“I wish I’d gotten that power switching unit instead.” Oliver moans. He’s shifting through the cords of his new PS4, connecting red and white AV cables to the back of the living room T.V. “What am I going to do with this thing?”
“You’re suppose to play it.” I say, tired of his complaining. In my hands is a new Coolpix P600 camera. I’ve finally found the ‘on’ button. “Sunny will like it if you don’t.”
“I’m sure he would.” Oliver says. He shakes his head in amazement. “Mom got him pants and shirts. She even wrapped them.”
“At least he got something.” I say. June told me their mother played the IOU card, which isn’t as bad as you’d think when it’s the third or fourth year in a row. People can get use to anything I suppose.
“I would give him this,” Oliver motions with disgust at the PlayStation, “but I don’t think he has a TV that can run it.”
“They don’t have a TV at all.” I say. Oliver’s perhaps the only boy I’ll ever know who thinks video games are a waste of time. He’s a geek for sure, but with his ham radio set, scale models, and love for K’nex kits, his mind is about five decades too early to enjoy anything Sony has to offer.
From the hall I hear Mom’s slippers sqeak against the faux wood flooring. She’s pacing, a cell phone glued her ear, enduring perhaps our only Nolan family Christmas tradition; calling Grandpa Joseph.
Who is she? Mom’s voice is frantic, Dot? Isn’t she your day nurse?
“Why don’t you hook that thing up in your room?” Morgan asks. She’s reclined on the sofa, wearing a new Steelers jacket over sleep pants and a MCCC Raging Bulls t-shirt. She’s been home for close to two weeks now and has become intolerable. “The Disney parade is about to start.”
“I can’t. My T.V. doesn’t have the right connections.” Oliver’s 32″ RCA (a vacuum tube filled creature that once inhabited the living room’s place of honor) sits in the corner of his bedroom behind an unused drum-set and a broken telescope. I haven’t heard it on in maybe a year.
“I’m looking for the parade.” Morgan picks up the remote. After a moment, dozens of young band members, half of them dressed in red and blue with the other half in green and white, appear in neat rows lead by Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Two commentators, with contractually obligated smiles, giggle at the sight of them.
I slide an SD card into my camera and begin shifting through the controls, hoping to find the Full Auto option.
We hear the hall bathroom flush and watch Dad step out. A plum of smoke follows him. Being a member of 12th St. Baptist Deacon Association, he’s been purged of most vices (he’s lost twenty pounds, jogs three times a week and has given up his occasional Miller Lite) though some have only been driven underground. A half smoked pack of red and white cowboy killers peeks out of his bathrobe pocket.
“How’s the parade?” He asks. His robe reeks of about a thousand different carcinogens. “Good?”
Morgan shrugs. “MCCC could’ve done it better.”
Dad taps her leg and she shifts on the sofa. He sits beside her. His Christmas gift from us, an overly complex Universal remote, lays beside him still in its clear plastic packaging. Another zero score year for the Nolan kids. It’s a good thing we kept the receipt.
When was the wedding? Mom asks. She’s pacing more quickly now, wearing a hole in the floor with her tiny slippered feet. Why didn’t you tell us?
“Has Timothy called yet?” Oliver asks me.
“I haven’t checked my phone.”
“I meet Angelic during the Wednesday night service and then ran into her at the mall with Mom.” He begins unwrapping one of the game controllers, neatly placing the plastic packaging inside a nearly full Walmart bag. “She was wearing the same blue dress both times. Kinda weird.”
We watch as the parade creeps across the screen. A series of Disney starlets singing pop teenybopper crap come and go in quick sucssision. The only high point is when a squad of Imperial Stormtroopers, lead by Darth Vader himself, goosestep before the podium. Their signature menace, however, evaporates as they begin a hokey dance sequence.
“Paw Paw loved the parade.” Morgan sighs. The mood of the room drops from lackluster office party to grave side service.
“Yes, he did.” Dad says. His hand creeps across the sofa and takes Morgan’s. He gives her a weary nicotine stained smile.
“Did Brandon like his gifts?” I want to change the subject. Don’t cry over the dead. Paw Paw once told us, if anyone should be crying it should be them. One of his many lessons we’ve failed to follow through.
“Yeah.” A smile spreads over Morgan’s face like a royal flush, “I was worried but he really like them.”
“Which part did he like the most?”
“He loved the card. Said it was the biggest one he’d ever seen.”
She spent all of last week deciding what to get her uncommitted boyfriend before finally deciding on a few DVD’s of some Discovery Channel reality show and a Flintstones Christmas card the size of a wall calendar.
“Did June like the picture of the two of you together?” Morgan asks, but I know that she really doesn’t care about June or the photo. The question is an attempt at reciprocity. If I’d mentioned her Algebra grade she’d ask about the my new blouse or the wheels on the Caravan. I go along with it. It is Christmas after all.
“She did. She hugged me and everything.”
Oliver looks up at me, a what the heck expression in his eyes. I smile him down.
In reality, June didn’t hug me or even say “thank you” for the gift, a 5×7 selfie of us on the Sagamon River Bridge, and only grunted when asked if she liked the redwood frame. But the nearly invisible smirk across her plumper face more than made up for it.
In my phone buzzes in my pocket and I find a message from Timothy. Even though it’s a generic group sent Merry Christmas!!! My heart jumps.
“Well, I have some good news.” Mom says, stepping in from the hall. She slides her phone into her bathrobe pocket where it glows there for a moment before extinguishing. “Grandpa has gotten married.”
We look up at her doe eyed.
After a long moment Oliver stirs.”When was the wedding?” .
“It was last June.” Mom says. She pulls her robe’s cotton collar closed, clasping it tightly near her throat with one hand. A defense mechanism? Something primal left over from when humans still roamed the Serengeti, ever fearful some sharp-toothed, long mauled creature would rip them to slivers? “He’s married Dorothy Smoley.”
Morgan, Dad, Oliver and I exchange glances and come to a silent agreement: It could be worse. Last Christmas Grandpa Joseph let Mom know that Great Aunt Hanna, who took her in the Summer Grandma died, whose gnarled hands sewed Mom’s snow white wedding dress, had been dead and buried since Labor Day. Yes, it could be worse.
“Well, we’ll have to see them some time.” Mom says, attempting to dismiss her father and new stepmother from her thoughts. “Just remember that we have to be at Sunset Meadows at one to give the residents their Christmas goodies. We’ll leave for Mimi’s from there.”
“That means,” Dad looks at his dollar store watch, “be ready by eleven-thirty.”
“Mom, let me take your picture.” I point the camera at her and wait for a smile. It creeps up slowly, in like a massive stone pulled by a hundred malnourished slaves. It’ll do.