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?”

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