Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Christmas in Luxembourg, Part 3


Saturday afternoon found Jill not accounting, nor relaxing, nor shuffling in irritation through a gift shop looking for just the right thing for the White Elephant party, but shivering on the sidewalk along Main Street in the company of her two sisters, watching the Hometown Christmas parade pass by. Main Street glowed: streetlamps flickered, shop windows beckoned cheerfully, and sunlight filtered down through the snowflakes to diffuse the light into the sourceless illumination of a Thomas Kinkade painting. From a passing car the scene would have been entirely charming. Standing out it in, Jill was miserably aware that she had acclimated to Los Angeles’s seasonless warmth. Her coat was not proof against the chill, and her toes were numb. She reflected with gloomy satisfaction that the precious snowflakes were hitting the paraders right in the face as they marched.

Reagan and Del were impervious to the cold in their individual get-ups. Del was wrapped up in a Doctor Who scarf (Tom Baker, of course) and a Lands’ End parka she’d bought during the Bush Administration. Reagan, Jill’s older sister, sported a North Face parka and matching cashmere gloves, hat, and scarf. Her hat sat lightly on her blond hair (dyed; the O’Learys were Black Irish). Under her gloves, her manicure was unchipped. Wedge boots lined with fur raised her almost to Jill’s height. Her manner was as honeyed as her hair, and just as studied.

“I pulled a few strings to get the dance studio’s float second to last in the parade, right before Santa,” she confided, with that giggle that had always set Jill’s teeth on edge. “Quennedey’s going to be Clara. Her class was all supposed to be mice, but I told Miss Gabi I wouldn’t put the deposit on the float if Quennedey was going to have to wear an ugly fur suit.”

Jill had never met young Quennedey, but the photos she had seen of the child did not suggest that she would make a very winsome Clara. Perhaps the snow would soften her glower.

What Jill thought, Del said. “Why do you make that girl take ballet? She hates it. If you’re trying to relive your youth, get plastic surgery. At least then only you have to suffer.”

“Isn’t our Del charming?” drawled Reagan in an accent that Jill classified as “catalog country”. “Baby of the family, always gets to say whatever she wants. Del has every word in her vocabulary but ‘tact’.”

“At least I’m still married,” said Del, and that shut Reagan up.

Back in the middle, thought Jill. Reagan all sugar and Del all spice. And me, I’m not even in the same cupboard. I’m more like the liquor cabinet. Maybe I’m the bourbon — kinda rough going down, but warm inside? Does that even mean anything?

Shaking off her metaphors, she asked, “What are you bringing for the White Elephant party tonight? Are we supposed to get gag gifts? How expensive should it be? Who’s coming, anyway?”

“You want to play it safe,” advised Reagan. “Everyone’s going to be there, even hotel guests. Get something classy that you could give to anyone.”

“Just pull something out of the closet,” said Del. “That’s what I’m going to do. The cheaper and tackier the better.”

A float for Vineyard Fellowship moved toward them, blaring “Mary, Did You Know?”. Mary and Joseph were a pair of teenagers staring adoringly at a doll in a manger, and the shepherds wore cowboy hats. A herd of fluffy sheep were pitching candy out to the crowd. Children darted into the street and squabbled over Tootsie Rolls and Starburst.

Del was irate. “I called every single registered group in the parade and told them that this year we should ban candy tossing. It leaves litter all along the parade route. And it’s just irresponsible. Some child could get hit running out in the street like that. ”

“Has that ever happened?” Jill asked.

“No, and we ought to keep it that way.”

Jill wanted to argue the point more, but as the Vineyard float pulled even with them, she recognized the driver. Heath Albany, a little older, a little heavier, waving at crowd, a wedding ring definitely on his hand. He nodded at Reagan, then Del, and then his eyes met Jill’s. The float came to a full halt. Jill’s pulse beat madly in her temple as she measured her effect on him after all these years. Then she realized that Heath had stopped driving because the traffic cop at the corner had paused the parade to let the backed-up traffic through the intersection.

“Jill!” Heath beckoned to her. There was a nervousness in his voice she’d never heard when they were younger. She stepped out into the street without exactly willing it. Maybe it was good that their first meeting would be in full view of the public. They’d never been good for anything in private but fighting or… Jill felt the snowflakes melting on her hot cheeks.

“Heath,” she said hastily. “How’s business?”

“Good, good,” he said, and she realized that he’d taken her literally. “The shop is doing great. This is one of our trucks, actually. Everything’s going well.”

“That’s great,” she said.

“I’m running the place just as your dad would wanted me to,” he said. “Maybe you’d like to come around sometime, for old time’s sake.”

It was an innocent enough suggestion, but the hesitant intensity behind the invitation put Jill on her guard.

“I heard you got married,” she said. To her surprise, his face brightened with a pride that seemed entirely out of keeping from a man who’d pretty much just propositioned her.

“Yeah, that’s my son,” he said, motioning back at one of the children on the float, a tiny bored sheep absorbed in an iPad.

Jill felt expected to say something, so she asked, “How old?”

“He’s five now,” said Heath. “Jill, listen, I have to talk to you. You’re the only one who…”

The parade lurched into motion once again.

“I’ll be at the shop,” called Heath. Jill stood in the street and watched him looking back at her in his mirror as the float moved on. And then Del pulled her back onto the sidewalk, out of the way of the advance of the high school marching band.

“Are you going to get your claws back into Heath Albany?” asked Reagan, with apparently genuine interest.

“My taste doesn’t run to married men,” said Jill with dignity. “I’m sure he just wants to catch up.”

“A man like that only has one thing on his mind,” Del muttered.

“You think so?” said Jill, not sure whether to be flattered or affronted. “He did introduce me to his son.”

“I don’t mean sex,” Del said. “I mean his mind isn’t big enough to hold more than one idea at a time. Well, see you later.” She strode off down the street, having reached her quota of sister time for one afternoon.

“Quennedey!” screamed Reagan. Jill turned to see a majestic Christmas tree drifting past, surrounded by toy soldiers and mice and snowflakes, all with brightly rouged cheeks and perfect ballet buns. Clara and her prince sat on thrones, graciously greeting their subjects. Clara’s gelled golden ringlets and lip-glossed smile remained unchanged as Reagan bawled at her.

That looks like a child who almost deserves the name Quennedey, Jill thought. Then she saw that Reagan was not looking at the oblivious Clara, but at a girl sitting next to the driver, wearing a black beret jammed down to her bushy eyebrows. As she saw her mother, she flicked her hand in a wave that somehow seemed to involve mainly her middle finger.

“I’ll kill her,” Reagan hissed. “Does she know how much I had to shell out for that truck to guarantee that she’d be Clara?”

The set of Quennedey’s beret suggested that she was reveling in her mother’s every wasted dollar. Jill resolved to treat her niece to hot chocolate at the first opportunity that presented itself.

As the parade wound to a close, the sisters walked down Main Street. Jill peered into the various shops, looking for an elegant yet tacky gift within the price range of the gift exchange. Suddenly she was drawn up short by Reagan seizing her elbow.

“It’s him,” she whispered. Jill craned her neck, looking for Heath Albany or maybe Garrett French, but Reagan was dragging her toward a tall, dark, and handsome stranger.

“Mr. Singh,” she purred. “It’s so good to see you. Have you met my sister Jill yet? She’s back in town for Christmas.”

To Jill’s astonishment, Mr. Singh bowed to her.

“I have been enjoying your mother’s hospitality at the Luxembourg Inn,” he said.

“Will you be staying with us long?” Jill asked, taking refuge in the standard phrase of front-desk hospitality. This polished man seemed as if he’d be more at home in Luxembourg Luxembourg than the Ohio variety.

“I have been here a few weeks,” he said. “I find this region entirely charming.”

“Is that so?” Jill had intended this as a polite nothing, not as the incredulous snort it actually sounded like. She tried to salvage her manners. “Maybe it takes a fresh set of eyes.”

“You see no potential in your hometown?” Mr. Singh shook his head with urbane regret.

“We’re just looking for presents for the White Elephant party tonight,” Reagan cooed. “Maybe you can tell us what you want? Mr. Singh will be joining us, Jill. He’s dying to see what a small-town Christmas celebration looks like.”

Jill’s eye roll must have been too obvious, for Mr. Singh smiled and said, “You do not have the Christmas spirit?”

To her horror, Jill automatically replied, “I wish I had some Christmas spirits.”

“We’ll see you this evening,” said Reagan hastily, nudging Jill along.

Mr. Singh held out his hand to Jill. As she took it, he moved a step closer to her. She caught a whiff of expensive scent as he murmured in her ear, “May I recommend Patel Brothers Liquor on State Route 48?”


1 comment:

Foxfier said...

“May I recommend Patel Brothers Liquor on State Route 48?

K, I vote for this one!

I know, it's not a voting type thing, but--*chuckles*.