Dear E 12/25,

As you can probably see from the date, it’s Christmas day. The droll and solid mass of your grandfather is hunched over the sink, pouring the briny juice from the pot in which the turkey soaked overnight. Your Oma Liesien, as you have so quickly learnt to call her, is tending to the plump and mottled red sausages hissing in the pan. Her pure white hair hangs at blunt, clean angles around her lovely and entirely reasonable face.
You are in our room, which used to be your uncle Joe’s. You lie between the pillows on the bed, between your parents’ abandoned places, in the middle where you demand to be around 2:30am every morning. Sometimes you meow in your sleep.
Last night you puked on the bed. A sludgey puddle with wisps of cheese. We’ve run the gamut of symptoms over the past two weeks since arriving: your hoarse cough, your three days of significant fever, a disappearing/reappearing rash–hives of red with pale polka dots.
And yet, beyond these inconveniences, being here seems to make no difference to you. Only to us.
You love Bubba, the parents’ dog, like you love your own dog, Helwa. “Bubba, Bubba” you cry upon waking. You feed him cookie after cookie. You grasp his black and brown face and cackle with joy.
You try to steal his grimy chew-rope and you know to back off when he growls.
You also love the cat, Peter, whom you call ‘Meow’, along with the rest of his kind, as well as cows, squirrels and the monkeys at the zoo with their crumpled black and infantile faces.
The cat has scratched you a couple of times now. Little ones on the cheek or the wrist. You get angry. You stomp up to him and yell “meow!” Just once and loud.
We went to Spider House last Saturday morning. It’s a cobbled contrivance of a coffee bar in a city full of cobbled contrivances: Austin, Texas. The city is known by locals as ‘the velvet rut’, because people never leave or always come back. You can spend a long lifetime there accomplishing not a lot very happily. The city is ultra tolerant, most of all of that.
I would move us back there in an instant, if it were at all a lucrative place.
Anyhow, I wonder if the proprieters of these intentionally ad hoc destinations have taken this style of decor and assigned it a discretion, a name, an ethos. Probably they have, something obnoxious. “Shabby chic,” I have heard. Maybe transient trendy. Hobo hip. Junkyard je ne sais quoi.
We four sat at a picnic table in the jumble garden. My sister and her (second) wife. Me and my (first) husband. (Where spouses, if not their titles, can keep their married names and hold on the imaginations of those who reviled or replaced them.)
Did you know, in Italy it takes three or four years to finalize a divorce? There’s a waiting period in which time you can only build some single zombie half-life. You are urged to seek counseling, and obliged to avoid affairs, the stain of adultery. The divorce rate there is like three percent or something insane.
Overall, I think this Catholic artifact plugging up the bureaucracy is a good thing. Our world has gotten so casual, so easy to mold into something suitable, like a kinky leather suit. Once we get rid of death, we probably won’t have anything to do with each other at all anymore. Children will certainly go out of style.
Until then, you’ve been cursed with a mother who thinks being too easy on oneself is a form of masochism. People who want to avoid labor and love, I’m never really sure what else they could be after.
Anyway, I digress. We sat at the picnic table amidst metal chairs shedding their rusty paint like serpent skins, amidst concrete angels missing extremities, mismatched tiles, where there were tiles, and the occasional eruption of grackels. I had a cappuccino, which I only ever drink half of, given how caffeine makes my heart skip beats. It feels sort of like someone is working one of those red toilet plungers beneath your sternum. It also feels like you’re going to piss your pants if keeps up like this.
The ladies were sharing Mexican Martinis. I used to have to make them when I bartended at the Driskill. Those and Cosmos. (This was the girly, non-smoking bar downstairs. Nowadays it is all non-smoking. I wonder where the fat, old senators take their cigar husks anymore. The soccer moms may get rid of smoking, but they’ll never do away with fat old senators.)
Your father was chasing you between the pierced and tatted up goths and the bursts of grackels.
I told my sister her hands were lovely: long and lithe. My sister held them out and turned them over. She said they were swollen from all the booze. She wanted to get the drinking in before they tried to get pregnant. I kept the lecture about how alcoholism doesn’t prepare the body for pregnancy secured in my head, prepared for someone I know better than my sister. Perhaps future you.
We had a good talk, about how nurses and grade school teachers have the best immune systems in the world, and how incoming grade school teachers all get the crud like a rite of passage. I added that living in a co-op also did wonders for the immune system–not to mention increasing one’s sense of tolerance, reducing that of personal space, and providing you with health conditions to leave you prepared to eat off the ground in Juarez.
Her eyes are shot through with green and her high cheekbones are delightfully freckled, just like our mothers. She looks like your grandmother, prettier and not as beautiful.
You ate your sweet potato mush and your pea mush and then some tortilla chips, without hesitation. Her wife threw my sister long, charmed looks, unseen, as she spoke to me. Someone to look after her.
My sister told me it would be a great thing for our mother if I took you to see her, though prudently refusing to act as intermediary. (In fact, I am sworn not to tell anyone that we speak and meet.)
She claimed that JoAnn has mellowed over the years. She now attends the parish in our neighborhood rather than drive to the rich Catholics’ congregation out in the hills. She volunteers. Her grandchildren from my brother are, for the most part, as defective as he is. It would be a dream for her to see a healthy, rosy-cheeked bit of progeny.
I take this conversation back to my father. He tells me that, after about ten minutes on the phone with her, some weeks ago, she launched into a diatribe about how I was a shit, our whole family were selfish shits, and my grandmother had been a pig.
On the desk in this room, there is a bag of stuff she sent here for you. Contents: A powder blue sweater with fat little buttons; a toy phone from my very early childhood. A handkerchief my grandmother made. You picked up the phone to play and I pulled it from you, to howls of protest. I set it high up in the closet. She may have poisoned it.
Now you are up, telling me mamma from behind your green ciucio.
You hand me the lighter your father left on the dresser and pull down the very vanilla cookies embossed with letters. You are now feeding them to Bubba.
Ahpoopie. There is a poopie. I am telling you now. Time for a change.

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