Since it was Christmastime, or was supposed to be, the puzzle Elizabeth and D-Bob were working on was a nativity scene, an old Renaissance painting of Mary and the baby Jesus. But it was coming together slowly. One dark late afternoon, Elizabeth and Danny were laboring over the puzzle and Dorothy came back from the bathroom and leaned on the table for a moment, resting. It seemed like puzzles were just like everything else in the world—lots of hard work for nothing.
“I don’t see how you do it,” Dorothy said. “Or why you do it.”
“I expect you wouldn’t,” Elizabeth said. “It’s a puzzle.”
Dorothy sank into a chair and watched them puzzle. Nothing on the TV, just cartoons and advertisements for Christmas specials. Dorothy didn’t like that much—she didn’t like the cartoons, but she’d always especially hated the holiday, Christmas, when kids would be home from school, and there would be extra cooking and cleaning, and wrapping presents, and worrying about money, and arguing. Fun maybe for everybody else but her. This year Elizabeth didn’t seem to care too much about Christmas, either, she was mad at almost everybody, all she’d done to decorate was dig a single red glass ball out of the closet and hang it from a scrawny little Norfolk pine potted plant someone had given them. Elizabeth said, “There, that’s our Christmas tree,” and she sounded mad, like it was supposed to be something to be ashamed of, the little tree. But Dorothy just felt, well, the little scrawny tree was just fine. Maybe even too much. That was going to be Christmas for them, just that little tree.
“Christmas is just another day with no mail,” Dorothy said.
“Your granny’s always hated Christmas,” Elizabeth said to Danny.
“That’s right,” Dorothy said. She picked up a piece of puzzle and looked at it—a piece of background, she thought, dark-brown black, a piece of the shadowy manger—then set it back on the table. “You’re too young to remember your daddy drunk on Christmas Day, waving his Barlow knife around and stabbing the packages open, and me just sitting there worrying about that turkey burning in the oven with its legs a-sticking up in the air. Some fun that was.”
Elizabeth said, “It wasn’t that bad.”
“Yes, it was,” Dorothy said. “You don’t remember. Your daddy was a bad drinker. If men could just see how stupid they look drunk, they’d never drink.”
Elizabeth tried fitting a piece of puzzle into Mary’s head. “Maybe I’ll get you a movie camera for Christmas,” she said. She didn’t look up. The puzzle piece wouldn’t fit. Elizabeth tossed it back on the table and picked up another piece.
“I don’t need a movie camera, now,” Dorothy said. “But I bet you will.”
“Well, I like Christmas,” Danny Bob said.
Dorothy looked at him in surprise. “Well,” she said, “I expect you do.” Poor little fellow, dropped off on his own, momma and daddy off somewhere wife-swapping or whatever they did, fighting maybe, getting a divorce, drinking, who knew where they were or what they were doing, or why. Danny did like Christmas, of course he did, and he wasn’t going to have much of one this year. Dorothy thought for a moment, looked at the skinny boy, then said, “Well, I guess we can maybe go to town and shop a little and look at the lights.”