Each year at Christmas, my husband Galen and I perform in a reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Bob Crachit utters my husband’s favorite line in the story when Mrs. Crachit brings to the holiday dinner table the steaming plum pudding, which Dickens, a line or two before this triumphant moment, points out smells like a washrag. After tasting the pudding, Crachit says, “My dear, I regard this as your greatest success since our marriage.”
This line never fails to make my husband laugh.
Last Christmas, Galen could barely make it to Christmas morning without divulging my present. He had put two gifts under the tree that he couldn’t stop talking about. The larger one was a gorgeous chartreuse box with its top covered in sparkling chartreuse glitter. And there was a much smaller box—white with a crisp, tight red bow. He was prancing around—that’s prancing around, not pantsing around—for days leading up to Christmas saying, “My dear, I regard this as my greatest success since our marriage.”
I must admit that I approached the opening of my gift with trepidation. What if I didn’t like what was inside? He was so excited—and I was so worried about disappointing him.
His greatest success since our marriage?
He instructed me to open the chartreuse box first. I grasped the four corners of the glittering lid, and slowly lifted it upward. Then, I gingerly peeled back the two flaps of tissue paper and peered inside.
A stack of books.
A sinking feeling swept through me. “Really?” I thought. “More books?” They were already overtaking our apartment. We alone keep Manhattan’s Barnes and Noble in the black by regularly using their same-day delivery service.
As I furrowed my brow, I saw the grin on Galen’s face widen.
I lifted out six books:
- Dorothy Allison’s “Bastard Out of Carolina,”
- Gail Tsukyama’s, “The Samurai’s Garden,”
- Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being,”
- Elizabeth George’s “A Place of Hiding,”
- Jane Hamilton’s “A Short History of a Prince,”
- Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Jane Austen Book Club.”
I looked at him, eyes pleading for help. “Uhm, okay,” I said. “Category is…women writers. Fiction.” I was stumped—desperately trying to figure out the common denominator. Galen laughed with glee, and then jutted his chin toward the second box, urging me to open it.
Inside was an 8 x 10 sheet of paper, neatly folded into quarters. I slowly unfolded it—trying to delay the moment of reckoning.
Splashed across the top of the page in bold print, the headline read:
Where will you be on May 30 to June 1, 2014?
Vortext: Join us for an extraordinary weekend salon
at the famed Whidbey Institute led by six renowned women writers.
“I signed you up,” he said. “You’re going.”
“Oh my god,” I screamed. I jumped off the couch and cavorted around the living room, clutching my books.
I was going to a writer’s workshop!
Suddenly, I crumpled in the chair next to the fireplace. “I can’t go.”
Galen’s eyes bulged. “Why not?”
“I really can’t afford the time away,” I said with sadness.
“Baa Humbug!” he said. “You’re going!”
As late as Monday morning, the day of my flight out to the west coast, I had reasons galore not to show up. I actually contemplated cancelling, but I didn’t have the heart to crush Galen’s excitement about me attending Vortext.
So here I am, with time away from the demands of my daily life, a room of my own, and a community of fabulously warm, deeply supportive, and inspirational women writers. What a gift. Even better than plum pudding. Thank you, thank you all. Thank you Galen. Indeed, this is your greatest success since our marriage.
Holly Atkinson, MD is Director of the Human Rights Program, Arnhold Global Health Institute, and Assistant Professor of Medicine and Preventive Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She also has a Master of Science degree in journalism and been a medical journalist for years. However, she has never written fiction, but stay tuned.
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