I vividly remember reading this piece for the first time, and being totally surprised, because I feel like it's not very often that you read a holiday story (and I mean a story that is about the holiday itself, as opposed to a story set during the holiday) that really works. In part, I think this story works because it mimicks Christmas (or at least my concept of Christmas) in it's structure - everything looks pretty and OH MY GOD THERE IS SO MUCH FUDGE WE GET TO EAT FUDGE - but then there is all this other bullshit (not fudge) that needs to also be dealt with.
So grab a leftover cookie and settle in for a post-Christmas treat. The bullshit is over (or at least not risen to the surface any longer), and now you can wallow in unwrapped presents and booze for the rest of the year.
Happy Holidays, my lovelies.
-- Andrea Kneeland
(Hobart, December '10)
“Whoever invented almond bark is a genius.” The microwave beeps and my sister grabs two oven mitts off the counter. She stabs the door latch on the microwave and pulls out a glass measuring bowl full of melted brown chocolate.
She carries the bowl across the kitchen to the far counter and opens the cupboard overhead. It is full of sugar. White sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar. Other sweet things too. Chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, cherry chips, chocolate chunks, vanilla chips, a bag of M & Ms, assorted colors of sprinkles.
I open the refrigerator. Diet Coke, Diet Dr. Pepper, Diet Mountain Dew. I push the cans to the side of the fridge, searching for something with real sugar, something that would come out of my sister’s cabinets.
My sister dumps a bag of gummi bears into the chocolate. She is blinking more than usual, tensing the muscles around her eyes. I think I should warn her about crow's feet, but save it for our mother.
“I don’t know how you run marathons on sugar and diet soda.”
“I do not!” She laughs and I believe her. It’s nice to hear her laugh so loud. It is our way, to laugh loudly.
“You do. It’s not a criticism.” I make this part clear. I am learning about subtext and intentions. “I’m impressed.” I think about Christmas dinner tomorrow and the heaping portions of mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole.
Her laugh trails off. She is gone again, crinkling her eyes, grinding her teeth, pulling gummi bears out of the mixing bowl with a spoon, laying them out on the wax paper. I dip my hand into a bowl full of white chocolate-covered pretzels.
“Wait!” She thrusts a red Christmas tin at me. “Try this.” The tin has a large evergreen on the front. I think how strange it is that evergreens don’t lose their leaves. Winter would be an awful black and white without the deep green of pine trees breaking up the horizon.
I open the tin and remove what looks like a ball of chocolate. My sister waits, watching me, half of her bears still drowning in chocolate. Her face is tense with excitement but her eyes remain heavy and still. I make a mental note to kill my brother-in-law.
I take a bite of the chocolate, which softens immediately between my teeth. The inside is almost bready, sweet and doughy. Of course: Chocolate covered cookie dough. The obvious next move.
“Good.” My mouth is full and I push the extra food into my cheek. “It’s really good.” My wife pointed it out to me, that I keep food in my cheeks and talk while I eat. It drives her nuts. I explained that in my family you had to get a word in whenever you could, at any cost.
We are expected at Mom and Dads’ soon. My wife is already there, starting the turkey, helping Mom pick up the house. I picture my tiny daughter rolling around on the kitchen floor, playing with assorted kitchen utensils. It’s just something my mom does, give kids utensils for toys.
My sister pops the microwave door back open and puts the mixing bowl in and starts the time. It’s too late but I try anyway: “Shouldn’t we be leaving?”
She turns from the microwave to look at me. Her face is wet and she has started to gasp and heave her chest. Lately it comes like this, these fits of despair, out of nowhere. She starts to flap her arms, like she is going to take off, up off the ground, and fly away. “Hey. Hey.” I try my best to sound like I understand, but I don’t, and I’m nervous that I brought it all on with the comment about marathons and sugar and diet soda. “It’s alright. We can wait a little while longer. Can I load up your stuff for you?”
Movement is my default, when I can’t make sense of a situation. When my sister called to tell me about my brother-in-law, that he had lost his job again, neglected to tell her again, this time for three weeks instead of two and she doesn’t know where he goes or what he does all day and sometimes all night and what is she supposed to do and she can’t be married to him anymore but what about little Grace and seriously what is wrong with him – I hung up the phone and moved every piece of furniture in our apartment to a new spot. But the apartment is oblong and strangely shaped and the furniture was either too big or too small so when my wife arrived home from work, I had moved our bedroom to the living room and most of the living room furniture to the kitchen and the dining room table was set up where our bed had been. She dropped her workbag and I saw she was going to ask, but then I just sat down, right down on that big recliner clogging up our galley kitchen and I cried and cried and cried.
“I just need to finish dipping these little peanut butter cracker sandwiches and then I think I’ll be ready to go.” She wipes her eyes with the back of the hand that holds the wooden spoon. A mess of her hair catches in the scoop of the spoon, but she doesn’t realize it, so when she pulls the bowl out of the microwave, she stirs long hairs into the mix. I will skip the peanut butter cracker sandwiches. She turns back around to her bowl of chocolate and the wax paper countertop.