Home for the Holidays
By M.G. Poe
“D’ you want to spend the night?” I asked in a hushed tone.
“I don’t know,” he said sullenly, “I’m allergic to dogs now, you know.”
He followed me from the foyer into the kitchen, looking familiarly around in the dim light. His obvious unease made me want to laugh.
“You’re not allergic!” I said. “It’s after three in the morning. Where you gonna go?”
“Back to my hotel room, for starters. Anywhere but here.”
“Mama’s asleep. And she won’t even know you’re here. C’mon, stay.”
“She’s got those three smelly little things sleeping with her now.” He looked sourly in the direction of the bedroom. “I can see them from here. Beady little eyes. Pointy little heads. Guardians at the gates of hell. I hate little dogs.”
I snorted. “Their eyes are closed. They’re sleepin’, too. Let’s have a nightcap.” I suggested, brushing aside his objections. “You can share my bed. Nothin’ there but a stuffed cat and some pillows. And, you can tell me all about livin’ in Los Angeles.”
“Stuffed cat,” he repeated. “Hansel or Gretel?”
“Hansel. Gretel’s out in the family room with the trees and Grandmamma.”
“I don’t know how you live here. “
“It’s not hard. Mama’s in bed by 8:30. Takes a sleepin’ pill most nights. Sleeps like the dead ‘cept on those nights when she don’t. She’s got cable. Internet. She pays for everythin’. It’s pretty easy.”
He glanced skyward, then back at me. “Does the bathroom still smell all funereally-lily-of-the-valley-like? I don’t even know why I ask. Nothing ever changes here. God, every time I’d take a shit it was like dung and flowers. Makes me want to aspirate thinking about it.”
“Then don’t think about it.” I responded wrinkling my nose at him.
“What in holy-hell are those?” He peered intently at the dead trees in the family room. They hadn’t been here when he left.
“Shh,” I said afraid his raised voice would wake Mama. “Christmas trees, I told ya’. Well, used to be anyway. Just dried up ole Frasers Firs now. Constantly droppin’ needles too, but Mama won’t let me get rid of ‘em. Stupid dogs try to chew ‘em, then they end up throwin’ up everywhere. There’s little red Gretel on the couch. See her? And Grandmama in her rockin’ chair.”
“Hi Grandmama!” Ricky said sotto voce and waved exaggeratedly. “Eh, no response. She hasn’t said a word to me in years. I used to be her favorite.”
“Ricky!” I giggled, glad he was here.
We’d been each other’s only source of understanding growing up. Keeping family secrets, sharing the black humor that had to go with it in order to survive. The few texts and phone calls I got from him a year were never enough. Especially after our sister Jenny died. It was so good to see him again. Maybe he’d even stay for supper tomorrow.
“One—two—eight trees?” he was counting as he spoke.
“Two more in the den,” I informed him. “So, tell me, what’s new in L.A.’s corporate advertisin’ scene? Which movie stars have you seen lately?”
“You know these are fire hazards,” he said, sounding concerned, ignoring my attempts at conversation. “These are more trees than the years I’ve been gone. What happen? Did you and she decide to double up on holiday cheer?” he asked caustically. Sometimes he could be harsh.
“You’re soundin’ more and more like a Yankee livin’ out west.” I said, accusingly. “Not much anymore like my big brother.”
“Still him, darlin’,” he said donning a slight twang.
Walking around the edge of the kitchen he leaned over the worn terrazzo counter that opened up into the family room, peered in and said, “You know, we could light a match. This place would go up like dry tinder. Fitting end to the House of The Living Dead, ‘you ask me. Watch’a say? Mama doesn’t weigh much. I’ll haul ‘er over my shoulder and carry her out. Wouldn’t want that on our conscience, too. But let’s leave the mini-hotdog hounds to smolder and burn. I hate little dogs,” he said disgustedly, yet again.
I walked quietly over to stand by him, ignoring his rant. “My therapist says she’s got attachment issues. Gets worse as she gets older.”
“Yeah? And what does your therapist say about you, little sis?”
“Says I’m enabling her. What am I supposed to do?”
“Leave,” he said seriously. There was no banter in his voice now. The conversation had suddenly turned serious.
“Like you did?” It was an accusation. I hated how it sounded, but I couldn’t help it. “Why don’t you try not hatin’ her, Ricky? Maybe you hate her ‘cause you hate your part in it. But you had a part. We all did. We were just children, but we all played a part. Here,” I said, handing him a gin and tonic. “Drink up. Try and relax.”
“But we are not children now, Franky,” he said taking the glass. “You’ve lived here so long you think this is normal. Dead trees in the family room, stuffed cats in the bedroom, Grandmama in her rocking chair, Morticia for a mother. Franky, other people don’t live like this.”