Bill and I were sitting in that special kind of traffic jam that comes just before the holidays and is the result of a small town growing like an overdose victim of Jack’s magic beans, leaving mundane things like convenience and city planning behind. The roads were packed like the straw in a peach milkshake. Fruit gets stuck in the end, all movement stops, and nobody gets any relief. With a milkshake you can pull out the straw and suck out the peach pulp. With overburdened roads, the obvious answer is to block off one lane with orange cones and commit to a ten-year construction project.
We'd dropped our kids off at a mega-bookstore at what seemed like a short time earlier, doling out the last bite-sized candy bars from Halloween left in the bottom of my pocketbook to hold them until we got back and could hit a nearby buffet extravaganza. Sometimes eating out, even with two teenaged mouths to feed, is a better idea than a sound investment plan.
In the meantime, the Highway Patrol issued an all-points-bulletin to every mall-bound traveler in the area, describing our location, destination, and current state of irritability. That’s the only reasonable explanation for the fact that our car began to attract morons like a pan of biscuits attracts men named Bubba. Traffic stalled and Christmas shoppers begin to share the joy of the season with their fellow travelers one finger at a time. I attempted to retain my normal good nature even though Bill was getting testy. He always gets that way when he misses snack time.
Bill: Do you have any more candy in your pocketbook?
Me: Why? Are you hungry?
Bill: No, I thought I would toss some out the window to lure people out of our lane.
Me: You’re being sarcastic because you’re too hungry. (Pointing across six lanes of stationary traffic.) There’s a Wendy’s. And a Chinese buffet. And a pizza place. I'll bet that gas station has candy bars.
Bill: Are you hungry?
Me: (Fumbling through my pocketbook.) No. Why do you keep bringing it up? Look--there’s that place with the wonderful barbecue ribs. I could walk there and back before you got to the red light.
(I find a cellophane-wrapped object which I pull surreptitiously from my bag. I wince as a tiny crinkling sound gives me away.)
Bill: What’s that?
Bill: What is it?
Me: Nothing. Leave me alone, willya?
Bill: You have food.
Me: No I don’t. It’s a cough drop. (Here I wave the cough drop with a flourish. It’s of a nondescript color somewhere in between magenta and pink eye.)
Bill: I want half.
Me: It’s mine. I found it. (I fondle the cough drop like it was the One Ring.)
Bill: We can take turns licking it.
Me: (Pensively) I don’t think I’ve bought any cough drops this season. . .not since I had the flu that year we had the big snow.
Bill: You can have it.
Me: No you. I can wait.
Bill: I can wait, too.
We laughed together, the warm laughter of two people coming together over misfortune.
Under cover of laughter, I shucked the paper off the cough drop like it was a peel and eat shrimp and popped it in my mouth.
Just then, in a holiday miracle moment, traffic parted like the men’s restroom line for a father-daughter combination. Nothing clears the tracks like a man doing daddy-duty with a lace-clad toddler in tow. We picked up the boys, and wheeled into a nearby restaurant.
Bill: See, it all turned out okay because we made sacrifices and worked together. That’s what Thanksgiving is all about.
We all smiled at each other like the Brady Bunch on the 29th minute of a 30 minute show. Secretly, I gave thanks for a cough drop appetizer that kept me from acting like a turkey.