Christmas is coming. Actually, Christmas is here. It’s here and my sister Jessie is a vegan. Daddy stopped drinking, which is all I really asked for; I haven’t smelled it on him in weeks. He quit on Thanksgiving, same day Jessie swore off animals. Probably had to do with the live turkey Daddy brought home, which he lit on fire. He’s quit before, a few quiet weekends, but he’s determined this time: nothing tying him to the bottle. He gets his one-month button the twenty-sixth of December. He says it’ll look great pinned to his shirt but I don’t think he knows what it looks like. I’m still really proud of him.
He talks about Mommy a lot now, whenever it’s too quiet in the house.
“If she saw me now, well. She’d just bend over backwards and die, I tell ya. But she flew the coop, didn’t stick through the Hells to get to Heaven. She’ll never know.”
I try drawing her sometimes when I look in the mirror too long. Daddy’s found the sketchpad I keep under my mattress.
“I tell you Muriel, time and time again, to cut this crap out. Stop worrying about her. She can feel the worry; it fuels her. Forget her face. You don’t look like her anyways.”
He tried to burn it last time but got too drunk. That’s where the turkey comes in. Since then I’ve hidden it better.
I take it upon myself to make dinner this year. I set the kitchen table with our good Costco table cloth and the matching plates, but we only have two glasses so I have to give Daddy the Number One Dad mug. I close the shades for the drive-byers and occasional nudist; the holidays inspire people in a lot of different ways. I broil the Tofurkey and make sure the orange juice hasn’t spoiled. It’s good for two more days, thank goodness. I ring the cowbell we keep by the stove in case of emergencies, because some days my family doesn’t listen to much else except clanging. Daddy comes out of his room tripping with just his pants on. Jessie comes out of her room looking sick.
Daddy goes to the fridge and pulls out a fifth of vodka. He doesn’t drink it; he just stands the bottle next to his plate and stares at it through dinner most nights. He says the temptation makes him strong. When he gets to his seat he takes his fork instead of my hand. Jessie clears her throat but Daddy doesn’t seem to notice.
“Daddy, a little grace please.” He takes our hands with a sigh and a soft burp.
“We’ve had a good run, this year. Here’s to one more.” Daddy’s not one to dally with food on the table. Jessie is, though.
“I just want a word of thanks for all the animals that suffer and die for our bourgeois lifestyle with nothing to show for it and that others like me respect you and choose not to partake in what is practically cannibalism. And my sister, I’m grateful for my sister.”
Jessie hangs her head for a moment and then looks up at me.
“Mur, it’s your turn.”
“Um, thank you for our house and clean sheets and no cavities or broken bones. Thank you for Jessie helping with my homework and Daddy smiling more and that Mommy is in a safe place.”
Daddy squeezes my hand hard before dropping it to the table. My fork falls to the ground but he doesn’t let me pick it up.
“Muriel, we’ve talked about this. Your mother isn’t relevant in this house, shouldn’t even be in your head.”
“Daddy, it’s Christmas. It’s about love.”
“It’s Shitmas is what it is. Almost a year without your mother has done you good you don’t knoooow yet. Her running off like that, left us flat nothing, and nothing’s all she’ll ever be.”
“But Daddy she’s-”
“No sweet pea, Marilyn was a great jumble things. Mother ain’t one. Do you know what she said when you were born? Rich, fucking rich. She said ‘what the hell is it?’ To you! To her own kiddy! A woman yes, but never a mother. And now she’s not even that. Evil mind poisons the face. And you know what? I will drink to that.”
Daddy picks up the bottle and twists the cap off with his teeth. He pours it into the mug sloppily and it spills onto his green beans.
“Daddy! You promised!”
“I’ve been good. It’s been a month. It’s a little test I do for myself.”
He looks at the mug for a moment before swallowing.
“Listen, Muriel, last thing you want is your mother. Played this family like a deck of cards, and she wasn’t foolin’ anyone. You’ve got me upset thinking about it.”
Jessie reaches out and grabs the mug from Daddy and throws it on the ground.
“Shut up Dad! Can you keep your lip off the bottle for two seconds? Muri wants her mother, and I want my mother too, not some half-ass boozer who signs permission slips and collects unemployment.”
“Oh, you’re the saint, I see! Jessica Lilian you are just like her. Never appreciatin’ me, always getting on my case over and over and over. Boozer? You come home from your little soaped up, prepster shit friends every night smelling like cognac and older boys. Don’t you put your thumb on me.”
“Well, then if I’m like Mom then I can leave. And that’s half your check gone, and Mur’s too young for insurance.”
Jessie stands up and Daddy grabs her by the arm. She spits on his foot but he doesn’t let go.
“Woah, Jessica, I was kidding! Here, have a little taste on me, untwist your panties. If you’re so upset.” He holds the bottle out to Jessie like the boys in movies do with flowers. But Jessie isn’t the sentimental type.
“Keep it, I’m off it. I can do that.”
“Aw that’s noble. But I don’t think neither of us wanna remember tomorrow.”
Daddy takes a swig and Jessie ran her hands through her hair.
He sits up and blinks, running his hands through his hair. He’s staring at Jessie like he’s hated her for years. Jessie is shaking but she doesn’t look scared.
“Love it already.”
He’s real quiet. Even pushing out our ratty table chairs that always screech is muffled. He stands, retreating to his room. I look at Jessie and her forehead’s slick and her ears crimson, and she can’t decide if she should smile.
After a second the wailing of broken bottles starts. Glass on wood, glass on plaster, glass on skull. Daddy’s good at being hysterical. He’s yelling. He’s yelling like he hasn’t done since my birthday, in the summer. He probably drank before dinner, and I didn’t notice. Jessie says I take the benefit of the doubt too much. He’s yelling about me, and Jessie and Mommy and his sad, sad, terrible life. I guess I don’t see what’s so bad. My orange juice jumps, like everything new in our flat unaccustomed to nights like these. Jessie calls her friend as she leaves the house.
Daddy’s room didn’t have much else than a bed and a cabinet for his clothes, but it’s all gone. The bedding is torn off and the mattress stabbed, glass and feathers carpet the floor. The cabinet is on its side, gutted, and its contents laid out like petals and guts. The tinsel I taped around his window glints like tears. Daddy’s lying in the middle of it all, looking like a baby. He’s wet with sweat, vomit and cheap spirits. I go back into the kitchen for a towel and was wiping his face. He looks up at me for a second.
“Daddy. It’s nine thirty.”
“Then for Christ’s sake close the blinds, Santa’s not coming this year. You know where the mop is.”
I stand and walk into the bathroom, pull the mop out from under the tub. It’s still got feathers and shards from Thanksgiving.
Amelia is a writer from San Francisco raised on my mother’s books and burritos. She currently attends the University of British Columbia and identifies wholly as a feminist. Writing for her is like running: it’s only good when you’ve done it for a while. Find her on twitter at @meeealz and on instagram at @vinarozy.