Stella sat on the floor, her back propped against the leather couch and a sea of color spread before her. Rolls of wrapping paper stacked to the left, scissors and tape to the right. Papery department store bags stood tall, their curved handles defying gravity, while glossy plastic sacks slumped in slippery piles by their sides.
Stella’s gaze roved slowly over the array of colorful bags, trying to remember what present—what carefully chosen gift—was inside each one. Carols played through the phone by her side, muffling the sound of snoring coming from the bedroom down the hall.
There was an open space in front of Stella. An expanse of tan carpet waiting for her to get to work. It called to her. It whispered wordless meanings that made her reach out one hand. And then the other. She pressed her palms into the carpet, spreading her fingers wide. She folded forward, over her crossed legs, to drop her forearms into the soft pile.
As she breathed into the stretch, her lower back lengthened, finding release. Her vision blurred into the tan fibers. The music brought her back to the holidays of her childhood, but without a solid memory. It was all a jumble of pine and tinsel, lights and garland, frosted cookies, and mugs of hot chocolate.
And then there was the hug.
It came to Stella in rush. The warmth of her cheek against a soft breast, arms wrapped tight around her slim shoulders, the scent of her mother’s delicate perfume. There was no age to the memory. No location or context. There was only the feel, the substance, of being back in her mother’s arms.
She tried to hold on to the sensation. She tried to will it back when the moment had passed. But it was gone.
Stella pressed her forehead into the carpet, filled her lungs, and released her breath. She sat up, slowly, and blinked at the bags around her. At the wrapping paper and waiting workspace.
After a few minutes, Stella shut off the music. She rested her hands on her still flat stomach, wondering when it would begin to round. Wondering when others would see what she already felt deep inside.
Stella smiled at the sound of snoring coming from down the hall. She got to her feet and padded softly toward the bedroom. The wrapping could wait.