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

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Christmas in Luxembourg, Part 8


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An icy wind whistled through the doors as Mother’s figure receded into the unkind elements. Jill leaned against the ladder and contemplated the box of ornaments still sitting on one of the steps. Such a little thing — a box of baubles, almost worthless, and yet to Mother they were a gauntlet thrown down. Heath wasn’t kidding about not being able to talk business with Mother. How could anyone run a shop with Mother hanging over his head? 

Jill opened the box and felt her breath catch in ragged gasps. Tucked in a nest of tissue paper were her father’s favorite Christmas ornaments, the ones he’d taken to the garage every year and put on a little tree in the corner of the waiting room. Daddy had not been here this year to bring them out of storage. They’d sat alone and forgotten in some cold, dusty corner, like Daddy in his grave…

She would do it. She would hang those ornaments on the tree, Mother be damned. Nobody cared but her, and Daddy was not going to rot forgotten if she could help it. The ladder was already against the tree. Jill climbed up and began decking the halls with a vengeance. On this branch, her third-grade picture in a little frame; over here, a crocheted ball Del had made in scouts; down a bit, a cross-stitched dove in a plastic frame, signed “R” for Reagan. If she reached out just a nip, she could hang the papier-mache star right in the center of the tree…

The ladder tipped and began to sway dangerously. Jill yelped and flailed, and found herself toppling off, right into a pair of arms.

“Your Christmas tree is exquisite,” said Mr. Singh, gently setting her upright. “But it would be too bad if you were to suffer a broken arm for your art.”

“I… I lost my balance,” Jill said unnecessarily. She didn’t know which way to look, partly because Mr. Singh was still holding her arms, and partly because she could barely see through her tears anyway. A clean handkerchief, evincing the merest suspicion of exotic scent, was pressed into her hand, and firm, cool hands were guiding her to a couch. Jill sat and wept. All she had done on this trip was cry in front of men. What was wrong with her? She never cried in Los Angeles. If Daddy had been here, he would have laughed and called her “Hon” and told Mother exactly where she could hang his ornaments…

Mr. Singh sat beside her, neither patient nor impatient, neither comforting nor uncomfortable. He made no judgment over the soggy handkerchief she finally handed back to him, nor did he offer it to her to keep, which men generally did in movies, but tucked it back in his pocket as if it were no different than before. Nothing seemed to phase him, not women tumbling from trees, not torrents of hysterics, not Jill babbling about Daddy and the bookkeeping and everything that had been weighing on her all week. 

“You have been juggling many balls,” said Mr. Singh. “The hotel, the garage, the ag exemption… And what is an ag exemption of yours, may I ask?”

Jill laughed in a snorty, wet way. “Oh, it was one of Daddy’s little cheats. He owned a piece of land down by the highway, and he put some cows to graze on it to get an agricultural exemption on his taxes, and… oh, it’s all so silly. Why do we hold onto these things that do us no good? Daddy inherited that land, and Mother doesn’t want it. It’s useless for farming, and it’s not near anything. And yet Daddy would never sell it, because it was his. And Mother won’t sell it, because it was his legacy. And I’m putting up Christmas ornaments to honor Daddy’s legacy. We keep throwing the word around, but I don’t even know what it means. Legally, yes, I know what it is, but in our case, what is Daddy’s legacy?”

“A legacy is a gift from the past to the present,” said Mr. Singh. “Do you believe that all these things your father has left you are his gifts to you?”

“No,” said Jill, pondering. “No, the hotel, the garage… these are just things. Daddy worked hard to keep them going, but if they have any worth in themselves, then someone else should be able to run them. What I treasure most is his love, the way he raised me and what he taught me about life. That’s what I would want to pass on. I would want to honor the person that he was, not just the stuff he handed on.”

Mr. Singh sighed. “Those who have children to carry on their memories are blessed indeed. A child preserves, remembers, endures.” He hesitated. “My father had a sister who died young. She was murdered by a man because she would not marry him. My aunt was beautiful and well-loved, and many vowed to fight for justice for her and carry on in her name. But that was fifty years ago. Who remembers her now? She died before I was born. She had no children to keep her memory fresh, to protest when her murderer was released from prison. When my father dies, there will be no one on earth who has touched my aunt. I can visit her tomb and pray for justice, but her legacy died out before it was established.”

Although he had not moved any nearer to her, his formality seemed more intimate than if he were whispering in her ear. Jill had never thought of herself as incomplete without children, but something in Mr. Singh’s voice released whatever gear of her biological clock had been frozen in place. Face flushed, lips parted, her whole being was being drawn toward him, toward their glorious union which would culminate in a passel of beautiful, deep-eyed, gently-scented children. She was almost drooling at the thought…

She was drooling, literally. Hastily, she shut her mouth and wiped her face. Mr. Singh seemed to find nothing remarkable in her behavior, and indeed, she had been soppy enough today that one more bit of facial fluid could hardly seem surprising. Jill swallowed hard to clear her throat and restore her wits.

“I am so sorry for your loss,” she said at last, foolishly, reaching for a way to honor his forgotten aunt.

“And I for yours,” he said, standing. When she took his offered hand, he pulled her to her feet. “May your burdens be lightened soon.” And then he disappeared from whence he came, leaving Jill to calm her racing pulse with deep breaths of the lightly-scented air.

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