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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.

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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.

I’ve already had a few people ask “Is so-and-so me?” The answer is NO. Each character is a compilation. For example…Aunty Kat is actually based on numerous aunts, my grandmother, and a teacher I had in high school. And the same goes for everyone else! 🙂

CHAPTER TWO:

“So you like mom’s designer tree?”  Ryan, the baby brother, poked mom in the ribs. They had all gathered in the front room and were staring at an artificial tree in the corner next to a large, bay window which overlooked the hillside and the frozen lake across the highway.

“Oh stop it. The real ones just make a mess.”

“Yeah, well whatever happened to Christmas ornaments that are red and green? All peach and pastels now.”

“Oh, be quiet. I like it.” Mom was getting annoyed. “Sara likes it too, don’t you?”

“Yeah, well it’s different.” She HATED it. She rarely agreed with her brothers, but in this case it looked like something the Golden Girls would have put together.

“See?” Ryan poked her again. He had started losing his hair. He was still good-looking though. Mom had always said he got his looks from HER side of the family. She always said Sara looked like Aunty Kat.  Aunty Kat was over two-hundred pounds and had two chins and badly-dyed platinum hair.

Ned poked his head around the kitchen corner. “I’m goin’.”

“You’re not staying for supper?”

“Nah.”

“I’m making borscht.”

“Then I’m for sure not staying.”

Ned got a sneaky look on his face then motioned with his hand quickly for Sara to follow him. She grinned and quietly slipped out the front door then followed Ned’s lean frame up the hill towards the shed.

“How long’s it been since you had a toke?” he smiled as he shut the door to the shed and pulled a joint out from his pack of smokes.

“Quite a while.”

“Seen Kat and Wes yet?”

“No, mom says they’re in town doing some shopping.”

“She’s fuckin’ huge.”

“Oh yeah?”

“He still cracks me up though. Says to mom yesterday that the only person he wants to spend Christmas with is Lucky.”

“Who the Hell is lucky?”

“His damn dog.”

Sara inhaled. It was like fresh peapods. She closed her eyes letting the long-lost sensation tickle through her tissue.

“Good stuff, eh?”

“Yeah. So, when is Tiffany coming up?”

“As soon as her lazy bitch-of-a-mom brings her.”

“I take it you two are not on friendly terms.”

“You could say that. So, you ever hear from Blake?”

“Nope.”

“Mom sends him e-mails you know.”

“What?”

“She always leaves her e-mail open. I seen a couple messages from him.”

“Why the Hell is she in contact with him?”

“You know she always liked him.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m her daughter, and he’s an asshole.”

“Yeah. Well, you can have the rest of this,” he mumbled as he handed her the rest of the joint. “I’m takin’ off before Fat Kat gets back. She fuckin’ drives me nuts.”

“OK…well, see you tomorrow.”

“Yep.  And dad is crazier than a bat now, so have fun.”

___________________________________________________________

“Well, I asked your mom when your flight was leaving so that I could say a little prayer to keep you safe.  And Jesus answered my prayers because here you are!” Aunty Kat had squeezed herself in next to Sara on the loveseat near the designer tree.  She had managed to corner her after supper for a “girl-to-girl” chat. Her hair was still coiled up in a bouffant and a sweater with snowmen on it stretched across her massive bosom and belly. She smelled like borsht and roses.

“Your cousin Selina used to have hair like yours when she was in grade four. Of course she’s let her bangs grow out now. She always had such lovely hair. Well, yours is nice too…LUCKY!  Lucky! Stop that! You stop that!”  The foul-smelling pug was attacking one of the prune-coloured cushions in the front room.

“Wesley! WESLEY! Would you come here and do something about this dog!” She screeched at full volume.

A tall, bald man of seventy appeared at the bottom of the stairs that led down to the family room wearing a Texas-sized belt buckle.

“What now woman? Just give him a smack on the behind. LUCKY!  You stop that!” The dog started raping the cushion. Sara finally stood and snatched the cushion from the dog’s crotch. It growled at her then ran downstairs.

“I just don’t know what to do about that dog. He is so stubborn. I pray so much for Jesus to give me patience, but honestly Sara, sometimes I just want to leave him on the side of the road. But then I realize he is one of God’s creatures and God loves all creatures great and small.”

Mom had avoided the “girls’ chat” by insisting on doing the dishes by herself.  Ryan had left right after supper to do some Christmas shopping. Dad was down in Kelowna picking up Uncle Joe and “his friend” at the airport. Sara was stuck. There was no escape from Fat Kat’s clutches. Aunty Kat burped quietly before continuing one of her famous one-way conversations.

“Did you know that pugs come from Japan? Or maybe it’s China. I’m not sure. Wesley looked it up in the Witchipedia thing on the computer. Wesley? WESLEY?”

“What?”

“Is it China or Japan?”

“What are you yapping about woman?”

“You know, pugs!”

“What the heck are you jabbering about? Honestly, you’re losing your mind.”

“Pugs, Wesley! Are they from China or Japan?”

“Why the Heck would I know something like that?”

“Anyway Sara, I thought since you lived there you might know. I just had no idea that pugs would shed so much. I have to carry around one of those sticky lint things in my purse. Oh, sounds like someone is here! Oh, look out the window. I think it’s your dad with Joe and Ting-Tong.”

“It’s Tak-Sin woman!” Wes shouted from the basement.

“Oh! Let’s go stand right at the front door and give them a surprise!” Kat hoisted herself from the loveseat and headed for the front door.  “Come on Sara!  WESLEY!  Joe is here!”

“I have ears woman!”

“Colleen?  Colleen?”

“Yes?” mom shouted from the kitchen.

“Joe and Tak-Tin are here!”

“Oh for Pete’s sake!  It is TAK-SIN!” Uncle Wes growled.

“You behave yourself Wesley!”

The door opened and Uncle Joe’s smiling, bespectacled face appeared. He was wrapped in a Burberry trench coat, and Tak-Sin stood behind him nervously shivering. Aunty Kat ploughed into Joe with hugs and kisses!

“Baby brother! Wow, don’t you look GREAT!  What a nice coat too! And you still have most of your hair! Aren’t you just a dandy! Oh! Tak-Spin! DO YOU REMEMBER ME? I AM KAT!  I AM JOE’S OLDER SISTER!”

“Hello.”

“YES, IT IS VERY COLD IN CANADA! NOT LIKE IN YOUR COUNTRY. HA-HA!”

Wes appeared at the top of the stairs. “Tone it down, woman! They can hear you in Timbuktu, and the boy speaks English for God’s sake.”

“Wesley! Language!”

“Hello boys.” Wes gave the new arrivals one of his death-grip American handshakes.

“Hey Wes. Well, we’re hardly boys anymore, but thanks anyway. Whoa! Is that my favourite niece?”

“Hi Uncle Joe.” Sara came over and gave him a hug, then hugged the terrified looking Thai man cowering behind him. “Hi Tak-Sin.”

Dad brought in the bags while Joe and Tak-Sin did the hug routine again with mom. Soon enough, everyone had a mug of hot chocolate and was sitting in the front room in the glow of the “designer” tree. Wes took Lucky back to the motor home after he pissed on mom’s antique curio cabinet. Dad, as per usual, escaped downstairs to the hockey game. Kat had squeezed herself in between Joe and Tak-Sin on the couch. Sara sat on the floor leaning up against the chair Colleen was sitting on, and let her mom play with her hair. Sara had always loved mom playing with her hair.

“DO THEY CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS IN YOUR RELIGION?” Kat set her paw onto Tak-Sin’s skinny knee.

“Um, yeah.” Tak-Sin mumbled shyly.

“REALLY?  I THOUGHT BUDDHISTS WORSHIPPED IDOLS.”

“Actually, my family is Catholic,” Tak-Sin replied nonchalantly.

Dead silence fell about the room. Everyone suddenly avoided Tak-Sin’s gaze, and he suddenly realized that he must have made some grievous faux-pas. Mom stepped in and veered the conversation away from “Catholics.”

“Well, I thought Ryan would bring Rupa by to say hello. Guess she must have been tired. It was her last day of work today.”

“Is he still with that girl?” Kat scrunched up her double chins.

“Yes, they’re engaged now, you know.”

“Really? Well, don’t tell dad about that when he gets here. You know how he feels about those Asian people…NO OFFENSE TOK-TING…DO YOU UNDERSTAND ‘NO OFFENSE’?” Sara watched Uncle Joe reach his hand behind Aunty Kat and grab onto Tak-Sin’s shoulder as if to say “she’s an ignorant bitch…just let it go.”

“Well, he’s going to have to get used to it, ya know,” Uncle Joe quietly muttered.

 “Thank God mother isn’t around to see it. She was worse than him, ya know.  Mixed marriages are very difficult, I mean, look at poor Sara!”

Sara felt her spine go rigid. She could feel her mom’s fingers press firmly into her shoulders as if to say “she’s an ignorant bitch, just let it go.”

“Actually, Aunty Kat, Blake was English,” Sara calmly said with a smile.

“That’s what I mean. I mean, there are all these cultural differences. Marriage is hard enough. I just hope that Ryan and Rupa learn to get past that and pray together for the Lord’s guidance.”

Uncle Joe took one of his long, deep breaths. That only meant one thing with Uncle Joe…someone was gonna get it!

“Kat, Rupa was born in this country. She’s never even BEEN to India. And what are you talking about? You married some yank from Texas! Sara did not get a divorce because of CULTURAL differences, she got divorced because her HUSBAND couldn’t keep his fly shut.”

Kat set her chubby paw on Joe’s shoulder. “Honey, you just don’t understand. You’ve never been married. Oops…I think I need to use the little girl’s room.” Kat grunted herself to her feet, and then waddled her way down the hall to the bathroom.

“Can you believe her, Colleen? Honestly, some people never change,” Joe whispered as soon as he heard the bathroom door click shut. Mom rolled her eyes and made the international gesture for “she’s as nutty as a royal nut-bar” with her index finger at the right side of her head.

A crash suddenly broke the tension as dad raced up the family room stairs, knocking over an umbrella stand in his rush.

“Oh no! It’s real bad this time…”

“Herb!  Your pants!  We have guests!” Mom shouted as Herb’s full frame appeared, pants already unbuttoned and creeping their way down toward his knees, bow-leggedly running towards the bathroom.

“Hon? There’s someone…”

“AAAAAH!!!” Kat’s shriek was heard all the way to Timbuktu.

 “Well, next time LOCK THE DOOR!” Everyone watched as Herb raced back down the hall and up the stairs, now with his underpants halfway to his knees, and a shit dribble running down his left thigh.

“Sorry!” he hollered as he raced up the stairs.

“Oh honestly!” mom shouted.

“COULD SOMEBODY PLEASE COME AND SHUT THE DOOR?” Aunty Kat’s voice echoed through the house.

Colleen rushed off and the rest of them burst into laughter. Tears were spilling down Uncle Joe’s face by the time mom was back.

“You guys!  Stop it!  That’s not nice…” but Colleen couldn’t contain herself either and tried choking back her cackles. Kat soon reappeared and sheepishly scowled at everyone’s amusement.

“You are all a bunch of immature kids!” she scolded.

“You get a good look at Herb’s dick, or was it the other way around?” Joe teased his sister. Everyone cracked up again, and Kat looked at her brother and shouted “You…you are a PERVERT!” She then stomped down the hall and headed straight out the front door. They looked out the window as she waddled down to the motor home bawling.

CHAPTER ONE

“Sir, either put your bag in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you or I will have to remove it from the aircraft.”

Cranky,old cow.  At least run a brush through your hair. Sara watched as the Korean man stood in the aisle helplessly looking at the overflowing overhead compartment and the too-small-space under his seat.

Why had she chosen the cheaper ticket? Singapore Airlines had only been 2000 yen more. After her last flight on Air Crap-A-Duh four years ago, when they had no record of her ever having requested a vegetarian meal and a mother with a baby was told “this isn’t a bar” when asking  a stewardess to warm up a bottle of milk, she’d sworn she’d never fly with them again. In fact, she was so angry that she became a member of Ihateaircanada.com.

“Sir, do I need to remove your bag from the aircraft?”

“Uh?”

“Your bag!  You can’t just leave it there!”

“I don’ know!”

“DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”

“Yes, little.”

“Just a sec…KEIKO? KEIKO? Can you speak Chinese?”

Sara popped a Xanax into her mouth.

“I’ll pay you for one of those.” The older Indian guy sitting next to her smiled and chuckled. Sara handed him a pill.

“Knock yourself out.”

“I remember the days when they handed out roses to all the women on each flight,” he smiled through his thick moustache.

“Gone are those days.”

“You’re telling me. “

She hated being forced into conversation with seatmates on a plane. Generally, flights from Tokyo were filled with Japanese passengers who were (A) too shy to speak with a foreigner or (B) had an English vocabulary consisting of the words “no”, “I don’t know” and “sexy.”  She invested ten minutes of her time with the stranger sitting next to her explaining that she worked for a publishing company in Tokyo as an English editor, had lived there for three years, was divorced, and NO, was not interested in meeting up for a drink in Vancouver.

Already dying for a smoke, she had four gin and tonics to make the flight more bearable, and then passed out watching an old episode of Corner Gas on in-flight entertainment.

___________________________________________________________

Mom’s hair was long, and she had finally gotten a dye-job too. She looked much better than the last time Sara had seen her when she’d gotten one of those, short perms that so many “women-of-a-certain-age” like to get because it is “comfortable” and you “barely have to do anything with it in the morning.”

Unfortunately, Dad’s pot-belly had gotten even bigger.

“Hey there!”  Hugs and kisses.

“What on Earth have you done to your hair?” Mom reached out and touched her short bangs.

“Is that how they wear it in Japan?” Dad laughed.

“No, I just wanted something different. Have you been waiting long?”

“Oh no. Just thirty minutes. Is that all you have for a coat? It’s cold outside ya know. Guess you don’t get winter over there like you do here.”

They grabbed her luggage and headed outside. It wasn’t that cold. Dad threw her bags into the back of the Subaru, then handed mom the keys and took off in a trot back to the terminal.

“Where’s he going?”

“Honestly, he has to use the restroom about twenty times a day. Just get in.”

“So he’s not doing so well?”

“No, he is fine. It is all in his head. They took out the colostomy bag and say he is totally back to normal. But it is all psychological. Honestly, it just drives everyone nuts.”

Ten minutes later dad was back and they were on the road. Sara sat in the front seat. For as long as Sara could remember, mom always insisted on sitting in the back. Mom hated dad’s driving.

“Yeah, it is just awful. I just feel it coming and I have to go. I messed myself a couple times, so uh, eh…” As was his habit, dad cut off mid-sentence and finished the conversation in his head.

“So are you hungry?” mom asked from the back.

“No. I had something on the plane.”

“Oh! There’s a real good place on the way that has these herb, fo-ko-shu buns. They’re real good. You want one of those?”

“It’s focaccia,” mom corrected from the rear seat.

“I KNOW what it is!”

“Then why did you say ‘fo-ko-shu’ if you know?”

“She knows what I mean!”

“Well, I’m not hungry,” Sara cheerily interjected.

The forty minute drive seemed like a year. She hadn’t been able to finish even half a cigarette on the quick walk from the terminal to the Subaru. She was barely even listening to mom chattering from the back.

“…so I said, ‘you know Kat, we always love having him over but last time he was here Ryan’s digital camera went missing. I’m not saying Landon stole it, but ya’ know that girlfriend of his? She’s a shifty one. Anyway, she’s all ticked off at me now.” The Bell Family Gossip Report continued for the rest of the drive home.

“Sorry about that,” dad mumbled.

“About what?” Sara asked.

“Herb! Oh honestly, open the window. Phew!”

“Sorry, it’s just, uh, after the surgery…phew! That IS bad!”

Sara pulled her turtle-neck up over her nose.

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.

“What’s that?”

“Yeah. Wes and Kat,” dad mumbled.

“They brought their motor home?”

“You know Wes. Said he wasn’t coming unless he could bring the beast. It’s a good thing though, because their dog is a little terror,” mom explained.

“Just plain stupid, those two. They paid more for gas to bring that darned thing up here than it would have cost to fly. Plus, can’t shovel the snow around the thing,” Herb grumbled as he revved the engine to make it up the final and third turn.

“Hon, whatever. If that is what’s going to keep Wes in a good mood, then fine.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Oh, looks like Ned’s here. That’s his new truck.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. A real lemon.” Herb explained pointing to a rather ordinary-looking, black pickup.

The garage door opened. Half of the garage was piled to the ceiling with boxes labelled in dad’s writing with such varying descriptions as “Sharon Rose Glassware” and “Old Fisher Price.”

They went in through the basement door and into the family room. The pool table was stacked with more boxes and a jumble of teacups and saucers, old toys, Hotwheel cars and junk mail. Ned was at the computer.

“Hey.” His one and only greeting.

“Hey little brother!” Sara hugged him and he gave her his traditional pat on the back.

“What the Hell did you do to your hair?”