The pot was on the stove. It had been his grandmother’s, then his mother’s. Whenever he saw it, big and burnt stained silver, he could nearly taste his grandma’s mixed greens, hear her humming, and feel her warm gushy bosom hugs. He’d get lost there, smothered in her love. Now, she was gone. He had the pot, though. Everybody wanted it, but his mom specifically left it to him because she knew he needed something he could see and touch. Educated and practical, he rarely relied on feelings, and fought hard to control or eliminate emotions. He was MAN.
In the front of the house, where they couldn’t see them, strings of lights were tacked around the window sill, and strung around the tree. It really needed to be replaced. The tree. After only five years, it was no longer the biggest and best available. The star easily fit on the top branch, now. It’s as if the thing was shriveling up, getting hunchbacked, or just had bones that shrunk with age, though it wasn’t even real. All the parts were neatly packed and kept with care in a box until this one time of year, yet that could not keep it. In fact, that’s why there were streaks on his cheeks – because he hadn’t been able to keep it. None of it. It had shrank and shriveled so drastically, that the six bedroom home he’d bought had basically turned into a kitchen shelter. For the first time in their lives, there was nothing to put in the pot, and steam in the chill of the one room was the only nutrient being brewed. The oven door was wide open and the orange rings atop the stove were as lit as the orange stripes that stretched across the small rectangular heater that guarded the back of the room and couched the whole family in survival. Something was trying to get him, ruin his family and his life. He couldn’t identify it, didn’t understand it, and was rendered helpless against it. Some said it was the market crash that got him. How? He was well-insulated, careful, and calculated about all things financial. Oddly enough, the film Inside Job shed some understanding on the situation, but because he was an insider, he couldn’t quite accept some of the facts about the industry he so believed in and trusted.
She had already selected the red bottoms – five versions of what could have easily been seen as the same shoe. All would be hers for Christmas. The coats and purses should have already been shipped. Her hairs and lashes had been bought and individually mended to her own head and eyes, and her brows were deep and rich and thicker than the basic tattoo specialists had been able to master. The only thing left for chance was the destination. It would need to be a place where there were lots of people. Not as many as would crowd the place and prevent folks from seeing her sparkles, just enough, and enough of the right type who would see and know and run and tell everybody that she was there and she was draped in things that very few could afford. However, the internet and her emails had ruined all of that. At first she imagined her account had been hacked. No way could all of those cancelled order emails be real. She called, complained, became irate, and until the very moment that the pot boiled over and threatened to short the power that fueled the bubbling heat, she had not realized just how unreal all but the cancellations had been. After a week of snob-filled sorrow, her prayers were now for protection from the cold of the sunless night on the eve of Christmas new.
There were three of them - children. Two were necessary: the first to get him, the second to secure the maximum child support (if he should ever dump her). The third was a shout in midst of complacency. He had not committed to the purchase of the Bentley, so she needed to request it more loudly. After her fervent prayers, God had granted her wish, his first daughter. Bentley bought. The three children fit as well in the back seat of the Bentley as they now fit huddled near the stove in the oversized kitchen. It was all too grand to provide what would serve them best.
“Dad, you should come and sit closer. You’ll be warmer over here.” She waved her hand, repeatedly, as if she could and would magically pull the 200 lbs of natural heat into the close cuddled group. Everyone had the same thought, but only she dared, as she always did, to command it of him. She was also the one who went over her mom’s head and asked her dad if he could use the truck he’d inherited from his dad, the one he never drove, to drop her off at soccer practice. When her dad had attempted to explain that the truck could only seat two, and there were five of them, plus it was cranky and loud and you could see its rust on the right side near the wheel well, she would quickly respond, hands on hip, with “Well, I’m tired of getting yelled at for my dirty shoes, when it’s the paper that moves by itself from the mat, when I try to keep my feet as still as can be!” Then she leaned in and added, “Me, Trap, and Support can sit in the back, and we won’t stand up, and I will only hold my ball…” She formed a circle with her hands. “With both hands…” She spoke slowly. “So it won’t fly over to the cars next to us.” She smiled and he drove the truck, at least once to the soccer game, then years later, today to the grocery store because it was the single remaining operable vehicle and they needed bread for the peanut butter, though the jelly was all long gone.
Trap and Support were always amazed, and sometimes even jealous of the persuasion power of their younger sister, Ride. Their dad often told them to just ignore her demanding and bossy personality because she couldn’t help having received her ways from his mom. They guessed that was why he never spanked, punished, fussed at, or ever ignored her, like he did them and their mother. He liked her. Trap, he could’ve liked better if he had better taken to science. His dad was a banker, but had long loved science and hoped his son would be the cool Neil Degrasse Tyson type of scientist he never thought possible. But Trap was drawn to languages. Once, his aunt Linda, whom he rarely saw, told him he had the gift of languages like his dad, where he could speak anyway he needed to make people understand and give him what he wanted. Hearing that, Trap had excitedly run into the family room where his dad was with some other family members Trap had never met, but like anyway, and spoke loudly and directly to his dad, asking “Habla Espanol? Parlez-vous francais?” To which his dad responded “Speak as if you have something to say. What are you talking about, and why are you smiling like a fool?” His dad only understood English. Support, who had been sitting in the corner drawing on his notepad, as he always did, quickly ripped two pages from his pad and offered Trap and their dad two of his most recent and favored sketches because though he had not heard what was said, he felt that it wasn’t good and wanted the people to keep talking to each other and to maybe come over, again like they had never done, except two times since his grandma died, and the first had ended in yells and a slammed door. Not a single person had slammed the hearse door or yelled in the funeral where grandma was laying sleep. Everyone knew to be quiet. Support had spent hours drawing the same pictures his grandma loved expecting the folks who were quiet for grandma would maybe be happy about the drawings that had made his grandma smile and hang them on her refrigerator, where they stayed until somebody must’ve stole them when grandma went to sleep. His dad wanted the colors in the sketch to be darker, because Men, like the man in the drawing, made in his likeness, didn’t wear sissy colors. Yellow and lime green were Support’s favorite colors, so he didn’t change them; he just stopped sharing his drawings, that is until the day his grandma went to sleep and the people he had started to like were at his house, and his dad seemed mad about Trap, and everything could all get loud and slammy.
Maybe, it had all went bad because his mother died. It had gone bad for his siblings, too. His sister lost their family childhood home. He heard the news the day he bought his boat. On his way to the showroom he received a call. She was crying. She needed $3000, by Friday of that week. She had been laid off since her surgery and had fallen behind in her bills, but that was her problem, for her to solve. She was fully grown. Three thousand dollars was the down payment difference between the small and the mid-sized boat, and he wasn’t about to sacrifice his dreams to accommodate her failings. If she had not been such a sweets lover she never would have gotten diabetes and wouldn’t have needed the eye surgery that resulted in her losing her job, or whatever. It was all her own fault and she had to suffer the consequences of her actions. Just like their brother, who lived check to check with all those children and that Bible toting wife, of his. Who told them to have all those children? Surely God didn’t. If God knows all things then He has to know you can’t feed six kids on a postal worker and homeschooling weird lady’s salary-less budget. Again, pay the music fees yourself, or have your wife teach herself, then teach them all at home. “Do whatever you do; just leave me out of it” was the response the brother had received the one time he had let his wife convince him to ask for a loan. The one time was enough to teach him not to ask, again, but it had not made him bitter. That’s why he had, as he did every year, invited them all for Christmas, though he didn’t really expect them to come.
“Are we gonna stay here, all day?” Ride’s voice broke the silence. She rubbed her hands up and down her legs. Her mom reached over, pulled her close, and joined in the rubbing. “Can’t we go to uncle Sam’s house? He called and said he really hoped we could make it. Remember?” Ride turned to look at her dad. Her mom, turned her face towards hers, holding her chin loosely between her fingers. “It’s Christmas, Sweetie. We don’t have gifts. You don’t go visit people without bringing gifts on Christmas.” Tears filled her mom’s eyes. The reality of it all was too much to hide. A tear ran. She fought hard to hold herself together. “Mom, we have gifts. I could dress warm and go into the playroom to get some of the toys I’ve never played with. I’m sure they would like those. I do. I just couldn’t get to them all, yet. They can have them. I don’t need them and can’t have them here in the kitchen.”
Support held his breath, staring at the swirl design in the marble tile. Trap openly wept, as did their mother, though she turned her head almost off of her neck trying to hide it. Ride hopped to her feet, crossed over outstretched legs and made her way to her dad. His hands were pressed against his tightly closed eyes. Ride pulled at his arms because she couldn’t pry his hands. “Let’s go, Dad!” She pulled. “We’ll make uncle Sam really happy.” She used the weight of her body to no avail. “We could call aunt Linda to meet, us there.” Her dad shook his head from side to side, hands still pressed firmly on his face. “Isn’t that her name?” Ride asked. “What is it, then? I’m sorry I thought it was Linda! I’m sorry, dad!” Ride could see her father was crying. The wetness oozed between his fingers, and traced around his hands.
Ride began to cry.
After a minute or more of her sobbing, her dad lifted his arms, wiped his face, then reached to lift her from the floor near his feet, where she’d curled her small body into an almost perfect circle. She tried to resist, but her strength was no match for his big, determined love. He pulled. She relented, wrapping herself around his frame. He stood and moved to his wife and family. “Get your pad, son.” His hand gently touched Support’s slumped back, then slid onto the top of Trap’s head, which was nestled between his knees, “How do you say, let’s go?” Trap looked up to search his father’s face, not even embarrassed or ashamed that he couldn’t remember any of the four language translations, at the moment. By the time his glance met his wife’s she was smiling. She had secretly called her husband’s brother, Sam and asked him for food. He had been slow to respond, but when he did he had assured her that God was still present and would provide all that she and her family needed. He didn’t have enough to buy food for two households, at the last minute, but promised he would go light on the servings and bring all that remained to her home on Christmas Day. He had also reminded her that they were “welcome to come over.” Worried about how it might affect her husband, she hadn’t mentioned the conversation, but was anxiously looking forward to the food. But Ride, the child born of greed, excess, and deceit, Ride, the child who pushed too hard and spoke out of turn, the one who defied all the norms and disregarded all rigid expectations, had spoke her Mama’s silent prayers. At the very moment that Ride’s Mama silently petitioned God, Ride spoke her Mom’s heart, aloud. It was freakishly clear and amazing. Just as it had happened when Ride’s Mother prayed for a girl child, her prayers had been answered, again. This time she said and truly meant, “Thank you!” Her husband assumed she was speaking to him, and was pleased that she was happy, but her appreciation was for more than the issues of the moment. Her joy pulled her lips wide enough to display almost all of her teeth, one for each year she owed appreciation for the things she’d been given.
The Bourgeois Family moved quickly through their frigid home, heated only by the excitement of gathering things to take to gift to their relatives. Their surprise Christmas Eve showing was warmly welcomed and the children from both families were still retrieving gifts from the back of their granddad’s old pickup truck when the sun brought morning, Christmas Day.
Peace and Love,