The fire crackles and the light pulses in the dimly lit room. The dancing flames refract through a glass on the table, warped by the wine sitting still within it. I wait comfortably on my couch expecting at any moment for one of my family members to knock on my door.
For a good long while, there’s silence. I don’t know why because I sent out the invitations more than three weeks ago. Even though no one replied, I figure at least one person would show up anyway. What had I done? At the very least, I want to know why my parents ignored their only son.
I stand, run my hands through my soft, short hair, and then pace the room. I try to think of all the things I had done the last three weeks—beyond even—but I can’t think of anything that might alienate everyone from me. Had they always not liked me? Had they only tolerated my existence in their lives until they’d finally had enough?
Nonsense. That can’t be true. I get along well enough with my older sister Viera, and my little brother Gabe—not so little now as he approaches thirty—always comes to me for advice. My dad, though our relationship has always been silently turbulent for some reason, had at least tried to get along with me by talking cars or sports. My mother, bless her good heart, loves everyone, even her enemies. It just doesn’t seem like my family at all to ignore me, especially on Christmas day.
I find myself standing in front of the phone. I reach out for it to give them a ring to find out what the deal is, but then I retract my hand. If they were truly ignoring me, then they would certainly ignore my call. After all, I’ve done it before, isn’t that what caller ID was for? To dodge unwanted calls from wives, sisters, brothers, errant lovers, and—more importantly—evil telemarketers?
I decide instead to visit my parent’s house because I suspect if I surprise them, then an answer—perhaps one of guilt—will shadow all their faces with the truth.
I walk to the closet near the front door to withdraw my coat, but I look down and I’m already wearing it. It’s amazing the things you forget when those closest to you are driving you mad.
The evening is crisp. Sometime during the day, a light snow coated the small neighborhood. The street lamps glisten off the fresh ice, and the moon glows high and bright in the sky. I don’t live far from my mother and father, and because I find it’s far too beautiful of a night to waste with a drive I decide to walk.
As I pass through the neighborhood, I feel the warmth from the Christmas lights and the families enjoying their time together through the big picture windows of the homes. Some are eating grand meals, some are watching movies, and some are exchanging gifts. A lot of them are wearing ugly sweaters that either grandma or grandpa thought too cute to pass up, but they all had smiles on their faces. A true reminder of how joyous people are to have the chance to spend a moment of their time with their loved ones, something I wish I could enjoy this night.
When I reach my family’s house, the lights my father put up are pulsing and reflecting against the white wonderland. A wooden Rudolph stands alert in the front yard while a mechanical Santa waves to passing cars. On the other side of the lawn is a small nativity scene that has “Baby Jeeves” written across the top of the manger thanks to my dad’s humor.
These are some of my favorite things, I think and then begin humming Andy Williams’ version of the same name.
I approach the front door, and I immediately hear a lot of talking just above a soft chorus of Christmas music. I recognize all of the voices: Viera, Gabe, momma, pappa, and Uncle Pete. I feel the crushing weight of depression burn in my chest as I realize they’re all together without me. I blink hard to push away the tears and before I know it, I’m standing in the foyer.
The sweet aroma of my mother’s fruitcake—that nobody likes but everyone eats with a smile—and a hint of pine from the nearby Christmas tree sends a nostalgic chill down my back and raises my skin with goose bumps. I rub my arms as I exit the foyer into the main room where I find my family sitting near the fireplace.
No one seems to notice me, which is painful but not unreasonable if I had done something to offend them in some way. I take my coat off hoping to feel the warmth of the fireplace, but I’m much too far from it I think because I still feel a bit frigid.
“Hey everyone.” I say, though my voice is weak and timid. Normally I’m strong and loud, but their denial of my invitation has humbled me.
Viera and Gabe sit next to each other on a maroon couch talking to my mother who has a glass of whiskey in her hand. She hadn’t taken a drink in years, but I decide it was Christmas after all and there’s no need to bring it up right then. Uncle Pete and my father, who looks a tad pale, sit away from the others. Pete’s hand is holding my father’s and they’re talking about something, but they’d gone too low to hear.
“Guys can I just say something here? I don’t know what I did, but please just—” I start to say, but my sister interrupts me with, “Jesus it’s cold.”
“Honey, watch your mouth,” my mother reprimands, though she did so with a weak voice of her own.
Viera stands and walks past me, not even bothering to give me a look in the eyes. So typical of my passive sister. She disappears for a moment and returns rubbing the arms of her cream turtleneck sweater.
“Someone left the door open,” she says at the doorway, and this time she looks me right in the eyes as if to accuse me—she’s right. I look back at my brother who gives me the same look. The sister-brother tag team, but I suppose I deserve it for some reason. Then, she walks right through me, and sits back down on the couch.
For a moment, I’m lost. Thoughts seem to fog in my mind as I try to grip what just happened. I look at my brother who gets up and sits next to my mother. He wraps his arm around her and pulls the glass from her hand. She buries her face into his shoulder and weeps. My sister dabs her eyes with a tissue she plucked from a box on the coffee table. I look up at my father, and he has his face buried in his hands. Uncle Pete has both his hands on his brother’s shoulders with a grim though empathetic face.
I try to speak, but nothing comes out. I take a step into the room, and a glimmer of light above the fireplace catches my eye. I look up. Nestled between two photographs of me—one young and one taken just last year—is a brushed metal urn.
“No.” I’m finally able to say as the shock relents, and I suddenly realize why my invitations went unanswered.