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Merry Christmas Indeed
Preparation came in a maelstrom of motion, much like a torrential rain—unyielding and undeniably powerful. Activity seeped through the pores of the house, ricocheting off the walls like a rogue tennis ball; my mind tried to follow it, but gradually it was lost in the holiday spirit that clogged the air. My mother had been cooking for three days, filling the house with the redolent steam of Baklava and other festive cookies. The aroma of the deserts fought for a place in the air against the conflicting scent of honey-smoked ham. My father prepared the beverages, his connoisseur coming out in the opportunity to serve wine and beer to others. The basement was stacked with cases upon cases of Stella Artois. At this party, there was to be no Bud Light or Corrs. His Napa Valley wine bottles stood poised against the backdrop of the marble counters, looking down their noses at the beers and other beverages. The countertops were scrubbed to perfection, twinkling and basking in the attention of the lights. A row of clean wine glasses stood in solitude in the middle of the counter, waiting for their chance to shine.
I had helped a bit, driving around and picking up supplies for the party. Other than that, I was merely an observer to the holiday spirit. Upholstery and Santa Clause statuettes popped up around the house at random intervals, giving the house a common holiday theme. It was as if the house were proud of its giving spirit, as if to say jovially, “look here at my hospitality!”
For days it continued like that, at least a week before the party the house bustled to get the Christmas tree assembled and the ornaments readied and distributed. When the night approached, the house was pristine. With everything freshly cleaned and chairs spread throughout the house, it was as if the house had opened its arms to welcome the people, opening itself to the very idea of Family Hospitality. By seven o’clock, when guests began to arrive, it was in pairs of two. Wives stuck to their husbands’ sides like insects. Holding appetizers and a present for the Bunko Gift Exchange, they were brought into the brightly colored house. I stood around, picking at the appetizers, listening to the holiday music trumpet from the stereos. I said my scattered hellos, talking with some parents. They asked the usual questions, and I smiled and nodded politely. I felt distinctly uncomfortable, especially as the beer and the wine were brought out and the glasses were filled. I glanced at the glasses, which seemed to mocking me, reminding me once again, I was an observer. I abandoned the scene and retreated to watch Dexter on my computer.
The sounds of the party wafted up the steps; the entire atmosphere of the house was transformed. It seemed to take up an entirely different aura. This aura was one of festivity and merriment that filled the very recesses of a usually subdued house; the house was buzzing. When I reappeared a second time to scrounge, the difference was tangible. The air was thick with laughter, and smelled of the controlled wantonness of adults. It was clear that sobriety had long since fluttered out of the richly furnished windows. As I pushed my way through the throng of people, the father of a boy I used to babysit approached me, apparently ready to talk to me about colleges. My brain struggled with recollection for a moment before it clicked: Mr. Keegan. Mr Keegan, with his snow white hair and overly red cheeks, looked much like Santa Clause. He was holding a spirit, a living testament to his rosy cheeks. He was clearly intoxicated, and he began to talk to me, approaching me with a Jack-in-the-box grin.
“So, you’re a junior right?”
I opened my mouth to answer but he butt in like an off-beat clock, “Oh, yeah I remember, you are. What colleges you looking at?”
I listed a few that I’d visited, and he nodded sagely, crossing his arms in his concentration. His face adapted an expression of seriousness that was nearly comical. It was as if he were a child, trying to step into a dress two sizes too big.
“Well, those colleges, they’re mighty hard to get into these days. Lots of smart kids out there!” he said, practically yelling in my ears.
I shuffle my feet, recomposing my face with effort. “Oh, truly. There’s so many smart students out there.”
“Do you get good grades?”
My eyes focused on a piece of food on the corner of his mouth, and it took enormous effort to draw my eyes away. My eyes flickered up his face and back to his eyes.
“I do ok.”
“Yeah, well, just gotta keep workin’ hard!”
He slapped my good-naturedly on the back, but the slap was harder than I anticipated. I gulped in a breath, wheezing audibly as I suppressed a cough. I rotated my shoulder as I tried to alleviate the sting of his hand.
I smiled and nodded, silently praying for the conversation to end.
“You do extra-curriculars?”
The crowd seemed to close in around me, cutting off all possible routes of escape and reprieve. For a moment more, I floundered until freedom came again. As if heaven sent, a distraction came. Though I would not have hoped this misfortunate on anyone, someone bumped his arm, and a stream of red flowed across the white linen. The slow progression across his shirt looked eerily like blood. Contaminating the white shirt, it reminded much of trampled and dirty snow.
Almost automatically, my hand reached out for a napkin, helping him dab at his shirt. The man who knocked his arm, tall and broad, apologized profusely. The man handed Mr. Keegan a napkin and offered to pay for dry cleaning. As the two broke off into their own separate discussion, I took the opportunity to slink away, silently skulking around the edges of the crowd. The entire incident with Mr. Keegan had dampened my mood, and I tried to make my way upstairs.
I hustled and jostled my way back out of the kitchen, past the half-eaten plates of sweet potatoes and turkey. A man was sprawled out on the couch, his mouth opened slightly as he snored. A cacophonic mixture of his snores and Jingle Bell Rock shook the room. As I exited the room, a cat raced past me. Persia the Cat had escaped the confines of my parents’ bedroom, running wildly through the house as she was chased by my squawking younger sister. Maybe I should help… The image of Mr. Keegan swooped through my mind like a hawk, and my spontaneous attitude of helpfulness. Instead, I stopped to fix an overturned Santa. With his little boots in the air and a wine glass right next to him, it looked as if he too had joined this party. I picked up a plethora of empty Stellas who had been sitting lonely by themselves. I reached out and placed the forgotten lovers on table. I looked at the glasses and bottles. Now tarnished with fingerprints, the previously spotless glasses were discarded. Like a one-night stand, their brief stint with their lovers was over. Without reluctance, I took the steps two-by-two following the garland-covered staircase all the way to my room. The noise of the party was as loud as ever, but the music had transformed, into something more melodic; I didn’t miss the irony as Silent Night filled the air. Merry Christmas indeed.