The ring of the doorbell pierced the silence of the house like a surgeon's scalpel opening a chest.
"Mom, someone's at the door," Pam shouted from her bedroom where she lay across her bed reading a romance novel.
"Will you see who it is, please? I'm not dressed." Her mother's words sounded slurred.
Sighing theatrically, Pam made her way to the front door, slapping bare feet on cold wood floors. Her mother, still in her bathrobe, sat at the kitchen table holding a glass half-filled with ice and a clear liquid.
Barely ten in the morning, Pam thought, and she's already into her vodka hangover cure. Must have been celebrating the holidays early.
A Christmas tree, undecorated, leaned on the living room wall. Opened boxes of ornaments lay beside the tree.
The doorbell rang again.
"See who it is first."
Pam opened the door without checking.
"Hello, Pamela." A middle-aged man in a dark suit that bagged in the shoulders stood in the doorway. He held what was obviously a bottle wrapped in red and green.
"Can I come in? It's been a long time."
"Mom doesn't like strangers in the house."
She closed the door.
Pam watched her mother down what was left in her glass. "Who was that?"
"No one important," Pam said. "By the way, when's Clayton get out this time?"
"I don't know. They should release him around Christmas time."
The doorbell sounded again.
"Your Christmas present is here," Pam said, returning to her room and locking her door.
--Originally published in a different version in Apollo's Lyre, December 2007.
Wayne Scheer has locked himself in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement. (Wayne's, not the turtle's.) To keep from going back to work, he's published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories, available at http://issuu.com/pearnoir/docs/revealing_moments. He's been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net.