For Nina, it was a day like any other at this time of the year. It had snowed all night and in the morning Manhattan was knee deep in icy puddles, waiting at every street corner. A big gray sky loomed above mirroring the cold, wet landscape. New Yorkers were grumpy as they hurried off to work, hopelessy dodging pools of freezing muck. Nina watched them from under the scaffolding of her building. There they were, wearing the wrong shoes and hardly dressed for the cold. She remembered how many times she told her children to cover up, wear rubber boots, bring an umbrella and so on. Of course they never listened, what did she know anyway? Now they were all grown up and living their lives without her ever knowing whether her sound advice made any difference at all and here she was, wasting her morning under the scaffolding, spying on others.
Accross the street, a young skinny woman teetered to the corner in what Nina called "curb shoes". Generally speaking these were shoes that looked great but could only be worn for a few fashionable steps to the curb - to hail a cab- avoiding any unecessary walking. This woman's curb shoes were ridiculous stilleto heels that made her wobble as she frantically searched her ride on her phone. A black SUV pulled up to her side, splashing her entire skinny frame with a wave of ice water. She lept forward, shrieking and swearing as she yanked the door open and flopped accross the backseat. Nina caught a glimpse of her soaked dress and now ruined dainty shoes before the door slammed shut and the car made a screeching lunge towards the traffic light.
A toddler broke down steps away from her, howling at no one in particular, snot running down his nose and onto his snowsuit. The crying intensified as the child stomped awkwardly behind his nanny who lazily pushed a stroller with two snug babies, fast asleep. "I want my mommy!!!!", he yelled. "I don't wanna....!" "I don't WANNA!!!" The nanny ignored him. She was fast talking loudly on her cell, in what seemed to be Creole and remained unfazed. The child crumbled in a puddle, wailing in despair, but she kept on her loud conversation, bent down and picked him up like a bag of laundry then continued down the street.
Nina felt lonely and tired, Christmas was a day away and she had not been invited to spend it with either her son or her daughter. She had bought presents for them, but they had other plans and couldn't find time to come for even a short visit. Watching the slush and breakdowns only added to her sense of helplessness. Her daughter Susan went off to Mexico with her husband and his family. Even if they had thought to ask her she wouldn't have wanted to go. She hated hot weather and what kind of a Christmas was Christmas without snow anyway? There was also the question of her daughter's in-laws, people she really never cared for. They were loud, fatuous and spendthrifts. The garish kind of New Yorkers she avoided like the plague. A trip with them would have surely gone South, no pun intended.
Her son Mark was in town, but he didn't invite her, not for the past few years, for anything. Not even lunch. He hardly ever called. Every time they spoke he would lose patience with her, she could hear his frustration building as the conversation unfolded to anger, finishing with a bout of cursing. After she hung up she felt inept, old and useless. He was so arrogant these days, obdurate in his approach to everything and everybody. She feared the thought of spending time with him. After ten years of a bickering marriage, his wife gave up on him and left. They had no children, and he now lived alone. Alone with his perpetual ranting, mercurial temperament and obssesive preparation for what would surely be a contentious divorce. Nina felt sorry for him but at the same time did not. He made his choice, it was up to him to live with it. At the same time she felt guilty. Did the lives her children lead somehow have something to do with her? She worried that such fate all circled back to her, their mother. Maybe she really was a useless person nobody wanted to be around? And now a real Debby Downer, to boot.
So now, what should she do with her day? She was dressed for the occasion: heavy rubber boots, a good warm waterproof jacket, gloves and a nice wool hat she bought 70% off at Lord & Taylor's Grand Closing Sale. She was in the moment and wanted to get out of it fast. Her cell rang, it was Meredith, her oldest friend.
"Come join me at Zabar's? " Meredith asked. "I'm having coffee and a bagel, I miss you", she said.
"Hi Meredith - sorry - I'm in a really bad mood right now, you wouldn't want to be around me, I guarantee that", she said.
"Only you and your bad mood can save me, I'm the oldest person here and I feel like a schmuck, so get off your lazy butt and join me?". Meredith laughed and added "I know your're just standing around, doing nothing but feeling sorry for yourself right now. Come on, the coffee's hot and so are all the handsome men, just waiting for you...."
The words: "I miss you" were all Nina needed to hear to wrap up the conversation with her friend. She feigned a sigh and reluctantly agreed to hop on the next crosstown bus. "Thank God for Meredith", she thought. "Maybe she'll pull me out of this funk".
She hurried over to the bus stop, allowing her feet to sink in the puddles. It started to snow again as the bus pulled up, passengers pushed each other to board. "So rude", Nina thought, but that was just part of living in New York. Most of the seats were taken, but she managed to find the last Senior Citizen spot available and even if it was wet, she was going to sit in it. Carefully, she wiped her seat off with the last tissue in her pocket before sitting. Next to her sat an older man with a dog. It was some kind of mutt, somewhere between a Golden Retriever and a German Shephard. Big in any case. It sat next to his owner panting away. Nina wondered how the driver let him on. Dogs were supposed to be in cases or bags, if they were not service dogs. This dog was clearly not a service dog. He was spread out on the floor licking the salt off his paws, oblivious to everyone carefully circling his large frame, trying to avoid walking on him. His coat was flecked with bald spots and what look like some kind of skin disease. He looked up at her and burped.
"He stinks", Nina thought, "and he certainly could use a bath". He was a sorry sight, so much so she turned her head away. His owner sat staring ahead of him. The man didn't look "all there", she thought. Maybe he needed the dog after all.
The bus took off, the whir of the engine turned her thoughts back to her family and sadness took over. She missed her children and the days when she was the world to them and she could shower them with love. They would go out together and always had things to say to each other. Now Susan was with that showoff husband of hers, miserable and without children. Mark married a social climber who didn't climb high enough and left him flat for a Hedge Fund Manager. Where did she go wrong with these kids? Why? She stared out the bus window, her mind fantasized through all of her favorite scenarios. One by one she replayed the vignettes: Mark and Susan would call her and talk about their days, tell her their problems, invite her over to their homes, laugh at things together. She and Susan would go shopping together, like they used to. Mark would "drop by" with takeout food to share with her or she would cook with him. She would fuss over grandchildren she wanted so badly. A little girl with pretty hair and a sweet giggle. A chubby baby to hold and to rock when he cried. She would spoil them with her attention and take them to Central Park, to The Natural History Museum and the little girl to the ballet. "If only, if only, if only!" She thought...
"IF ONLY WHAT?" came a voice, jolting her from her thoughts. Nina looked up. "Who the Hell was that? Who said that?" But everyone had their noses burried in their cell phones, scrolling through images or listening to God-knows-what through headphones. "Maybe I heard wrong", she thought. "It must have been my mind playing tricks on me!"
"I SAID: IF ONLY WHAT?" said the voice once again. She looked around again. The only person not on a phone was the old man with the dog and the man was sound asleep. The dog looked at her intently. His beady eyes fixated on hers. He moved his muzzle and she saw his lips quiver. "Yeah, that's right baby, I'm talkin' to you!"
"Sweet Jesus, that dog is talking or I have completely lost it!" Nina was suddenly overcome with panic. She pinched herself, turned away but whipped around once more to convince herself this could not be true.
"Settle down love, I don't bite! Ha ha, right?" "I just want to know. So, I'll say it again: If only what?", the dog smirked.
"No! Oh my God, how can a dog smirk?" she thought. Her heart raced, she felt a cold sweat coming over her. "Leave me alone!" She shouted out loud.
The woman in front of her turned around. "Sorry? She said, you have a problem lady?" -"No, no, no problem, sorry"... Nina hung her head, "I'll just ignore him", she thought.
"I don't mean you no harm", said the dog (with a New York accent no less). "I want to grant you a wish, c'mon it's Christmas! So, spit it out! Tell me what it is that IF ONLY you want?"
She felt faint. Maybe it was the blood pressure medication playing tricks on her? Just to be sure, she moved in closer to the dog and whispered -"why is it you can talk? And why are you talking to me?"
"Because I am Santadog! I have the canine power to grant you one wish and today I am asking you. Christmas is tomorrow and we're on the bus in Central Park. Hurry up Nina, we have this moment or you'll have to wait for next year", he said with a low growl.
"Ok Santadog, my stop is Broadway. Let me think fast. Just do me a favor will you? Don't tell anyone I was talking to a dog, ok?"
"Sure sweetie, give it a moment. One wish and I'll go back to being a regular dog", he bent down and began to lick his testicles as Nina sat in shock. His owner began to snore.
Nina's thoughts raced through her head. "I need to find one thing, even if it is all a sham, one thing. But there are so many things to want!" "What was the one thing I want more than anything? Health? Love? Money? A fancy apartment? Everything in Bloomingdales, Barneys or Bergdorf Goodman? To be young again? Beautiful, a facelift?" As all the thoughts flashed through her brain, one kept interrupting them all. "My children, my family, my son, my daughter. I want them. I want them. I want them back", she thought. -"Please dog, uh Santadog, if you are really a Santa, please give me back my loving family". "You can't give me my husband because he died and frankly, I'm ok with that, but my kids, I miss having them." "Life is miserable for me now". Nina whispered to the dog.
Some of the passengers looked at her, shaking their heads. "Another crazy lady", they probably thought. "And she's talking to a smelly dog!"
"I know what it feels like to be apart from your pack", said the dog, looking up at her. "This is a wish I can grant: your pack back, not your backpack, ha ha!" He flashed his teeth as he said the magic words to her: "Abra Cadabra, Woofy Galoofy, Barker the Marker, I hereby grant Nina the loving family she deserves to have for Christmas and forever!" With that, he stood on all fours and began to howl. "AOUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!" "AHOUUUUUUU!!!!!" His owner continued to sleep peacefully, hunched over his seat. -"Shut him up! Get that dog off the bus!", cried an irate passenger. "Shut your trap, you filthy mutt!" cried another. But Nina sat in awe, unable to say anything.
"Broadway next stop!" the driver announced. Nina reached down and patted the dog, scratching his ears as she gathered her belongings.
"Even if it doesn't work, thank you for thinking of me", she said and left the bus, still shaken.
She shook her head, still in disbelief. "Maybe I am having visons?" she thought. "I should go back to that shrink as soon as I can." She reached Zabar's a few moments later. There through the window she saw them. A few feet away stood her daughter Susan, her son Mark and her best friend Meredith, drinking coffee and laughing away.
Meredith met her at the door, took her in her arms and gave her a big hug. She whispered in her ear " I thought you wouldn't want to miss this".
"Oh hi Mom" said Mark as he too jumped to his feet to hug her.
"We thought it would be nice to be with you at Christmas", Susan chimed in. "I didn't want to go to Mexico after all. I thought we should pass on that vacation because I have news for you", she grinned.
Nina looked at them, trembling. "I-I can't believe this!" "Oh, you're both here!" "It can't be!"
"Yes Mom, it can" Susan said firmly. "I wanted to be the first to tell you.... I'm pregnant!"
Nina felt light-headed again. The server appeared. "What can I get you?", he asked.
"Can I have a Scotch please? Oh, make that a double!"
"M'aam, uh, this is Zabar's. We don't serve alcohol here."
Nina smiled. "Just grant my wish, will you?"
Then it was Mark's turn. "Mom, he said solemnly, I got you something for Christmas but I couldn't bring it inside. I can't wait for tomorrow so can you come outside with me for a moment ?"
Nina shook herself again.
Meredith nudged her. "Go ahead, go!"
Reluctantly, she got up and followed him out the door. There in the cold, attached to a lamp post was THE DOG! That same smelly fleabag she met in the bus, aka Santadog!
"How is this possible, how did you know?" she asked her son.
He did not pick up on this. "Well Mom, you need someone to be with you and when I saw him, I kinda... well, he just looked like a special kind of dog! You always wanted a pet didn't you?"
She bent down to get a good look at him. "Woofy-Galoofy indeed..." she whispered in his ear. "Thank you Mr. Santadog, thank you so much! " He licked her face and said in a low voice
"be careful for what you wish for babe!"