The Winter Blues

It’s the First Friday of March and that means it’s time for First Friday Fiction. I wrote this short fiction story a couple of years ago for a guest spot on Tim Gallen’s blog. Some of you may have read it then, others may be reading it for the first time. In any case, I hope you enjoy it.

Winter NightNick expected the restaurant to be crowded—after all, it was a Friday night. The hostess seated him at a booth close to the front. He sat with his back toward the door, not wanting to give any appearance of eagerness.

A waitress appeared. “I’m Heather, your server for tonight. Can I bring you something to drink?”

“I’ll have a Coke,” he said.

“Would you like an appetizer—maybe some queso or guacamole?”

“Maybe later. I’m expecting someone.”

Nick looked at his watch. His mother said she would meet him at 7:00. It was already ten after. Maybe she won’t even come.

Marilyn Adams was never punctual, but she wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to tell about her latest cruise or overseas excursion. She would be here and would probably bring him another t-shirt—as if he didn’t have one from every place she had visited.

The server returned with his drink. Nick looked around the room, observing the occupants—a young family, a group of college students, two middle-aged women seated at the next booth. Everyone appeared to be happy. He wished he felt the same.

He enjoyed spending time with his father and stepmother during Christmas break. Peggy was more of a mother to him the past few years—welcoming him into her home and treating him like one of her own children. He was glad his father found happiness, but often found himself wishing his parents had not divorced.

He had been back at college for several weeks now. January and February always seemed bleak after the excitement of the Christmas season. When his parents were still married, they always took him and his two older sisters skiing for the New Year. He missed those times.

“Nothing like a vacation to keep away the winter blues,” his mother would say.

Winter blues. I guess that’s what’s wrong with me.

Twenty minutes passed and still there was no sign of his mother. He wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of the two women seated behind him.

“I don’t know how you manage,” one said. “So much has happened in your life—your husband’s cancer, losing a grandchild, taking care of your aging parents.”

“Life isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned that while we can’t always choose our circumstances, we can choose our attitude. That realization, along with my faith, gives me strength even in the darkest moments.”

The rest of their words were lost when his mother, Marilyn, appeared in a flash of diamonds and fur—floating on a cloud of her favorite Christian Dior perfume. Her presence seemed to suck all other life from the room.

“Merry Christmas, darling,” she said, handing him an oversize gift bag, and sitting opposite him.

Nick resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Christmas was over two months ago. “Thanks Mom.” He placed the bag on the bench.

His stepfather, Bill, extended his hand in greeting and sat down next alongside Marilyn. “How are you, Nick?”

Bill was amiable enough, but always seemed to fade into the background in the presence of his high-spirited wife.

“Well, aren’t you going to open your gifts? It’s not everyone who has a second Christmas,” Marilyn said.

Nick reached in the bag to find an envelope and two separately wrapped boxes. The envelope contained a gift card and some cash. He reached for the first box. Too heavy for a t-shirt. Much to his surprise, it contained a new iPad. Nice, but if his mother had bothered to inquire, she would have known he had an almost new one.

“I hear all the kids are using them for school these days. I mean, you don’t even need those heavy textbooks anymore. When I was in college…”

Nick interrupted her, not wanting to hear her endless babble about her college days. “You’re right. Textbooks are becoming a thing of the past.” He opened the second box to find the expected t-shirt. “I suppose you had a good vacation.”

“Oh. Hawaii was gorgeous. The resorts, the spas…”

*****

When the meal was over, Nick asked, “Are you spending the night in town?”

“No, we’re staying near the airport. We leave tomorrow for the Caribbean. You know how I get the winter blues.”

Bill signaled the waitress to bring the check. He pulled a several bills from his overstuffed wallet and handed them to her. “No need for change,” he said.

He and Marilyn rose from the table. After a flurry of goodbyes, she turned and swept out the door with Bill close behind, leaving Nick feeling emotionally drained.

Relieved, he stood and turned to leave. Pausing at the now empty booth where the two women sat, he recalled their conversation. “We can’t always choose our circumstances, but we can choose our attitude.”

Nick felt ashamed for his earlier, selfish thoughts and for his negative outlook.

A brisk north wind greeted him as he walked out the door. Fluffy white snowflakes began falling.

Yes, I can choose my attitude. He smiled. No more winter blues.

  • Michele Jones

    You are right, we cannot choose our circumstances, but we can choose our attitude. I try to be positive, but there are days. . .

    • It’s not always easy, Michele. I also try to be positive, but there are those times…

  • Beautifully crafted, Joan. I feel both sorry for him and proud of him. What a great lesson.

    • Staci, I wrote this story after my husband and I were in Chili’s one Friday night. It was after Christmas and I noticed a young man sitting in a booth alone. After several minutes, a couple came in and sat down. They brought a Christmas gift and looked the right age to have been his parents. Anyway, my writer’s brain went into action. “Suppose”…”What if”…

      • Sometimes I think those surprise moments result in the best premises. I’m a people-watcher, too.

  • Lisa Enqvist

    Very true. Our attitudes either crush us or they lift us. There we have a choice, though often we cannot choose what happens to us.

    • So true, Lisa. And it’s not always easy to maintain a positive attitude. Blessings!

  • kathunsworth

    Great short story Joan I felt his pain and loved how he eavesdropped, it is something we all do. I have learnt some very wise things from strangers in passing conversations. Glad he made a good choice to be more positive. no thanks to his mother.

    • Thank you, Kath. Sometimes we eavesdrop without intending, especially in public places. And very often, we learn that our circumstances are not as bad as what others are facing. Nick made the right choice, but you’re right his mother was a selfish piece of work.