“Katie’s nine now,” Blanche said into the phone. She picked up the envelope, straightened it. “Shall I get tickets to the Nutcracker while you’re in town?”
“The Nutcracker,” Jenny said. “Who’d be going?”
Blanche tucked the envelope behind the fruit bowl. “Just us girls,” she said. “Won’t that be fun?” She closed her eyes to the silence, remembered Jenny and Sarah in matching winter coats. Her mother-in-law herding them into the theater, cigarette hand waving Blanche off.
“Just you, Katie and me?” Jenny finally said. “That would be a real treat.”
“It’s settled, then.” Blanche pulled the envelope towards her and shook out the four tickets.
Blanche hummed as she prepared the tree-trimming dips to go with the spiked eggnog. She paused over the photograph she kept on the fridge of Jenny and Sarah draped in tinsel, arms across shoulders like college roommates. She listened for the sound of banter, laughter. When she joined them, the eggnog was mostly rum and their voices were not full of cheer or camaraderie, but were clipped and strained.
“Let me hang your ornament, Mommy.” Katie was excited, demanding.
“Remember which one is Mommy’s?”
Katie dug her hand in the box, then held it behind her back. Not the silver sled, thought Blanche. Sarah turned from the tree, sloshing her drink.
“Hey! My silver sled!” She lunged towards Katie. “Give it here, Katie-Poo.”
“I think it’s time for bed, Katie,” said Blanche. She took the child by the shoulders. “Let me see?” She dug the sled out of the girl’s hand. “This was Great-Grandma Ida’s when she was a girl.” Katie shrugged out of her grasp. “Here, Sarah, hang it by the glass ballerina.”
Jenny led Katie out of the room. “Have another drink,” she called back. “Eggnog with a dash of silver sled.”
Blanche found them brushing Katie’s hair. “Look what Aunt Sarah got for you.” She held up red ballet slippers.
“It’s below zero,” Jenny said. “You really don’t expect”
“Mom, look!” Katie stood and pliéd.
Jenny clipped Katie’s hair back. “You’re gonna freeze. Go get your coat.”
“Why are there four tickets?” Jenny asked her mother in the mirror.
“I think,” said Blanche from the doorway, “that’s Sarah I hear."
“Mom.” Jenny followed her mother to the kitchen, where Katie modeled the shoes. Sarah stood in their grandmother’s fur coat.
“Where are you going?” asked Jenny.
“We’re going to the ballet,” said Katie.
“But Aunt Sarah isn’t.” Jenny looked at Blanche, then back at the fur coat. “It’s just us three, right, Mom?”
Blanche jiggled the car keys as she pushed her arms through her coat. “Come, come, girls, we’ll be late.”
Katie petted the fur coat. “Are you going to see the game with Daddy and Gramps?” she asked. “Cause they left already.”
Blanche sat Katie between her and Jenny. Little girls in tutus and tiaras skipped down the aisles. She watched them, studiously ignoring the sold-out theater’s one empty seat on the other side of Jenny.