In the morning, my father makes runny, scrambled eggs, limp bacon. His eyes are bloodshot as he stares at my mother as she eats her half of a banana, her standard breakfast. I want to play musical spoons, or telephone, but just what message would I broadcast? Love me like there’s no tomorrow? Love me before putting one foot in grave?
“Time for presents,” I announce, then go on, “after all, it’s Christmas and Christmas is for giving and good cheer.” I sashay over to the artificial tree, note that its growth has been stunted, as has been mine. The old ornaments are hanging on its fake branches, bobbing like shiny eggs that might have an orderly holocaust inside them. I touch them gingerly and declare, “Christmas must be magic,” but there’s only black magic at the center of my parents’ twisted existence.
I sit Indian-style on the floor. My father sit down to, opens his legs in a victory “v,” holds a plastic trash bag, ready to field the wads of wrapping paper my mother will punt his way.
“Mom,” I say, “this is for you,” then hand her a package as though it were sacred as the Bible. She rips it open, stares at my gift until her eyes are stunned with tears.
“How could you?” she asks as she holds up the sampler that Grandma helped me make as a child. “Bless this House O Lord we Pray,” she whispers as she reads the stitched words aloud, then traces the neat purple x’s that form each letter. “You shouldn’t have,” she goes on, “it’s too precious for me.”
I go over to her, hug like a tree, one whose root ball is packed too tight and whose growth, like mine and the artificial tree’s, has also been stunted. “Happy Christmas,” I say and her eyes well up again, like dark grottoes.
Then I turn to my father. “This is for you,” I say as I toss him his gift. He quickly unwraps it and a smile warps his lean, elegant, ugly face. “Electric socks,” he declares, just like the king he is of this tawdry kingdom. “Thank you, Tizzy Lish.”
I soften as I always do when he calls me by my nickname and reply, “I know your feet are always cold. These should help.”
“I like warm tootsies,” he responds as he hands me my gift. I sigh, can’t imagine what’s inside. I open it carefully, trying not to tear the paper, which has snowmen on it, just like my nightgown. What I lift out makes me start to cry. It is my father’s favorite cardigan sweater, the one with suede elbow patches, chamois-lined pockets and leather buttons.
“Dad,” I say, “I can’t believe you are giving this to me,” and truth is, I can’t. This is the sweater, the very same sweater, I stole from his bureau for years to wear around the house to somehow feel close to a man who could not let me be close. He scolded me for this, sternly so, told me to stay out of his things, but like a child with her blanky, I could not be without that sweater. It would now become my “habit of art” sweater, one that I wore whenever I wrote day in, day out till the day he died.
Thank you,” I whisper and for a small moment in time, we are gifted by the gifts we have given and received. For a small moment in time, we are no longer the victims of victims, but tremble inside the bodies of angels, those erratic birds of transport. We are deemed, by the small god of our understanding, become a holy trinity while memory, as concentrated as death, sleeps in Sinnissippi lagoon where every one of our monsters, at least for this moment, has been slayed.