“Eat,” cried Kringle’s wife. “Eat!”
She brandished a wooden spoon at the old man, but he didn’t look up from the letter. “A ’54 convertible,” he mumbled to himself, shaking his head. “And she wants it light blue,” he said, now looking up. “Don’t that beat all? What if all we have is pink? That’s not good enough?”
Kringle’s wife pushed the bowl of stew toward her husband and ripped the paper from his hands. “You’re skin and bones,” she told him. “If you don’t fatten up, we’re going to have to call down to the workshop and get them working on the false belly again.”
He waved a dismissive hand at her. “I’m not hungry, Mama. I can’t concentrate. These lists—”
His wife held up a hand to him, adjusted her spectacles, and looked down the list. He could read her lips as she passed the ’54 convertible, and then the yacht, and then she stopped mouthing the words altogether. She set down the letter and stared at him, her eyebrows raising almost all the way to her hairline, which was saying something when you considered how severe her bun was this night, how much forehead she was showing.
“The platinum mine?” he said.
Now her eyes narrowed. “She calls you ‘baby’ one minute, ‘honey’ the next, and ‘cutie’ just after that.”
“And this is somehow my fault?” said Kringle.
“She asks for a ring,” said Kringle’s wife, bringing the letter close to her face once more, “and I quote, ‘she don’t mean on the phone.’”
“Bah,” said Kringle. “You think that one’s bad—”
“There’s worse?” said his wife.
Kringle rose from his chair waddled over behind his wife. He put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed, then kneaded his knuckles up and down her neck as he spoke. “The only chimney I’m hurrying down,” he told her, “is yours.”
She reached behind her and squeezed his hand. “I’m happy to hear that,” she said. “But my chimney is closed for repairs until you put some meat on them bones, you daft toothpick.”
And with that, Kringle’s wife took the letter and left him to his stew, which he finally sat down in front of, which he finally began to eat.