Wishmas Nina Kiriki Hoffman
A knock sounded on the door.
Arly was sitting at the table with her little brother Sim on her right. Sim was eight, and would have been gone by now if Mama had been normal. Mama sat at the head of the table with the turkey in front of her, and Now-dad sat at the foot of the table with the gravy boat and the mashed potatoes. Across the table from Arly and Sim sat their older sister Kitty, and Granny. Nobody had eaten yet.
“Who could that be?” Mama asked.
“I’ll get it,” said Sim. He jumped up.
“I don’t know that we’re ready for visitors just now,” said Mama. They had just said grace, and she was about to carve the turkey. Everything smelled so good Arly’s mouth watered. She hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast.
While Sim and Now-dad, safely locked in the house, fixed the Wishmas meal, Arly had been out chasing wild boys on her bike. Not like she actually needed boys now, but at some point, her mother had told her, she would need a boy who wasn’t her brother, so no practice was wasted. She had tracked three of them to their lairs. They would probably move now that she knew where they lived, but maybe some other boy would move in. So far, Arly had ferreted out twelve lairs in the hills above the village, and she’d found good vantage points to watch their entrances from. She planned to have her pick of boys when the time came for her to find one.
There weren’t so many boys around. Most families kicked them out of the house when they were six, and some died when they left home, not trained in ways to survive.
Not everybody could have a boy, but Arly was sure she’d find one when she needed one.
Kitty never chased anybody. She would sure look stupid when her time to catch a boy came.
Sim peered through the peekhole, then glanced back at Mama.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Sim. “Some boy.”
“A boy,” said Mama in a thoughtful tone. “Let him in. Arly, set another place at the table. Everybody’s welcome on Wishmas Night.”
Arly got the extra chair against the wall and set it at the table, moving her own and Sim’s place settings along to make room. She got a placemat and silverware and a napkin out of the sideboard.
Sim unchained the door and held it wide, letting in a blast of winter cold.
“Hello,” said the stranger in a warm, deep voice. “Is Kitty here?”
“Come on in,” Sim said.
The stranger was tall, thin, and raggedy. His boots were scuffed. His jeans had worn spots at the knees. He wore a khaki jacket over a plaid shirt, and a ratty scarf around his neck. His hair was black, his eyes dark, and his skin was the color of gravy. He was the most beautiful boy Arly had ever seen.
Sit by me, she thought. She stood behind her chair and wished as hard as she could.
“Switch places with me, Arly,” said Kitty as she rose.
Arly looked at Mama, who nodded.
So much for Wishmas, Arly thought, but she shuffled around the table and took Kitty’s seat next to Granny, who smelled of peppermints.
“Kitty, introduce us to your boy,” said Mama.
“Everyone, this is Trevis,” said Kitty. “He’s not my boy yet. He wanted to meet my family. If y’all are nice, maybe he’ll be my boy.”
“Ooh, Kitty. You’re giving him a choice?” said Granny.
“I am,” said Kitty. “Trevis? Would you like to sit?”
“Sure,” said Trevis. He sat next to Kitty, with little Sim to his right. “So long since I’ve been with a family on Wishmas Night,” he said.
“Where’d you come from?” Arly asked.
“Up the river,” said Trevis. He looked at her. His eyes were so warm and dark. He smiled. Most boys didn’t smile at her. They just ran.
Arly had actually caught a boy that afternoon, a small one, who had whimpered when she landed on top of him. He’d smelled sour, and he’d been covered with dirt and scratches. He’d struggled at first, making little grunting sounds, but then he quieted and just looked up at her. So pale and skinny and scared. Too small. She had rolled off him and let him go.
Trevis looked clean, and he didn’t stink.
Mama carved the turkey and placed slices on plates, then passed them down the table. Now-dad got the first plate. He was a good dad, handy around the house, knew how to cook and mend, glad to have a good place to live. Arly liked him better than the last three dads.
Trevis stared at the turkey on the plate Kitty put in front of him. He licked his lip.
He looked pretty thin, Arly thought, but he had manners. He waited until everybody had some food and Mama started eating before he took a bite. He used a knife and fork better than Sim did.
“How did Kitty find you?” Arly asked Trevis after everybody’d eaten something.
“I found her down by the river where my raft came ashore,” he said.
The river! Kitty was always at the river. Most days, fishing.
“She invited me to dinner,” he said. “Said I’d see what a nice household you had, and I could decide whether to stay. Food’s great.”
Imagine Kitty finding this boy and letting him go. How stupid was that?
But he came back.
“And you folk seem nice,” said Trevis. “May I stay awhile?”
“Certainly,” said Mama. “Will you work your way?”
Arly thought of the chains in the basement. She’d been planning to use them on any wild boy she caught until she could tame him. How had Kitty found a tame one?
Wishmas. Wishmas. It was always somebody else’s wish that came true, Arly thought, scowling, and served herself another scoop of potatoes.