The Ten Days of Christmas
I’m fingering bath balls like Captain Queeg. Mom’d prefer the, the what, the Serenity, maybe? Or the Sandalwood Rejuvenation? Or better yet just go for the pre-wrapped basket with the goat’s milk soap and lavender sachet? Joshua Allen decks the halls.
2. Identically pinched expressions on the concourse. Everyone’s going back somewhere, some cramped arrangement of streets that knows their real story. It’s disconcerting, waiting for that flight, knowin that my carefully arranged persona will be knocked aside in a second, and having my bags searched beforehand doesn’t help.
3. The slang and intonations come back to me without a fight. I pretend the breath vapor is cigarette smoke, something I haven’t done in fifteen years.
4. ‘Little more nog than egg here.’ ¶ ‘Got that straight. Only way to handle the in-laws.’ ¶ ‘Those icicle lights can rot in hell.’ ¶ ‘Chicken wire in the shape of a reindeer, lit up like God’s own circus. That’s the way to do it, assuming you’re interested in doing it right.’ ¶ ‘Which I totally am.’
5. My stepmother is pouring some salad dressing and notices the expiration date is from the 1980s. She makes a joke and my grandmother withers in humiliation and my stepmother gets very quiet and then excuses herself from the table and locks the guestroom door and doesn’t come out until the next morning.
6. ‘The Christmas Song,’ David Benoit; ‘O Tannenbaum,’ The Vince Guaraldi Trio; ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,’ Ella Fitzgerald; ‘Frosti,’ Björk; ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas,’ Frank Sinatra; ‘Carol of the Bells’ b/w ‘Minstrels,’ George Winston; ‘Fac 21,’ Stars of the Lid.
7. There are kids everywhere. Babies with soft heads. Little tiny overalls crisp with dried food. They roll around on the floor, unsuccessfully trying to stifle their ADD. The advent calendar drives them insane. They pull on their silky hair in frustration. They clench pant legs and speak in vowels.
8. We have to go see the City & County building lit up in green and red, a never-ending loop of music coming from the manger but sounding like it’s being broadcast from outer space. Then the minivans wait in line to see The Most Decorated House in the City. Pop makes a u-turn when we’re asked to pay a dollar.
9. We sing drunken carols to the neighbors and they don’t open the door. I lift up my brother and he tears down their icicle lights and buries them in dented trash cans, already overfilled with spent cardboard tubes, animal bones, styrofoam peanuts.
10. After several well-reasoned rebuttals, we agree on a wake-up time. The kids suffer a heated, five-minute insomnia. I stay up and watch the folks look for batteries and add filler to the stockings (oranges, funny boxer shorts), dismayed that I’m now allowed to participate. They collapse and I eat the cookies left by the fireplace and the house is absolutely silent, lit only by the tree. It is the moment on which all of winter rests and this year its weight is reassuring.