“Sir, could you put your seat up please?”
“You need to put your seat up please. We’re preparing for landing.”
Obviously the flight attendants on Air Crap-Uh-Duh had been going through some customer service training. Bob pushed his seat up then shoved one leg into Sara’s legroom space and another into the aisle. Obviously they had downsized the passenger seating area as well.
“What’s that?” He asked, spying Sara slipping a pill into her mouth.
“Just something to calm me down.”
“Why you take so many pills? Always taking pills. It’s not good.”
“Keep on nagging and I’ll probably have to take another one.”
“Where’s my passport?”
“I have it.”
“I need it.”
“Just I want it.”
“Honey, it’s in the overhead compartment. Just wait until we land.”
“But I need to fill my form.”
“Why didn’t you do that earlier? Anyway, you’ll have to wait now.”
“I need to do now.”
“WHY do you need to do it now?”
“Because we have to rush fast.”
“No we don’t. The flight to Kelowna isn’t until two!”
“I don’t want to wait in line.”
“There’s going to be a line no matter what.”
“Why you are so dippicult?”
The plane landed and Bob was out of his seat the minute the plane stopped at the gate. A flight attendant hollered at him to take his seat, but everyone else on the plane followed his lead and stood up as well, so the stewardess shook her head in defeat and headed to the galley.
They got to immigration in record time, and sure enough…Bob had been right; there were only about ten people in line. Unfortunately, they then waited ages for their luggage to arrive in the baggage claim area.
Bob stood at the carousel, while Sara stood with a cart filled with their carry-on bags and duty-free shopping. She was dying for a cigarette.
An overweight, elderly white woman wearing a sweater from “The Kathleen Bell Collection” had just rammed her cart into Sara’s, knocking off a cardboard box containing a porcelain vase from Arita. Sara rushed forward, picked up the box and shook it carefully. It jingled like a giant maraca. She looked to the older woman who was now pushing her cart away, avoiding her gaze.
“Oh. Did something happen?”
“Uh, yeah! You just smashed into my cart! I brought this vase all the way from Japan!”
“Well, I don’t really think you’re supposed to leave your cart here.”
“What are you talking about? This is the baggage claim area, and I didn’t LEAVE it here! I was holding right onto it!”
By this time Bob had heard her voice and come over.
“This WOMAN just broke my vase!”
“It wasn’t my fault. The cart just slipped out of my hands.”
“Are you on CRACK?”
“You don’t have to take that tone with me young lady!”
“Excuse me, but you BREAK something of mine and don’t even have the decency to apologise?”
“It was the cart! I had nothing to do with it.”
“Sara, it’s okay. Just calm down. She is old woman. Why you are so cranky? You had your pill.” He put his hand on her shoulder and she quickly shrugged it off.
“You owe me an apology…no, not just that…you OWE me a new vase! That was for my mother! Now what the Hell am I supposed to give her for Christmas?”
“Pardon me ladies, what seems to be the trouble here?” A security guard had approached them.
“Nothing, nothing. Is okay.” Bob answered.
“No, it’s NOT okay! This old bat just busted my vase! It cost me nearly $400!”
“I think you need to calm down Miss.”
“Why are you even talking to me, officer? She’s the one who made a mistake…and didn’t even apologise! And I want her to pay for the damage!”
“Miss, you really need to lower your voice. Now, why don’t we all go to the counter over there and see if we can solve this in a civilised manner.” The guard motioned to a nearby counter. Bob shook his head in frustration and headed back to the carousel.
“Well, I can tell you this much…I’m not paying $400 for some vase,” the older woman muttered as they followed the guard to the counter. Sara bit her throbbing tongue.
“Can I see your passports and customs and immigration cards please?” The guard set everything on the counter and studied them.
“You know, lady? If you had just said ‘sorry’ I wouldn’t even have cared!” Sara snapped.
“Ma’am? Please. You’re not helping matters. Okay, let’s see. Hmm. That’s odd. You say you spent $400 on that vase, eh?” the guard said while studying Sara’s customs form.
“Now that’s a bit strange, as you indicated on your customs form that the total amount of goods you’re leaving in Canada is worth only $150.”
The older woman smirked and chuckled quietly.
“Ma’am? That isn’t helping either.” He glared at the old woman, then turned back to face Sara. “Anyway, I’m guessing you made a mistake, eh? You did write that you are bringing cigarettes, spirits, and gifts at a total value of $150. But perhaps you forgot about the vase? If so, you will have to pay duty on that. SO…are you SURE you paid $400 for it? Or did you mean $40?”
Sara could feel the veins on her neck throbbing. She wanted to wipe the smug expression off the old woman’s face with a meat cleaver.
“Yes. I suppose I did. You are right. It was only $40.”
“Naturally. Well, Ma’am,” he looked to the older woman “I do believe you were at fault. So, why not just give this young lady $40 and everyone can be on their way?”
Ten minutes later, a vase lighter, with $40 in her pocket, and Bob pushing the cart behind her, Sara stormed out of the baggage claim area, marched through the meeting lounge, and out the doors of the terminal, and lit up a cigarette by the time the cold air hit her body.
“Uh, Miss? You can’t smoke here.”
The car veered left at the familiar driveway snaking up the hill on Goose Lake Road. As they turned the second bend, a mammoth motor home came into view.
“They brought that thing again? Why? I mean you do have two extra rooms in the house.” Sara asked her mother, who was cautiously clutching the steering wheel.
“You know how they are. Oh, that’s Ned’s new truck. Ryan went with him this time to buy it. Didn’t want him to get stuck with a lemon like last time. But he’s not here. Gone with Ryan to pick up Tiffany.”
Wow. The highlight of her brother’s existence…or anyone’s existence in this neck-of-the-woods…getting a new truck.
“Look! There is a squirrel!” Bob pointed out the window with glee, being somewhat unaccustomed to wildlife.
“Yes, honey. Lots of them around here.” Mom smiled.
“Oh look! One more.” Two fuzzy lumps could be seen frolicking in the snow in the front yard.
“Hahaha! Those aren’t squirrels. They’re Yorkies! That’s my little Keiko and that there is Kat’s new dog Luckilily.”
“What?” Sara gave her mother a confused look.
“Well, she wanted to name the new dog after Lucky, but then they got a girl dog so she called it Luckilily. Get it? It’s Lucky plus Lily. Cuz she’s a girl. Of course everyone just calls her ‘Luckily.’ Kat hates that, so of course that’s what Wes calls her too. Nice little dog, though. Well, she’s not house-broken yet.”
The garage door opened. It was piled floor-to-ceiling with boxes. A path had been cleared to the basement door.
“Honestly, your father promised he would have all this crap out of here by Christmas. We all chipped in and got him one of those garden sheds. Joanne says it’s still sitting in their garage in a box waiting to be put together. Honestly, I could just wring his neck sometimes.”
They went in through the basement door and into the family room. The pool table was, oddly, cleared of all the usual stacks of junk. In fact, it looked like people had actually been using the table to play pool. The walls of the room were empty of the thousands of Hotwheel cars and other “collectibles.” It was strange…a familiar yet not-so-familiar room.
“HELLO!” A nauseatingly sweet voice screeched from the kitchen. Heavy footsteps and breathing soon followed. Aunty Kat stood beaming at the top of the stairs in a red-chequered apron, and a sprig of plastic holly in her hair.
“Come up here and give me a hug!” Sara dropped the bags and went up for a doughy hug and a mushy kiss. Something wasn’t right. She watched as her aunt grabbed Bob and pulled him towards her mammoth tits…what the Hell? Where were they? And where was her pot belly?
“HOW DO YOU LIKE CANADA BOB? DO YOU LIKE THE SNOW? DO YOU HAVE SNOW IN YOUR COUNTRY?”
“Yes, we have the snow.”
“Oh, Colleen, I am nearly finished the butter tarts. I was going to make mincemeat ones too, but we ran out of those pastry shells you got from Costco. I can make some more from scratch though, it you want. Oh, come up to the kitchen you two! You can try my tarts! They taste real good! Fresh baked! BOB! DO YOU LIKE TARTS?”
“TARTS! TARTS! Sara, have you been teaching him any English? YOU KNOW BOB, LIKE THE QUEEN OF HEARTS! YOU KNOW THAT POEM? Well, I guess it’s not a poem…more like a nursery rhyme…YOU KNOW, ‘THE QUEEN OF HEARTS SHE BAKED SOME TARTS ALL ON A…”
“Good God woman! Step outside for one minute and she thinks she’s Gypsy Rose Lee! Hope Santa Claus brings this old boy some earplugs for Christmas.” They turned and saw Uncle Wes in an Elmer Fudd hat, holding two shivering “squirrels.” The dogs scrambled down and he gave Sara a hug then shook Bob’s hand.
“Ouch!” Bob squealed like a little girl.
“What’s wrong, Bob? That there is what they call a Texas-style handshake. None of these sissy, pussy-footin’ handshakes like you get up here.”
“Wesley! Those dogs are just makin’ a mess on the floor! Covered in snow!”
“It’s just water, woman.”
“I know snow is made of water!”
“Nobody said you didn’t. Although, it would hardly shock me if…”
“Wesley! Behave yourself! You are not going to ruin my Christmas this year! Ooh! Colleen? COLLEEN?”
“Yes, I’m here,” mom appeared around the corner.
“Colleen, I just had a real good idea!”
“What we can do is…oh…uh…oh brother. Now I can’t remember. Oh Wesley! You made me miss the train with all your talking!”
“What on Earth are you going on about now? I wasn’t the one yappin’ away like a sea lion!”
“I had an idea about Christmas and now I can’t remember it! Oh, it just burns me up when that happens. Anyway, Wesley you should take Bob and go bring all their stuff up to the guest room. They’re staying in Herb’s old room. Oh, that’s where they’re stayin’ isn’t it Colleen?”
“Yes. Sorry if it’s a bit of a mess now. I’m making it into my hobby room. Did I tell you I started quilting?”
Wes and Bob snuck away with the two squirrels scampering behind them.
“Uh, no. Quilting?”
“I know. You’re gonna say it’s something for old ladies. Well, if you haven’t noticed I’m an old lady now.”
“Me too! I’m an old lady too! Just like the Baldwin sisters. Do you remember them Sara? On The Waltons? They were soooo funny! Hahahaha! And their secret recipe! Just to die for! Yes, we are just two old ladies now with our secret recipes…for TARTS! Hahahaha. Get it? Their secret recipe was for moonshine but ours…here, try one of these tarts.”
A hot, gooey mess was thrust into Sara’s mouth.
“Real good, eh?”
“I see you decided to cut your hair. You young girls and your funny hair-dos.” Mom studied her quizzically.
“Whash wrong wif my hair?” Sara asked…her mouth still full of stickiness.
“I didn’t say anything was WRONG. Don’t be so sensitive. But you have to admit, it’s not exactly a natural colour on you. Did you colour it like that so you will fit in better with the Japanese?”
“No. I just thought it was nice for a change.”
“You know who she looks like? That funny girl on NCIS. You know, Colleen, that funny girl…with the hair.”
“Oh, you mean Abby! Yeah, do you watch that show Sara?”
“Well, there’s this girl and her name is Abby and she’s a Gothic! You’re right, Kat. She does look just like her. Actually, I don’t mind the colour but why did you get those short bangs again? Didn’t they cancel that show Kat?”
“I think so.”
“That’s too bad. But I am sure you can find it online, Sara. It was so good.”
“Sara, are you a Gothic now?” Kat asked.
“No, I am not a GOTH.”
“Of course she isn’t, Kat. Those Gothics wear lots of make-up. Sara never wears any make-up. Well, you did at the wedding. You know, you looked so pretty at the wedding. It wouldn’t hurt to wear a little bit of concealer ya know? You’re not a teenager anymore. Oh…that’s something I can get for your stocking! I suppose you got Joanne’s e-mail about that. That woman. She’s the Christmas Grinch for sure.”
“She’s like a Nazi, Sara!” Kat added.
“She is! She asks Kat to bring some pies, but Kat says she’s bringing the butter tarts. It’s mother’s recipe, ya know, and you kids have them every year. So, when Kat tells her that, she says ‘well, you can have them for Christmas Eve at your place…but we are having pie at mine!’ Can you believe that? The nerve!”
“And she won’t even let us do presents under the tree.”
“Yeah, that too! She says it’s because some people can’t afford it. Well I told her we can just put some of the stocking stuffers under the tree, but she says she doesn’t want that because it looks messy. I mean, since when are presents under a tree messy?”
“So, I guess your tune about Joanne has changed.” Sara grinned.
“Now don’t start any of that silly business. We are just fine. She’s just, well…she’s…”
“Corabeth!” Kat screeched joyously.
Both sisters burst out into laughter. Sara had no idea who or what they were going on about.
“Oh, that’s just perfect! She is, isn’t she? Just like Corabeth Godsey! Oh, I miss that show too. They sure don’t make TV shows like they used to, eh?”
The sisters stared at Sara’s blank face.
“You don’t know that show? The Waltons?”
“Actually, Colleen…come here.” Kat whispered into her sister’s ear a bit too loudly “I saw a boxed set of DVDs at it at Superstore for $29.99. That’s another thing we can get for Sara’s stocking.”
“Sara, do you, uh…when you were little…remember your Aunty Lou?” Herb asked while shaking the snow off his coat on the porch. In front of him stood a five-foot woman with a scowl, a pageboy bob of grey, and turquoise rings on most of her knobby fingers.
“Of course she doesn’t Herb. For fuck sake, she was just a tiny thing last time I seen ‘er.” Her voice was rather baritone and powerful for such a diminutive creature. She extended a hand to Sara.
“I wasn’t THAT young. I remember you.” Sara shook her hand and was surprised at the strength of the old woman’s fragile-looking fingers.
Aunt Lou pushed Sara back and gave her a good look up and down. “Thank the dear fuckin’ Lord you don’t look like your fat-ass father. You’re a pretty one, you are. I like a girl with a freshly-scrubbed face. Too many whores around painted up like Jezebel.”
Aunty Lou also removed her coat and then sat on a bench to remove her boots. Biker boots. With dragons on them.
Aunty Kat had scuttled on down to the motor-home when she heard that Herb was popping by with his sister. She said “Well, you know we have never really gotten along” to Colleen who knowingly nodded her head.
“Where’s Colleen?” Aunty Lou hollered.
“I’m just in the kitchen Lou!” Mom hollered back.
“Hey Sara, here’s a good one for ya. Why shouldn’t a man ever buy a woman a damn watch? Well, cuz there’s a clock on the stove! Hahahahahaha..HA…hack…” Aunty Lou started coughing up a lung.
Sara chuckled politely. Herb rolled his eyes and said “Well, uh…better hook up the plow and uh…” The rest of the sentence was lost to Never-ever-land and he quickly put his coat back on and went back out into the cold.
“So, your dad tells me you’re still over there workin’ for the damn Chinks.”
“Chinks, Japs…same difference to me. When you gonna move back here?” she croaked while hobbling her way into the living room, then sitting on the loveseat near mom’s designer Christmas Tree.
“Well, we don’t know yet…but maybe…”
“Oh yeah, I forgot. That witch your dad married says you married one of them.”
“Oh, uh, yeah…”
“Well, shouldn’t say anything bad, ya know. Barely met!”
“Yeah, she takes some getting used to but she’s quite nice once you get…”
“Oh, I didn’t mean her. She’s a God-damn bitch. I meant your Jap guy.”
“Oh, he’s great. He’s actually Korean. He’s out ice-fishing with the boys but…”
“North or South?”
“He one of the crazy ones from the North?”
“Uh, no. South Korean.”
“Least I know the damn difference. Unlike that stupid bitch Sarah Palin. Never been with an Asian guy myself. Got it on once with a sergeant who’d been in the Korean War. Not the same, I s’pose, eh? Your mom need any help in there? Colleen? You need some help in the kitchen?”
“No thanks. You guys just relax and get caught up!”
“Well, not that I really wanted to help anyways…just bein’ polite, eh? See? Your dad is wrong. I got some manners. I s’pose your mom still doesn’t allow people to fuckin’ smoke in her house, eh?”
“Nope. I smoke out on the veranda. There’s a bench and an ashtray.”
“Girl after my own heart! Well, let’s go have a smoke!”
Aunty Lou shoved her feet into a pair of mom’s slippers and grabbed her scarf, then hobbled towards the front door. Sara followed and they were both soon in a cloud of nicotine.
“That Kat and Wes’s beast?” Aunty Lou pointed to the motor home.
“She still as big as a hippo?”
“Actually now that I think of it…”
“Your dad says she got some kind of surgery where they remove part of your stomach.”
“Aaah. That explains it. Thought she seemed different.”
“I myself never had a problem with my weight, eh? I could eat a tub of lard for breakfast, lunch, and supper and I’d never gain a damn pound. Course I smoke too. That helps keep the weight off. Your dad lost weight too, eh?”
“Yeah, he’s looking a lot better.”
“It’s that bitch he’s with now. Keeps an eye on him like a hawk. Wouldn’t even let him have peanut butter this morning! Fuck, never seen Herbie so whipped in all his life. Serves him right, though. Treated your mom like shit! That woman was a SAINT, let me tell you! Serves him damn right. Although, I’d better watch what I say now. Him and me have made amends, eh? Don’t want to rattle the hornet’s nest too much. Met your brothers last night. Nice kids. The one married to that Pakkie girl seems a bit shifty to me though. Not that it’s such a bad thing. I can tell though, ya know? Have a sixth sense about people. That wife of his is a pretty nice one though. He should count his lucky stars for nabbing that girl. Too bad I was never closer to you kids. Never had kids of my own, eh? So, woulda been nice. What the cotton pickin’ kinda cigarettes are you smokin’?”
“Oh, these? Got them at the Duty Free.”
“Super lights? That’s just like breathin’ air. Fuck that shit…here, smoke one of mine.” She snatched the smoke out of Sara’s mouth and chucked it into the snow on the side lawn. She quickly handed Sara a new smoke, and Sara coughed at the full strength of the cigarette.
“See? That’s the sign of a good smoke. S’pose they still don’t have any booze in this house either, eh? Who’s that over there? There’s someone comin’ up the driveway. Ain’t your damn father, that’s for sure. That your Jap husband? Well, Hell! You nabbed yourself a hot one! Jezus-Christ! Look at the size of his neck…and those arms! Well, now I see why you ended up marrying one of them. Jezus…I’m gettin’ all flushed…Hahaha!”
“Hey cuz!” a voice called out.
They curled up next to each other in bed. Sara had always loved the smell of the linens at home. No matter what she did, she could never get her own sheets to smell as good or be so soft. They chatted about “Bob’s” fishing trip with the boys (he’d caught a “rainbow fish.”) and the rest of the day’s events.
“I don’t get it.”
“Well, they actually make your stomach smaller. That way it can only hold so much food.”
“But what if she is still hungry?”
“Well…I guess that’s too bad, because her stomach won’t hold any more food.”
“I don’t like it.”
“You don’t like what?”
“Cutting out the stomach because to lose weight. It is terrible.”
“Well, she certainly looks better.”
“Okay, I am now well-aware of your opinion on the matter.”
“Why don’t she just do diet?”
“She has! Many times. It didn’t work.”
“Because Canada food is very fat and unhealthy. That’s why so much fat people here.”
“You think it’s bad here? You should visit the States!”
“I don’t like fat people.”
“That’s not very nice to say. Being fat doesn’t make them bad people.”
“I know that. But I still don’t like.”
“Go to sleep.”
“I can’t sleep.”
“The bed is too soft and it is too quiet.”
“Oh, honestly. Just close your eyes and relax.”
He then pulled her even closer so that her backside was pressed up against his groin. “He is not sleepy!”
“No, not tonight. He is ALWAYS not sleepy.”
“Come on! He is cold. He needs to go inside the cave to be warm.”
“He is warm enough.”
“He is lonely.”
“There is nobody else inside the cave to keep him company.”
“Very fast visit…I promise.”
“No. We’re in my dad’s bed. That’s just weird.”
“But it helps me sleep.”
“You have blood?”
“What? No! I just don’t want to have sex in my dad’s bed!”
“Is only a bed.”
She finally caved in. Ten minutes later he was fast asleep and she lay in the bed staring at the snowflakes falling outside the window. She even tried her sure-fire method for insomnia: the “Oprah Interview Method.” It was quite easy, actually. In your mind, simply imagine you are a famous author who has published several best-selling novels. You are on the show because one of your novels has been made into a film and Oprah is interviewing you!
“What inspired you to write this book?”
“Well, mostly experiences from my own personal life.”
“How much of the story is actually based on reality?”
“Quite a bit of it, actually. I mean, the best writing is always based on the author’s own experience.”
“So, the characters in the book are based on people you know? Friends and family?”
“Yes, I would say that is partially true. Although I’ve had to tone them down a bit. I mean, the REAL people in my life are hardly believable. If I wrote about them as they actually were, everyone would say they are totally unbelievable characters.”
“Has fame changed you?”
“Of course. But I do try to keep myself grounded in reality. I don’t let it go to my head.”
“Are you getting sleepy?”
“Yes, I uh…zzzzzzzz.”
It usually worked. But her brain and body were having none of it tonight. Oprah had finally failed at something.
Sara slipped out from under the covers and tucked them in tightly around Bob’s sprawled body. She crept down the stairs and grabbed her coat from the front entry, then headed to the side door near the kitchen so she wouldn’t wake anyone up. She sat on the bench outside and lit a smoke. A few sparrows were chewing on seeds sprinkled on the snow in front of the birdhouse. Dad had made it for her on her tenth birthday. She’s taken one look at it, said “thanks” and then opened her next gift. She couldn’t even remember what the other present had been. But she remembered the bird house…because she had loved it, yet didn’t want him to know that.
They hadn’t all been bad times.
She had cashed the cheque about a month ago, and put the money into a new savings account. She hadn’t told Bob about it, because she knew he would want to use it. And she didn’t want it used…yet. And just three days after she’d cashed it, he’d called her out of the blue.
“When did you find out?” She asked, surprisingly calm.
“Uh…just about, uh three months ago.”
“Wow. So, what kind of treatment will you…”
“Not this time.”
“They can’t do anything for you at all?”
“Oh, they have given me several options. But, uh, say that there isn’t…well, not much point. Anyway, I just can’t do it, Sara. Not uh…this…”
“Nope. I’m not going to put everyone through that again.”
“Maybe people want you to.”
“I cannot even control my own bowels anymore. I uh…mess. I don’t feel like myself. I can, uh…well, I can feel it inside me. I knew it too. I knew it was back for, uh, for a while. Just didn’t want…”
“Well, you have to do something dad. People will be worried.”
“Not gonna tell them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Not gonna tell anyone. Just, uh, you. Well, uh…because I need someone to take care of…you know. When the time comes. My will and stuff. And I don’t want to be living on some machine.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Well, I am.”
“Dad, people are going to know something is up!”
“No, they won’t! I got myself a prescription for medical marijuana! I been usin’ it for a while now and it’s fine. Nobody knows a thing. And you must not say a word. I’ll never, uh…forgive you…”
That word. That difficult word. She didn’t even like the sound of it from his mouth. She started to laugh.
“Sorry, sorry. It’s just that…well, remember when you gave us those cheques at Christmas a few years ago?”
“Well, that was the first thing that crossed my mind when I opened the envelope and saw the cheque. I thought it must have come back and that you were dying! Sorry, I don’t even know why I’m laughing about that.”
“Guess, uh, well, guess it’s kinda funny.”
And then she broke down. She couldn’t stop. She sat on the floor holding the phone up and choked back sob after sob.
“Sara, I need uh, you to be strong…”
She sobbed some more. Herb was silent on the other end. After a few minutes, her body stopped shaking so much and she managed to wipe away some of the tears.
“You’ll think I’m stupid…but I’ve never heard anything so beautiful in years.”
“I was CRYING dad.”
“I know that. It was beautiful. Maybe, you, uh, don’t get what I’m tryin’ to say.”
“Yeah, I get it dad.”
“Sara. I am sorry. For everything. I really am.” His voice cracked just a fraction.
“I know dad. I know you are. I really do. But can I ask you something? Why me?”
“Because it will hurt you the least.”
“Dad! How can you say that?”
“Honey, there’s uh…that’s not what I mean. But you are tougher than everyone else. I hurt your mom enough. Your brothers are still so angry at me…so they would, uh…ya know. Joanne? She gave me happiness and I can’t repay that with sorrow. It’s best this way. Don’t want a buncha folks feeling sorry for me because they know I’ll be dead soon. Want everyone just to go on with business, as, uh…uh…usual.”
“You really think I’m that strong? Well, I’m not.”
“Course you are. You stood up to Blake, you stood up to me…stood up to anyone that did you wrong. You ought to be proud of yourself. You’re a tough cookie.”
“Okay…well, I gotta go dad.”
“Yeah, uh…Joanne is coming back in a…yeah, well guess I’ll see you at Christmas. Hopefully.”
“I WILL see you at Christmas.”
“Okay, you will. That’s a promise.”
She was never very good at keeping secrets. Somehow, they always managed to slip out…usually after the fourth cocktail. But part of her felt, well, honoured that dad had chosen her. And the other part was really ticked off. Why choose her? Couldn’t someone else have dealt with this? She didn’t even live close to home. And then there was the other thing she kept on feeling…pity. She felt sorry for him, and that made her angry.
But she didn’t breathe a word of anything, or even hint that something was amiss. Not even to Bob. Everything was “Christmas as usual.” The women busied themselves in the kitchen, putting on additional holiday pounds “tasting” the baked goodies to “make sure they are okay.” The men kept their distance with fishing trips, shovelling the snow, or taking the dogs out. Sara wrapped gifts for the stockings, took quick trips to town or to the mall to pick up holiday necessities. Everyone smiled and said “Merry Christmas.” It was a world of rosy cheeks, artificial cheer, and an artificial Christmas tree. Luckily, there was little drama, apart from Joanne’s daughter calling to say she couldn’t make it. Everyone nodded “knowingly.”
She’d managed to avoid being stuck alone with her dad so far, but then he managed to corner her at Superstore on Christmas Eve Day. Bob wanted to try out the casino, but had no driver’s license. So she had taken mom’s car and dropped him off, then driven over to Superstore to pick up a couple things for Allison’s stocking…which she had noticed was a bit empty while wrapping gifts. She had no idea what to buy for her, as she had never even met the girl before.
She figured most women like perfume and scarves.
She was at the perfume counter looked through a few bottles when a familiar voice startled her.
“You, uh, should go to Shoppers Drug Mart for, uh perfumes…they have…uh, real good prices. Half-off some stuff. Sometimes real good stuff.”
“Oh, what are you doing here?”
“Lou, uh, well…needs to get some stuff. Oh, try this one…”
He picked up a bottle from the counter and sprayed in on her arm.
“Dad! Not on me. Use the tester strips.”
“Oh, I don’t like that. Who’s it for, your mom? She likes Gardenia, ya know.”
“No, it’s for Allison.”
“Oh. I think Joanne got her some.”
“Great. I don’t know what to get her. Her stocking is pretty empty.”
“Decorations. You know, those fancy ones for, the uh…for those books.”
“Ya know, those fancy books all the girls are into these days. They, uh…man, what in the world are they called? For pictures, and…uh…keepsakes.”
“Yeah, yeah. She likes that stuff. Get her some of those sticker things and decorations.”
“Thanks. I’ll do that. So…”
“You wanna get a coffee?”
“Sure. Bob’s at the casino. I have to pick him up in a bit.”
“Where do you wanna go? Actually, A&W has free coffee for senior…heh! Uh, maybe we shouldn’t go there. You and me don’t have such good luck there, eh?”
“We can just get some here up at the deli counter. They got these real good bagels now. They charge extra for cream cheese though. So I just get them toasted and buttered. Not s’posed to be eating them though. Joanne would have a fit.”
“Well, let’s just get a coffee then.”
They slowly walked to the front of the store. Well, he walked slowly. He shuffled. Then she noticed how old he seemed to look. He’d lost weight…which wasn’t really a BAD thing for him…but the skin under his eyes was grey. His complexion didn’t have the pinkness that winter so often brings. He really looked tired.
“Guess she’s got you on a pretty tight leash, eh?”
“Oh…heh! Yeah. Uh…well the doctor says I gotta lose weight. I’m down 40 pounds. I try go walking at the rec-centre three times a week. Can’t always do more than two laps though.”
“You doing okay?”
“Yeah, uh…you want large or regular?” He asked as they approached the deli counter.
A cute, young guy with hairy forearms perkily asked them “Would you like to try our Caribbean Roast Blend today?”
“It’s just our coffee of the day.”
“Does it cost more than regular?”
“No, sir. Same price.”
“You have it in decaf?”
“Sorry, just regular.”
“Oh. I don’t want that. Gimme two large coffees. In one of them just put half decaf and half regular. Double-double. Oh…uh, Sara…you want, uh, cream and uh…”
“Actually, there’s a self-service kiosk just over there for cream and sugar, so you can help yourself.” He REALLY had hairy arms. It was grossing her out a bit.
As Sara stirred some half-and-half into her drink, Herb popped four hazelnut-flavoured creamers into his cup.
“You, uh…you haven’t told anyone, have you?”
“No. Not a word.”
“Is there any news?”
“Yeah, but uh…none of it any good. Don’t understand half of what the guy is saying anyway. Could be a year, could be less…maybe a little more.”
“So, it may be quite a ways away yet.”
“Maybe. I hope not, though.”
“Dad, you have to stay positive.”
“It nearly kills me to, uh…just get out of the bed in the morning. The only thing that gets me up is knowing that I can have some of that marijuana. That’s why I started working at the Sally Ann. I just go and have my marijuana in the parking lot, then do about three hours of work, then come out for another smoke. That lasts me for another three hours. Then I head home and pull over before I get to the house for another smoke and have a mint and spray some…uh…perfume. Can’t really let her know I’m doing it…she’d be mad and too nosy. Couple times she, uh…heh! Nearly caught me a couple times. But her sense of smell isn’t so good. So, I get by…but at night I can barely sleep. Maybe I should..uh..get some…”
“So, you’re in a lot of pain?”
“A bit. More like I got no energy at all. Like when you have a real bad flu, eh? Body is…uh, fatigued. Muscles ache.”
“Maybe you’re pushing yourself too hard.”
“Yeah. Maybe that’s it. But if I just sat there all day people would…ya know…heh!…figure out something was wrong.”
“You sure this is what you want?”
“You know. Keeping everyone in the dark.”
“Sometimes I think…yeah, no…this is best.”
“And you’re doing okay for money?”
“Oh…uh, yeah. I mean, I got my pensions and Joanne’s got hers. She’s got some other money too. We get by no problem. She’ll be fine too. Set up an insurance policy…for uh, actually a while back.”
“You know, dad, you shouldn’t be driving around if you’re smoking up, ya know? Especially in the winter.”
“Yeah. Well, I wait until I get to the Sally Ann in the morning.”
And then she saw his bottom lip tremble ever-so-slightly. He looked away. When he looked back she could see pools of liquid on his bottom eyelids.
“I’m real scared, though Sara.” She felt the same thing happening in her own eyes. And soon they were both wiping away tears with cheap paper napkins at the condiment kiosk.
“Let’s go outside for a minute. Get some fresh air.”
“Your…uh…Lou. Aunty Lou.”
“I don’t see her yet. And it won’t kill her to wait for a minute.”
They walked outside into the biting cold. She lit up a smoke. She watched Herb pull out a little plastic bag with a couple joints in it. He lit her smoke and then lit up the joint.
“Uh, dad? Let’s go around the corner.”
“It’s okay, I got a prescription.”
“I know…just don’t want people to see.” He followed her meekly to the side of store, where an ashtray sat on top of a garbage can. They both inhaled and blew the smoke into the cool wind. She could smell the sweet pea-pod scent of Herb’s joint. They were quiet for a minute or so, until she realised he was studying her. He couldn’t hold back the quivering lip anymore. He sniffled a couple of times.
“Ya know, I really want things between us to be right…ya know…before…”
“It’s okay. Things are all good, dad.”
He grabbed her in an embrace, the joint clutched in his fingers behind her back.
“I just really hope you don’t hate me. I am so…”
“I don’t hate you dad. You don’t need to say anything more. We’re all good.” She struggled to get the words out…not because they were difficult to say, but more because her voice was struggling to stop itself from weeping. And for the first time since she could ever remember, she hugged him back. Well, she hugged him back and meant it. She felt her cigarette slip out of her fingers and drop to the icy pavement and heard a soft “hiss” as it hit the ground…melting a small patch of ice. He stank of women’s perfume and weed…yet it wasn’t all that unpleasant. When they finally let go of each other, Herb removed his glasses with shaky hands and wiped off his eyes with his coat sleeve. It was also the first time ever that she hadn’t felt angry by his tears.
“I, uh…better go…”
“There’s no rush, dad.”
“No, uh…heh! I have to use the…got the urge. It just keeps getting worse…”
“Ah…okay. I’ll find Aunty Lou and meet you at the front.”
They walked arm-in-arm back into the store. Herb left to use the men’s room and Sara found Aunty Lou in the toys section holding a Barbie in one hand and a Bratz doll in the other.
“Good God, what’s the world comin’ to, eh? Look at this God damn thing.” She thrust the Bratz doll at Sara. “Looks like a whore! Little girls playing with whore dolls. Never thought I’d see the day. And the boy dolls look like a bunch of queers. Makes the Ken dolls look like lumberjacks. Always hated the damn Barbies though. Massive tits and not much else. Guess I’m a feminist.”
“Who are you shopping for?”
“That little girl of Ned’s.”
“Tiffany? She’s nearly thirteen now.”
“Well, she might be a bit too old for Barbies.”
“Well, what the Heck am I gonna get her now?”
“I dunno. Maybe some clothes?”
“Not buying her clothes in this dump. Everything is made in China. Fall apart after two days. Tell you this much, though…I am NOT buying her makeup so she can dress herself up like one of those whore dolls. What did you like when you were thirteen?”
Def Leppard. Slayer. Catcher in the Rye. Documentaries on the Holocaust. River Phoenix. Black nail polish.
“Uh, I liked ChapStick. Get her one of those candy-cane shaped things over there with all the ChapSticks in it.” Well, it had been true. She had liked those flavoured ChapSticks Selena always had. They had tasted great.
“Oh. Yeah. Good idea. And it’s only $7.99…so half the price of a whore doll.”
Aunty Lou wandered over to a display rack, and dropped the Barbie onto a shelf. Then she held the tube of ChapsSticks and the “whore doll” in front of her.
“You know what, Sara? I’ll get her both. What the Heck. A girl should get a doll for Christmas. I don’t care if she is too old. Kids grow up too fast these days. Plus, it’s a whore doll…so kind of a grown up doll anyway. Life’s short and what the Hell kinda difference will it make to me if I save an extra eight bucks? What’s that gonna get me…a membership to the God damn fountain of youth? Yep, life’s too damn short to worry about that kinda bullshit.”
“Whadda ya mean, it’s not a word?” Herb bellowed to Rupa.
“I didn’t say it isn’t a word! You’re just not allowed to use contractions!” she bellowed back.
“Here we go again,” Ryan muttered.
“Uh, the RULE book!”
“Herb, just take it off,” Joanne put her angelic hand on his from across the table.
“Well, you need to say that before we start playing the game!” Herb brushed Joanne’s hand off.
“Oh, come on! You’ve been playing this for years! You KNOW contractions aren’t allowed!” Rupa was in fighting mode.
“That’s all right, you guys. If they are going to play that way…uh, cheaters never prosper.” Herb mumbled to his teammates. He was stuck with Kat and Allison this year. Tiffany said she would “help” them.
“How is that cheating?” Rupa asked incredulously. Ryan just shook his head and said “leave it, just leave it.”
Herb took the C, A, N, and T tiles back and then started shuffling them around.
“Oh, I gotta good one!” Kat squealed. She shuffled a few tiles around and Herb and Allison nodded in agreement. She set out the tiles on the star in the middle of the Scrabble board: A-C-T-I-O-N.
“Even better!” He smirked at Rupa.
Colleen, Landon, and Bob were up next.
“We can do morphine!” Bob exclaimed enthusiastically.
“Uh, I don’t think we can sweetie,” Colleen responded.
“I think so,” Bob insisted.
“Uh, no. We don’t have a P or an H.”
“Why we need P and H for morphine?”
“Well, because sometimes P and H sound like F and that’s what is used in ‘morphine.’”
“I don’t think so,” Bob was holding his ground. Colleen and Landon laughed politely.
Landon put his big hand on Bob’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, I suck at spelling too…and it’s my native tongue!” There was something about the way Landon had said “tongue” and the way his huge hands grasped onto Bob’s shoulder that sent shivers down Sara’s spine…AAAAH! Yuck! STOP!
“Why are you laughing? Look! Morphine: M-U-F-F-I-N. Morphine! I know, because I saw at Tim Hortons with Ned and Ryan.”
“Oh! You meant MUFFIN! Oh, sorry Bob. I didn’t…”
“IT’S OKAY BOB! WE KNOW YOUR ENGLISH ISN’T SO GOOD! I THINK COLLEEN DIDN’T UNDERSTAND BECAUSE OF YOUR ASIAN ACCENT!” Kat hollered from the end of the table.
“Good God, woman! They can hear you all the way in Kathmandu!”
“Wesley! I am just trying to explain something to him, and I have to speak real clear so he can understand!”
“Well, speak clearly then…amplitude does not mean the same thing as clarity!”
“I don’t even know what that means. Anyway, I’m just trying to be helpful.”
“Be helpful and go get me some egg-nog,” Wes retorted. Ned guffawed, and Kat shot him the evil eye.
Bob proudly placed “muffin” on the board.
Joanne, Sara, and Ryan were up next. Joanne had already arranged the word “tryst” with some of the tiles on the table front of them. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to place the word. Ryan then whispered “what about ‘stray’?”
“Not very many points,” Sara remarked.
They studied the tiles some more and moved them round and round. Unfortunately, they had been cursed with the bane of all Scrabble players; a J and a Q.
“You guys better hurry up,” Herb teased from his end of the table.
“They still have time Grandpa,” Tiffany pointed to the sand in the timer.
More time passed.
“Time’s almost up!” Herb hollered.
“Herb?” Joanne looked at him and raised one of her eye-brows…just like Kate Jackson would have done on The Scarecrow and Mrs. King when she knew that something was just “not quite right.”
“Well, we don’t have much choice. Just do ‘stray.’” Sara finally caved in.
Ryan placed the tiles on the board. Rupa, Ned, and Aunty Lou were all ready with their tiles. Rupa placed their tiles on the board spelling “thereof.” The team-members’ faces were beaming with cockiness.
“You can’t do that,” Herb said with a scowl.
“Do WHAT?” Rupa smacked her forehead with the palm of her hand.
“You just said we can’t use contractions! Your words, not mine!”
“That’s not a contraction!”
“Sure it is! Look, TWO words.”
“It’s a COMPOUND word. Not a contraction!”
“Whatever. It’s two words. You can’t use two words.”
“It’s a COMPOUND word which means it is two words made into ONE!”
“What’s the difference?”
“So are you going to challenge us?”
“First answer my question.” Herb crossed his arms and glared down at his daughter-in-law.
“I don’t have to answer your question. Are you gonna challenge us or not?”
Herb turned and faced Kat, Allison, and Tiffany. “See how they play? Playin’ dirty. Don’t let them get to you…I can, uh…see right through…”
“What are you talking about?” Rupa’s eyes were wide in frustrations.
“Oh Herb, just leave it alone. They ARE right!” Colleen snapped.
“Look at this! All ganging up against us. That’s fine. We will let you get away with it this time.”
“Yeah, it’s okay ‘cuz I got a real good one now!” Kat exclaimed.
“Aunty Kat, what is that?” Tiffany studied the tiles Kat had arranged in front of the team.
“Oh, it’s nothing for little ears.”
“Gosh! I almost thirteen now, ya know?”
“Oh, that IS a real good one,” Herb added. Allison simply nodded…still a bit terrified of…well, practically everyone in the room.
Kat’s less-chubby fingers laid the tiles down on the board. Everyone stared at the word in silence. Ned laughed. Wes muttered “What in tar-nation? Woman? You’re embarrassing me.”
“What?” Kat asked.
“Somebody else can handle this one, because I sure as Hell am not doing it,” Rupa growled.
“Well, Jezus you people are a bunch of pussies,” Aunty Lou mumbled. Aunty Kat covered Tiffany’s ears. “I challenge, cuz I personally got mine tied so I sure as Hell know how to spell it, and that’s not it!”
“Aunty Lou, no offense, but you need to watch your language! There are little ears around!” Aunty Kat tried covering Tiffany’s ears again, but kept getting them swatted off.
“Oh good God, Kathleen…she’s probably heard a lot worse on that Gossip Whores show or whatever it is that everyone watches these days.”
“Uh, I think we should just do somethin’ else…” Herb reached out to retrieve his team’s tiles.
“No way! A tile laid is a tile played!” Rupa screeched.
“Just leave it Herb. It’s a real good one!” Kat insisted.
“What is ‘falopium’?” Tiffany asked.
“Exactly! That’s what I’d like to know.” Rupa added.
“Jezus! She’s tryin’ to spell fallopian. Like fallopian tubes? As in the ones I got tied?” Aunt Lou explained.
“I still don’t get it!” Tiffany hollered.
“Time’s not up so we can change our word if we want!” Herb argued.
“No, you can’t! You can’t just decide to change your word because someone challenges you!” Rupa argued right back. Ned couldn’t stop laughing. The loud discussion had caused the two squirrels to come running into the dining room barking up a storm.
“Wow…we got, uh…real Scrabble Nazi here,” Herb said, rolling his eyes.
“Herb! You were challenged. So just shut up.” Joanne said firmly. Everyone quieted down. Nobody had ever heard Joanne raise her voice. “Someone hand me the dictionary.” The group watched as her French-manicured nails thumbed through the well-worn pages.
“There is no such thing as ‘falopium.’”
“Yeah, little brother, so put THAT falopium in your God damn heroin pipe and smoke it!” Aunty Lou cackled.
And everyone laughed. Even Tiffany and Bob, who probably had no idea what everyone else was laughing about, joined right in with the merriment. Kat starting laughing so hard that there were tears in her eyes. The little dogs went ape-shit. Sara didn’t really understand why they were all laughing so hard. It wasn’t a great joke. In fact, it was a rather lousy joke. But she laughed on with everyone else and looked around the table at her people…her family. She sensed a change. Perhaps not so much in them.
The laughter died down.
“Well, on that note let’s take a little break,” mom suggested. “Anyone need something to drink?” Everyone shook their heads. “So, we’re all good?” she asked.
“Yes, mom. We’re all good.” Sara answered.