Monday, January 02, 2006

Embers

Lucy and her mother were working the kitchen.

Collie and his sister sat on the floor near the fire, playing a miniature table-top hockey game.

It was a gift of Santa, courtesy of Dad, courtesy of Bridget.

Sunset, late Christmas afternoon.

Aaron interrupted the game to ask a question of my middle child.

“Collie, when this game is finished, can you please join me in the dining room?”

“Sure, Uncle Aaron,” Collie said, eyes on the puck.

“Me too?” Lillie asked.

“Sure, Lillie, you too.”

Collie took advantage of the distraction to score.

“Hey, no fair!” Lillie said. “Do over!”

Alas, there are no do overs in air hockey. Lillie still scored well, losing by only three points.

The children joined their uncle in the dining room.

“Okay, thanks kids.” Aaron stood with Julia, scooting a menorah to the table’s edge. “You know what this is, right?”

“It’s a menorah, for Hanukah,” Collie said, suppressing a “duh.”

“Like Christmas,” Lillie added.

“That’s right, but it’s not for Christmas, it’s for Hanukah.”

“Which just happens to start on Christmas this year,” Julia added.

“Right,” Aaron said. “Okay, so, Collie, I want you to help me to light a candle for the menorah.”

“Okay,” he giggled.

“Can I help too?” Lillie asked.

“You can help to light the dinner candles. This will be Collie’s job.” Aaron handed Collie a candle.

Collie giggled.

“Can I hold a candle?” Lillie asked.

“Sure, hold this candle, but don’t light it, okay?” He gave Lillie a candle. She held it and smiled.

“Okay, let me see here,” Aaron said, holding the candle box near the light of a blinking reindeer. He read the words on the back of the box.

“Okay, here we go:

Baruch Atah, Adonai
Eloheinu Melech ha-Olam
Asher Kidshanu be Mitzvotav . . .


“Wait, what’s this . . . oh, okay . . .

Ve-tzivanu Lehadlik Ner
shel Chanukah
Amen.


“Amen,” Julia echoed.

“Okay,” Aaron lowered the box to the table. “Now Collie, you light the candle, using the flame of the other candle.”

“Like this?” Collie moved his hand haltingly toward the flame.

“Yes, but let me help.” Aaron took Collie’s wrist in his large fingers, and guided it to the flame. Collie giggled nervously as his uncle moved his hand to put the candle in place on the menorah.

“Nice work, Collie,” Julia smiled.

“Can we blow them out now?” Lillie asked, huffing.

“No, we don’t blow out Hanukah candles, “ Julia said. “You let them burn down. You want to help me light candles for dinner?”

“Yes!”

Julia took her niece to retrieve tapers. I was called to the kitchen.

“Ah, Jefferson,” Bucky said. “We need you to carve the birds. Can you get this onto a carving board and into dining room?

The birds rested on the counter.

“No problem.”

Lucy looked up at me.

I wondered if there was a thaw.

That afternoon, from nowhere, she had asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee. When I said that would be nice, she made it for me—even remembering that now, unlike when we were married, I take it with sugar.

Given her hostility, that cup of coffee was like a gift of the Magi.

I savored it.

The birds were transferred to the board and taken to the dining room to be carved.

Well, “carved” may not be the right word. “Sliced” might be better.

We were having a turducken.

For the uninitiated: a turducken is gerrymandered from three fowl—a turkey, a duck and a chicken.

All are boned and split open to lay flat.

The duck is stuffed and closed, then placed inside the chicken. It is covered with stuffing, and the chicken is closed.

The “ducken” is cover in stuffing and placed inside the turkey. The turkey is stitched closed, et voila! you have defied nature.

Roast for eight hours, basting often.

This was our third attempt with a holiday turducken.

The first year, Bucky asked a local butcher to bone the poultry. She tried to explain a turducken to him, but he simply did not get the concept.

He gave her a boned duck, a chicken that had been boned and skinned into parts (at a cost of about twenty dollars), and a turkey with only the chest cavity removed.

That year, I boned the turkey, stitched the chicken, and created my first turducken.

The next time, we ordered one from Ottomanelli’s, ready to go into the oven. I thought it was tasty, but it proved unpopular due to a spicy sausage stuffing.

This year, we tried the bird created by Lobel’s, the premiere East Side butcher. Ninety nine bucks uncooked, but what the hey—it’s a tradition.

Family tradition also held that I carve the bird. There are no bones, but I do as told: I sliced through the turducken’s layers.

Bernard opened a bottle of the good wine.

As Lucy and Bucky finished cooking, Richard and Paul brought out mashed sweet potatoes, creamed onions, green beans, cranberries and gravy.

Lucy joined me as I made plates for the kids.

The adults took plates and qued for the buffet.

The kids sat at their places—by tradition, no separate kids’ table—as Lucy put their plates before them.

“Here you go, Lillie,” she said. “No Collie, if you don’t like the beans, just don’t eat them.”

She noticed the menorah candles, burned to waxy pools.

She bent forward and blew, extinguishing the flame.

“Lucy!” Julia said.

“What?”

“You don’t blow out the menorah,” her sister admonished.

Lucy looked at me and bit her lip. “Oops! I didn’t know . . .”

“It’s not your fault, Lucy,” I said, punching Bernard in the arm. “It’s your father’s fault for failing to raise all his children in the faith.”

“Guilty as charged,” Bernard shrugged. “My fault.”

Dinner went well. The turducken was moist and flavorful, the side dishes complementing with savory and sweet, and the wine rich.

We laughed a great deal. Lucy caught my eye and smiled.

Her smiles are so rarely directed to me. She had nothing for me under the tree this year, but that smile was a nice surprise.

After dinner, I helped to clear the table as Richard and Paul ran water and loaded the dishwasher.

Afterwards we poured more wine and joined the family by the fire.

Everyone was relaxed and worn out.

The kids went to bed.

The peace pipe was passed.

In time, Richard and Paul took a ride to the hotel with Julia and Aaron.

Bernard and Bucky retired to the study to watch television on the futon that served as my bed.

I was left by the fire, alone, with Lucy.

“Would you like a bourbon?” I asked.

“Yes, please,” she said, adding a log to the fire.

“Be right back,” I said.

Now, this is a surprise, I thought, dropping ice cubes into two glasses. Was it possible we were going to . . . converse?

I put Lucy’s drink on the coffee table as she prodded the fire. I placed my drink nearby.

“Should I put on some music?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said, not looking up.

I flipped though the CDs. “Do you like Madeline Peyroux?”

Lucy shuddered. “No.”

“How about Sarah Vaughan? Or, let me see, Chet Baker?”

“Never mind, I’ve got it.” She stood and flipped on her iPod, which was docked to speakers on the mantle. It played Ryan Adams.

I sat and sipped my drink, looking at the fire.

The logs popped.

My mind tossed around possible conversation topics, throwing out anything that wasn’t neutral.

We were talking about music.

We listen to the same radio station. She sees a lot of concerts.

Safe bet.

I took a sip, and took the plunge.

“So, have you been to any good concerts lately?” I asked.

She shrugged.

I pressed on, to fill the silence.

“I’ve been to a few. Amos Lee was great, at Irving Plaza—very warm and intimate.”

She looked at the fire.

Ben Folds was great at Radio City. No special guests, like Joe Jackson when you and I saw him, but very enthusiastic, with a drummer and guitarist.”

She nodded, her eyes on the flames.

I took a sip of my bourbon.

“And Rufus Wainwright, at the Beacon . . .”

She turned to me. “I don’t like Rufus Wainwright.”

I nestled my glass in a palm. “I thought you liked him.”

“No, he’s boring. I mean, when he plays with a band, that’s okay, but alone, he’s boring.”

“Oh. Well, he had a band this time—and synchronized dancing, which was fun camp.”

“Sounds stupid.” She looked at the fire. “Why are you going to so many concerts, anyway?”

“No so many, really. Just a happy convergence of concerts I want to see, on nights I was available to see them.”

Nights she had the kids.

Nights Viviane had tickets.

Her question steered us to personal disclosure. I braced, but she declined to follow up.

She just stared at the fire, drinking her bourbon.

I took a sip.

Well, so much for music as a conversation topic.

I recalled a story I needed to relay to her.

“Hey, have you talked to Rachel lately?”

She faced me, her eyes tight.

“Why would I talk to her? She’s your daughter, Jefferson.”

This lashing out took me off guard. I stumbled in response.

“Well, yes, I know this, but of course, you have a relationship with her too. That hasn’t changed. I know you talk to her.”

“Whatever.” She looked at the fire.

Oh, I get it.

She wasn’t saying that she had no interest in talking with my daughter.

She was saying I shouldn’t come to her for news about my daughter, I should talk with Rachel myself, which I would do, if I weren’t such an asshole and fuck up.

Because that failing must be so, if I am the awful person Lucy tries to believe I am.

I took a sip.

“Actually, I asked because her living situation has changed. Have you heard this?”

“I heard she moved into her own place this summer.”

“Yes, that was the latest news. She had moved into a cabin, and her employers were also her landlord. It’s a nice cabin, the kids and I were there with my parents. It had a fireplace and . . .”

“Yes,” she sighed. “I know.”

I didn’t know what she knew, really, as Lucy has been so uncommunicative since summer. I guess Rachel or the kids told her about the cabin.

“Okay, so you know that she moved out. Well, now she’s moved back in with her family.”

“Oh no, what happened?”

“It’s kind of awful. There were a few empty cabins in this complex, and the landlords gave one to a nephew. I don’t know much about him, but I do know he was kicked out from his parents’ home and had nowhere else to go.”

Lucy sipped her bourbon.

“So one day, Rachel discovered that he had stolen some of her underwear, and was wearing it at his cabin.”

“What?”

“Yeah, weird, right? Now, mind you, I first heard this story from my mother, who is the world’s most unreliable narrator. I’m still getting details from Rachel.”

“You haven’t talked to Rachel?”

“Yes, of course, many times. But she has not yet been in a situation where she could talk openly about it.”

“If she would tell you at all. Why should she tell you?”

I took a sip.

“She’s very open with me.”

“Oh, right.”

“Well, I believe that she is.” Careful, Jefferson, I thought. Don’t let her goad you.

“Why would she be?”

“Because we love and respect each other and we value honesty. Do you want the rest of the story?”

She looked at the fire.

“So anyway, Rachel makes this discovery, and it makes her uncomfortable. And this guy had been trailing her to work and hanging out there—recall, Rachel works for his aunt and uncle. So she goes to her employers, who are also her landlords, and tells them about this.”

“She’s brave.”

“Yes, she is. But rather than support her, the employers say that they are in a bind with the nephew. They can’t kick him out, as he’s family and he has no other place to go. They tell Rachel that they aren’t sure they can protect her from him, so perhaps she’s better move back home.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Rachel had told them about him trailing her to work, so she said maybe she should quit too. The employers said she should if she needed to. So just like that, Rachel’s life changed. She had been employed and able to support herself away from home. Then she was suddenly back at home and unemployed.”

“But she is still in school?”

“Yes, and doing well. She enjoys it.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah, but the whole story is so sad. And it leaves me with questions that I suppose only Rachel can answer. Like, why were the employers so quick to support the nephew, who had a history of some kind of trouble, and not Rachel, whom they have known from childhood? And why did she move out so readily, when she had done nothing wrong?”

“You can’t possibly understand what she felt, Jefferson.”

“Well, yes, I think I can.”

She sat forward. “You can’t understand this, how scared she must have been. God, poor Rachel.”

“I think I can appreciate her anxiety about this. I don’t question that she was scared. She has told me as much.”

“No, you can not understand this,” Lucy said. Her voice rose as she jabbed two rigid fingers into her palm for emphasis. “You. Don’t. Get. It. She was scared. I know what that’s like. When I was her age, someone I thought was my friend locked me in a room and wouldn’t let me out. I thought he was my friend. And I was scared to death.”

I took a breath. “I recall that story, and I know it was scary for you. And I appreciate that Rachel was scared. I don’t question that.”

She sat back. “You can’t possibly understand this.”

I was baited. “I am a sentient human being and Rachel’s father. I think I understand her feelings. If you are suggesting that my gender precludes this . . .”

“Whatever.” Lucy stooped before the fire and poked logs, her back to me.

The conversation was over.

I took a sip.

I wasn’t going to let it rest. I steadied myself to remain calm.

I wanted to be metacognitive, to discuss the discussion we had just had.

I rehearsed the next line in my head and spoke in a measured voice.

“Lucy, just now I told you a story about Rachel. In your response, you made the story about me. I’m really not in the story. I told the story as I understand it, in a reportorial way, and raised questions about what I don’t understand, which were not interpretive. And yet you cast me as the villain of the story.”

She didn’t respond.

“There was no cause for you to lash out at me, and yet you did. I simply don’t understand your hostility. I’m not sure what effect you want it to have. Do you want me to get angry with you, or to engage in a fight? Because I don’t want that.”

Lucy gazed at the fire.

“You don’t understand.”

I looked at the back of her head.

“No, I don’t understand.”

She stood and turned off her iPod.

“I guess that’s the problem.”

“I'm in the dark so long as you don’t talk.”

She picked up her glass. “I’m going to bed.”

“Sounds like a wise idea. Good night.”

She walked upstairs. Her door shut with a quiet click.

I sat, watching the fire burn out.











6 comments:

Jaded said...

I celebrated Hanukkah with my friend. Judaism is an interesting faith. I'm interested in exploring it more. Things with Lucy are going to be difficult at first. Be strong and be calm. And hold onto your patience.

Josh Jasper said...

That sounds remarkably uncomfortale. I'm impresed you managed to keep your cool

Tom Paine said...

I also applaud your patience, as I would have been goaded from the get-go. But then, my wife and I have a long history of verbal quarrels, some of them extending over many hours.

It's sad when grown-ups can't converse about the most innocent topics, but apparently you're to blame for her unhappiness. That's often the case in broken relationships, or so it seems.

mama4 said...

i think your response to her was very mature and appropriate. it seems that lucy feels very alone and strikes out at you because she feels your happiness is undeserved.

she seems to be looking for something that she is missing in her life and instead of confronting that within herself she lashes out at you. maybe she feels that you were the one that was supposed to give that to her and couldn't.

Brian, the 646 Guy said...

God...what a fucking cunt...I would have so been goaded into it that I probably would have called her a fucking cunt to her face much like the time I told my grandmother she was a manipulative bitch...oh yeah...SOOOOOO out of the will over that one even if it is true...

marcus said...

christ, man- you STILL dont have more info from rachel? come on! it was MONTHS ago that you told me this same story.

send me her contact info, i wanna get in touch with her. k, love?