Archive for December, 2010


Chapter Eight: The BIG Secret

CHAPTER EIGHT:

Sara woke up to a smelly mouth giving her kisses.

“Aaah! Get the Hell off of me!” she swatted the pug off the hide-a-bed.

“That’s the most action Sara’s had in years!” Ned’s voice cackled. Ryan also joined in. Tiffany came running down the stairs and jumped on the hide-a-bed.

“Merry Christmas Aunty!”

“Yeah, yeah. You too.”

“Hurry! Get up so we can open presents!”

“Your Aunty needs a coffee and a smoke first.” Ned handed her a steaming, large paper cup of Tim Hortons. Sara reached for it then slowly got out of bed, grabbed a coat and shoved her feet into some boots. Ned led the way out of the basement door, then out into the shed.

“So what’s wrong with dad?” she asked, while trying to light a smoke.

“Told ya. He’s fuckin’ nuts.”

“No, I mean is he sick or something?”

“Sick in the head.”

“I heard mom and Kat talking last night. I think there’s something they’re not telling us.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Do you think the cancer is back?”

“I dunno. Haven’t heard nuthin’. You’re right, though. Something is up. Can’t put my finger on it. Couple times I’ve come over here a bit later in the evening to check e-mail and he’s not here. When I ask mom where he is, she just kinda snaps ‘I dunno!’ Maybe he’s sick again and they’ve been hidin’ it. Wouldn’t surprise me.”

After a couple of smokes and a coffee, Sara headed back in with her brother to find the whole family waiting in the front room. In the Bell house, presents under the tree tended to be rather unimportant. Stockings were what really mattered! Everyone provided stocking presents for everyone else. All stockings also came attached to an enormous gift bag to handle to overflow.

 As usual, Herb refused to open his presents until everyone else had opened theirs because he wanted to “see what everyone else gets.” Grandpa was rather pleased after he discovered a jar of marmalade in his stocking. Sara waited for Tiffany to open the ceramic-faced geisha doll she’d brought from Japan. When her niece finally opened it, her only response was “Her dress would look real pretty on one of my Barbies.”

Aunty Kat had to squeal after opening each present and track down who had given it to her, so that she could offer a big thank you and say, whatever the object might have been, that it was “exactly what I needed!” That included such things as a Lady Gillette.

Sara got several books, some lotion, a scarf, a sweater (“I made it myself!”), some Pez dispensers (which she collected), some stationery, and an assortment of toiletries.

The gifts under the tree were mostly things sent from relatives or friends. Mom was about to hand out trash bags to clean up when Herb stood up. He held several envelopes in his hands.

“Hold on! We’ve got a few more gifts to go around.” He handed an envelope to Ryan, Ned, Sara and another to Tiffany. Sara slowly opened hers and pulled out a cheque.

“Holy shit!” Ryan exclaimed.

Sara looked down at hers. Fifteen-thousand dollars.

“Now Tiffany? Yours is for your college fund, so your dad will have to keep it for you,” Herb explained.

There was shocked silence, until mom scowled at Herb, threw the trash bags down and stormed into the kitchen. Kat followed her.

“What’s going on?” Sara asked.

“Whadda ya mean? Just decided that I’d like to see my kids spend some of their inheritance before I die.” Herb sat back down on the loveseat.

“Are you sick again?” Ned asked.

“No, I am fine. In fact, doctor says I haven’t been this healthy in years.”

“So what’s going on then? Why is mom so upset?”

“Good grief! Can’t I just give you all a gift and leave it at that? I don’t, uh…”

“Herb, I think they’re just a bit shocked, that’s all.” Uncle Joe tried to be the peacemaker.

“No, Joe, no. He’s hiding something. What is it dad?” Ned prodded.

“Look, if you don’t want the money then give it back!”

“Dad, it’s not that we don’t appreciate it, but what is it all about? I mean, this is a LOT of money!” Sara said, shaking her head in disbelief.

Suddenly mom came hauling out of the kitchen with a mandarin orange in her hand. She threw it at her husband and shouted “Yes Herb, go ahead! Tell them what that damn money is! Tell them! Go on…be a man. Geez, why the heck did you have to do this at Christmas! Can’t we have one, last, happy Christmas together?”

“What do you mean by ‘last Christmas’?” Ryan asked.

Tak-Sin sheepishly slinked out of the front room and went up the stairs. Wes pretended not to notice that anything was happening, and started thumbing through one of the books Sara had gotten for Christmas. Tiffany was busy listening to her new I-Pod. Kat was behind her sister, trying to pull her back into the kitchen.

“Well? Am I going to have to tell them? Hmm?” Mom stood staring angrily at Herb.

“Calm down Colleen. Let’s just go back to the…”

“Shut up, Kat! He’s going to be a man and tell everyone himself.”

Herb stared out the window with his arms crossed.

“You stubborn, old fool.”

“Colleen, you need to settle down. This is not the right time or place,” grandpa reprimanded his daughter.

“You can shut up too, old man! “

“Come here, kid.” Wes called Tiffany and took her downstairs.

Sara stared at her father. He couldn’t look at any of them. His eyes seemed tired. His strong face had melted into defeat. The raging bull had lost its horns. Rupa stood and left the uncomfortable silence. Kat whispered something into Colleen’s ear, motioned to Joe, and they all disappeared into the kitchen. There were only Herb and his children.

“I’m moving out.”

Nobody spoke for what seemed like several minutes.

“Where are you going?” Ryan asked.

“Puerto Vallarta. Probably. Not really sure yet.”

“When was this decided?” Sara.

“It’s been a long time coming.”

“Are you trying to say that you and mom…” Ned.

“We sold the house. I’m giving you kids some of my share.”

“Shit!” Ned.

“So you guys are getting a divorce?” Ryan.

“Already done.”

“You’re divorced?” Sara.

“Just wanted you kids…uh, well, your mom wanted you to have one last, happy…”

“Unbelievable.” Ryan.

“What the…I mean, why?” Sara.

“Well, uh, your mom and I…uh, about six years ago I made a big mistake, and I, well your mom was a good woman and you kids, uh…anyway, we tried to work things out. But in the end my, uh, heart wasn’t…so, then recently Joanne and I were…”

“JOANNE?” Ryan.

“Mrs. Lowry?” Ned.

“Who’s that?” Sara.

“You don’t know?” Ned.

“Know what?” Sara.

“He fuckin’ cheated on mom with her. Years ago.” Ryan.

“What? How come I didn’t know about this?” Sara felt panic crawling up her spine.

“Listen! It’s not like that. Your mother and I agreed…”

“Ah, you are too rich, old man. I need to get the FUCK out of here.” Ryan stormed out.

“I know you guys are, uh, upset…all I can say is that I’m sorry.”

Herb’s face crumpled. He started softly crying. Sara always felt a rage well up inside her when she saw him cry. He only cried after an eruption. When he had beaten her on the back with a coat-hanger so hard and later saw the marks he’d made on her back…he had cried. When he’d tipped the dining table upside down at Sunday dinner and a casserole dish had given Ryan a bloody nose…he came back that night and cried. When he’d grabbed mom by the back of her head and thrown her to the floor and she busted her lip…he had cried and said how sorry he was. She hated his tears. They meant nothing to her. Even though he hadn’t touched a soul in nearly 20 years, it did little to erase the past. Ryan tended to forget a lot of it because he had been so young. Ned remembered everything. And Sara remembered even more.

She stood and walked towards the tearful face of the old man staring out onto the snow-covered orchard.

“Shame on you. After all the crap you put her through. Shame on you.”

She left the room, grabbing her coat and headed for the shed and a joint.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Christmas Dinner, as it traditionally occurred, never happened that year. Herb disappeared. His truck was gone soon after his announcement and he hadn’t told anyone where he was going. Nobody felt like eating. Mom insisted on setting up a buffet on the dining room table anyway. She wouldn’t speak to anyone so they all quit trying to engage her in conversation. Ned, Ryan and Rupa had slipped outside to get stoned. Wes filled his plate and sat in the front room feeding Lucky bits of turkey. Joe and Kat had given up trying to speak to their sister, and had gone down to the motor home.

Sara was hiding in the basement, curled up on the hide-a-bed.

“You want a drink?”

 Tak-Sin’s head poked around the corner at the top of the stairs then he motioned for her to follow him into the garage. She smiled, and nodded.

“Joe tell me to keep it in the truck, but I bring it now because I think you need it.” He pulled a bottle of red wine out from under his sweater. Alcohol in any form was not permitted in the Bell house.

Tak-Sin pulled a Swiss army knife from his pocket and opened the bottle, then handed it to Sara. She took it desperately and drank until she could feel herself get dizzy.

“I think you like it.”

“Thanks. I needed that.”

“We can drink all together.”

“So, happy to be part of this crazy family?”

Tak-Sin cocked his head like a puppy and scrunched his lips in thought. “Not so bad. My family is more crazy.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Is true! My father kills his brother. He goes to prison so mom move to Bangkok. My sister is a money-girl.  My mom marries Australian guy who is old man, 72 years and goes to Sydney. She sends me a little money. I have one more brother and he is gangster. I don’t hear from him never. So, your family is not so bad.”

“Well, you should drink up too.”

“Joe is my family now.” Tak-Sin smiled. One of his bottom teeth was missing which made him that much more adorable.

“Yes. He loves you a lot.”

“I know. I’m lucky. He likes you very much too. Always talking and saying ‘I’m jealous Sara!’ because I think he wants travelling.”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway, don’t be so angry to your father.”

“Actually, it is complicated.”

“He’s old man now. I think he just wants to be happy.”

“Yeah? Well he made my family miserable his whole life.”

“My father too.”

“I can imagine.”

“I think maybe your mom will be happy now.”

“Eh? You drunk already?”

“Just, I think your mom never has freedom. Now she can be free and find her happiness.”

“She’s almost as crazy as HE is.”

“We are all crazy.”

“Now, I can drink to that!”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Herb didn’t come home that night.  The boys and their families finally left at about ten. Kat and Wes went out to the motor home. Sara was about to go downstairs to bed when she heard her mom’s voice speak from the darkness of the living room.

“I want to try it.”

Sara turned. “Try what?”

“I know what you guys all do in the shed.”

Sara laughed uncomfortably. “Mom, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“You let Wes try it. Kat told me. She could smell it all over him and he kept rambling on about how he no longer liked Tab Hunter.”

“Maybe another time, mom.”

“No, I want to try it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Never so sure of anything in my whole life.”

“OK, well, get your coat and…”

“No, just bring it in here. This is my house. If I want to try it in my own house…I WILL.”

“Whatever you want. Though, I guess it isn’t your house now, is it?”

“Oh, yes it is. Now hurry up!”

Sara rushed outside and got the two joints Ned had left for her on the rafter. Whatever. If this is how her mom needed to deal with things, then so-be-it.

Colleen choked up a storm the first time she started to inhale. The second time was the same. The third time just a bit. By the fourth time she was baked.

“Don’t be too hard on your dad. I have not made this easy for him.”

“Good! Hope you gave him Hell!”

“Sara. We HAVE tried. It just didn’t work out.”

“And why did you never tell me about his affair?”

“I don’t know.”

“You know, this is all so weird. You tell me I should have STAYED with Blake when it happens to me, and all the while this has been going on. I mean, why would you tell me to try and work things out, when you tried and it didn’t work? And now he goes and does the same thing again? Sorry…sorry. I shouldn’t be making this about me. So. When did this even happen?”

“Well, it was official in October.”

“Does he even LIVE here?”

“Of course he does. He wasn’t going to move out until we talked with you kids. I mean, he stays over there a couple nights a week, but he hasn’t taken his stuff over there yet.”

“Christ.”

“Honey, it has been a stressful time for him. This has not been easy for him at all.”

“Why the hell are you sticking up for him now?”

“I’m not sticking up for him for myself…just for you. My relationship with him is what it is. I can’t change that. But I don’t want you to grow old hating your father like Aunty Kat.”

“But obviously it bothers you more than you’re saying now. Mom, we were all there this morning. We heard you and saw your reaction.”

“Of course I’m angry and upset. But honestly, I just want it done. I want him out of the house. I am too tired of all of it.”

“Well, where are you going to live?”

“Right here.”

“But you guys sold the house!”

Mom threw her head back and started laughing. “Yeah, funny thing about that. Grandpa bought it.”

“What?”

“Well, I told him about what was going on. He decided to buy it. So, I will just stay on.”

“And dad knows this?”

“Of course.  Your grandpa gave Herb half the estimated value. I didn’t charge him for my share, so the whole place is his. It will become mine again when he passes away. My inheritance.”

Sara placed her face in her hands. Mom reached over and rubbed her back.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. We are both still your parents. This is our problem. Let us handle it. You have nothing to worry about.”

“I hate him.”

“Don’t say that. You’re angry with him, that’s all. Ya know, you really need to learn how to let go.”

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CHAPTER SEVEN:

 

Sara woke up at five and could sleep no more. She was on the hide-a-bed in the basement and could hear grandpa’s snoring from the second floor. She quietly grabbed her coat and snuck out the back door for a smoke.  It was still dark and the twinkling lights of Vernon were still on. For some reason people in the Okanagan Valley were obsessed with Christmas lights. The only reasons one would NOT deck their house out with lights was because they were either away or dead…and even these were not considered good enough reasons for not making your house more festive.

Every time she came home from the bustle and noise of Tokyo it took Sara several days before she could sleep through the night. It wasn’t just the jet-lag, but the deathly silence that fell over the valley after a certain hour. It was just too quiet.  She lit up a smoke and then headed towards the shed. She’d hidden half the joint Ned had given her a few days ago up on one of the rafters.

She quietly opened the shed door. Wes and Kat’s motor home was parked right next to the shed and she didn’t want to wake up their stupid dog, which would start yapping until daylight.

She slipped inside the pitch black shed.

“What the tar-nation are you doin’ out here?” a male voice whispered from the darkness. Sara felt a scream welling up but held it in when she recognized Uncle Wes’s voice.

“Oh! Scared me! Just came out for a sm…what are you doing in here?”

She started to make out Wes’s cowboy boots under a pair of blue pyjama bottoms and then his long overcoat. And then the smell hit her.

“You’ve been drinking!”

“Shh! Don’t want to wake up the dog OR the cow. Hush. Shut your mouth and I’ll share.”

“But it’s five o’clock in the morning!”

“When else am I going to have a proper drink in silence without that old bat yappin’ my ear off? Here. Try some uh that. At’ll put hair on your tits.” He thrust forth a bottle wrapped in a paper bag.

“I’m okay. Thanks.” She reached up to the rafter until she felt the roach.

“What the heck are you doin’?”

“What’s it look like?”

“You chuck that out!”

“Hey, look who’s talking!”

“A nip and Mary Jane are two very different things.”

“Yeah, alcohol is addictive and will destroy your liver.”

“I thought better of you. Didn’t know you smoked that stuff.”

Sara lit up and inhaled. “Yeah, well only when I’m home.”

“I hear ya honey.” Wes lifted the bottle to his lips.

Sara felt the familiar tickle of fairies’ wings running down her arms.

“Okay. Let me have a go at that.” Wes extended two fingers.

Sara coughed. “Are you sure?”

“Sara, I am seventy-two years old. Ain’t never tried it yet. What’s it gonna do? Kill me? God should be so good!”

She watched as Wes slowly inhaled. He didn’t cough.

“Hold it in,” she instructed. He slowly exhaled.

“Well, don’t get what the big deal is about this. Don’t feel nothin’.”

“Just wait.”

They sat in silence for several minutes…or seconds…or, well, who really knew?

“Oh. Okay. Yes, I see. Hot damn. Well, I sure as heck feel it now.”

“Told ya.”

“Don’t know about this. How long does it last?”

“Hard to say, because time seems to go on forever.”

“Hope it’s not too long. Kat will know somethin’s not right.”

“She won’t be up for a while.”

“We’re gonna have to be really quiet.”

“I know.”

“Maybe we should go sit on the porch.”

“It’s a bit cold.”

“We got coats. Oh Lordy, I really don’t know about this. Feeling a bit out of breath.”

“Just relax and go with it. Why don’t you sit?”

Wes slowly sat down on Ryan’s porn-hideaway, and Sara placed herself on an antique barrel that Herb had “gotten a real deal on”.

“Just hope that ole cow doesn’t wake up. God, that woman gives me a fright. Would you believe that she was a dead-ringer for Ann Margaret in her hey-day?”

“Yeah, that’s pretty hard to believe.”

“And dammit, if I didn’t look like a more handsome version of Tab Hunter.”

“Wasn’t he gay?”

“Bite your tongue woman!”

“Well, wasn’t he?”

“He most certainly was not! Tab Hunter was the pinnacle of masculinity for all men of my generation. He was worshipped second unto Jesus in my house.”

“There are pictures of him on the Internet getting it on with another guy.”

“And from THAT you dare say the man is a homo? You cannot trust everything your eyes see. All these George Lucas types can tinker with anything and make it look like something it ain’t.”

“But it’s actually common knowledge now.”

“I’ll not hear any more of it. You disgrace his name.”

Sara started laughing lowly. “You’re stoned.”

“Straight as an arrow, that man.”

“So was Rock Hudson.”

“Well, EVERYONE knows that. I coulda told you that ages ago.”

“And James Dean was bi.”

“Well, that’s no surprise. Somethin’ very girly about that boy.”

“So was Carey Grant.”

“Well, he was British so that just comes with the territory.”

“And Pat Boone.”

“As you young folks say ‘duh!’”

“And John Wayne.”

“Now that is a TOTAL lie!!!”

Sara giggled again. “Just kidding you. But, it was well-documented that he had a very small penis.”

“Good God, woman. Where the heck did you get such a vile mouth and wandering mind? Your mother would be shocked.”

“So, Ann Margaret, eh?”

“Yep. Now she looks more like Shelley Winter’s rotting corpse.”

They both burst out laughing. Lucky started barking. Within seconds Fat Aunty Kat was at the motor-home door shouting “Wesley! Where are you? Wesley? Where have you gone? This is NOT funny and I’m getting scared! I don’t know why you tease me like this. Are you drinking? You know how I feel about that. WESLEY!!!”

____________________________________________________________________________________

“Don’t you have any marmalade?” Grandpa bellowed at his daughter while staring disparagingly at a jar of homemade strawberry jam. Wes had finally crashed at about eight o’clock and gone to bed in the motor home.  Kat came crying to the house exclaiming to Colleen that “I can’t believe I’m married to an alcoholic!” Mom made her a hot chocolate and gave her two blueberry muffins and she seemed to settle down. Herb said he needed a “real” coffee (mom only kept decaf in the house) and headed out the door for Tim Hortons.

“Sorry, dad. I have some plum jam.”

“No thank-you. Someone will need to pick up some marmalade when they go into town.”

“DAD?  YOU SHOULD TRY COLLEEN’S STRAWBERRY JAM! IT IS HOMEMADE.”

“You don’t have to shout Kathleen. My hearing aid is on. I can hear you just fine and so can the neighbours with all your screeching.”

“Well, it is DELICIOUS. Colleen? Your jam is just scrumptious!”

“Thanks. I thought it turned out really good this year.”

“You always were such a good cook!”

“Well, she got that from your mother. Your mother was an excellent cook,” grandpa added.

“Sara, why on Earth are you eating peanut-butter and pickles on your toast?” mom asked

“I like it.”

“Perhaps she’s pregnant,” grandpa chuckled.

“That is NOT funny dad!” mom shouted from the kitchen.

“Well, I would like some great-grandchildren before I die.”

“What are you talking about? You know my Selina has two lovely girls, and you have Tiffany.” Kat remarked.

“Selina’s two little urchins? Fat Mexican brats.”

“Dad! I will not have you talking about my grandbabies that way. And they are NOT Mexican. Juan is from Ecuador!”

“You should see those two, Sara. To think that my own blood runs through their veins.”

“Dad!”

“Oh calm down, Kathleen. It’s not as if I don’t send them twenty dollars for each of their birthdays and Christmas.”

“You are such a meanie! Those girls are precious!”

“And they steal.”

“They do not!”

“I had six quarters on the kitchen counter. They were gone after you brought those two urchins over for a visit.”

“They did not steal your money! I asked them.”

“And you expect little, Mexican thieves to tell the truth?”

“I’m not taking any more of this abuse!” Kat started bawling (again) and lumbered off to the front door.

Mom came in and sat at the breakfast nook. “You should lighten up on her, dad.”

“Oh please. It’s all in good fun.”

“Well, I don’t see you smiling when you say those things.”

“She’s too sensitive. She’s not like us. We can take a joke.”

Mom sipped her decaf while Sara dipped a pickle into the strawberry jam.

“She’s just like your mother. Always overdramatic. Always had to be the centre of attention.”

“True. Mom was a bit of a drama queen.”

“I lived with that for forty-two years. I don’t think I should have to put up with it now.”

“You don’t have to. You see Kat maybe twice a year. I think you can tolerate her for a couple days.”

“It is strange how you can actually love a daughter yet not really like her.” Granpda said sadly, taking a bite of plain toast. Mom looked to Sara and smiled, then patted her back. Sara smiled back then went out for a smoke.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Sara had never been that close to Rupa. Partly because Rupa and Ryan had gotten together just a year before she’d left Blake and moved to Japan. She actually didn’t know her that well. She liked her well enough, and the two of them actually had a lot in common. But they never sought out private time together and it always felt uncomfortable when there was just the two of them. So when mom sent them upstairs with about ten sacks of stocking stuffers to wrap, they smiled hesitantly to each other and went up to mom’s room. Tiffany’s and Sara’s Barbies were still strewn all over the floor.

“Wow! Look at all of these!”

“Yeah, Tiffany and I were playing yesterday.”

“You’re so good with kids. How come you and Blake never had any?”

“Well, because he always wanted to wait. Anyway, I guess it’s a good thing.”

“For sure.”

Then there was about three minutes of silence. This was why Sara was always uncomfortable when she was alone with Rupa. Rupa had a tendency to always ask the WRONG questions, and bringing up the WRONG topics. They started wrapping an assortment of socks, chocolates, toys, soaps, razors and scarves.

“Ryan and I want to wait too. Maybe once my practice is a bit more solid.” Rupa was a physical therapist. She was one year out of school and had taken out a massive bank loan to open her private practice in Armstrong, just a twenty-minute drive from Vernon. Rupa always claimed she was on her way to the poor house, but everyone knew she was making money hand-over-fist.

“That makes sense.”

“Do you want kids?”

Sara curled some ribbon with a pair of scissors. “Maybe. Not right now.”

“Yeah, me too. Actually, Ryan is really pushing for me to have a baby.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Sometimes I just don’t think I’m the maternal type. You ever feel like that?”

“I don’t give it that much thought.”

“Hmm. My sister just had a baby.”

“I heard.”

“So you got a boyfriend now? Or a girlfriend?”

Sara smiled. “Why would you think I have a girlfriend?”

“Well, I just wanted you to know that I am totally cool with that, ya know, in case…”

“I’m not gay. And no, I don’t have a boyfriend. I was seeing someone though.”

“Oh yeah? What was he like?”

“Japanese guy. Didn’t speak much English. Of course I really wasn’t interested in him for his communication skills.”

Rupa laughed. “So was he hot? What are Japanese guys, ya know, like?”

“Yeah, he had a great body. Tight abs and ass.  His thingy was a bit small for my liking, though.”

“So it’s true what they say about Asian guys?”

“What do THEY say?”

“You know. Their things are small.”

“Not Japanese men. Well, this guy was, but the other guys I’ve been with…”

Rupa slapped her shoulder a bit too hard and jokingly shouted “You big slut!”

“I am not. But I’m no virgin either.”

“Sometimes I envy you.”

“Oh yes! Of course you do! Single at thirty-five, divorced, crow’s feet and an empty bank account.”

“I’m serious! Being single and getting dressed up to go out to a bar with your girlfriends, flirting with guys. Man, I was HOT back then.”

“You still look good.”

“Fuck off. I am twenty pounds overweight.”

Sara estimated that the figure was closer to forty, but kept that to herself.

“But you still have great boobs and beautiful eyes.”

“Well, your brother thinks I’m too fat. We haven’t had sex in three weeks.”

Sara covered her ears and exclaimed “Officially too much information. Really not interested in my brother’s sex life.” Rupa pulled her hands down.

“Seriously! What’s the longest you went without sex?”

“Two years.”

“Was that after Blake?”

“Yep.”

“What a prick that guy was. “

“You’re telling me. But he had a pretty awesome prick!”

Rupa slapped Sara’s shoulder again and cackled.

____________________________________________________________________________________

The Christmas Eve tradition at the Bell house was to consume loads of open-faced egg salad sandwiches, potato salad, chips, dips, cookies, cakes, squares, fruitcake, punch, eggnog (only for Herb) and pies then play a traditional gift game. The game was played thusly:

  1. Everyone had to buy two presents. One which was very nice and the other which was a joke.
  2. All presents were wrapped and placed on the coffee table.
  3. Each participant drew a number from a hat. The person who was first selected a gift and opened it.
  4. Participant number two had the option of taking participant number one’s gift, or selecting something new from the table.
  5. This process continued until all gifts had been opened.
  6. Tradition dictated that one gift include cash or lottery tickets. This gift was always added by mom. Sometimes the cash would be hidden. One year Ryan got a book of regional road maps. After thumbing through it, thirty dollars fell out from its pages.
  7. Another tradition dictated that one set of pink, lacy women’s lingerie be included. It was the same set that had been used for the past twelve years. Whoever ended up with it was required to bring it the following year.
  8. Everyone had to pretend to LOVE the game as Colleen and Kat thought it was the pinnacle of high entertainment.
  9. Everyone had to pick on Herb and make sure he ended up with the worst gifts.

Everyone settled down in the living room where Herb had lit a fire in the fireplace. Tiffany kept asking questions about the rules of the game and finally Ned got frustrated.

“Just WATCH and you’ll figure it out!”

“But I don’t get it!”

Mom was about to pass around the numbers in a hat when suddenly everyone turned in the direction of a very loud “HE-HE-HE!!!”

Fat Aunty Kat was at the top of the stairs dressed in a short, red cape. She was wearing jingle bell earrings, fuzzy red slippers and an apron. She held a large basket in her clutches.

“HE-HE-HE everyone! Merry Christmas! You have a special visitor tonight!”

Ned started cackling…one of those laughing AT moments rather than a laughing WITH moment.

Wes turned to glare at his wife “What the heck are you supposed to be? Red Riding Hood?”

Kat pranced down the stairs then threw herself on Wes’s lap.

“No, you silly goose…I’m Mrs. Santa! HE-HE-HE!”

“Get off me woman! You know my prostate isn’t good! You’re killing me!”

Kat ignored him and planted a wet one on his balding head. Colleen, Herb and Rupa all politely laughed. Kat bounded off Wes’s lap and stepped on Sara’s foot.

“Sorry there! Look everyone! Mrs. Santa has a basketful of Christmas cheer! Now let’s see what I have…oh, here is something sweet for someone sweet!”

She handed Rupa a jar of homemade pumpkin relish.

“And I know how much you boys like fishing!”

She handed both Ryan and Ned bags of gummy worms. Sara failed to see the connection with fishing.

“And for my dear brother I have some classy perfume, cuz’ I know he likes the classy stuff!”

She handed Joe a bottle of Old Spice.

“Now for my sister, the greatest cook ever!”

She handed Colleen a set of crocheted, hot-pink potholders.

“I made them myself!”

Mom smiled and said “Oh, uh, Wow!”

“And for my favourite girl, a Barbie!”

She handed Tiffany a doll that had obviously been purchased at a flea market. Ratty hair and dirty pinafore included.

“This isn’t new,” Tiffany muttered before her dad could clamp his hand over her mouth.

“And for Sara, who has been a real, good girl this year…a calendar!”

The calendar was of puppies.

“For my dear brother in-law…Hahahaha…HAHAHAHA! This is just TOO funny!”

She handed Herb a T-shirt that read “Retired and LOVING it.”

Herb took the shirt and unconvincingly said “Ha-ha. Yeah, boy that IS funny.”

“And for Tak-Sin…SO THAT YOU REMEMBER YOUR FAMILY IN CANADA, I BOUGHT YOU A SMALL CANADIAN FLAG!”

Apparently Kat had forgotten that Tak-Sin had lived in Vancouver with Joe for the past eight years.

“And finally for my lovely husband!”

She handed Wes a book.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a scripture-a-day book for your morning devotions.”

“I don’t do morning devotions.”

“So, Merry Christmas everyone! HE-HE-HE!”

With a swirl of her cape Kat went back up the stairs.

Ned and Ryan kept jabbing each other’s ribs, trying to make each other laugh.

“Well, my daughter has officially lost her mind,” grandpa stood slowly.

“Hey, great-grandpa didn’t get a present!” Tiffany shouted.

“Oh my sweet thing. Your Aunty Kat is present enough. Now, I must go to bed as I don’t think my weary bones can handle any more FUN.”

Grandpa went off to bed. Kat soon returned with a big smile and a red face.

“Oh! Did you guys have anything fun happen while I was gone? Any SPECIAL visitors?”

“Yeah! Red Riding Hood came!” Tiffany squealed.

“Really? Didn’t Mrs. Santa come for a visit?” Nobody responded. Then mom jumped up with her hat.

“O-KAY everyone! Let’s get this show on the road!”

Everyone took a number.

“Who’s got number one?” mom asked.

“Not me. I have four.” Only Tiffany responded. Then Wes slowly raised his hand.

“Okay Wes, you go first.”

Wes grabbed the nearest package to him…a bright red number in a small box. He ripped off the paper.

“A spud peeler.”

“What’s a spud?” Tiffany asked.

“A damn potato.”

Mom cleared her throat. “Alright, now who has number two?”

“That would be me,” Ned answered. He took a large, bulbous package.

“Hey! Look at that!  That’s real nice!” Herb chuckled.

Ned held a “lovely” candle decorated with dried flowers with the words “God is the King of Our House” written in fancy script on the side.

“Well, you can have it then.” Ned pretended he was going to throw it at his father.

“Be careful with that! You never know…SOMEONE could have made that in CRAFTS class!” Kat chortled.

“Who’s next?”

“Me.” Tak-Sin, who had so far been silent for most of the evening, grabbed a rather ratty package in a paper bag.

“Look!  Talk-Spin got it this year!  HahhahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaHAAAAA!” Kat wailed as a red faced Tak-Sin removed the pink lacies from the bag. Colleen joined her sister in laughter and Herb was laughing so hard it looked like he was about to have a stroke. The younger people started laughing too, but only at the stupidity of the older folks. Only Wes did not join in.

“TUCK-PIN? THAT IS A FAMILY TRADITION! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ‘TRADITION’?”

“Yes.”

“Put it on! Model! Model it for us! Hahaha!” Herb yelled. Joe put his face in his hand and started chuckling at his partner, who seemed none too amused to be the centre of attention.

“That was a GOOD one!” Tiffany cackled. “Me next!” With that, a little hand reached out and grabbed a longish box.

“Um, Tiffany, maybe you should leave that for someone…” Rupa was too late. Tiffany had already ripped off half the paper. She then opened the box.

“What’s this thing? Is it like a flashlight?” She removed a large, flesh-coloured vibrator from the box.

“Oh good grief!” Colleen leapt to her feet and grabbed it away from Tiffany. “You guys! There’s a kid present!”

“What is it?  Hey!  I didn’t see. What was it? Wesley, did you see what it was? Show me Colleen!” Kat kept hollering.

“No. Not with little eyes around.” Mom hid the offending item under her sweater and headed to the kitchen. Tiffany got up on her knees and whispered in Kat’s ear a bit too loudly, “When she does that it means it’s a sex thing.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

After all the “fun” was finished, everyone headed home except Kat who was going to help Colleen with the stockings. Tiffany begged to sleep over, but her dad insisted she go home. Sara said she was tired and headed to bed. She pulled out the hide-a-bed, crawled in and turned out the lights. Mom and Kat were up in the front room doing their thing. From the basement, their conversation was clear as day.

“I do wish Selina and the girls could’ve been here this year.”

“Well, you should give them a call tomorrow.”

“I will. I really miss the girls.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“And it really burns me up when dad calls them Mexicans.”

“Kat, you let him get under your skin too much.”

“He has never said a nice thing to me his whole life!”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes it is, Colleen. He has always been so mean to me.”

“That’s just dad.”

“I suppose. Well, Sara sure is quiet these days, eh?”

“Guess she just has a lot on her mind.”

“Blake?”

“Oh, I don’t think so. Who knows? She never tells me anything. I worry about her.”

“What she needs is a boyfriend.”

“What she needs is to come home and be with her family.”

“That’s true. A family is God’s blessing.  Have you told her about Herb yet?”

“Not yet. I want her to have a happy Christmas, ya know? I’ll tell her after. Herb says he can’t bring himself to tell her.”

“But you told the boys, right?”

“I was going to…but there hasn’t been a time that was right.”

“Why can’t he just tell everyone himself?”

“Who knows? It seems like I always get the hard work, eh?”

CHAPTER FIVE: 

“So I hear you’ve been in touch with Blake.” Sara and Colleen were in the kitchen cutting up loaves of day-old bread for stuffing.

“Oh? Well, yes. I mean he sent me a little note for my birthday. No big deal.”

“Well, I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Sara mumbled.

“Oh come on, Sara. He was part of our family for four years!” Mom tossed another handful of bread cubes into a large, stainless-steel bowl.

“Yeah, well so was Linda.”

“Yes, well Linda left your brother for someone else and took his daughter. Things are different.”

“Mom, how are they different? Blake was cheating on me constantly!”

“But he was sorry and he wasn’t the one who left.”

“I know that mom! I left HIM!”

“You don’t have to get upset.”

Sara started cutting at the stale bread with fury. “What, you expected me to stay with him?”

“All I know is that you didn’t try. You just filed the papers and left the country. And now you come home after nearly three years, and what have you got to show for yourself?  Not even a boyfriend. I had three kids when I was your age.”

“I can’t believe you. After all this time you really don’t get it…what I went through. I had to get away. He really destroyed me. You really have no idea.”

“Well, that’s what your family is for. To help you guys through the rough spots. Can you chop up those onions?”

Sara grabbed an onion and started peeling it. “Mom, he was seeing two other women. TWO! And he’d been doing it for years. Can you imagine how that must have felt, how betrayed I was?”

“Well, people make mistakes.”

“How would you feel if dad did something like that?”

“I don’t know. If he was sorry and apologized…”

“Well, obviously it has never happened to you then. “ Sara started chopping the onion madly. She found her mother so infuriating. Her divorce had always been looked at differently than Ned’s.

“Oh REALLY? You think I have no idea…” She paused momentarily and picked up a cube of bread and put it into her mouth. Her eyes stared upwards captured in thought. Then she snapped out of it and returned to cubing the bread. “Well, I mean my own parents had a problem like that. So I do understand.”

“Mom, you were five years old when that happened. And grandma never forgave grandpa for that, did she?”

“I’m not discussing this with you anymore. I always liked Blake and always will. So, he made a mistake. I don’t think that’s a reason to throw your marriage into the garbage.”

Sara threw the knife on the counter and stomped out of the kitchen, grabbing her coat in the hall and headed outside for a smoke.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Rupa burst into the house as only Rupa could. At just over five feet tall and about 150 pounds she looked like the Koolaid Man in a bundle of red.

“Merry Christmas! Hahahahahahahahaa!” She squeezed the air out of Sara before hurling a puffy scarf on the stairs and racing towards the kitchen continuing her “Merry Christmas chorus.” Ryan followed a few minutes later with a box of presents and a none-too-happy expression on his face.

“Where’s dad?” he mumbled.

“Downstairs watching TV, as usual.” Sara watched Ryan drop the box on the front room sofa then stomp down the stairs to the family room.  She scooted to the end of the loveseat to listen in on what she was sure were to be the ensuing fireworks.

“Where’s the plough?”

“What plough?” Herb replied innocently.

“You know what I’m talking about.”

“Listen, I already told you we don’t need a plough.”

“What the heck are you talking about? Every time I come up that driveway I nearly go off the edge! You haven’t shovelled it in years and it’s gonna kill someone someday. I mean, you’ve already gone over the edge TWICE.”

“I put salt on it. That’s all it needs. And with the four-wheel drive it’s just fine.”

“Well, it was a present! I bought it and it wasn’t just for you! It’s for mom too.”

“Yeah, your mom put you up to this.”

“Well, geez, maybe she doesn’t want to get herself killed.”

“We don’t need a plough and that’s it!”

“Oh, that’s it eh? You always know better.”

“I don’t need to listen to this.”

“Fine, whatever. Go ahead and kill yourself on the damn driveway.  Just remember that you’ll be killing your wife at the same time.”

“Who do you think you are?”

“Me? Well, I’m Ryan.”

“Get out of here. I don’t want to uh…that’s it.”

“Well, I’ll leave as soon as you give me the money back.”

“What’s this?  You taking a gift back?”

“I never actually had a chance to GIVE the damn thing to you! I bring it over to the house and hide it away and next thing I know it’s gone! So, if you don’t want it…fine! But give me the money back.”

“Well, I don’t have it.”

“What do you mean, you don’t have it?”

“I bought an air compressor.”

“For what?”

“Because I need one.”

“You already have one in the garage!”

“That thing is useless.”

“Honestly, you have completely lost your mind, old man.”

“Pardon me? That is disrespect!”

“Oh fuck off,” Ryan stormed upstairs. Herb soon followed, although more waddling than storming. Ryan was already out the front door when Herb made it to the hallway. He looked at Sara.

“You hear that? My own son fucks me off!”

Sara tried not to smile.

“You think it’s funny? Hmm? I’d wipe that smirk from my face real quick if I was you.”

Mom arrived with Rupa in tow. “What on Earth is going on?”

“Your son just fucked me off!”

Rupa started to cackle.

“What is this? I don’t have a single person that respects me in this FAMILY!” With that he reached out and grabbed the nearest item, which in this case was an antique vase filled with silk flowers and smashed it on the floor. Nobody was laughing.

“What the Heck? That was mother’s! What is wrong with you?” mom immediately started cleaning up the mess. Rupa rushed out the front door to find Ryan. Herb stood watching his wife clean up the mess, as if not quite believing what he had actually done. Sara shook her head and walked to the front door as well.

“Where do you think you’re going?” dad yelled at her.

“Out.“

“Help your mom clean up this mess!”

Sara stopped in her tracks. She could feel the rage creeping up her spine; the rage she knew he had passed on to her, but that she kept firmly inside.  She glared at Herb. It was still there inside of him too…although kept mostly in check. She actually hadn’t seen that old rage in years and was none-too-pleased to see it once again. She could already see in his eyes that he’d realised he’d lost control. Then a look of shame washed over his face. She continued staring him down…making him feel even weaker.

“No. But I will help mom clean up YOUR mess.”

Not knowing how to respond, Herb mumbled “sorry,” then plodded back down the stairs to his comfy chair and television.  Sara got a broom and mom held the dustpan. They cleaned up in silence. Finally, as mom picked up a garbage bag, she turned to Sara and softly whispered, “On second thought, I guess I’m wrong. I am glad you got divorced. I really should be more supportive. I know I’d want your love and support too if…”  She patted Sara on the shoulder.

CHAPTER SIX: 

“I press this button?” Tiffany held the camera while Sara posed in front of the large dollhouse crammed with Barbies old and new.

“That’s the one.”

Click.

“That’s a good one!” Tiffany screeched as she looked at the camera’s screen. “Now, let’s do one picture together and then maybe we can pretend all the girls are goin’ to, like, this real big party and the boys want to come but they’re not allowed so the girls kick them out.”

Sara was actually kind of happy that her niece hadn’t yet grown out of playing with Barbies. They’d already thrown a grand wedding where the maid of honour got beaten to a pulp for trying to steal the groom, and another where the main Barbie left one Ken for another Ken because the first Ken was a “bum who just smokes and complains all the time!”

“Aren’t you tired of Barbies yet? We’ve been playing for two hours!”

“Nooo! Come on, Aunty…just one more time! You can even play with my favourite one!”

“I’m pooped! We can play tomorrow.”

“But tomorrow is Christmas Eve and you’ll be busy.”

There was no fooling this one.

“Why don’t we have a break for an hour and go have a snack?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.”

They walked downstairs to the kitchen. Herb was out buying some milk (i.e. buying more crap at the local junk shops). Mom and Kat had gone to town to get their hair done. Wes had taken Lucky to the groomer. Nobody had heard from Ryan or Rupa since the plough discussion. Uncle Joe and his “friend” were hiding out at Ryan’s. Ned was doing his own Christmas shopping…which left Sara to babysit Tiffany.

“How come Blake didn’t come for Christmas?” Tiffany asked, grabbing a shortbread cookie.

“Blake and I aren’t together anymore.”

“How come?”

“Well, he made some big mistakes.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Just, well, some bad stuff.”

“I know it’s BAD stuff, but what kinda stuff?”

“You’re too young to understand.”

“That means sex stuff.” Tiffany laughed, causing her to spray cookies crumbs over the floor.

Sara smiled. “Why do you think that?”

“Every time someone says I’m too young to understand it means sex stuff. That’s why my mom won’t let me watch CSI. One time I sneaked and watched it and I saw sex stuff. A boy was just wearing his underpants and a dead girl was naked.”

“Well, your mom is right.”

“So you don’t like him anymore?”

Sara pulled a jar of Colleen’s homemade pickles out of the fridge. “It’s complicated.”

“Yeah. Can I have a pickle too?”

They munched on pickles for a minute, and then Sara grabbed her coat.

“Where you going?”

“Just out for a smoke.”

“I’ll come too.”

They bundled up and headed out onto the porch at the back door. Tiffany started shaking the snow off a Japanese maple.

“You wanna know a secret?”

“Sure,” Sara answered as she inhaled.

“Well, I have ta show you. It’s not a secret I can tell.”

“OK, show me.”

“It’s outside in the shed. It’s in Uncle Ryan’s box of stuff from when he was a kid.” Tiffany’s nose wrinkled up just the way her dad’s did when he was being sneaky.

Sara finished her smoke and Tiffany grabbed her arm and pulled her up the bank towards the shed. As they entered Tiffany said “but you gotta promise not to tell anyone. I don’t think anyone knows but me.”

Sara followed her niece inside, and Tiffany went to where two wooden chests were stored at the back underneath some apple crates. She moved the crates aside and lifted open the lid, the smell of cedar filling the room. She then stuck her arm in and jammed it to the bottom of the chest, feeling around for something.

“What are you doing?” Sara chuckled.

“Well, I was lookin’ for Christmas presents. I looked here cuz last year grandma hid stuff in my dad’s chest. So I looked again this year in uncle’s, and I found these!”

She pulled out a moderately sized stack of Young Titties magazines. Sara immediately snatched them away from her.

“Tiffany! You’re not supposed to be looking at this kind of stuff!”

“I know, cuz it’s sex stuff. But you can’t tell. Promise you won’t tell.”

“I won’t tell.”

“I think uncle thinks those girls are pretty.”

“Oh yeah? Well, Uncle Ryan’s kinda silly, isn’t he?”

“My dad is too. One time I saw him looking at this computer movie and there was this lady in a black thing and she was spanking this guy who had no clothes on. Isn’t that funny? But I didn’t say nothing. My dad thought I was sleeping, but I wasn’t. I think boys are kind of weird.”

“They sure are, my dear.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

“THEY GIVE YOU ANY FOOD ON THE PLANE?”

“What’s that?”

“FOOD!  Did they feed you?”

“Need what?”

“HAVE YOU EATEN?”

“No, just some awful pretzels.”

“You want to get a fo-ko-shu bun? A place up here has real good ones.”

“Eh?”

“YOU WANT TO STOP AND GET SOMETHING TO EAT?”

“No, I’m fine. “

Grandpa sat with dad in the front. Sara was in back with an already snoring Aunty Kat, who had fallen asleep on the way back to pick up grandpa at the Kelowna airport.

“SARA JUST CAME BACK FROM JAPAN!”

“I say.”

“DID YOU KNOW SHE LIVES IN JAPAN?”

“Yes, Colleen told me many times.”

“GUESS THEY HAVE FUNNY HAIRSTYLES OVER THERE.” Herb shot Sara a look in the rear-view mirror.

“I say.”

Grandpa had never cared for Herb all that much. In fact, mom told a story of when he met Herb for the first time, took one look at his long hair and moccasins and announced that his “daughter would not be marrying any dirty hippy.” Grandpa fancied himself a true Englishman and claimed that his mother had brought him over to Canada from London as a young boy. However, mom and Kat discovered on his birth certificate that his mother was born in Liverpool and that grandpa had been born in Didsbury, Alberta.  There was never a mention of grandpa’s own father. Once, when asked by his father by a young Uncle Joe, he had snapped that “He died in the war! He died in the war!”

“Yeah, Colleen’s been cooking up a storm! Kat too…so lots of goodies at, uh…”

“The sounds lovely,” Grandpa said through a scowl. He then grunted and turned to face Sara.

“So tell me, how is it that you plan to find a new husband when you are living amongst all those Nips?”

Herb shot Sara a look of horror in the mirror, his eyes pleading for her just to let the comment pass.

“Well, grandpa, I haven’t really been looking.”

“I do hope you meet a nice, young man soon. After a certain age a lady loses her attractiveness to men and the possibility of finding an acceptable husband becomes increasingly difficult.”

“Well, guess I will just have to get Botox at that point!” Sara jokingly smiled. Grandpa smiled back.

“You have your grandmother’s wit, my dear. The only one in the family who does. Colleen got my brains, but as for poor Kathleen…” he paused to glance back at fat Aunty Kat’s sleeping form, “well, she must have gotten the milkman’s appetite.” He winked at Sara.

“DAD? I AM JUST GOING TO STOP IN HERE AND PICK YOU UP ONE OF THOSE FO-KO-SHU BUNS!”

__________________________________________________________________________________

Scrabble was not just a game in the Bell house…it was a gladiatorial competition. Out came the official Scrabble dictionaries, the $159 deluxe anniversary edition of the game-board,  the timer, the special notepads, an array of pens and the official score sheets…well, not so official because mom had scanned a sheet into her computer and printed out about a hundred.

The formal dining room table was cleared and the competitors stood around it nervously. Herb, Colleen, Kat, Wes, Ryan, Rupa, Ned, Joe, Tak-Sin, Tiffany, Grandpa and Sara stood pondering their next moves.

“Well, there are twelve of us, so that makes teams of three” Colleen announced. And the battle started. Joe immediately reached out and grabbed Colleen’s arm, who then latched on to Sara. Kat kept pawing at her husband, who kept shaking himself free while trying to catch Rupa’s extended hand. Herb laughed and pretended he didn’t care, while at the same time trying to push Rupa’s hand off her husband’s arm. Tiffany announced that she and great-grandpa were together. As usual, Ned and Kat were not being fought over as Ned’s spelling was atrocious and, well, nobody wanted to be partnered with Kat because she always started crying.

The dust settled and the teams sat down at the four corners of the table. On the upper left-hand corner were Tiffany, grandpa, and Ned. Next to them were Rupa, Ryan, and Wes.  Joe, Sara, and Colleen sat on the lower left, with Tak-Sin and Herb got stuck with Aunty Kat on the bottom right.

“OK, so three minutes per turn, no looking up spellings and Canadian spelling only,” Herb announced.

“Well, I don’t know your whacked-out spellings, so I think we should allow both,” Wes bellowed from the other end of the table.

“Well, your team members will know the Canadian spellings.” Herb replied authoritatively.

 “How ‘bout we just accept either types of spelling?” Rupa suggested.

“Because, my dear, there is no such thing as American or Canadian English. There is the Queen’s English.” grandpa answered before Herb could reply.

“And Tuck-Shin too! He is foreign so we should allow any spelling,” Aunty Kat wailed.

“FINE! Is everyone agreed then?” Herb asked. Nobody responded. So each team drew a tile. Herb’s team got a “B” so they went first. There was a quiet murmur as each team frantically arranged their tiles to spell out a variety of words.

Kat reached out and placed her team’s tiles on the centre of the board, covering the star in the center. Everyone quietly looked at the board to study the word.

“What’s that?”  Rupa asked.

“What do you mean?” Herb replied.

“Well, it’s spelt wrong.” Ryan stated.

“No, it’s not. We agreed on any spelling.”

“Nobody spells it that way,” Ryan answered back.

“That’s the British way.”

Mom and Joe started laughing. Sara smiled and then Tiffany started to laugh too, which then annoyed dad. His face turned red.

“Listen, we all agreed that international spelling is fine!”

Sara decided to step in. “But dad, nobody spells it ‘S-E-X-Y-L-Y’.”

“That’s old English.”

Then grandpa started to laugh.  “There’s no such thing, dear boy.”

“Of course there is. That there is Shakespearean spelling!” Herb’s bottom lip was starting to quiver in annoyance. “Ask Joe!” Everyone looked to Joe who was a literature professor in Vancouver.

“Well actually, Herb, it isn’t. And anyway, we can’t use old English for Scrabble.”

“Says who?” Herb shouted.

“Oh brother,” Ned mumbled.

“Hon, just take it off,” mom mumbled.

“Fine.  So now everyone knows that we are not using British English. As long as that is clear,” dad pronounced while he snatched back his tiles.

“Time’s up!” Tiffany screeched brightly. Ned started to laugh.

“No, we get to do it again.” Herb retorted back.

“What do you mean? You had your three minutes!” Rupa exclaimed.

“Nope. We are doing it again and that’s it!” Herb bellowed.

“Who died and made YOU king of Scrabble?” Rupa answered back with a laugh. Herb’s temple veins started to twitch. He closed his eyes for a moment. Everyone was dead silent…nervously awaiting the predictable eruption of Mount Herbious.

He finally spoke. “OK. Don’t worry, Kat and Tak-Sin…if they want to try and cheat that’s fine. Let them cheat. Cheaters always lose in the end.”

“How on Earth do you think we are cheating?” Rupa exclaimed.

“Never mind.  It is all fine. Go. It’s your turn. Tiffany! Start the timer!”

Rupa picked up Q-A-T and plopped it on the board where S-E-X-Y-L-Y had previously sat.

“Now look who’s talking! That is DEFINITELY NOT a word!” Herb shouted.

“Sure it is. You want to challenge us? Go ahead. “

A Scrabble “challenge” in the Bell household meant that if the team challenged was proven to be incorrect, they lost their turn and had to take an additional two tiles. If the challenger was proven incorrect, they in turn lost twenty points.

“Well, I’ll let you get away with it this time…as long as you know that I know that THAT isn’t a word.”

“Well, it is.” Rupa was not giving up.

Herb turned to Colleen and shouted “Gimme the dictionary.”

“So, you ARE challenging them?” mom asked.

“No.”

“Then what do you need the dictionary for?”

“To prove my point.”

“So they still get to keep their points no matter what.”

“Yes. Just give me the darn dictionary!”

Rupa and Ryan smirked at each other. Kat seemed to be nearly dozing off again. The rest of the competitors sat staring at Herb as he nervously thumbed through the dictionary.

“Ah-ha!” Herb loudly declared, slapping the dictionary shut.

“What? It’s there! I know for a fact!” Rupa was not happy.

“Yes, but it’s an Arabic word.”

“So what? It’s in there.”

“But didn’t we all just say that we were only going to use Canadian and American English?”

“It is in the OFFICIAL Scrabble dictionary!!!”

“You guys made the rules.” Herb was smirking with pride.

“I’m sorry, but S-E-X-Y-L-Y is NOT even a word!” Rupa slapped her hand down on the table in emphasis.

“Who died and made YOU queen of Scrabble?” Herb answered back.

“Great grandpa said Uncle Joe’s the queen,” Tiffany announced out of nowhere.  Ned and Tak-Sin burst out laughing. Joe scrunched his lips and stared down his father. Colleen shouted out “Tiffany! That’s not nice!”

“Time’s up!” Tiffany screeched brightly.

CHAPTER FOUR:

 

“Aunty Sara!  It’s me!” Unlike her father, this girl seemed far from shy. Pretty, honey-blonde curls and a gap-toothed grin sat bouncing in front of her on the bed.

“Careful, Tiffany. Aunty Sara is cranky when she gets woken up,” Ned’s voice chuckled.

“Ah. Hey there. Gosh, what time is it?” Sara groggily replied.

“Quarter to six! Grandma says to get you up cuz’ we’re goin’ to Boston Pizza.”

“Okay. I’m coming.”

 Tiffany scampered out of the room with Ned behind her. As they walked down the stairs she heard Tiffany mutter “Why is she stayin’ in my room?”

Sara headed into what was now mom’s bathroom and splashed some water on her face. She looked into the mirror and had to admit that yes, maybe her bangs were a bit too short. Still, she didn’t look half bad for thirty-five. The fine lines etched around her eyes didn’t bother her so much.

She walked down the stairs to a cacophony of discussions about who was riding with whom and where so-and-so’s boots were.

“Aunty Sara, you’re coming with me!”  A little arm latched up through Sara’s elbow. It wasn’t that she didn’t like kids, she’d actually taught at an English school in Osaka for a year. She just didn’t really know how to relate…hence the transfer to the publishing company in Tokyo.

They followed Ned out the door to the “lemon” truck.

“Where’s your toque?”

“I don’t need one,” Tiffany replied shaking her curls in the cool wind.

“It’s cold. You better get it.”

“I’m fine, dad! Plus we only have to walk from the truck when we get there.”

“Fine, but don’t come whinin’ to me when you catch the flu.”

“Aunty Sara, do you have a truck?”

“No.”

“A car?”

“No.”

“How do you get to work?”

“I take a subway.”

“Oh yeah, I never been on a subway.”

It took three tries to start the truck. “This thing is a piece of shit,” Ned muttered as they headed down the driveway.

“Dad!  You’re not supposed to say bad words.”

“Oops! Sorry. Put your seatbelt on. So I hear Herb had an accident last night,” Ned chuckled as the truck roared out on to the main road.

“Yep. Pretty funny.”

“Par for the course.”

“Yeah. Spent my day following him around to every last thrift store in town.”

“That house is so full of junk. I say we just throw a lit match at the place when those two kick the bucket.”

“Daddy, grandpa bought this really ugly, hippo, cookie jar.”

“Oh, did he? Bet grandma loves that.”

“No, she hates it. Says she’ll save it and use it as grandpa’s urn. What’s an urn?”

Sara and Ned laughed. “It’s a jar for special treats,” Ned explained.

“Well, then I don’t get what you guys are laughing about. That’s not so funny.”

“He’s been drivn’ Ryan nuts. Herb comes over to his new house, eh, and starts raggin’ on everything he sees. Says ‘for a guy who owns his own construction company you sure haven’t done much with the place.’ Course he’s right…but I don’t say nothin’ about it. Good entertainment, that’s for sure.”

“Oh yeah.”

“My daddy has a girlfriend.”

Sara smiled, ‘Oh yeah? What’s her name?”

“Allison.”

“Hey, you better stop telling daddy’s secrets.”

“It’s not a secret. And sometimes they drink wine on Friday nights.”

Ned blushed and rolled his eyes.

“What’s she like?” Sara prodded her niece further.

“She works with the critters.”

“Tiffany! You’re not supposed to say that!”

“You say it all the time!”

“She works up at the Pine Ridge Home in Armstrong. It’s some place for the, uh, well, the retards.”

“Critters!”

“Tiffany! That’s enough!”

 Tiffany cackled.

“Is she coming for Christmas?” Sara asked, while giving Tiffany a wink and a smile.

“Hell no. Not ready for her to meet those people quite yet” Ned replied before his daughter could answer.

They pulled up in front of a brightly lit restaurant. Christmas lights twinkled around the edges of the parking lot, hidden away in bushes.

“Guess you heard that Uncle Joe and his friend are staying at Ryan’s place,” Ned said with a smirk.

“No. Why?”

“Mom said they’re not allowed to share a bed. Says that nobody who wasn’t married has ever been allowed to share a bed in her house.  So Joe says ‘yeah, but we been together for six years’ and mom goes, ‘well, you guys can get married in Canada now, so there’s no excuse anymore.’”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

“So Joe gets all in her face and says that he is a fifty year old man and she can’t treat him like that anymore.  Starts going on about how nobody in the family has any respect for him or his relationship.  So, mom’s all crying and Kat starts lecturing at him saying how Jesus says to love the sinner but hate the sin. That’s when I come by to drop off the air mattress. So I walk in, and I can see Joe is about to lose it, ya know, takin’ one of those deep breaths. So I take him out for a smoke and calm him down. So him and that Tak-Sin guy are gonna be stayin’ over at Ryan’s.”

As they walked into the waiting area of the Boston Pizza Sara noticed Joe and Tak-Sin standing off to the side. Mom sat on a bench with a scowl on her face. Kat smiled at Sara and walked over.

“Herb has just gone to use the restroom. Our table will be ready in ten minutes. Sara, do I smell smoke? Are you still doing that terrible habit? You know, I thought your mother taught you better than that.  You know that your body is the temple of God, don’t you?”

“Well, then I guess God must REALLY love onion rings and corndogs.” Ned had mumbled…but a bit too loudly.

“Ned! That’s enough!” Mom shot him an evil look.

“I’m just sayin’ that everyone has their bad habits.”

Sara could see Aunty Kat’s eyes already welling up. “Well, I’ll have you know, Ned Bell, that I have been on Jenny Craig for two months. I’ve done real good too! I have prayed for the Lord to give me the strength to lose these few extra pounds. But it is Christmas-time, and I think Jesus wouldn’t mind if I had a little extra in celebration of his birth!  I don’t know how you can say such hurtful things at Christmas.”

“I think you need to apologize to your Aunty!” Dad had suddenly reappeared, and put his arm around Aunty Kat’s quivering mass.

“I’m not going to apologize for nothin’! She’s a bloody hypocrite! Whatever. Come on Tiffany, we’re outta here!”

“But I don’t want to go daddy.”

“We’re leaving. NOW.”

“Well, that’s real mature, uh, huh…”

Ned glanced to Sara. “You comin’?”

Suddenly she was terrified. If she left then dad and Fat Kat would be mad. Not to mention mom. If she stayed, Ned would be furious. He had just stood up for her, after all.

Suddenly a gust of wind hit her full force as Uncle Wes walked in through the front doors.

“Now what the Hell has just gone down here? Ya’ll look like a buncha sorry-faced niggers whose watermelon patch got robbed.”

“Wesley!”

____________________________________________________

In the end, Kat got so wound up about Wes’s off-colour comment that the previous argument was forgotten. Ned and Tiffany stayed.

“Are you guys all ready to order?” A pudgy waitress wearing a Santa hat approached the table.

Herb looked to his wife. “What are you having?”

“The Alfredo.”

“Oh, uh yeah. I thought I would try this spicy chicken…uh…what does that come with?”

“Excuse me sir?” the waitress smiled.

“What does the spicy chicken pasta come with?”

“You can choose between the soup or salad.”

“What kind of soup is it?”

“Minestrone.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a vegetable soup, hon,” mom whispered in his ear.

“Oh. I don’t want that. What’s in the salad?”

The waitress, God love her, kept smiling. “Well, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta and croutons.”

“Yeah, yeah. I want that. Could you put some extra feta on there? Lots of olives too.”

“Sure. Okay, and for you Ma’am?” She looked to Colleen.

“And lots of chicken in the pasta.” Herb again.

“Sure. Okay Ma’am, what would you like?”

“Do you have fo-ko-shu?” Herb again.

“Excuse me?”

“Fo-ko-shu, fo-ko-shu.”

“Focaccia bread? Yes, we do actually. Would you like that as well?”

“Does it come with the pasta?”

“No, sorry, just the soup or salad.”

“Oh. Well, can I have it instead of those?”

“Sorry, just the soup OR salad.  Alright, Ma’am, what would you like?”

After just three more interruptions from Herb, the waitress left with their orders. Kat sat pouting at one end of the table having ordered only a Caesar salad and water.

“Dad, can I have a Pepsi?” Tiffany asked, fluttering her eyes at Ned.

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“You know why not. You can have 7-up or Crush.”

“But I want Pepsi. Mom let’s me have Pepsi.”

“You’ll be up all night if you drink Pepsi.”

“No, I won’t! I promise! I’ll drink just a little.”

“Well, you can have a little taste of mine.”

“No! I want my own.”

“Well, you’re not gettin’ it.”

Tiffany joined Aunty Kat in the pouty-face club. Mom tried starting a lively conversation about Christmases past, but failed miserably. Finally the food started to arrive.

“What did you get?” Dad asked Sara.

“Baked lasagne.”

“That looks real good. Oh, you got fo-ko-shu with yours?”

“Actually, I think it’s garl…”

“Hey, how come she got fo-ko-shu?” Herb demanded of the waitress who was trying to set down two dishes of Alfredo.

“Oh, that’s actually garl…”

“Well, you told me I couldn’t have it, but she got it.”

“Actually, all pasta dishes come with GARLIC BREAD. Yours does too.”

“Oh. Good. I’ll have an extra piece.”

The smiling waitress was no longer smiling. After everyone was given their meals she soon returned with a small dish with an extra piece of garlic bread.

“Here ya’ go sir.”

“Thanks. Anyone else want extra garlic bread?” Nobody said a word. The waitress turned to leave.

“You can fill up some of our drinks, though.”

“No problem. I’ll just take care of this other table and be right back.” From the daggers coming out of the waitress’s eyes, Sara was scared that Herb might get a cyanide cocktail. 

“Hey, you wanna split yours with me?” Herb poked at Colleen who was happily twirling fettuccini on her fork.

“No.”

Herb looked down at his spicy chicken pasta. Actually, it did not look that great.

“Sara? You wanna split yours with me?”

“I’m fine.”

“Anyone want to share?” Nobody answered. It seemed that nobody was in the mood for Christmas sharing.

“Well, I can’t eat this.” Herb grumbled.

“What’s wrong with it?” Colleen snapped.

“Looks terrible.”

“Well, you always have to order something weird and different.”

“I do not!”

“Of course you do. Everyone else gets something they like and you have to pick the strangest thing on the menu.”

“Well, I like to be adventurous!”

“Go ahead and be adventurous then! Honestly, you haven’t even tried it.” Herb joined his sister and granddaughter in a big pout, and frowningly started stabbing at a piece of overcooked chicken.

“Oh, mom?” Ned called from the other end of the table.

“Yeah?”

“Is it okay if Bernie comes over for Christmas? It’s just that he doesn’t really have anywhere to go.”

Sara vaguely remembered a native guy named Bernie who couldn’t stop staring at her chest when she was home a few years back.

“I guess so.”

“Oh! Colleen that reminds me that Landon called today and said he’s coming. He’s bringing his girlfriend Sherry,” Kat called from the other end of the table.

“Oh. Okay.”

“Don’t worry. She’s off the drugs now.”

“Mm-hm.”  Mom joined the pouters.

Sara stared straight down and ahead to avoid any eye contact and focused on her greasy supper.

“I see you’re looking at my ring!” Wes’s voice boomed from across the table. Sara suddenly realized he was speaking to her, mistakenly thinking that she was staring at a tacky, gold, pinky-ring with a big blue stone on his left hand.

“Uh, no, I was…”

“That there ring is from Bugsy Malone’s nephew.”

“Oh. Really?” Uncle Wes’s stories were legendary piles of crap…or so most of the family believed. Sara had come to the conclusion that there was a lot more truth in his tales than people tended to think.

“I used to be a lawyer, you know?”

“Yeah, you told me that before.”

“Yes, he did!” Kat piped in from her end of the table.

“Well, I had this client that I did some work for and he was so impressed that he gave me this ring as a parting gift. He says ‘Wes, if you are ever in Vegas all you gotta do is show this ring to any concierge and you will get the red carpet treatment wherever you go!’ And later I found out he was Bugsy Malone’s grandson.”

“I thought you said nephew?”

“No, grandson. So Kat and I use this ring every time we’re in Vegas. Always get free buffets, drinks and the whole nine yards. I just flash this ring to any concierge and say ‘you know who gave me this ring?’ and I don’t have to say another word!”

“Well, not THAT ring, actually. He lost the first one, and we got that one made…” Kat corrected.

“I did NOT lose it woman! It was stolen! I never take it off! Someone must have broken in one night and stolen it right off my finger. This ring is power, and someone in the know would have known how valuable it is.”

“Well, not THAT ring.”

“They KNOW it isn’t exactly THIS ring, woman! Shut your pie-hole.”

“Wesley! You cannot talk to me like that at Christmas!”

Uncle Wesley crossed his arms and pushed his chair back, joining the rest of the pouters. The meal continued in uncomfortable silence. They didn’t order dessert as mom said there were enough goodies at home to choke a horse. The waitress finally appeared with the bill and set it down next to Herb, who pushed it away to the middle of the table.

“Oh honestly,” Mom muttered as she grabbed the bill folder and slapped her credit card inside.

 Herb then reached into his pocket and pulled out a fistful of coins which he noisily dropped on the table. Sara watched as his sausage fingers picked out all the loonies and toonies, and then pushed the rest of the coins under the side of his plate. Uncle Joe, who had been quiet so far, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a ten dollar bill and added it to the coins.

“What’s that for?”

“The tip.”

“I already left one,” Herb replied, pushing the bill back across the table towards Joe.

“Herb, you can’t just leave a few coins for nine people.”

“The service was awful.”

“What? She was great!”

“Didn’t give me bread when I asked for it.”

“But you haven’t even left her a dollar!”  Joe started breathing deeply.

“I have too! Look…that’s a dollar and thirteen cents.”

Joe placed the ten-dollar bill under the side of his own plate. “Well, it’s my money and I’m leaving it.” He then stood and headed to the entrance, Tak-Sin sheepishly in tow.

“What’s his problem?” Herb muttered as he put on his coat.  Then before anyone could say a word, he snatched the ten dollars, stuffed it into his jeans’ pocket, and headed out. Ned laughed.  Wes even smirked. Kat started chuckling and soon even mom managed to crack a smile.

Sara waited around until everyone was headed toward the door, pulled a twenty out of her pocket and hid it under her own plate before following her now happy family out to the parking lot.

CHAPTER THREE:

“Just go with him to the mall. Kat can help me with the cooking. He’s missed you, ya know? He needs help too. Last year he bought me a pair of pink sweatpants with ‘peaches’ written on the bum.” Mom rubbed Sara’s shoulders while whispering quietly. Dad had always thought he was the boss of the family, but only mom had the talent of getting the kids to do exactly what she wanted.

“Okay.”

“And can you pick up some bread? Don’t let him get any of that squirrely stuff.”

“Sure.”

Herb was waiting impatiently for her at the door leading into the garage.

“You ready?”

Sara got into the Subaru and buckled herself in the front seat.

“What are you carrying those around for?” she asked, noticing what looked like panty-liners sticking out from the coat pocket on Herb’s chest.

“Oh yeah, these. Well, it was jo…uh, your mom’s idea.  Guess she, uh…heh! Well, with my condition, keeps my underpants…”

“Ah. Yeah, I get it. No more explanation necessary.”

“I’m doing better though.”

“Mm-Hm. Well, maybe you should put them in your inside pocket.”

“Oh, yeah…probably a good idea.”

The Subaru kept drifting onto the wrong side of the road. They reached the first intersection and Sara noticed that the car stalled.

“Um, the car stalled.”

“Oh, yeah, uh…gas is real expensive now. So I just turn it off at, uh…” The rest of the sentence was lost to Never-Ever-Land.

He parked the car in a handicapped space at the front of the mall’s crowded parking lot, explaining that with his “condition” he was as good as handicapped.  They headed toward the front doors. A glum looking native woman rang a bell near a Salvation Army bucket.

“So what do you need to buy?” Sara asked, already planning a quick getaway so that she could have a smoke.

“Oh, well, uh…I haven’t really.”

“What?”

“I guess I should probably still get your mom something…I mean, of course I still need to get her something.”

“And we need to get some things for her stocking too. Did you get anything yet?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“What did you get?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Well, I just want to make sure I don’t get her the same things.”

“A knife.”

“You bought mom a knife?”

“Paring knife.”

“Okay, well, why don’t you go ahead and go to The Bay. I’m just going to have a smoke and I’ll meet you in there.”

“Yeah, yeah. Uh…restroom.”

She lit up and sat down on a bench at the front entrance, watching Herb truck off to the nearest facilities.

“You can’t smoke here.” It was the glum woman with the bell.

Sara glared at her. “It’s outside!”

“You gotta be five metres away from the entrance, eh?”

Sara stood up and walked five exaggerated paces to the left. “Is THIS okay? Are my smoking fumes killing you from all the way over here?”

“I don’t make the rules, honey.”

“Yeah, Merry Fucking Christmas!”

After looking for her dad in The Bay for twenty minutes she found him in the lingerie section.  He was holding the frumpiest nightgown she had ever seen…apparently designed by Laura Ingalls Wilder herself.

“What do you think of that?”

“Um, well it’s a bit, uh…frumpy, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, but it’s thirty percent off.  And I can’t get her something like THAT anymore. Not really approp…yeah, better not.” He pointed to a selection of lacy housecoats done up with feather trim.

“Well, why don’t we look around a bit first?”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. I should just get her that heating pad for her bad back, eh?”

“Well, no, I mean I think getting her a housecoat is a good idea, just maybe something, uh, a bit nicer?”

“Oh, okay. Sure. Or what about perfume?”

“Yeah, that’s always nice.”

They headed over to the perfume counter. Sample bottles were displayed upon disappointingly empty boxes wrapped in beautiful paper. Herb reached for a bottle of Polo Black and sprayed it at Sara.

“What about that?”

“That’s for men, and don’t spray any more on me.”

She watched her father approach a counter filled with more feminine looking bottles. A crystal glass of paper strips for testing sat near the display. Herb grabbed the first bottle and sprayed it on his arm.

“Dad, you can use those test strips.”

“That’s okay.”

“Well, they’re women’s perfumes.”

“I don’t care.”

He sprayed three more on his arms then smiled “Oh, I like that one!”

“How can you tell? You’ve sprayed four on your arm.”

“I can tell. Yeah, your mom really likes gar…”

Honestly, she wished he would learn to finish a sentence. What did she like?  Gardening? Garage sales? Garbage? She watched as he grabbed the tester bottle and started trotting toward the cashier.

“Dad!  DAD! That’s the tes…”  Never mind, she thought.  TWO can play this game!

____________________________________________________

After another forty minutes at Purdy’s Chocolates where Herb threw a fit because the clerk wouldn’t let him try a “sample” of the Crème de Menthe chocolates, another restroom emergency, and the purchase of the aforementioned heating pad, they headed out the mall doors.

“Wanna go to the Sally Ann?”

“Not really. We need to pick up some bread, though”

“I really want to check the Sally Ann. They bring out all the good stuff in the morning, ya know. Wanna get there before all the antique store owners do.”

“Sure.”

They drove two blocks and dad parked the car in front of the local Salvation Army.

“You comin’ in?”

“No, I’ll just wait.”

Fifteen minutes later he emerged with a bulging plastic bag.

“Yeah, got some real good stuff. Fenton, Fenton.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“The candy dish. It’s Fenton. I got a real good deal on a couple Golden Books too.”

“What in the world is this?” She pulled out a cookie jar in the shape of a large hippo. It was in 1970s green and orange.

“Oh yeah…that’s REAL collectible. I can easily sell that on the Net for a hundred dollars.”

“For this? But it’s hideous.”

“Yeah, Americans. They’ll buy anything. So, where do ya wanna go now?”

“Well, we still need to pick up some bread.”

“Oh yeah, I think there’s a real good bakery by the Pro-Life Thrift Store downtown. They’ve got some of that real good fo-ko-shu bread.”

“Mom said she just wants regular bread.”

“Well, what’s it for?” Oh no…here we go. Dad was getting that annoyed, condescending tone in his voice.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, did you ask?”

“No.”

“Well, how are we supposed to know what bread to get if you don’t ask?”

“She just said get bread and not to let you get any of the squirrelly stuff.”

“Well, that’s what I needed to know, isn’t it?”

“Whatever.”

“Well, if you feel you really need to, you can call her on my cell.”

“Dad, I don’t care. It doesn’t really matter. She just said to get some bread! Get whatever you want.”

“There’s no need to get upset.”

“I’m not upset!”

“Oh! There’s The Mission Thrift Store. I’ll just pop in real quick to see if they have any new stuff. Got a nice pair of Royal Albert salt and peppers there last time. They’re worth $120. Actually, the salt is chipped so probably less than that.”

They pulled up to a small parking lot in front of a two-story building.  There were three people-of-sorts hovering around a grocery cart filled with sleeping bags.

“You coming in?”

“No.”

Another thirty minutes later dad emerged with another plastic bag.

“Got something in there for you.”

He reached in and pulled out a well-worn copy of Danielle Steele’s Fine Things.

“Oh.”

“Have you read it?”

“No.”

“Good. Thought you might like that. I know how much you like reading. Plus, they gave it to me for twenty-five cents because the cover was ripped.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“Anywhere else you wanna go?”

“I guess just the bakery then home.”

“Oh yeah, right. You can get the bread and I’ll just check the Pro-Life place next door.  Get a couple of those fo-ko-shu buns too. They’re real good.”

 ____________________________________________________

“Hi.”

“What took you guys so long?” Mom was pretending to wipe the already sparkling kitchen counters.

“Well, apart from stopping at every bathroom in sight, we also had to stop at every thrift store in town.”

“Oh no. What on Earth did he buy now?”

“Whole bunch of junk.”

“Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do!  Look at this house!  I don’t have an inch to even put a toothpick with all the crap he brings home. Come here…come look at this.” Sara followed her to the breakfast nook where a window sill had been filled with orangey-red glassware in the shape of cockatoos, pineapples and cabbages.

“What the Heck am I going to do with this stuff? He tells me to sell it online…well WHO is going to buy it? And it is hideous! I don’t want it in my house! I hope Kat’s stupid dog breaks some of it while he’s here!”

“Well, just wait until you see what he got today.”

“He is putting us in the poor house! I thought when he retired he would do something useful, like volunteer or take up a hobby. But, no! All he does is shop for crap! I don’t know why he can’t keep some of this stuff at her..” Mom heard the garage door open then became quiet. Herb’s footsteps clomped up the stairs.

“I got you the bread you asked for,” he said placing a regular loaf of plain, brown bread on the counter.

“Good.”

“Got a real good cookie jar at the Sally Ann too.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.  Well, I’m gonna go watch Judge Judy.”

“Okay.”

He trotted off to the family room downstairs.

“The cookie jar is a green and orange hippo.”

“Oh, honestly. I have a headache.” Mom pulled a bottle of Advil and Tylenol out of the cupboard and took one of each.

“You get much done?” Sara asked.

“Well, Kat came up and peeled some potatoes then said her gout was bothering her so went back to the motor home after an hour. But, I have the meatballs done, the jelly salad done and made a batch of shortbread. Now I’ve got to figure what to make for supper.”

“Why don’t we just go out?”

“Hmm. Guess we could.  Joe said they’ll be over by six. He’s over at your brother’s place right now. His friend is taking a nap upstairs.”

“So, it’s four now. Well, I might have a quick nap too. Jet lag is starting to set in.”

“Sure. I’ll wake you up in an hour or so.”

Sara walked upstairs. There were three bedrooms. One had been hers, and the boys had shared a bigger room. Mom and dad’s room was a larger suite, which actually had a tub in it near a window overlooking Swan Lake. The boy’s old room was now mom’s room. Mom had started sleeping there after dad’s surgery. She said she couldn’t handle the smell. Sara walked into what was now her dad’s room. It didn’t smell. Swags of pink, silk flowers covered one wall and antique furniture was arranged cosily in a small sitting area. A painting Sara had done of Elizabeth I with a grey face hung over the tub. She had told them she painted it grey because of the lead used in make-up during Elizabethan times. The truth was, she just liked the idea of the virgin queen sullied by grey.

She opened the doors to mom’s jewellery case.  She found the cameo sitting at the bottom where it always was. Dad had bought it for mom on a trip to Naples when they were young. Mom had promised it to her. She was just checking up on it.

Her room was across from mom and dad’s.  It was now a jumble of Barbies and teddy bears. When Ned’s daughter moved with her mom down to Kelowna, they had left her toys at “grandma’s” house.  She hadn’t seen Tiffany in three years either. She was nine now.

Laying down on the bed, which seemed insanely soft compared to her futon in Tokyo, Sara fell asleep almost instantly.