hen you’re alone over the holidays, the rest of the world can in a state of perfect happiness. Handholding in mittens seems especially tender. Maybe it’s the way the layers so deliberately play at cover-up, suggesting the opposite — bodies tangled up in nothing but bed-sheets.
There are flushed faces. Couples look like Christmas catalog models. You imagine them talking over steaming hot chocolate. You wonder, “Will they have Christmas Eve at her place? Open presents with his nieces in Connecticut?” Mental scenarios include a fireplace and possibly a marriage proposal.
Melanie always painted such stories when she saw couples around her, and not just over the holidays. She’d see them on the subway, their thighs touching or their arms entwined, and imagined how they must be reveling in this, their quotidian commute.
But what she craved most was their familiarity, the comfort they took in even the most banal banter. Their cozy routines mattered less to her than the idea of home. Because that’s what she wanted, someone to come home to.
She wondered at times just when her own idea of perfect domesticity had shifted from parents and siblings snuggled under couch blankets to husband and wife, one awaiting the other eager to recount their days. She recalled dashing upstairs to her mother’s warm kitchen and being scolded for not kicking the snow off of her boots but still getting a kiss on the forehead, followed by a preview of dinner. She remembered waking early to the scent of ground coffee and the Christmas tree, which smelled stronger in the morning, as if its needles had slept and woken invigorated.
She had an idea. For the remainder of the year she’d incorporate as many family holiday traditions into her daily life as possible. Her theory was that doing so might put herself into frame of mind to attract someone else who craved the same kind of comfort. She’d ignore that it might be silly. Her idea meant ending every evening with crème de menthe-spiked eggnog — and stockings on the mantle.
Melanie didn’t have a mantle in her East Village studio, but she figured the oven would do. She didn’t have stockings either, so on a snowy Saturday she headed out to find some. She figured she might as well buy a pair she could actually wear. In a whir of wishful thinking, she ducked into La Petite Coquette, a prohibitively expensive lingerie store stocked with wedding shower gifts. She’d never bought herself anything from the store. The mannequin in the window wore microscopic red lace panties and thigh-high, sheer black, fur-trimmed stockings.
Melanie bought herself the entire display. She even had it gift-wrapped, though it was just for her. If she was going to spend that much, why not go all out?
The snow was falling harder when she left the store. She picked up an extra carton of eggnog from the grocer on the corner and rushed home against the wet wind.
It was dark by the time she reached her apartment. She plugged in her Christmas tree and the room twinkled. She sat down by tree and opened her tiny box. Her purchases were wrapped in pale pink tissue paper that looked like brushed satin. She slid out of her jeans and pulled the tiny lacy thing up to the middle of her hips. She was almost too shy to look in the mirror. All the while, the low light flickered.
She moved across the room with new grace and draped her stockings on the oven bar that normally held dishrags. It was then that she noticed an oven knob had come loose. She sniffed gas and wondered suddenly if she was hallucinating the entire evening, like a haze before dying.
She dialed the superintendent who explained he was away from the holidays. He’d send his nephew. Waiting, she grabbed a cup of eggnog. Then the bell rang. She was met by a tall, smiling man who introduced himself as Rob. His cheeks were flushed from the cold. Melanie showed him into the kitchen and pointed to the oven.
“Nice stockings,” he murmured.
She gathered them in her arms. Now they were both blushing.
“Oh! I just,” and she looked down into her cup.
He moved toward her.
“What’s that you’re drinking? Is that eggnog? I haven’t had that in years!”