Saturday, April 12, 2008

He Came Upon a Midnight Clear by Cat Johnson

"Virginia! This is your mother. Where are you? Call me back."

Ginny stared at the answering machine, not breathing. Afraid her mother would somehow sense she purposely would not pick up once she heard that all too familiar, and far from melodic, voice over the device.

She heard the click as her mother hung up and Ginny dared to breath, until the loud ringing of the phone began again, making her jump. She waited through her own voice delivering the outgoing message and then heard, "Ginny. Where the heck are you on Christmas Eve? Where could you possibly go up there in no-man's-land where shopping malls don't exist?"

Ginny dove for the receiver. "Hi, I'm here. Sorry."

She heard her friend Molly laugh. "Screening again?"

"Yeah. Thank goodness for answering machines."

"It's Christmas Eve. The least you can do is talk to your mother on the phone."

Ginny shook her head violently back and forth even though she knew her best friend couldn't see the gesture. "I can't take her rehashing how I should get out and find a man and give her grandchildren, or how I'm crazy for moving away to begin with and that I should move back in with her and Dad and get a real job."

"You'd think the fact that you moved two hours away to take a job that pays almost nothing rather than live with them for free would give her a hint," Molly suggested.

"My mother doesn't take hints." Ginny blew out a frustrated breath and glanced out the window at the falling snow. "She is really going to freak when she hears I probably won't be able to make it home for Christmas dinner tomorrow, not with the way this snow is falling."

Ginny could practically hear her friend's pout. "It's snowing by you? There's not even a hint of a flake here. Oh, you're going to have a white Christmas. I'm jealous." That coming from a woman who lived in a condo where some nice hired maintenance man shoveled, plowed and salted the walkways for her before she even woke up in the morning.

A white Christmas, yippee. Had she been eight years old, Ginny would be jumping for joy and getting out the sled and the makings for a snowman. Being twenty-eight, she realized with dread that she would be breaking out the shovel and bag of ice melt instead.

"It's snowing like crazy up here, but you know she'll think I'm making it up to get out of dinner with her and Dad." The few thousand feet increase in elevation made Ginny's weather dramatically different than that of her hometown only a hundred miles to the south. Admittedly, sometimes Ginny used the difference in weather as an excuse to get out of driving home to visit her mother for the day. Just little fibs, things like 'the wind knocked a tree down and the road is closed' or 'the parkway is flooded', but not in this instance. She always knew eventually, just like with the boy who cried wolf, her little white lies would someday come back and bite her in the ass. Tomorrow would probably be the day.

Molly laughed. "You're right. She won't believe you. Maybe you better have the local weather man or highway patrol on the phone to back up your story for your mom."

Snow now totally covered the ground and the thick wet flakes stuck to every tree limb and rooftop. Quite the makings for a picturesque scene until Ginny considered there might be a good chance she'd lose electricity along with the heat and hot water unless she could get the generator working. At times like this she actually did regret not having a man in her life or at least a hired handyman. But when she took the position as caretaker for a family living in London for a year, she'd become the handyman. It gave her the time to pursue her writing, but in light of the broken generator and current storm, she probably should have thought over taking the position, and moving in all alone, a little bit more.

She sighed and turned her mind to brighter thoughts. "What are you doing for Christmas Day?"

"Marco is taking me to the city to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, then back to his place for a romantic dinner."

Now it was Ginny's turn to be jealous. Her friend not only had a great job, a fabulous condo in the suburbs, and parents who lived in Florida and only called once a week, but also a hot new boyfriend with an Italian accent to go with his expensive Italian sports car. "That sounds perfect. You better call me and tell me what he bought you for a Christmas gift the minute you have a chance." Might as well be completely green with envy and get it all over with at once.

"I will. Are you going to be all right up there by yourself if you can't get home tomorrow?"

"Sure. There's food in the fridge and I've got dry firewood stacked on the porch and plenty of candles in case the power goes out." Ginny sounded more confident than she felt.

"I'll make sure I keep my cell phone on in case you need anything."

Ginny didn't know what Molly and Marco were going to be able to do for her from Manhattan. If the roads proved so bad she couldn't drive south, they wouldn't be able to drive north either, but she did appreciate the offer. "Thanks, Mol. I'll keep that in mind."

Ginny considered that maybe she should find a replacement caretaker for the rest of the year and move back to civilization. Then she thought of her mother's smug 'I told you so' expression and quickly dismissed the thought. No way would she give up and move back in with her parents again. She'd only go back when she could do it as a successful published author, able to afford her own great apartment. That decision made, she groaned as the lights flickered.

She said goodbye and quickly hung up with Molly, then went to find candles and a flashlight in case the electricity did go out. Even at only four in the afternoon, on a cloudy December day, it was nearly dark as night already. Best to be prepared, that's what Ginny always said. Well, she never actually said that, but it sounded good.

Luck was on Ginny's side and the power remained on, for the moment at least. After making herself a quick bowl of canned soup for dinner, she changed into her pajamas and chose to ignore the fact the clock showed the time only to be a little after five. What good was being a caretaker/writer if she couldn't work in her pajamas when she wanted to? With that thought in mind, she sat down at her computer and found the file for her novel, still there, looking exactly how she'd left it--unfinished, stalled halfway through the first chapter.

She blew out a breath. Ginny had heard of writer's block, but her experience seemed more like writer's amnesia. Nothing spilled out of her brain and onto the screen and she started to suspect that what she'd already written might be crap.

A colonial era, historical mystery novel sounded like a good idea when she'd originally come up with it and done the research. So why wasn't it working? She had no idea, but sitting and staring at the screen didn't help either her mood or her novel. Finally giving up, she logged off the computer, flopped on the couch and flipped on the television. When all else failed, there was always TV.