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magazine coverThat debut issue sure had some good names in it, didn’t it? Here’s another story bought for the magazine that actually broke one of those “hard and fast” rules of the magazine. I don’t believe there was another single Christmas or holiday story that appeared in the magazine after “Snow on Snow. No fault of Nina’s, as you’ll see. I’ve always loved this quiet little Christmas gift, and I’ve always loved Nina’s writing.



Neil had looked for Peggy in all the sensible places and all the sensible ways, checking to see if she had used the credit cards to buy a plane ticket or a train ticket or (shudder) a bus ticket or even clothes or hotel rooms. After that, he had looked for her in the places where he didn’t want her to be, like hospitals, morgues, police stations. He had always prided himself on his attention to detail. He satisfied himself that Peggy was nowhere he or any other sensible person could find her.

He lived with that certainty for a little while before it eroded, and then he looked for her in places that made no sense.

He found a clue in the thirteenth thrift store on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. He recognized the shirt first by its magenta color — there were only three that color in a whole rack of shirts — and second by the little flower Peggy had embroidered on the label. She had had a way of branding everything she owned. It came from growing up in a large family.

He looked around the store for other things she had worn during their brief engagement and even briefer marriage. One of the problems was that she had good taste; her clothes had been well-made and fashionable. Such things probably wouldn’t stay on thrift-store racks long.

He found the second clue when he finally looked in the “costume” section and discovered her wedding dress, the lace and the crystal beads intact, along with the wine stain just above the right breast that brought the price down to $25. How he had scolded her for that stain as soon as they were driving away from the reception on their way to their honeymoon. How could she be so sloppy?

Now that it was too late, he recognized that this was a brand as well. No one else would ever wear her wedding dress.

The dress was in a plastic bag. He hugged it down off the wall, tearing open the plastic and smelling the dress. No trace of her scent remained after the dry-cleaning process.

He took the wedding dress and the magenta shirt to the counter and bought them, earning speculative looks from the cashier.

He would wear the dress if it would bring her back, he thought, returning his wallet to his back pocket and accepting the huge bag the woman gave him. Hell, he would put it on and walk around in public if he thought the dress could tell him where Peggy had gone. He wasn’t sure how she had done it, but she had left a brand somewhere on him, too, one that made him need to belong to her, as much as he hated the idea of needing anything. He had lost many things when she left, including the stiffness that held him back from ever making a fool of himself.

He checked three other thrift shops without finding a sign of her, and then everything closed and he went home.

He laid the wedding dress across the chair she had liked the best, bending its sleeves at the elbows and resting them on the chair’s arms, fluffing out the lacy hem so that there was room to pretend feet were hidden in the fullness somewhere.

He baked Nestle Tollhouse cookies because he knew they had been her favorite, though he had never made them before. He mulled cider so that the whole apartment smelled of cloves and cinnamon and apple. He put the syrupy Christmas music she had preferred on the stereo. He sat in the chair across from the one where her wedding dress posed and tortured himself listening to songs he despised. As midnight neared, he went out to the kitchen, made up a plate of cookies, poured two mugs full of cider, then brought food and drink on a tray into the living room, setting the mugs on coasters beside each chair.

He was ready when the church tower a block away struck midnight.

The dress puffed and filled, shaping around a human form. Above the neckline, at the cuffs, flesh faded into sight. Her hair was still full and curly and dark around her pale face. Her eyes were dark now, like holes cut out of night. Her lips had very little color. She stared at him.

He licked his lips. “Are you dead?” he whispered.


He sucked in breath, though he couldn’t imagine her giving him any other answer. “Where did you go?”

“Not very far,” she said. Her voice was cold as winter wind.

“Did I kill you?”

“No,” she said. And then, after he had taken a breath of relief, she said, “You drove me to kill myself.”

He slumped in his chair. He thought of the thousand little suggestions he had made to her, just to help her realized her full potential, be a better person . . . or at least be a more convenient person. You couldn’t call that driving, exactly. Minor course corrections.

Maybe if he had said less to her . . . but her little habits were so irritating. He hadn’t been able to help saying such things to her.

Yet he missed her so fiercely he couldn’t think of anything else.

He had watched himself going through the days since she left, observed how often he had something helpful to say to other people, and how much they resented him for it. He wondered how he would have felt if someone was always telling him he was doing something wrong.

But of course he never did anything wrong, so that would never happen.

He had tried keeping still about the mistakes other people were making. It nearly choked him sometimes to keep his comments inside. He did it anyway. Without his helpful advice, people kept making stupid mistakes, the same ones, over and over.

After another long cold moment he said, “Is there any way you can come back?”

She reached for the mug of cider and poured it down the front of the wedding dress. He jumped up, ready to run for a towel, ready to tell her that she hadn’t needed to do that and if she really cared about herself she wouldn’t make mistakes like that. She watched him with eyes that had no backs.

“Is that an answer?” he said after swallowing several times. He sat down.

She reached across, lifted his mug, and poured its contents into his lap.

The cider had cooled enough not to burn him. The heat was actually pleasant before it turned cold. He sat as cider soaked into his good wool pants and into the upholstery of his favorite chair.

She smiled at him. She stood and came to him, climbing in all her lace onto his lap. He put his arms around her and hugged her tight, not quite sure she was solid, but willing to pretend with all his might. Her beads scratched his neck. He hugged her as though the world would end in a moment. She lowered her lips to his. Her kiss was ice cold.

The clock struck and she vanished, leaving piled stained lace in his lap. He shivered and shivered and sat in the sticky cider wetness as long as he could stand it, then rose and cleaned what he could.

Maybe next year she would stay longer.

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