They set the rotary telephone and a bucket of fried chicken on the table. She’ll call tonight, they say. Why wouldn’t she? Living on the moon shouldn’t stop her from calling and telling her parents Merry Christmas and I love you. Mom is wearing that dress shaped like a Christmas tree, already halfway through a packet of Kleenex. Dad’s drunk, his red and green tuxedo stinks of eggnog. Sure, she should call. Probably will. But what if she doesn’t? She called last year, didn’t she? Did she? Do you remember? No, do you? How does time pass on the moon?
Ring. Ring. Ring. A drunk cousin. “Merry Christmas, Raymond,” Mom says, “tell Estelle we said hello.”
Dad turns on the radio. All Mariah Carey wants for Christmas is you and all they want is their daughter and all anybody wants is someone they can’t have. Dad makes himself a Christmas Cheer: Baileys and Bourbon and milk. Mom pours a glass of wine. They drink, fill up, drink.
“Wanna watch a movie?” Mom asks.
“Which one?” Dad asks.
“The one with all the people in the airport. It’s got that guy from the kidnapping movies,” Mom says.
“I don’t wanna watch that one,” Dad says, making his whatever-numbered Cheer.
“But we used to watch it all the time.”
“Why?” Dad asks.
“Well, fuck you, then.”
Neither of them got any presents for the other this year. Or last. Or the year before that. Or for the past fifteen years. But the tree is up in the living room and the lights are up outside the house and the radio is playing and Dad asks Mom to dance and they do. Mom starts crying. Dad asks what’s wrong and Mom tells him how nothing’s felt right since she left for the moon and Dad says, I know, I’m sorry. Mom asks if Dad thinks she’ll call and Dad says he can only hope, but hope doesn’t always amount to anything.
Ring. Ring. Ring. “Yes, Estelle, we already talked to Raymond. Yes, we know he’s drunk. Goodnight. Merry Christmas to you, too.”
It doesn’t snow in Phoenix but the dust floating around their daughter’s room gives Mom and Dad the feeling that they’re walking through a winter wonderland. She hasn’t been here in so long. She hasn’t called in so long. Mom’s packet of Kleenex is empty. Dad takes off his t-shirt, hands it to Mom. They make out on her bed, fall to the floor. Get busy.
Dad wipes the sweat off his forehead and chest and gut. Mom watches, smiling.
“We can’t tell her we did this in her room,” Mom says.
Dad laughs. “Why not? Serves her right, being gone for goddamn ever.”
Mom laughs, then cries. “Why would you say that?”
There’s grease all over the tablecloth. The bucket of chicken is gone. Dad is sprawled out on the couch watching the movie about kidnapping with the guy from that movie about the people in the airport.
Mom stands in front of the television. “Listen up, asshole!”
Dad turns the television up.
Mom sits in front of the screen, blocking his view.
They stare at each other as long as it takes for the good guy to beat the shit out of fifty bad guys and find the main bad guy that he still has to beat the shit out of.
Dad asks, “Why are you like this?”
“Because you let her go.”
“It was her or you,” Dad says.
The baddest bad guy gives his monologue on the TV.
Mom asks, “What the hell is that even supposed to mean?”
“Neither of you could stand each other. It was time she got out on her own, did her own thing, grew up. And I missed my fucking wife, okay? You happy? Now she’s gone and you’re meaner than ever. So, leave me alone while I watch the man on the TV blow shit up.”
WHAM!’s Last Christmas is on the radio. Mom hums along, pulls out some cookies from the oven. They’re expired, but she thinks they’ll taste fine. She opens the window to let out the heat, listens to the breeze against the wind chimes out back. Or maybe it’s Santa and his sleigh.
Dad lights a cigarette on the front porch, watches the stars and satellites sail across the sky. Or maybe they’re reindeer.
Mom walks out with the plate of cookies, sits in the chair next to Dad. They eat, drink milk.
“I miss being Santa,” Dad says.
Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring.
The moon pours out what little light it has left to give. Their eyes fixed, knowing it won’t last forever.
D.T. Robbins has stories in Hobart, Maudlin House, Bending Genres, X-R-A-Y, and others. He’s founding editor of Rejection Letters.