Holiday Digest: Empty Chairs

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By Cecile Sarruf

My good friend Robin and I stroll Forest Avenue in Downtown Laguna, our umbrellas at the ready in case of light showers. Blustery winds have ripped leaves from the arms of eucalyptus trees and sent them sailing into the streets, ushering in uncertainty. We are window shopping. An ice blue topaz ring catches our eye at John’s Jewelry and Gems, as does a gold filigree dream catcher. We continue onward and step into the Whitney Gallery, where a painterly oil depicts a blushing seascape, and on another canvas, domesticity is a wide kitchen table with an empty plate in half shadow, a solitary egg next to a knife and spoon, everything scattered on the tabletop, including a few books in want of reading. Rounding the corner, we find a depiction of an unmade bed, its rumpled bedsheets inviting first light. The artist’s wife keeps her masked distance.

We shake off melancholy and make our way to Tuvalu where we find a holiday display in full-blown regalia. While we admire Christmas ornaments: whimsical tin mermaids wearing mint green Santa hats, bulbous sea glass beads on a rope, nativity scenes carved in wood, sparkling menorahs dangling from boughs of pine—it is understood neither of us will be sitting at each other’s holiday table.

Stepping back out, we make our way to a deserted boardwalk offering its bare benches and diminished populace. We find the sea and stand alongside a lonely lifeguard tower on Main Beach. Wind brushes the sand, and we marvel at the breakers hitting the shoreline with such white fury. Half the sky is naked, bathed in silvery sunlight, and the other half an ominous storm brewing just north, its menacing black clouds descending.

“Must be raining over there,” Robin remarks. “Heading our way soon.” We both keep watch.

Traditional gift giving once brought a spark of anticipation to our eyes. We couldn’t wait to sip hot Ceylon tea after a feast of sweet jewel-like cranberries, ladled—gravied—turkey with mashed potatoes and Robin’s tossed mixed greens topped by candied pecan. All of this followed by my apple pie à la mode, of course. The stark reality of an empty table is what nettles us both. And to those whose lives have prematurely met with the Earth, one can only imagine the countless empty chairs left behind in their wake.

Cecile Sarruf holds an MFA in creative writing and is published in several literary journals. She lives in O.C. by the sea.

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