"Have you been by Momma's lately?"
"No, I told you I don't go by there anymore. She died 12 years ago, Velma."
Velma looked shocked, and then embarrassed, perhaps, as the memory came to her. She looked down at her plate, at a half eaten slab of turkey, and then up again.
"Can I go home now?"
"Velma, you are home. This is your home. And all these people here, they've all come to see you."
Velma looked around at children, spouses and grandchildren, all laughing and chattering about the weather, work, Christmas, and so on. They were strangers to her, she thought, as if someone had picked her up and plopped her right down in the midst of another family, not her own. She leaned over to her sister, Bernice, as if to whisper. . .
"I got to get away from these people I'm runnin' with. They're gonna kill me."
"Stop talkin' like that. They'll do no such thing."
"When Charlie gets here, he won't have no part of it. He'll show 'em the door. They're eatin' up all the food, drinking all the milk and Coke, and makin' a mess of the house. I just cleaned today, just today, and now look at it." She waved her arm at the room.
When Velma became agitated, her hands began shaking. She'd try to hold them in her lap, try to keep them still, but even there they shook. Her eyes darted back and forth, as if she was fearful. It was a bad dream is what she was thinking, and if she could just wake up these people would be gone, and she'd be home, and Charlie would be there, and they'd go see Momma, maybe cook her dinner, add coal to and stoke her fire, and sit a spell in the family room.
"I'm gonna wheel you into the living room, Velma. We're opening presents, you know. It's Christmas."
Velma nodded. She figured she'd play along with Bernice and humor the people until she could get out of here.
"Merry Christmas, Grandma Tanner." A child with a round, pink face stared up at Velma. "You know what I want for Christmas? An IPod. That's it. Just an IPod."
"That's good, I guess," said Velma, patting the boy on the head. Cute boy, whoever he was.
Pandemonium had descended on the room, with holiday-dressed children ripping paper off packages and gasping at toy trucks and trains and more, before tossing them aside and reaching for the next present.
"Here's one for you, Momma." A pretty woman in a red blouse with a snowman broach handed her a small package wrapped with paper that had santas all over it, the words "ho ho ho" repeating themselves as you turned the package from side to side.
"It's not my birthday."
"No, Grandma Tanner, it's Jesus's birthday."
"I heard 'a him, I think. How old is he, anyway?"
The woman just laughed and shook her head. Velma clutched the package as she watched the chaos, turning it over and over in her hands.
"I'm right here, Velma."
"Who are these people?"
"Well, that little blond-headed boy over there," she said, pointing across the room, "that's Joe and Margaret's son, your grandson. And that woman over there," she said, pointing to a woman in a blue jean skirt in a brown recliner, "that's Jessica, your son Michael's latest girlfriend."
"Ummph." That was all Velma could say, shaking her head.
"You better open your present, see what Santa Claus brought you."
Velma began tearing paper off the box, a little at a time, as if she weren't careful it might explode or something. It'd been a long time since she'd had a present, she thought. Finally tossing the paper aside, she lifted the top off the box, pulled back tissue paper, and stopped, staring in the box.
Extending one finger, she touched an angel ornament that had lost most of it's paint, tracing its lines, before picking it up and holding it in her hand. She clutched it to her chest and closed he eyes, letting her head rest on Bernice.
"Oh, goodness. I can't believe it."
She remembered laying under her Momma's Christmas tree, looking up at the ornaments and lights, touching the angel ornaments like this one. She remembered the fresh smell of the cut tree, the heat from the lights, and the smells of the kitchen. She opened her eyes and gasped.
"Velma, are you alright?" Bernice was clutching her arm, looking in her eyes.
"I know them all, Bernice, all of them." She looked around and recognized her family --- Joe, who lost his job last year; Margaret, who couldn't cook but could sing better than anyone she'd heard; Brian and Brent, the twins. She knew them all. She looked around and recognized her home, the floral print wallpaper of the living room, the stained carpet that needed replacing, the poinsettia on the coffee table. And Bernice, her dear sweet sister who moved in to care for her.
"I'm home, Bernice. I'm home."
"Of course you are, Velma. Of course."