HE GOT A GIFT
"Fey, it is Christmas today."
I turned on the torn wrapper I had laid on the floor and glanced into the tired eyes of my brother. He sat on the bare floor with his legs crossed. His ten-year-old body looked like a beaten-down forty-year-old's. I am sure I looked worse than he did.
I looked around and noticed that it was still dark. Several other people were clustered around, some asleep, others sitting and staring into space. The putrid scent of alcohol and cigarettes clung to the air like a leech, refusing to come off.
“Why are you awake?” I asked, returning my gaze to my brother.
“Because it is Christmas.”
He remained silent, obviously lacking an answer to my obvious question. His inability to answer must have upset him, because the next thing I saw was tears in his eyes.
I climbed to a sitting position and looked at him worriedly.
“What is wrong?”
He refused to answer, instead giving the tears permission to fall. I stayed there, glued to the floor, staring at the only family member I have in the entire world.
“Okay, okay,” I said, trying to pacify him. “Merry Christmas.”
He turned to me and smiled. I smiled back in return.
“Today will be different," he said. “It is Christmas.”
We had spent the last ten Christmases together, and it had never been different, so I wondered what he thought was going to be different about the day. It wasn’t until later, when his body was laid down into the cold ground, that I realized just how different that Christmas was.
Finally, he was free. He got a gift.
“Merry Christmas,” I whispered, trying in vain to hold back the tears.
(The Holy Family is Homeless)
Maybe I've never gone. Or maybe I've never come back. Going home for the holidays is a strange foreign idiom in my mind not quite tied to somewhere as a specific point on the map. Holiday is like a person, growing, moving, a song in the heart. A feeling to return to. It's that moment of expectancy-- of something about to happen-- that passes. The hall of the soul still heaving, counting the steps fading and advancing into next year, because whatever it was--that Hallowed day--left something.
Left something, that's a strange expression. One to come back to--like an empty nest.
It adequately conveys my understanding of Home for Christmas.
Where do birds rest, when they are not roosting? we may believe that the elaborate straw lair is the feathered friend's home, but no. Nesting, is expressly for the Spring, not as shelter from the cold, but solely for laying eggs and raising the young. At any other time, birds take cover wherever Providence provides.
Much like the saying regarding food, they neither reap nor sow--nor build nor tow-- and yet they are provided for.
Christmas comes to them in the shelf ledge set by a loosened brick in the top corner of the underpass, sheltered from the wind; or in the rotted hollow of the old hickory tree in Geralds' Used Car Lot, or in a dented impression where a rock had been displaced. To huddle and await the next. Earth is their home, wherever they go.
Like for every holy family. There in the dead center, whatever the weather, alone, yet together. Even if dispersed. The Holidays come over-- when they do-- at Home in the heart. Meeting us all where we are, in the given moment. Unjudged, unless judged by us, as being in or out. Like the searing kiss of a snowflake, or of a water drop, running down the skin. Both hot and cold. In fleeting memory.
In memory like on that long journey-- one might say, of coming or going, to where we each came from-- our own Xmas story. As being temporary nests to the Spirit.
McKenzie: Home for Christmas (Part I)
14th August, 2012
"Chrissy, are you sure you'll be alright?" Christine kept searching for a reconciliation in her brother's eyes, but he was reluctant to give in. His eyes wandered from her leather boots to the cracks in the pavement to the fallen dried leaves, but never towards his sister. Her hands remained mid-air, hesitant yet yearning to comfort her younger brother. But before she could, he walked away in a swift turn, never once looking back. She could still remember how he turned around a million times to bid his countless cute farewells on his way to school, but he had gone so far from that little boy.
Little did she know that a ruthless mercenary would target him later that day, and she would only find his rotten corpse a few weeks later.
26th December, 2013
"Mom, you can't stay here all day." David McKenzie stood in the doorway of his childhood home, apron around his shoulders, wet from all the dishes he had washed and put away. Dementia had taken its due course with her, often leaving her stranded in the middle of the hallway, or in the creepy vacancy of the store room. He gently placed his hands beside her shoulders, leading her inside from the windy porch before she caught another bad fever.
Life was peaceful. It was not something David was particularly used to. And if someone had told him a year before that his life would be serene and mundane and boring someday, he would have had a hard time believing them. He didn't even believe Edward when he said so. But there he was, cooking and cleaning and maintaining his childhood home beside his mother. The only red that splattered on his hands anymore was not that of blood, but of the stingy manure that he used in the backyard. It made him realize that it was perhaps always possible. That perhaps if he did what he finally did many years ago, life would have turned out a lot more different. Perhaps Edward would still have been--
David relaxed his stocky frame in his mother's old armchair, which he had replaced from the porch to his study. Edward and he used to fight over those chairs when they were younger. The father's armchair being the taller one, and the mother's being the shorter. Edward always won, except for a few times when they both resorted to violence, and David came out on top. But the joy was forever destined to be short-lived, as their mom would soon inquire how the fight broke out, ultimately leaving him in their mother's chair, and Edward smirking in their father's. David tilted his head, only to see the tall armchair lie by his side, vacant.
"David," His mother's faltering voice barely creeped out of her bedroom, making its way into his study. He had missed her calling his name. But then again, it was hard on her to expect to have remembered someone who she sparingly saw in the last couple of decades. Regrets. With an elongated stretch, carefully cracking all his bones and muscles in place, David slowly started on his trudge to his mother.
Gunshot. The glass cupboard which sheltered and curated their family memories lost her first line of defense, although it missed David by a feet. Amateur, David thought to himself as he ducked and rolled over to the ill-stacked space behind the couch. With no weapons to protect himself and caught in the haze of an unpreparedness for a shootout, David struggled to pull himself together. Mom. He had to be fast.
The gunshot must have been from the open windows of the dining, from the windows behind the couch. From the outside. Amateur. But what concerned David was something else. No one except David, Edward and Stern knew about his childhood home, and two of them were not alive. One killed the other, and he killed the one. His heart was no longer throbbing, having recognized the poor aim of the intruder, but his mind was at unease, not knowing how someone could have tracked him here in all these years. He had to know.
No more gunshots. Solo. Inexperienced. Probably someone who practiced in rifles. Reload time. David captured a terracotta vase from the unorganized mess of things he had stuffed behind the couch. Tossing it to the right end of the room, he quickly moved from behind the couch to the wall adjacent to the window through the right. Another gunshot. It missed the vase, instead ripping a hole in the nearby cushioned chair. David could then see the end of the rifle protruding inches away from where he was through the window, and in a swift move, he flipped the weapon over into the room, but the heavy force on the act was much superior to the grip of the holder, launching the rifle to the middle of the room, too far from both of them. Weak.
David pushed the windows close with all his might, shattering its glass casing everywhere in an attempt to surprise the unwelcome guest. Calculating how much time it would give him enough time to pounce upon the intruder, he slipped to the space right below the windows, and by balancing himself over the wooden borders, he toppled himself outside. Gaining balance as fast as he could, David stood before his guest, only to notice a twenty-something girl with a bleeding cut on her face from the shattered window, yet to recover from the ground. But in her eyes spewed a rage, a fire, that David knew would be hard to put down.
With a scream of anguish, the girl hoisted herself and sped at him, uncovering a knife from her fully-armed vest. David locked her arms in an instant against the window, giving her another deeper cut near the wrist. The knife fell off her palms with the sharp pain, but her clenched jaws were almost trembling with anger, which made David take a step back, "How do you know where I live?"
Struggling to set herself free from the windows, her nails giving a sharp cut to David's chin, she declined to answer his question. Realizing that his attempts would take him nowhere, David pulled the girl against the bars of the window in a whim, nearly knocking her out for the moment.
The Connolly Happy Merry Holiday Video Message!
Hey, guys, it's me, Peggy...surprise! No holiday letter this year; thought we'd move into the new decade with a festive video message. Happy holidays! Here I am, ugly sweater and all, saying the merriest of merries from all the rest of the gang. You can see some of them in the background. Over there, there's Chet, our eldest with his lovely bride of 14 years, Eloise, talking to next door neighbors Arthur and Sally Milburn about their crab-grass problem. Chet gravely advises heavy pesticide, no damn eco friendly here. Well, each to their own, right? And there's his seven-year-old niece Julie playing Heart and Soul over and over on the piano. Heck, seven out of eight notes correct is a huge improvement! You see my guy, Ted, leaning on the mantle, talking to two generations of Connolly, the twins and the grandparents. It makes me want to weep it is so sweet. And look, there's baby June chewing on an ornament. The others are in the kitchen getting the feast ready. I'm sure they'll be trailing in to say hello...I hope.
Oh, and you might have noticed the Kalashnikov that's been pointed at my head this whole time. From the looks of it by this novice, it appears to be on a hair trigger. Yes...well, we...the family and I...have some unexpected guests this year.
When I answered the door an hour ago, I assumed it was the Reynolds ready to thrill us with their annual neighborhood caroling. It wasn't. Three gentlemen and a very sweet young lady were at the door, um...requesting to visit. And here they are! To my right is Ivan. Welcome, Ivan, and how are you this merry day...yes...uh huh...well, I suppose all those foreign-sounding words mean he's fine, just fine. Here at my left is Marina. Love your hair; where do you get it done?...I see...sure...I'm guessing she's referring to her country's version of SuperCuts; that's where my book club ladies and I always go. Lovely, just lovely, Marina. Across from me; you can't see him, of course, is Mikhail, our wonderful cameraman. And standing there with Kalashnikov in hand is Randy; can't forget about you, you little dickens! Our little ex-pat, right Rand? Ow, the butt of that rifle is pretty solid, Randy.
The burrowing of the rifle's muzzle deeper into my temple reminds me that they wanted me to read a list of their demands. A manifesto, they call it, right, Marina? Okey-dokey, here we go. 'We picked average American capitalist family to' I'm sure he means anaverage American capitalisticfamily. So hard to get every word correct when translati...yes, yes, the manifesto, here we go. 'We take family hostage until demands met. Demands are...One', I just thought, I hope their will be enough holiday goose for everyone. With four extra mouths to feed, maybe...right, the demands...'One', I'll start there again, 'One, capitalist illegal regime pays us 12 billions of dollars or we erase family', my that is a lot of money, isn't it, Ivan. Oh my, Ivan's shaking his head and walking into the dining room. Those delicious aromas have to be getting to him by now...yes, continue...'Two, complete surrender of army, navy, and guilty commander chief to us and country.' Hey, anybody with nut allergies; we've got some almonds in the stuffing and that can be deadly. You know, once my mother ate some almonds and...yes, ouch, you're right. 'Four', they didn't get that right, did they? 'Four, all citizens must were underwear on outside so to show traitors to cause.' Well, that just seems silly. There goes Randy to the dining room. Perhaps for some eggnog before dinner? Watch out, Randy, it packs a punch!
Ohhhh, I wish you could see our youngest, Jimmy, and how he's grown. But I see he's in the other room with Ivan learning how to use a shiv...a shiv, that's what it's called, honey? Yes, Ted said, yes it is. Jimmy's such a precocious soul.
Look, Randy's trying a deviled egg, and with a thumbs up, too. Ivan, don't get mad at Randy for starting in before everything's ready. That's what the holidays are for. Just jump in when you're ready, Ivan.
Well, that's about it, folks. Looks like you might be seeing clips of us on CNN and FOX before you get this. Guess we're stars now! Get in line for those autographs, kids. Wait...what's that noise? Ivan and Randy again? They are getting loud, aren't they. Oh, Ivan, don't you think you're holding little Jimmy's neck a bit tight? You know, I don't think they're discussing the menu at all. Boys. Manners. I swear they're swearing in two languages now. My Lord...Randy, I don't think that's even physically possible! Oh, there goes Jimmy; good boy, hide under the table.
No...Please...Everyone, let's move into the living r...Randy, stop...Marina, now is not the time...Ivan...screaming...Ivan...Randy, put the gun.............AAAUUUGGGGGHHHH!!!!! Oh my goodness, blood...and Ivan...everywhere. Darn the luck, the goose is all red!. And is that Ivan's brain matter in the stuffing? It was supposed to be vegetarian!! Jimmy, please put the shiv away; we've got enough to handle right now. Now, Randy...settle down...don't.......
ALLRIGHT! ENOUGH OF THIS BULLS...excuse me, nonsense. This is a good Christian home, and we will behave in a good Christian manner; well, except for godless heathens like Uncle Terence. Anyway, Mikhail, camera on me, now! Make it a wide shot to include the whole table and chairs. Marina sit, start passing plates around. Randy, use those napkins to dab the goose. Yes, you can put your gun under your chair. Mikhail, put the camera on the counter pointed toward us and sit. Then start popping the bubbly while Chet carves the bird. Ted, gimme a kiss and here we go.
Hey, gang...well we made it. Another holiday filled with love...and...smiles...and..magic and...blood...of course, blood in the sense of family...and love and smiles and...oh, I feel like the Ouroboros worm right now. Well, time to chow down. Hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season and an amazing 2024. And I hope all of us here will be able celebrate the New Year with you. Bye-bye!
I Came Upon A Midnight Beer
Tonight, Adrianna craves a shotgun in the form of flesh rubbed against her backside and tickling her fevered temple with its red-hot static shock impulse. She bares herself for the near-death fix of a dangerous partner and vacates her empty flat to prowl the streets like an alley cat with a Deathwish. Whenever her friends see this long away look in Adrianna’s eye, they usually try to subdue her, and offer her a drink. Tell her to spend the night at home and together they consume everything in the freezer besides the ice cube tray, but Bethany and Sumera are gone with their boy toys in the Alps at the moment for the holidays. There's no one to restrain the insatiable yearning urges that tickle Adrianna’s puckering gooseflesh; guiding her into her strapless ensemble and unzipped goose feathered coat as she slams the door of her Volvo and heads out for the local watering hole on December Twenty Third the eve before Christmas Eve.
There's something ultimately arousing about the eve of Eve and Christmas. Especially at the Cold Pool Table. Known sometimes as the Pool, sometimes as the Table, and sometimes as the Inn, depending on what a person's looking for. She picks him out in a single glimpse before the saloon doors shudder. He's the one with the long Billard pole, with serpentine arm, sinewed over the table on pause. Cooly concentrating in everyone else's stare of anticipation of a call, and what will follow. Christopher, Krystopher, or is it Krys? Christ, in her mind it's going to be Criss. And she's already swaying her favorite leopard print path over, and stopping in his shadow, before the viridian lantern, to eye him in that crisp white T hugging every tensed shoulder muscle. He's got a great back. Broad shoulders and nice tight ass beneath those frayed everyday jeans. He isn't a young buck. The air of confidence is in the way he's commandeering his audience, as he sets his shot glass back and aims. Clack, clack, clack, woosh. In the pocket. Adrianna applauds with a private twang of satisfaction. She's planning a call of her own, two in one pocket. And herself in front of the eight ball to finish that evening off. Paid in full. Adrianna runs a parched tongue over her glossed lips. He's drinking something nice. Not an ordinary beer, and she reaches for the tumbler to have whiff. Mmmh...
Criss plunges like a freight train through the bedroom of her stimulated mind as his fierce alley cat orbs settle on her. Adrianna's half-closed lids purr and call back to the manliness barely snug in his dirty blue Levis. She drinks his pale bluish eyes in, imagining the same color in a lit swimming pool in a Las Vegas Hotel at midnight. His cowhand cockiness stares back at her; challenging her to respond with an act of sensuality. Her panties darken as she anticipates his bulging bull pummeling into her lasso in waves of sticky contracting ecstasy. She pulls a cigarette from the leather vest that works as a scanty Christmas wreath around his bush of curly black chest hair matted in sweat that she now imagines toying with in her Queen bed against a striking view of the Seattle skyline. Adrianna asks Criss for a light. He grabs the cigarette back and sticks the ciggie in the rightful recess of his sneering puss. A blonde twenty something bespeckled waif in a black turtle-neck slides out from the shadows of the bar behind Adrianna and wraps his lithe figure around the solid tree trunk of Criss. The blonde's hand is expertly woven around the bulge in Criss's greased pants, sealing off any hope of Adrianna finding pleasure in their sea of now obvious differences.
Fuck. Well, she's not one for men's suits but then again Marlene Dietrich and Madonna looked good, so maybe... she's starting to think ok three? ...but there's just no room here at the Inn. Obviously. She sucks off his Manhattan, with a quirky wink of her false eyelashes and he chuckles to the fondling of his backhanded partner with no remorse for her hazed outreach. Whatever. So much for a quickie. Adrianna turns her back to the light, glowing like a Tanenbaum, and oh what do we have here slouched at the table? Is this human heap the latent satyr that she's so on the hunt for tonight?
"Hi there, mind if I...?" she says swinging her plump thighs into the booth before he can study the shadow of her crotch. She can smell her own heater and figures she should cool off with an iced beverage, fast. The server is being a little bitch and ignoring her blatant panting over every pent up serving of testosterone.
"Hey, Bobbie... can a girl get a Tequila?" That's what it said on the sadly hanging name tag, of the black aproned, sexless server uniform.
"Yeah, extra worm is what we got. Hang a min, you're four tables behind." And they disappeared into the bar, neither male nor female.
How her legs have a mind of their own, just look at the left and the right go. Adrianna is already tickling her toes over her new acquaintance across the under-table and he hasn't even looked up. Her high heels perched like homeless kittens on the bar floor where she's recently wriggled free of them. Is he shit faced drunk? What luck, she'll be exercising her imagination over a near necro, and she'll be the only one waking up tomorrow. Can she even call it consensual, never mind sensual. Oh, but she can, Adrianna is determinedly horny and looking for a share time.
"What are you having?" she says running her red fingernails over the dark coarse hairs of his arm, with a definite electric charge. She's on fire, with lightning. He lifts his chin. Eyes shot blank. His whole body starts a spasmodic shaking she's never seen before. Instead of turning off, she's turned on totally, now, uncontrollably. She slides over to his side and up and over his crotch to lap up that dry hump, skirt and shirt hitched up. Maybe it's epileptic but she's hitched a ride, and suddenly she can't get enough, she's so excited, and her mouth is gliding over his, and his tongue is finding hers like instant relief in a slot machine coming up all cherries. His previously limp hands, she's placed on her butt cheeks, are now grabbing her hips with the intensity she was begging for and she's soaked and ready for more of his untamed episode.
"What do I call you, Mr?"
" My name's Cr...Cr...Crachett. Wh..who...who the hell are you lady? "
"I'm your wet nurse, and you're my candy cane, Mr. Shake 'n' Bake. Crachett, gawd that's so Christmassy. How bout's you and I shake a tail feather out of this saphole and get more comfortable?"
He shook and within seconds they are tumbling out into the parking lot arm and arm and slip sliding through the snow trying to track down Adrianna's ride. Slipping out of her arm like a fish, Cratchett slams down onto his back into a pile of dirty snow and before Adrianna can think snow angels he starts spazzing out again threatening to bite off his tongue. A long-coated figure from under a streetlight darts out to assist Crachett as Adrianna stares down in a tilted headed trance.
The new hero doesn't seem all that promising, paying her netted garters and cleavage no mind. Only one way to tell what's lurking in the big cover, her imagination is wildly overactive. Soon enough she's lifting the tail of the overcoat and fondling a burgeoning wallet projecting from his backside. He's practically doing mouth to mouth on Crachett meanwhile.
"Well now Sugar daddy, shouldn't we call an ambulance?" leaning up against him full body, her blood pulsing like an abandoned dial tone.
"He's gone into shock. I pressed my emergency transmitter. I'm EMT. The vehicle will be here in 43 seconds." He stands, full height, oversized gloves now firmly holding her waist.
"WOW." Adrianna bites her lovely pout exquisitely. "Maybe I should go down, Doctor?" Her hands are already smoothing the lapels on his jacket and testing the temperature around his neck, toying with a button. She can't see his face in the dark parking lot. She doesn't see it coming.
He lands her one, square in the jaw hinge, and she's down for the count. Out, but nothing broken. He shakes out his fisted fingers, then swings her over his shoulder, caveman style. Even passed out her puss poses for the cameras, radiant like for a Crest commercial or for Lancome L'eau de Toilette. The streetlamp gives her complexion a greenish cast and a mischievous twinkle in the outlined kitty eyes.
The ambulance scoops Crachett like a street sweep eats yesterday's refuse, and the EMT opens his pickup truck passenger side door to lay Adrianna down across the bench seat.
She don't know it yet, but she's had a day turned to evening to work off her drunk. Adrianna's woken in a modest apartment in Bellevue. She's guessing it's EMT boy who she can only vaguely remember except for his boyish good looks and freckle-faced charm. She smells coffee and bacon sizzle in the kitchen as she arises from her spot on the green plaid couch that was obviously surfed from a lonely roadside. She notices her pants are gone and she's wearing someone else's white panties that seem a bit snug and an oversized light red tee-shirt that reminds her of Santa Claus. Her nipples are poking out like panic buttons as she flounces into the kitchen with a bit of a hot-head; the tee-shirt only half covering her panties where one of her loose lips has slipped out as she searches for her abductor. He turns and stares back at her innocently with his 'Kiss the Cook' apron on; the Christmas lights decorating the baby tree in the middle of the kitchen bar island from where he's making cookies to go with her eggs, bacon and coffee waiting on a green glass plate.
"What happened to my pants and panties? If I've been bopped I at least want to remember it."
"You pissed yourself straight through the black thongs you were wearing. My Mom used to live with me... she sort of looks like your size. So, I took the liberty to put something on you. Don't worry, I didn't peek. At least not for too long."
Adrianna smiles and this time it's not forced. It's a beautiful compliment to her grey and green eyes that look like sea foam and kelp and stones that line the ocean floor. EMT guy is looking her over now for the first time. His handle is apparently 'Jason', according to the name on his slumped over work jacket that's hanging bunched on a chair at the edge of the kitchen bar. He takes her awed look at the food on the table as the right chance, walks over to her in a half trot. She's standing there under the archway with the mistletoe hanging down, and he plants a soft peck on her pretty lips instantly turning her cheeks red with the flush of desire. He notices a red flourish sprouting up her neck as well from the confines of the tee rising up as her protruding nips look rock hard as ever, showcasing the threadbare see through design of the tee. She can see in Jason's eyes that he contemplates fondling one of them but then thinks the better of it.
"Want any breakfast? I know it's nighttime, but I only really know how to make cereal, breakfast and cookies. The cookies are for Santa."
"Yes it's Christmas Eve! I was hoping you'd celebrate with me because you look very merry like a Christmas Elf; especially now that you're not out in the dirt and the snow trying to hump some poor Rudolph."
I grin impishly up at my brothers, who wear the same half-smirk like a birth mark similar to the ones we all share on our neck. I have that smirk too of course, and bite at my cheek to satiate it. It feels too.. robotic how similar I've noticed we can be. Maybe it is from years of denying my own family, but it seems so painfully obvious just alike we are. I let myself smile at the brief thought, forcing my eyes to the two men on the vintage seats my mother insisted we buy.
"Matching sweaters?" Aaron asks with a chuckle, holding his up to his chest. I chose the green pleating to match his eyes. Tom beside him holds it at arms width like it's a drooling child.
"Do we have to... wear these?" He asks skeptically. I roll my eyes, knowing he finds an appreciation in the fabric from how he runs his thumbs over the lapels.
"Hell yeah we do. If you don't, you'll make grandma sad."
Tom perks up, ever the obedient first born. "She got us these?"
"No. But she'll think it's cute as peaches if we all wear them!" I grin mockingly back.
"Thanks, Rose." Aaron cuts in genially, shrugging it on happily over his plain black shirt.
I nod, glancing to my dog in a much smaller matching sweater to their own. My mom joins us on the turquoise couch, her coffee hot and reminding me of an airport from its quality. I don't need to suppress a gag at how familiar it's become now, noting how she's still in her pyjamas but will switch to her own ugly sweater- purple, mine blue- within the hour. Its so familiar watching how she tucks her feet beneath her, my dog finding purchase on her thighs.
Unfamiliar is having my brothers home for Christmas.
They are spread across the country, and we text sometimes but we very rarely see them in person. And it's special just having them, me and my mom all under one roof again. For once getting along among the rubble of a broken home. I imagine my father standing idle in an awful green robe, a camera in hand to capture the moment. But I do not linger.
We don't have traditions. We used to- the extended family would gather for dinner with my grandma in her basement suite and then head upstairs to join my aunt's family for gifts and games. But my grandma is too old to cook despite how much she tries, and my aunt's kids don't much care for us nowadays, off in their own worlds.
But I do notice the small things- how Tom seldom wears the pocket watch I got him last Christmas in every photo of him all spiffied up in his law suit.
How when touring Aaron's apartment for the first time, he had a painting from when I was eighteen proudly hung on the wall.
And I know they'll treasure these stupid sweaters, too. They'll sit on top of their folded clothes, as though it's an everyday item, never shoved to the back. They will open their closets and glimpse it and remember how much their little sister loves them. That is a tradition I shall uphold- their remembrance of my care and adoration.
Tom returns a moment later clad in his brown pattern in time for breakfast, and I don't say anything. I know my brothers like I know myself, and poking the bear with the proverbial ugly Christmas sweater gift would embarrass him. I lean familiarly into my dog that has scooted himself between my lower back and the chair backing, and watch as my brothers tuck into their food my mother has made: pancakes, veggie bacon and eggs- tradition, only when we are all together- and cheers my Mimosa to theirs, the filtering of classics filling our conversation about what's new in their exciting lives. I do not cut in about myself, rather quipping insults a sister is to do, and absorb my mothers happiness at the tableau to sustain me another year.
I do not have traditions in the sense of those family dinners flushed with laughter, and shredding of reflective paper we would shoot at each other's heads in a game borne of family anymore. We do not make caves out of snow mounds my brothers would cozy up with me inside and tell me stories, either. I do not come, nor do I go. I am stagnantly here- the sibling left behind as everyone grows and disperses. But I have familiarity. And that is family. That is Christmas.
The holiday season
Gemma looked down and noticed her left knee was jigging up and down, as she sat on the window seat of the train. For a moment, she stared at it, that unconscious nervous tick and then she forced her knee to be still. She was headed north, to spend Christmas with the family.
This time of the year, she was usually overseas, somewhere tropical, with a beach, beautiful sunsets and a population who were indifferent to the heavily commercialised holiday on the 25th of December. Somewhere else. Anywhere else. This year, her mother had called her and with a catch in her throat, asked her to attend.
For months she had pushed the thought to the back of her mind, but slowly, the date had drawn closer, until it had rudely arrived.
Reluctantly, with every cell in her body resisting, she had packed a small bag of clothes, booked a train ticket, locked up her apartment and headed to the station.
Now it was inevitable. It loomed in the near future - a dark nebulous cloud that threatened to upset Gemma's carefully calibrated life.
For her, Christmas had never been the happiest time of the year. For so many years, it had been the busiest time of the year on the farm, when restaurants put in large orders for produce and workers were scarce, so the family all helped out. A time of high stress and short tempers. Her mother had always tried to make an effort, to make the day special. She spent hours in the kitchen, sweat beaded on her brow as she roasted various meats and vegetables, made salads, Christmas puddings and stollens. Every year, the day had the potential to be one of joy and family.
And yet every year, without fail, it would turn into something else.
Staring out the window as the sun-scorched countryside raced by in a straw-coloured blur, Gemma felt her throat constrict as she reflected on the experiences of past Christmases. Of sitting down at a lunch table which was groaning under the weight of all the food.
Of her father always being late. The frustration on her mother's face that she tried desperately to mask from her children. Her father's raised voice. Always finding fault with something.
The inevitable argument.
The screaming voices.
Her father's faces twisted and ugly.
The taste of food turning to ash in her mouth.
The tear stained faces of her younger brothers.
The plates of food smashing on the floor as the table was tipped over.
The sour smell of garbage overpowering the appetising smell of food - after her father poured out the contents of the bin.
The shock and quiet of the aftermath.
The desire to be small and invisible, so as to escape his notice and wrath.
It had happened with such depressing predictability throughout her childhood that despite having managed to skip the past ten Christmases, Gemma felt the familiar fear creeping back in, as the train sped north and the safety afforded by distance melted away.
Perhaps it would be different this year. Her parents had long since separated and divorced. And this year, for the first time, her father was not invited.
Arriving at her mother's house later that evening, Gemma forced a smile, as she eyed the small Christmas tree in the corner and the string of Christmas cards hung up above the mantle place. Out of habit, she went to the fridge, pulling open the door with just a vague thought of eating something. It was full of cheeses, summer fruits, a trifle, custard and all the delicious foods she and her brothers liked. Her mother had gone all out. Maybe because she knew that no-one would shout at her later, about the cherries being too expensive or the fish being the wrong type.
Or maybe because she refused to let Christmas be defined by him.
Gemma grabbed a cherry and popped it in her mouth then closed the fridge. Her heart still felt heavy and her throat tight, but she turned to her mother and pulled her into a fierce hug.
'Thank you,' she whispered. 'Thank you for trying.'
Make Yourself at Home
Make yourself at home
Make yourself at home.
The membrane is so very thin,
our veil between rooms far
too sheer for the privacy
that domicile suggests...
make your self at home!
Upon the transparent glass
of the most ordinary days,
the gaps on the calendar
in which we pray
I say to our selves,
for tomorrow, for yesterday
as in an igloo
for our humanity,
that most unlikely shelter
where warmth and cold
have come together
Make your Self at Home
...for the Holidays.
Home for Christmas challenge @Last
Philippines is a tropical country,
The feel of freezing to death doesn’t mean it snows.
When I was on a trip to Grandma
I couldn’t feel my fingers,
Every breeze of the wind shakes up my spine,
And every words comes out stuttered,
All because it was cold.
Freshly cooked Lugaw and beef Bulalos can’t keep me warm for long;
These jackets I have could only help the least.
Overall, it wasn’t an easy trip.
But when I got there,
“Eto na pala pinaka-hihintay kong apo!”
(“My long-awaited grandchild is finally here!”)
heck did it made me warm up from inside.
Come Sit Down, While I wonder the difference of coming and going
By my count, when I recount this memory and write so with so much joy, my cousin will be coming home to us, to his household family of sisters, a frazzled mother of eight and Mejicano rancher of a father, coming home to the traditional Christmas mass. Coming home to us after a singular semester of A&M. I doubt I've thought of him more than I have these last few months. I don't know why. It's hardly begun and I will love when he makes friends in college, holds down a job. I hope he achieves all his dreams of money and a fancy hospital to administrate with. God help him, my prayers-- if I prayed-- be with him. I just hope he grows out of using an Asian to complete his homework.
Of course we write to each other still, we are kids who spent our teenage years perusing social media pages or fan articles from our cell phones. Who spoke of the money on our credit cards. Haggled hours and the search bar on a Netflix account over pizza and Coke. Sometimes Takis. Guess who had which on theirs. Who used anime uploads from an avatar creator for their home screen?
I imagine we'll do plenty together. On the days my parents permit the drive up to the house. One I used to see on a weekly basis. Though it does get easier to wait when I have friends on my contacts list. I suppose coming back is coming to what and where you began from. Each and every Christmas we go back to being kids excited to tear open presents and waiting for the Mass we don't wholly understand to be over. Though we don't look it so explicitly anymore. And the song is very sweet of fishes and a beautiful maiden with a silver brush and dry hands from using a soap bar. "Picadas."
But in a few years, wherever he'll set up shop: "Hospital Manager/Administration," he'll be going. Going from his work, perhaps blustery and snowy or not much different to his native Texas, right back to this ambiguous ambient sunny winter of biting air and radiant gold from nine to five. Hah! Perfect light for the work shift. Before they let off all the paralegals and retailers to be home with their families to indulge their bellies a Christmas dinner and indulge the whims of little siblings or nephews.
In a few years, family members, perhaps even myself sitting in my parents' living room will tell coworkers who go drink the New Year away over saucy wings: I'm going home for Christmas. Back to where they began after being so far away.
My sister would say the same too. She has a whole other life downtown in a legal firm. Nice coworkers, I mean, not everyone would be worth the effort of pumpkin cheesecake squares homemade and frozen for a week and wrapped in foil for the Halloween party. At the end of her shift on Friday she'll be going home for Christmas.
She doesn't know though, that she may come home in time to catch the smell of her Christmas present. She used to bake for me, youngest of the family and admittedly still somewhat vague, I repay that favor in kind with chewy sugar cookies. Perfectly Christmas and perfectly sweet able to made and tailored to her taste as she desires.
My brother too, who works at WalMart and does so well, works his tall, still giant and larger than is logical figure to the bone. He does heavy labor, he comes home and lifts everyday, so I suppose it makes sense that he spends the holiday in his own space, in clothes that let him breathe. Absent of the pressure of pressed, pristine pictures or insistence from our parents who may not get the concept so well of a social battery.
I don't know which I envy nor which I desire.
Going home or coming home.
I suppose when it comes to coming implies a person was lost in the first place or for what reason someone could be unwelcome.
I don't understand the concept. Then again I'm always here. I'm always asleep or in the kitchen, or on my phone with the TV. I'm not exactly the most active, I don't exactly have a motive to leave or to come. Since I have no job and I come home anyway from everyday at school. Maybe one day I'll be a bit annoying with my constant buzzing and eeking squeals about the holiday season and gold lights and shiny wrapped gifts.
But I also have nephews. From the time I was ten or eight, I was an Aunt to beautiful gurgling little bundles of life. Skin red and a bit of a wrinkly ham with alien faces. I'd still cuddle it and coo at how unbearably, painfully adorable it is. If the face of our overlords were plump and round, with no teeth and pupils almost too big for almond eyes I would kneel.
I may be going on a tangent.
In ten years, those kids will be grown. So many are and they are coming quite finely to themselves. Still as happy and active, this way and that across the house. Those who know me may tangle themselves to my legs.
In ten years I hope they remember me. I love my Mom, I love my Dad, and my siblings. Just like my parents, I'm coming for Christmas at my siblings' place. I'd have to apologize, I'm sure my friends have nice and warm celebrations planned, but I'm going home for Christmas.
I know at least one, maybe two or three, will hear, "Tu tia viene para las vacaciones."
Your Aunt is coming this Christmas break.
And she brings gifts.