© 2016 Penelope Powell
Time heals all wounds…unless you deserve to suffer.
When the thought from her internal mantra struck, Gloria Fielder froze mid-step. As if punctuating the accusation, an icy wind howled, the force of it wrenching the glass door from her grasp and slamming it against the stopper.
“A few more minutes and you would’ve missed us entirely.”
Gloria looked up into the unsmiling face of a rail-thin woman standing sentinel over a group of children. Gloria assumed she was the children’s director, as they were all dressed in the festive colors of Christmas, their bright reds and deep greens reminding her of the candlelight service in progress.
She hesitated, her gaze shifting to the plaster nativity figures less than ten feet away, the babe in particular so…lifelike. Would it be better to leave and apologize later for having missed the program?
“Could you shut the door please? It’s hard to keep everyone’s attention while a draft is blowing through, and it’s almost time for us to begin.” Seeming to barely hang on to her patience, the director’s smile was as tight as her collar.
Being late was bad enough, but being made to feel like she was an annoying interruption was well…worse. Gloria shifted to close the door.
After an inquisitive glance toward Gloria, a chubby boy with flushed cheeks pulled on the director’s sleeve. “Mrs. Parker, when do we get our candles?”
“Patience, Tommy. We need to wait for the lady to go inside the auditorium, don’t we?”
Glancing from the boy to Mrs. Parker, Gloria apologized.
“That’s all right. We’re happy to wait for you to get settled.” Mrs. Parker’s smile stretched.
Gloria glanced back toward the woman, wondering if she meant what she said. She’d grown up in a house where a smile often held duplicity. Committed to stay, she hurried toward the partition crammed with winter coats. She unfurled the red scarf from her neck, then squished it and her coat into the mix.
Hushed giggles drew her gaze back to the director, who was busy giving each child a candle with detailed instructions. Everything about them seemed to contrast her. Was it just last year she wore red, putting on a good front? She wasn’t interested in being that person anymore. The clingy dress and all it represented was exiled to the corner of her closet. Proof she was different.
The past few weeks had been particularly hard. When something like seeing the babe in the manger shook her confidence instead of giving her hope, she questioned her faith as a believer in Christ. The possibility of seeing someone at this service she’d rather avoid tightened her chest with further worry.
“Ma’am, they’re waiting for us to start.” Apparently losing her patience, Mrs. Parker nodded toward the doors going into the auditorium.
Gloria tamped down her misgivings, straightened her shoulders, and walked toward the sanctuary. As she edged around the children to reach for one of the doors, a little girl dressed in an evergreen velvet dress took a candle from a basket and offered it to her.
“Thank you.” Gloria smiled.
The girl’s pink lips curved in reply.
Suddenly, blinking back the unwelcome pressure of tears, she turned and eased through the doors. Assailed by the scent of melting wax and pine, she waited for her eyesight to adjust to the soft glow of dimmed lighting, giving her a chance to scan the room for empty seats.
Soon an usher stood next to her, his face brightening when he smiled. “Is anyone joining you?” His generous teeth gleamed in the darkness.
Just me. She shook her head.
He motioned for her to follow him, then pointed to some empty chairs. As she made a beeline for them, his parting greeting followed. “Merry Christmas.”
Gloria glanced over her shoulder and forced a smile. She wanted to be merry. Wanted to simply feel peace. Wanted a reprieve from the recording in her head. Some days, the indictment playing over and over—tightening the tendrils of regret—putting her back on the treadmill of if-only. Making forgetting impossible.
If time was linear, and the passing of it promised things would get easier, then why hadn’t the grip of shame and sorrow weakened?
She settled into a chair as the children from the lobby entered and dispersed down the center aisle, the sound of their voices rising as they moved toward the front, their song offering her a distraction from her turmoil. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and tried to escape into the words.
Joy to the World. A feeling she had yet to muster.