I wrote the following sentimental holiday story, set in a mythical Dubuque, portraying a woman who reflects on her own life after meeting an old college friend:
Ashley caught a delectable whiff of charbroiled steak from a nearby restaurant as she finished loading groceries into her car, and somehow a day that had already stretched slowly felt worse. She had not met one familiar soul in the busy aisles, and her sense of aloneness in the crowd had become an ache to match the wintry air. With David working 12-hour days, 7 days a week, they ate a late supper and she already felt like a single mom to their two teenagers.
Although she felt a sense of satisfaction at having a good, home-cooked meal ready when he walked in the door at 7 p.m. like clockwork, she missed going out once in a while. And she wished they could do other things, too, like drive out of town and stay at one of those old Victorian bed and breakfast inns, or go to one of the plays she read about in the local newspaper, or spend the day as a family at the Mississippi River museum. She knew David loved the river, but about the only thing he had time for lately was looking down at it as he drove across the bridge. That is, if there was any daylight left to see it.
Naturally, he’d taken the overtime because they could use the money. It seemed that everything they did was limited by money, from the 99-cent-a-pound chicken breasts they’d be eating that night to the fact that the only frivolous thing in her shopping cart had been a bottle of bathroom cleaner they weren’t out of yet. She even cut the hair of everyone in the household, which gave her stress because she wanted the kids to look their best for their upcoming school concerts. If only times would ease up so they could pamper themselves for a change.
She tugged her winter coat warmly around her, pushed the empty cart back to the rack, and got into the car. It desperately needed an oil change, and David usually did it himself, but who knows when he’d be able to take care of things like that. As she gingerly backed out of the parking space, she imagined that she saw the familiar bounce of a lemon-colored head of curly hair near a stalled car. Janet? Her roommate from college? It couldn’t be.
Then Janet looked up from under the open hood of a rusty sedan. It really was her. Their eyes met, but she sensed no recognition. Didn’t she move out of Dubuque some time ago? Ashley wondered. They hadn’t run into each other in years, and life had a way of filling up with responsibilities, so she never thought to call and catch up.
When she thought of Janet at all, she remembered a particular night back in college, during one of the first snowfalls of the season. The winter night had been mild, and they’d put on their gloves and boots and gone for a long walk around the neighborhood before anyone thought to shovel.
The big flakes lay soft and glistening under their feet, with more falling densely through the air. They’d gotten silly and made snow angels, two grown college students giggling in some stranger’s backyard. Ashley smiled at the memory.