The Night Before
The storm began late in the afternoon, after the sky had darkened from crystal blue to cobalt, delivering snow
on Christmas Eve for the first time in seven years. The fat, pillowy flakes descending in a slow swirl brought
gentle memories to Joe Kelly's mind, faded pictures from the happiest part of his childhood. It was one blessing
atop another, and about damned time.
Facing yet another holiday season with pockets on empty, he had been living in dread of Mariel's wrath. She
could make it hard on him and the kids by staying angry right into the New Year. Except this time around, he
had a little surprise that would change all that.
Actually, not so little. After the better part of a decade scratching his way up a glass mountain, and with just
twelve days before Christmas, his agent had called from New York with a breathless bulletin. A certain A-list
actor had stumbled upon his first novel, loved it, and promptly made an offer to option it. Joe could hear the
wonder in her voice; she couldn't believe it, either. The amount of money quoted, though not stupendous,
caused his breath to come short.
After they clicked off, he reeled around the house, sloppy drunk without having touched a drop, working his
brain to process news that was edging on fabulous. He grabbed the phone three times to call Mariel, then
snapped it shut again. It was no time for an ordinary oh, by the way, honey… And though bursting to shout the
news from the Eastborough rooftops, over the next days he accepted, signed, and FedEx'd a contract back to
California, all without uttering a word to anyone except his old friend Billy, who took his turn at stunned silence
before whooping like a redneck at a rodeo.
Once the initial rush had passed, Joe fretted himself into a funk until his agent called to confirm that the actor's
manager had done as promised and sent an advance, eighty-five per cent of which flew to the joint savings
account, inflating the balance in an electronic banking instant from a straggling three to a robust five figures.
When he visited the ATM to check on the deposit, the little slip of paper appeared with the zeros lined up like
fat, sassy eggs.
Still not quite believing the U-turn in his fortunes, he went inside and withdrew twenty-five new one hundred
dollar bills. The teller counted the stack into his hand and wished him a happy holiday. The cash rested in his
pocket as he drove across town. By the time he reached Gateway Mall, the snow was laying and he noticed the
cheer on the faces of his fellow shoppers. The weatherman had announced that it would continue on and off
through the night, and everyone was giddy.
Joe burst out of the storm to attack the stores like the American consumer he’d never been, running amok
through Target, Borders, and Toys'R'Us, blowing a fistful of his crisp hundreds on gifts for the wife and kids. He
worked his way down his list, bought some more, and then stood in line with his cart piled so high he could
barely see over it. He was certain that Mariel would take one look and make him haul half of it back. That was
okay; he was an amateur at this profligate spending business, and mistakes were to be expected.