A Christmas Homecoming

“Hey, Jenny, it’s Maeve. I’m not feeling too good, so I won’t be coming in today. I’ll call you if anything happens. Bye.”

Maeve Upton hung up and slipped her phone inside her bag. It was the last thing to go in, alongside a few changes of clothes, toiletries, and several wads of cold, hard cash. She quickly walked around her apartment, making sure that every window, lock, light, and alarm was secure. Her corgi puppy Linus excitedly followed her around. When she finished, she picked up her puppy and her bag, and exited the place with nary a sound.

In the parking lot, she placed Linus in the carrier and put it on the shotgun seat. A quick touch-up of her makeup followed. These were no small feats, given that it was about 6 degrees Celsius and the weather forecast had predicted a snowstorm to develop that day. After Maeve puckered her lips one last time, she was in the car, and moments later, the Mercedes sped toward the freeway.

Maeve picked up some breakfast at McDonald’s. Nothing fancy, just a Sausage Burrito Extra Value Meal with orange juice. She hated coffee. To her, it tasted like ass, even with soy creamer and Stevia In The Raw. She soon pulled to the side of the road. As Linus snacked on a hash brown, Maeve sipped her orange juice and took out her wallet. Inside, her debit cards, IDs, and some cash were snugly in place. But it was her collection of photos that was why she took out the damn thing in the first place. There she was, little Maeve Louise Upton, a bouncy brunette babe of the late 1970s, grinning in a set-up that would make Glamour Shots look positively high fashion. The next picture was that of her and her parents, Claudia and Eamonn Upton, at Christmas in 1985, in happier times. Claudia was a beaming redhead, and Eamonn was a thinning one. Back then, Maeve knew nothing but familial and societal bliss. They didn’t have much; Claudia taught special education students and Eamonn co-ran the pharmacy, but at least the Uptons lived a comfortable life, surrounded by a massively extended family and community.

And then, in 1986, Claudia was killed. Ironically, it was one of her students who did it. He had brought a gun to school because he was scared for his life. He had been on the receiving end of bullying and abuse, and long before Columbine and Virginia Tech and Santee, he had snapped. He didn’t come to kill Ms. Upton. She was the unfortunate and accidental victim of the whole ordeal. Mercifully, Maeve didn’t attend her mother’s school. Eventually, the boy plead to a reduced charge and spent the rest of his teenage years in juvenile detention. Maeve and Claude publicly forgave the boy, but it didn’t alleviate their pain one iota.

The following years were tough. Claude never remarried, and soon found comfort in a succession of wine and song. By 1990, he had lost his job, and he could not care for Maeve any longer. He was by no means a bad father, but it was in Maeve’s best interest to stay with her Uncle Ciaran, Eamonn’s brother. Maeve never saw her father again, and only contacted him through phone calls, letters, and eventually e-mails. Fortunately, she made it out of secondary school, and two decades later, with two degrees in her pocket and a successful banking career to boot, here she was, eating McDonalds in her Mercedes, en route to her hometown.

She turned on the car’s satellite radio and tuned it to whatever station was playing Irish folk music. For the next hour, as she drove, it was nothing but a succession of Enya, Clannad, Chieftains, and Van Morrison thrown in for good measure. But the moment “Danny Boy” by the Irish Tenors began, it had become too much. As the snow began to drop like tears, much like what was coming down her face, she again pulled to the side of the road. She wiped her tears, took a few deep breaths, and tuned into 680 News for the rest of her ride.

“Hey, Jenny, it’s Maeve again. I’m going to take the rest of the week off. It just seems like the right thing to do. I’ll see you Monday.”

The snow was accumulating nicely by the time Maeve pulled into a quiet cul-de-sac in Guelph. She saw her old house: a red-brick two-decker decked in Christmas lights that had not yet been turned on, but which still gave the house a sparkle. Maeve, with Linus and bag in tow, walked up the path and rang the doorbell.

The door opened, and a man appeared. He was thin and had receding red hair. “Oh my God,” he uttered. “Maeve?”

Maeve nodded, smiling. “Hi, Daddy. Merry Christmas.”