On a sunless pale winter morning, the bulging gray clouds amassed over Chicago broke and unleashed snow that was fluttering down to earth by nearly two inches an hour. Plows rushed through the streets, packing the snow into steep white banks that blocked the roads from the walkways.
Carla was on the clock as a DoorDasher. Since there was no school and nowhere to go, her 3 children had to ride along with her. Carla couldn't help but feel a twinge of resentment for having to work on Christmas eve. She wasn't religious, but this was one of the few nights of the year her older and more tradition-oriented family members expected her to attend a version of a mass that they, their parents and, their parent's parents heard their entire lives.
Now that most of those family members were gone, Carla had no inclination to actually attend a 3-hour service. Still, it upset her that she couldn't just the same.
Carla was a gig worker, and technically she didn't have to clock in, but every day lost was an unpaid bill, and unpaid bills are a bit like malignant moles. You either deal with them immediately or watch them grow. Her 8-year-old son Eduardo was in the back, with his two-year-old sister Maria and her oldest daughter Myra upfront. The bulging delivery bags were in the back seat, and Carla could see Eduardo and Maria hungrily eyeing the plastic containers that held the contents of a 3-course breakfast. Carla knew a trip to Mcdonald's would be a non-negotiable demand in the next few hours.
Carla stopped in front of a recently converted two-flat. The house faced the street with tall narrow windows and provided glimpses of people under no obligation to leave the warmth or comfort of the living room. Carla reached into the back seat for the bags.
"Everything's here, right? You didn't help yourself to anything while I wasn't looking?" Carla playfully accused Eduardo.
Eduardo grinned mischievously. "You got no proof," he answered.
"Just let me have some of those fries, though," Eduardo said pointed to a bag.
"You can eat some of those fries if you want to give me back all your Christmas gifts," replied Carla.
Carla's phone began dinging with one alert after the next.
"Alright, sit tight," Carla said as she prepared to step out into the snowbank that was sure to spill into her boots. Carrying the bags, Carla trudged up the unshoveled walkway to the steep icy steps.
Eduardo had been in the car nearly two hours now and for an 8-year-old boy had done well, but his boyhood endurance for sitting still was spent. He looked back to the bag of fries and, sensing an opportunity to make mischief reached for the bag. The paper crumbled, alerting Myra in the front seat, who snapped around and smacked his hand.
"Cut it out!" she hissed.
Eduardo knew he wasn't getting past his older sister, but then he got a lucky break when her phone chimed. Her attention now firmly fixed on the screen, Eduardo looked to his little sister Maria who egged him on.
He carefully reached in the bag a little more carefully, and the same crinkling paper went unnoticed. Eduardo quickly pulled a few fries from the bag and shoved them in his mouth, eliciting a giggle from Maria.
Carla was standing on the house's front porch in boots filled with snow that was quickly melting into cold water.
"C'mon, hurry up," she muttered, ringing the doorbell again. After a moment, a J-cru-clad woman opened the door wearing a respiratory mask.
"Hello!" she said as if they were old friends.
"Hi, I'm from DoorDash."
"Oh, yes! Thank you so much!" The woman opened the door and reached out for the food.
When she had the bangs in her hands, she took a step back. "Thanks again, and happy holidays!"
"Thank you t-" Carla was cut off by the closing door.
Carla was slowly negotiating the death trap stairs when her phone rang.
"Ugh, what?" Carla sighed. She pulled her glove off with her teeth and pulled her phone out.
"Hi, my name is Mike Barnes. I placed an order about an hour ago, and I was wondering what the status is?"
"I'm coming to you next," Carla assured him.
"Oh, ok!" The impatient Mr. Barnes said in a poorly feigned conciliatory tone before asking, "do you know how long that might?"
"The roads are bad, but I'm on the way," Carla said.
"Ok, great, thank you."
By now, Eduardo had noticed he had eaten a not unnoticeable amount of the forbidden french fries. As his mom made her way back to the car, panic gripped him.
Carla brushed the snow off her shoulders and got back in the car. "Alright, just a couple more, then we can go home," she said.
Eduardo was panicking now. He was going to get found out, no question. Should he fess up now or wait to get found out at the worse possible moment? Eight-year-old boy's judgment won out, and he went with the latter.
The snow was falling faster and faster and pilling higher and higher. Carla was driving at a crawl, and it took nearly ten minutes to put the three blocks behind them.
"Alright, here we are," said Carla. "Those fries are going to be cold, but I guess that's what toaster ovens are for."
Carla reached back for the bag and could instantly see evidence of tampering. "What the?"
Eduardo stayed quiet. While Carla checked on the contents, the container of fries was more than half empty.
She whipped her head around. "What did I tell you?!" "Huh? What did I tell you?!"
Eduardo hung his head in shame.
"No Playstation tonight, you hear me?!" She shouted at Eduardo. "Do you hear me?" SHe repeated sternly.
Eduardo nodded. Carla pulled away from the curb. "Where are we going?" Asked Myra.
"I guess I gotta go replace this guy's fries," Carla grumbled.
Carla had to be quick, but conditions on the roads were quickly deteriorating, and the windshield wipers couldn't keep pace. Everything was shrouded in grey, and every possible landmark was buried in snow. Carla took a turn, and the car shook and came to a stop.
"Shit shit shit," Carla repeated as she pushed on the gas in a vain attempt to execrate her car from the snow's unbreakable grip.
"FML," she muttered. "Hang tight. I have to go dig us out. Everyone Myra is in charge!" She turned and looked at Eduardo "if anything else happens while I'm out there. There's no Christmas, you get me?" she looked around the car, and the kids nodded. Carla popped the trunk and got out of the car.
Myra turned to Eduardo. "You're such a little asshole," she sneered.
"Shut up, Myra!" Eduardo snapped. He picked up one of Maria's toys and threw it at his big sister's head.
"Ow!" Myra reached back and began slapping at Eduardo with her long sharped nails. Eduardo started hitting her back, and soon it was a full-fledged fight. None of them noticed the heads lights racing towards them out of the winter mist.
Little Maria turned her head and saw the form of a car taking shape by then, it was too late. The car smashed into their own, and Carla's body was pulverized between them.