe it was too early in the season. Everyone does everything this time of the year at the last minute. Why would this year be different?
The traffic tangled again as a pick-up truck tried to make a left turn into an unyielding line of cars. The driver of a southbound sedan had left a space for the turning truck, but a northbound driver refused to slide forward enough to allow the truck to complete the turn and cars on three streets ground to a halt. Half-a-block away, choosing to wait out the mess before crossing the street, she heard the faint shouts of the drivers and the occasional honking horns.
Maybe it’s too much to overcome, she thought as she crossed the street. It had been a year with an angry edge, perhaps too angry so that even the periodically phony cheer of the holidays could not soften it.
Season of goodwill, my eye, she thought. Oh, stop it, she chided herself; quit judging. You really don’t want anyone to look too closely at you, do you?
For the first time in years she was alone for the holiday season.
Oh, family was still nearby, though a couple older members had died.
Colleagues changed jobs and friends relocated to other states, shifting as politics and global economies squeezed even local circumstances.
But she had marched on, sewing one small thread daily to close her wounded heart, pushing aside doubt and worry that kept her awake nights, filling herself with the encouragement she heard, yet sometimes dismissed.
I can set my goals, and can meet the challenges, she would tell herself, even as she wondered if that was enough.
Usually those thoughts vanished when she stepped into her favorite holiday shop, Marie’s Magic World of Glass. This year, I need this more than ever.
The store invited the outside world in with windows filled with ornaments and decorations, swirling glass wrapped in silver, pendants strung from gold, and on the window sills, music and jewelry boxes, and tiny cases that seemed to glow with light from within.
A passer-by gazing at the window saw rainbows floating on the shelves beyond the glass and in reflection their own slightly blurry face sparkled with reds and yellows and blues and purples released as the light passing through glass fractured; inside the store it was like standing inside one of those boxes, the air and walls glittering with swirling colored spots and smears as sunlight and spotlights shattered through the suspended pieces that slowly danced in the heated air.
She would come into the shop and smile, close her eyes and feel the motion and energy of the transformation of light from heat to color, her worries burned away.
Marie, grey haired, but ageless, small and bent at the shoulders, would be sitting behind the workbench, glasses perched far down her nose, stringing tiny glass beads on stiff cloth strings.
“What does it do, all this glass?” Annie asked.
Marie tipped her head back so her glasses slid back to the bridge of her nose and said, “It breaks light into something we can see like how pain and loss breaks love into something we feel.”
“That’s not very magical, Marie,” Annie replied, laughing. “Who would want to only feel love when it’s broken?”
“Ah, Annie, you must ask yourself that question,” Marie said. “It’s why your face is dark today, the weight of that loss settling behind your eyes.” The old woman took Annie’s hand. “The magic of glass is that it lets us see what’s ahead when we gaze through it, colored though it maybe be, yet it lets us reflect on ourselves in the moment just before it passes.”
In her car, Annie arranged the packages on the passenger seat and then opened her checkbook to mark in the ledger the check she had written to Marie’s store.
She smiled; she had forgotten the date. Marie’s didn’t accept credit cards, and Annie had not written a check in weeks.
She had paused over the check and asked Marie for the date.
Annie stared through the windshield to view the darkening street. On the inside of the window glass, a blurry image of her face stared back at her, gray and undefined. She gazed into her uncertain eyes: “It’s the day after the solstice,” Marie had said. “The day the light returns. Oh, just a few seconds at a time at first, But then in days, minutes. In a week the morning is brighter.”
Annie unwrapped one of the triangular glass ornaments she had purchased and held it up. The inside of the car glowed with amber light.
The magic of glass, Annie thought. It lets you see the future and the past at the same time. The light could not return fast enough.