Lillie was breathless as she ran into the room.
“Dad! Dad! Mom is tying the legs back—to push up the breast!”
I set aside my book. “I do hope you are talking about the turkey.”
Lillie giggled. “It has legs and a breast. Isn’t that so funny?”
“I think you’re funny, chicken. Come here!” I grabbed Lillie into my lap and tickled her, releasing sonic giggles.
She was having a blast.
That morning, she had opened all of her twenty-three gifts as her brothers tore into theirs. Each newly exposed gift was held aloft with a giddy (if obligatory) “wow, thanks!,” before the recipent dove back under the tree.
Star Wars toys accumulated around Collie. Lillie was surrounded by Hello Kitty. Jason had fewer boxes filled with more complicated gizmos.
Faced with such bounty, Lillie put aside her doubts about Santa. But I knew her secret: on Christmas Eve, she had ventured into the forbidden basement to discover Santa’s workshop. She ran to her room, opened the pink Hello Kitty diary that served as her Christmas journal, and smugly recorded:
I am getting a Big Cat. Santa is not reall.
I had stumbled across this as we plotted Lillie’s revenge against her mother.
“Oh no, what is this!” I gasped as I picked up the open diary. “Baby, no, you have to hide this, fast, before Santa sees it!”
“Dad, I know there is no Santa.”
“Shh!” I whispered. “I don’t want him to think I don’t believe.”
“Dad!” she laughed.
The kids had to be patient before opening gifts, as—by tradition—the adults all gather to watch them tear into their presents.
This is something of an annual hassle, as the kids wake with the sun, excited and raring to go. Lucy’s siblings prefer not to wake very early, and once arisen, they insist on showers and cups of tea or coffee before gathering by the tree.
Every Christmas Eve includes negotiations between the tortoises and the hares.
I let Lucy argue for the hares. It is ridiculous that adults require shower privileges before allowing children to open presents. I can trust Lucy to point out the absurdity of that position.
On the other side, the tortoises maintain that if they are to settle in as witnesses to chaos, they want to at least feel refreshed.
“The kids will be ready to go by seven thirty, at the latest,” Lucy pointed out. “Can you please be ready by eight?”
“In the morning?” Julia frowned. “How about nine?”
“Or nine thirty?” Aaron suggested.
“No, that’s asking too much of the kids,” Richard said. “Let’s settle on eight thirty.”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “I’m not promising anything. I can’t have them wait for you to do your hair.”
“I think eight thirty is fair,” Richard maintained.
Lucy threw up her hands and walked away.
On Christmas morning, Lucy waited only so long as it took the adults to assemble. She heard them chatting in the kitchen, stirring cups and comparing notes about their sleep and the shower pressure.
She was not going to wait for their conversation to end.
The tortoises arrived to find chaos underway in the living room.
“Here, Mom,” Lillie said, dropping a gift in her mother’s lap. “This is to you from Santa.”
Lillie glanced at me. I winked.
“From Santa, huh?” Lucy said, tearing the tiny package. “Let me see what this could be . . . oh, look! A lump of coal!”
“April fool!” Lillie giggled. “That’s because you were bad and teased me.”
“Well, I guess I deserved that,” Lucy smiled. She pulled Lillie into a hug. “I’m sorry I teased you about the snow.”
“That’s okay, but now you have to eat some coal. April fool!”
“Well, I’m glad I saw that, at least,” Richard said, settling in next to his sister.
“It’s eight thirty,” Lucy said, pointing to her watch. “Too bad for you. But at least you smell good.”
“Thanks.” Richard was startled as Collie dropped a gift in his lap and raced back to the tree.
“Merry Christmas, Uncle Richard!” Collie laughed.
Things calmed after the mad rush to open gifts, and the subsequent inventory of acquisitions. (My take was two sweaters—pale blue and gray, to match my eyes—a requested Brita water filter, and a fanciful grater that Lucy regifted my way.) Lucy took a “walk” as Richard sat to help Jason assemble and program a robot, a gift that had been the inspired suggestion of a woman I beat up.
I took the opportunity to shower. I made it quick and efficient. I dried off and stood nude as I brushed my teeth, savoring the moment alone. I had given myself about ten minutes, start to finish; only Lucy knew I had sneaked away.
My eyes rested on Lucy’s prescription bottle of Effexor.
If only that been a familiar sight during my marriage. "You're a tad late on the scene, little fella," I thought, spitting into the sink.
Newly scrubbed, I settled in with Bing.
By mid afternoon, holiday ennui was settling in.
“Mom, I’m bored,” Collie whined. “Can we please go home?”
“I wish,” Lucy answered. “We are stuck here until tomorrow morning. We’ll leave very early, I promise.”
“Is Uncle Richard riding with us?”
“No, he’s a bee-yotch. Did you catch wind of this, Jefferson?”
I lowered my book. “What’s that?”
“Richard was annoyed that the kids opened presents before he was there to watch.”
“Yeah, the same thing happened last year.”
“Huh. He said I didn’t ‘honor his traditions,’ and told me I needed to do a better job teaching the kids to respect family. So I told him to fuck off.”
“Mom,” Collie said. “Uncle Richard can’t be a ‘bee-yotch’ if he’s a man.”
“Oh, yes he can,” Lucy laughed. “He’s a total bee-yotch.” She turned back to me. “I mean, who says that to a mother?”
I grimaced. “It’s a conundrum, all right.”
“Yeah.” Lucy looked at Collie, then back at me. “So no way is he riding with us tomorrow. Do you want a ride, Jefferson?”
“Sure, thanks. But Richard . . . ?”
“He can go to hell. He can ride with Julia, or just go to hell.”
“Yay, Daddy’s riding with us!” Collie danced. He ran from the room. “Hey Jason, Jason! Dad’s riding with us.”
I dropped the conversation by returning to my book. It seemed that Lucy was too busy arguing with family to worry with me. I pitied the sacrificial lambs, but I was glad to be spared.
“Why on earth are you reading about Bing Crosby, anyway?” Lucy asked suddenly. “He’s so old.”
“Well, he’s beyond old; he’s seriously dead,” I replied, not looking up. “But in his time, he invented cool. Bing rocks.”
Lucy shook her head and took up her novel.
That night, I carved the turkey Lucy had roasted. Bernard opened a case of cabernet. We all toasted to yet another eXmas.
Richard went to bed after the kids were tucked in.
A few of us sat with our wine, staring into the last embers of a once-roaring fire. Bucky had moved on to vodka.
“So,” Bucky began. “I hear you had an altercation with your brother?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Mom,” Lucy said.
“You don’t have to tell me—I’m the one who hasn’t spoken to her brother in years.”
“I didn’t even know you had a brother,” Aaron said, surprised.
Bucky looked at him. “Of course I have a brother,” she said. “He’s a very, very accomplished man. But we don’t get along. I’m sure it’s my fault, but we don’t talk.”
“Didn’t you once force him to drink cleaning fluid?” Lucy asked.
Bucky creased her brow. “Now, wait a minute, I never did that.”
“It’s a story you used to tell when we were kids,” Lucy said. “Whenever Richard and I argued, you would tell about the time you made your brother drink cleaning fluid.”
“No, that’s preposterous,” Bucky said, shaking her head. “I mean, I was not a nice sister, but I never tried to kill him.” She laughed at the thought, and then looked back to the dying coals.
“I’m sure it’s my fault,” she continued. “Or my mother’s. She was an awful person.” She sipped her vodka. “I mean, I’m sure there was abuse, including sexual abuse, against me and my brother, though those memories are thankfully long since repressed.”
Julia caught my eye. This was news to us.
“I never heard that, Mom,” Lucy said quietly.
“It may not even be true,” Bucky said, laughing slightly. “But God, how else do you explain everything? I mean, I’m seventy-five years old, so there’s nothing to be done about it now. That’s the way of things. Things were different then.”
We were silent as the embers burned.
“Well, I didn’t mean to bring everyone down,” Bucky said, standing. “I think I’ll go up to bed.”
We wished her good night. I went to the kitchen to pour myself a bourbon.
When I returned, the lights were out and everyone was gone.
I flipped on a lamp and spent some time with Bing.
We were on the road by ten the next morning.
“Good riddance to another Christmas,” Lucy told the kids.
I sat in the back with my cell phone, texting Viviane and Madeline.
War is over, if you want it. And so this is eXmas.