Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Memory For Alice (Friday Fiction)

Author's Ramblings: This was a short piece entered in the FWC, about a year ago. I finally had some time to expand it and add a few short pieces as it has been bugging me for awhile. Theodore McGinty will not be making an appearance this year, but perhaps sometime in the future, he will visit this blog in the form of a new installment. He insists his story is not ready to be continued, so I have no choice but to listen to him at this point, as there are plenty of other voices within my head, clamoring for attention. Eira and DP should reappear for another installment this year and then I've some interesting things slated for the New Year, so please keep an eye out and let me know what you think. Enjoy this Christmasy adventure with Alice and I hope you have a very, merry Christmas!

I shivered in the light dusting of snow as I rang the doorbell and hugged my duffel to my chest. I hadn’t realized that Meeta’s house was this big. I hadn’t realized it was so far away from the quiet little town where our trailer home was neatly buried in snow. I also hadn’t realized it would take Dad a whole half-hour to drive me here.
He was so upset afterwards, he’d driven off when I’d turned and waved. He hadn’t even waited to see if someone would answer the door and let me in.
I tried not to let it bother me. I’d already been too much of bother for the holiday-er-Christmas season already. Gloria had insisted on all sorts of holiday traditions and things her family had always done. She didn’t care a whit about things like cookies and special ornaments. I’d fought with her, then with Dad and then finally agreed to leave it all alone, if I could spend Christmas at Meeta’s house instead.
Now I was standing outside a very big house, with very tall columns on either side of the massive front porch. I swallowed hard, working up the courage to ring the bell again. Now that I was thinking a tad clearer, it was making some sense. The house seemed more like a Ranch and the that description explained away the dozens of acres of white-speckled green grass. Neatly trimmed grass fenced in with white picket fencing, LED Christmas lights flickering on an off lazily from their perch upon the fence posts.
It was pretty.
It was definitely something I’d never seen before.
Another shiver worked up and I winced, before poking the door bell again. I could almost hear it ringing inside the house. There was very little I had left to work through my head. This Christmas was easily turning into more of a headache than the usual heartache.
My eyes burned for a moment. Standing out in the cold was getting to me. I hadn’t remembered Mom for nearly the entire hour. It was partially her fault I was standing here now. My choices had been limited, so I’d created a choice of my own.
Now I wasn’t sure that I could handle the route I’d chosen myself, for now the memories of past Christmases were chasing me…catching up when I least wanted to deal with them. Times where our family was whole, where we didn’t hate each other and where Christmas meant more than eggnog in the fridge.
Heavenly Father, please let this be a good Christmas. I begged more than prayed, because I wasn’t sure I could handle anything other than goodness at this point. If there was more snub, one more scolding, one more…something, I knew I would break.
This time, fixing myself and possibly my sanity wouldn’t work very well. My eyes watered. The wind had nothing to do with it. I was tired of everything. Tired of remembering. Tired of standing in the cold and lastly, tired of sounding like a grown-up.
My mind had already shifted to gears to be thinking of where or how I could manage if no one came ‘round to the door, when it suddenly opened and I was pulled inside.

“Alice!” Meeta crowed, rocking forward on her tip-toes. She hugged me tight then held me at arm's length, even though she was a whole head shorter than my shoulder. “Oh you're late.” She spun me around. “And I told you not to dress up-you must be freezing! You poor thing…” She was already off mumbling to herself, spinning me around again to twirl me out of the thin dress-coat.

I grabbed her arm, dizzily, allowing the coat to be whisked away. I’d hated the coat, but worn it because I knew it bugged Mom. It had been one of the very last gifts Dad had ever given me. Now, I was just the unfortunate relative he paid child-support for. A thought that brought a grimace as I tried to push it away. “Actually, Mom had to know.” I held up the duffel sheepishly. She had to make sure I wouldn’t embarrass our ridiculous excuse of a family. She doesn’t really care where I spend long as it's not with Dad and Gloria. As if Christmas with her and Pete is any different. I stifled a shudder, banishing the thoughts.

Meeta rolled her eyes. “You're fifteen. I think that means your brain’s almost grown-you know, so you can like, think for yourself?” She rolled her eyes. “I can already see where your head’s going. Quit being so gloomy! There’s soooo much stuff to do right now, I was trying to get to the door when I heard the bell ring, but everyone kept stopping me with something to do before I got there!” She heaved a sigh, a happy flush lending a healthy glow to her bronzed cheeks. “And you really did have to dress up? I wish you hadn’t…never mind, I've got spares.” She bit her lip and then caught hold of my sleeve and the duffel. “Come quick.”

She threw the jacket over my head and shoulders, linking one arm through mine and all but running down the entryway. I was smuggled down the hallway and into her room. It was larger than Dad’s trailer kitchen and living room put together. Larger than Mom’s two-story basement spare bedroom and playroom.
Tastefully decorated in muted tones, with a few splashes of color at the border around the ceiling, elegant gold swirls and scrolls were sprinkled throughout the walls. Everything matched to some degree, or at least, it felt that everything belonged where it was and exactly as it had been. I also noticed that her bedroom slippers were pink, fluffy…and loud. There were two gold bell tassels on the front.
“Wow.” I stared in wonder at her gigantic bedroom. A sight I’d never seen because I’d always turned her invitations down, never wanting to get that close to the girl who had never stopped trying to be my friend. “Um, you guys are rich.”

Meeta was already pawing through a set of pink and orange dresser drawers, happily throwing things around in a swirl of rolled up socks and filmy fabrics. Her head popped up, surprised. “We work hard. Anyone can do, wear these.” She handed over a pantsuit in burgundy and white. “Quicky.”
“Quickly.” I corrected her cute speech, but smiled as I did so. She liked her lisping way of twisting words around. Most of the time, I didn’t mind. It was always the distraction I needed. “What for?” I gingerly slipped out of my holiday dress, it was harder than I remembered it being.

“We don't dress up until the afternoon, remember?” She frowned. “Or were you not listening when I gave you a page of instructions?”
“I was listening…” I shimmied into the pants. They were a tad snug, but fairly comfortable.
“If you untie the knot, it’ll fit better.” She said, dryly.
I looked down and blushed, to see she was right. It took a moment to fiddle with that while Meeta found a hanger and threaded my pathetic Christmas dress onto the wire frame. “You don’t have to hang that up…I can fit it in my duffel.”
“And let it get wrinkles?” Meeta snorted. “Always treat your clothes like…chocolate.”
“You know, special and important, cause it makes you feel good. Like chocolate.”
“Never heard that one before.”
Her mouth quirked. “You’ll be hearing a lot of things like that here…hurry up, it doesn’t take that long to change into a pants and shirt.”
“I’m going, I’m going already.” I grumbled.
She chuckled. “Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. You might feel out of place waltzing around in that thing.” She pointed to the dress and then her face lit up the way it usually did when she was about to coerce me into some new random idea of hers. “Wait here!” She held up a hand and ducked through into another room and reappeared a moment later with a soft blue armful. “You can wear this.” She spread it carefully on the bed. “Salwaar Kameez. We're the same size or close enough, I pin my up so they don’t drag on the floor…so I’m sure this will fit you all right. Besides, it's new. You always have to wear something new for Christmas…for luck…or something like that. Feels good anyway.”

I stared at the gorgeous two-piece. “Are you sure?” There was white and gold beads and sparkles along the sleeves and bodice, then trimming on the flowy pants. I’d never seen anything that beautiful before and my brain was whirling to catch up with her intent. “Meeta, I can’t-”

“Yes, yes. Yes you can.” Meeta danced impatiently from one foot to the other and the moment I'd finished changing, she towed me out of the room. “Remember to smile, okay?”
She didn’t give me another chance to protest and when we arrived at our destination, I was again speechless to say anything at all. We rounded the corner and I was overwhelmed by the size of the cavernous kitchen. At present, it was filled to the brim with lovely women in sweat suits with their dark hair piled elaborately up on their heads and an ongoing stream of chatter in Hindi, seasoning the fragrant air.

“Mmm. That smells good.” I inched my way into the kitchen following Meeta who paused at the end of a long kitchen counter. She was right at home in all the bustle and chatter of several conversations going on at once.

She said a few words in Hindi, then gestured towards me. “This is Alice, remember?”

Heads turned in synchronization and polite smiles overtook each face. Expressions ranged from curious to puzzled and then several returned to their work, with a few nods in my direction.
“Pleasure to meet you, Alice.” The woman closest to me offered a hug, stepping back in horror almost at once. “Oh your shirt!” She stared down at her apron. “I didn't mean to get flour on you.” She reached out to and stopped when she saw her dust-covered hands. “Oh dear!” Her accent was British and entirely wrong from the lovely Indian face staring in dismay.

Meeta giggled. “Alice, this is Aunt Nazzy-I mean, Nazalia and it’s okay, I lent her my pantsuit. It’s alright if anything happens to it.”

“Nazzy.” The woman corrected. Her lips twitched. “Good. Because that was chapatti flour and I had already mixed some seasoning into it. Are you girls ready to help now?”

“Yes.” Meeta answered for us both. “Aprons first. Come on!”

I obediently followed after her, and was promptly given a neon pink and purple tie-dyed apron. “Do you guys do everything on Christmas day?” I tried to tie the strings in the back, while attempting to sort out what was going on around me. I’d never seen this much food for a Christmas gathering, even when all the in-laws and grandparents had come to Mom’s house. The busy hum in the air carried a feeling of anticipation with it. I felt a spark of happiness at the thought I would be included in this happy bustle.

“Here, I’ll get that. Your head still isn’t in here.” Meeta rapped the side of my head, spinning me around again. Her quick fingers straightened the straps, and tied the strings together. “Sort of. I mean, it's easier. Everyone comes to our house, we spend half the day cooking, and it goes SO much faster. Then we all get dressed up with jewelry and makeup and everything. Then, we’re almost ready for like, the usual stuff. Uncle Jay brings the Christmas tree and then everyone brings out the presents they’ve been hiding and…” Meeta shrugged. “Come on, or we'll miss the cake-making, it's the most fun!”
Meeta dragged me back to the front of the corner where I was almost immediately ‘adopted’ by Aunt Nazzy. She took the time to explain the importance of Indian fruitcake, and their version of a pound cake, known as sponge cake. Her infectious laugh, coupled with the unbelievable accent, made listening to her words a pure delight. Meeta dashed off, once I was safely tucked away and ran from one end of the kitchen to the other, helping everyone.
Eventually, I relaxed, watching her dash about and listening with half an ear to Aunt Nazzy’s murmurings. I learned about cake-making and a few other Indian dishes, learned how to taste from a hot spoon without burning my hands or my lips-without blowing my breath on the said utensil. I’d never known things like that quite mattered.
Aunt Nazzy laughed at the expression on my face when the first batch of cake was lined up on the counter. There were fifteen pans in all. “Bet you’ve never seen that much cake, eh, love?” She patted my shoulder, whirling back to the counter. “Hurry and finish creaming that together, we can make this batch out and move on to something else.”
And so I did.

The day blurred by and I found myself immersed in a reality almost like a dream. It was a beautiful, glorious, wonderful sort of dream. No one hated me. No one yelled at me. No one made me feel stupid, or in the way. I felt like one of them. Everyone knew how to cook or bake something special, trading words of advice as they worked, including me in everything. I received plenty of hugs, pats on the shoulder and head, along with plentiful mouthfuls of whatever dish the cook happened to be working on.
I didn’t think I’d ever be hungry again, for my stomach never had a chance to empty itself. Food was more than just means of survival over here in Meeta’s world. It was something much more special. I felt honored that she’d included me in such preparations.

When Meeta slowed enough to return to see how I was doing, she joined Aunt Nazzy and I in finishing up the second batch of sponge cake. In spite of her petite size and figure, she was a quick, strong worker. We finished drizzling food coloring over pans of sponge cake batter, stirring in the colored liquid with wooden skewers. This would make lovely swirled designs in the cake when it was finished.
A loud booming voice in the hallway made me jump and Meeta giggle. Aunt Nazzy shook her head. “And I suppose I’m going to be all alone again, aren’t I?” She laughed as she spoke and I followed her gaze to Meeta’s glowing face. I didn't think it was possible for Meeta to appear any happier, but her smile grew even wider, her eyes sparkling merrily.

“The tree's here!” She squealed, tossing the wooden skewers into the resting bowl. “Alice, come on!” She nearly tripped over the bells on her sandals and paused, impatiently to yank them off. “Alice!”

Laughter rose in the kitchen. “Off with you both!” Aunt Nazzy shooed us away with a smile, taking the wooden skewer from my reluctant hand. “Go have fun, ditta. It’s usually Meeta’s job to dress the tree. I think she’ll let you help.”

Before I knew it, I was knee-deep in tinsel and ornaments, laughing my head off alongside Meeta and another handful of teenage girl cousins with names I couldn’t pronounce, yet smiles I could understand. They were every bit as welcoming and understanding as Meeta, sharing and explain their stories and backgrounds.
It was more culture than I’d ever experienced in all of my fifteen years to now. The happy tingles of pleasantness seeped through the air and settled somewhere in my bones, a feeling I couldn’t dismiss even if I thought I might want to.
This had been the best Christmas I could remember yet. There was so much happening, yet there was so much love in the air, I couldn’t stop smiling. Christmas was so much more to them. It was family, the Christmas story itself and memories. Between them all, I learned how to wear my new outfit, what a paratha was and how to be a part of their family.

“Thanks, Mets.” I hugged her impulsively as we stared up at the huge, newly-bejeweled tree. She’d been meticulous about her ‘special’ ornaments, but Aunt Nazzy had been right. She did trust me to help her hang them. The other girls had merely trimmed with the tinsel and lights. Now our masterpiece shone brilliantly, lighting up the great room.
“For what?” She returned the hug, automatically as the other girls gathered up the wrappings, stuffing them back into their respective boxes and bags.
I half-shrugged. I didn’t need to explain, she usually knew this sort of thing. “Y'know, for inviting me…and insisting I come. I did need this.”

“Thanks for coming.” She said, simply. “Everyone's been so excited for you to be here. You wouldn’t believe all the questions they asked. They've even got you presents and stuff. Aunt Nazzy brought you something that's bigger than my box.” She grinned. “I think they’ve decided to adopt you…unofficially of course.”

“Really?” I felt tears brimming in my eyes.
“Really and truly.” She winked. “I’m glad. I told you we were soul sisters.”
“Merry Christmas.” Was the only words that left my lips.
“Merry Christmas, Alice.” She hugged me again. “A very, merry Christmas.”
I smiled through my tears. Thanks...Daddy.
© Sara Harricharan


Anonymous said...

I like this! Good work!

Yvonne said...

I could see you twirling and baking and trying to do everything at once!