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

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Christmas in Luxembourg, Part 1

For most people, going to Luxembourg for Christmas would be the chance of a lifetime. For Jill O'Leary, it felt more like a life sentence than a month of vacation.

“You’re going to Luxembourg for Christmas?” squealed Jill’s co-worker Amita. “I would kill to go to Luxembourg. Beautiful scenery, pine woods, and snow. And I’m stuck here in L.A., again.”

“Luxembourg, Ohio,” said Jill, shoving her laptop in her bag and glancing wistfully out the 19th-story window at the palm trees below. “There’s not much besides woods and snow. And believe me, I wish you could go in my place.”

“Is that where your home is? I didn’t know you were from the Midwest,” said Amita.

“My home is here.” Jill zipped the bag with more force than was necessary. “The Midwest is a place you’re from. You grow up there, and then you get out as soon as possible.”

“If you hate it so much, why go back for Christmas?”

Why go back, indeed? “Because my mother told me to,” was Jill’s lame answer. “Isn’t that pathetic? You think you’re grown up, you think you can do what you want with your life, and then you find yourself sitting up and begging when your mom tells you to. And not just for Christmas. For the whole month of December.”

“Girl, I have a Indian mother,” said Amita. “You don’t have to tell me.”

It had been twelve years since Jill O’Leary had last been home for Christmas, twelve years since she’d helped out at the family inn, twelve years since she’d revved it out of town in her rusty pick-up, stopping only to back over Heath Albany’s dog for good measure. At 18 she’d thought there was no way she’d ever be going home again, so it seemed like she should burn all her bridges at once. She’d considered actually setting fire to the covered bridge outside town, as a sort of vengeful pun, but she hadn’t wanted to make things harder for Daddy than they needed to be. He would have understood, though. “You take things so literarily,” he always told her, as their private joke.

Now Daddy was dead, and Heath was married last she heard, and Jill was being summoned home for Christmas to save the Luxembourg Inn. “Summoned” sounded like a court date, which wasn’t a bad way to describe any occasion where Mother was likely to sit judgment on your life and find it wanting. And Mother — perhaps Regina O’Leary’s daughters had called her “mama” before they’d learned to talk, but “Mama” was too soft and flowing a title for a woman who could not bend — had issued an ultimatum. “Jill, if you don’t find some way to fix the finances before Christmas, I will be forced to sell the Luxembourg Inn. I cannot carry this tax burden on my shoulders alone. Do you want to do that to your mother? Do you want to explain to your sisters that you wouldn’t help save their inheritance?”

Jill doubted that her sisters would listen to any explanation from her, but all the same, she was going back to Luxembourg to rescue an inn she didn’t care for, for a mother who’d never cared for her.

On December 1, Jill was unwillingly driving the familiar highway towards home. Unwillingly, because at the airport she’d tried to hire a ride, and the driver had laughed. “You want me to drive all the way to Luxembourg without a return fare lined up? Good luck with that.” She’d had to rent a car. And now she was driving toward home, where there were probably six or seven cars she could use sitting behind Daddy’s garage. Granted, they were probably mostly rusting, or in pieces, or being repaired for people who couldn’t afford to pay, because Daddy had been like that.

Heath was running the garage now, she guessed. Daddy had always liked Heath, and Heath had liked Daddy, which had frustrated Jill no end in high school. She’d wanted to be rebellious and edgy in those days, to prove her independence, and taking up with Heath had seemed like the way to stick it to her parents. He was big and rough, and a bit mean, which meant that they were always fighting. Certainly Mother had disapproved.

“You can do better than that, Jill,” Regina O’Leary said, adjusting her perfectly frosted hair in a carefully calculated gesture of dismissal. “It’s tedious of you to act out this way, but if you want to bring home a brute, at least make sure he’s housebroken.”

Jill had expected Daddy to toss Heath out, or demand to know his intentions, or get protective of his little girl. Instead, Daddy had invited Heath to the garage, and Heath had been as respectful as he knew how. It was absolutely infuriating when Jill realized that not only did her father like Heath more than she did, but that Heath liked her father more than he liked her. Jill and Heath had only ever had animal attraction between them. Daddy and Heath had shared interests. And with Daddy, Heath was not ashamed to admit that there were things he didn’t know, and things that he wasn’t good at yet, which was more than he’d ever been willing to admit to her.

Jill hoped he’d gotten better at forgiving, because they were probably going to have to talk about that dog.

“Welcome to Luxembourg, population 12,000,” boasted the sign at the town limits. Why 12,000? Jill wondered. Why anyone? Why does this town exist, in the middle of a forest in Ohio? Why would anyone settle here? And who in their right minds would build an inn in a place that no one ever comes?

Her grandparents, that was who. Her mother never ceased reminding her that this was a family business, that people had obligations to family, that you didn’t just walk away from family. You didn’t just walk away from a inn built in the 1960s to look like a Swiss chalet, even though the actual Luxembourg was not in Switzerland, was in fact its own country that just wanted to be left alone. And when family needed you, even a successful accountant from Los Angeles came trotting home.

Well, here she was, sitting in a rental car, driving down old Main Street, cruising past the old brick downtown, all festooned with garlands and poinsettias. And here, just past downtown, was the old house with the front porch meticulously tricked out with the appropriate amount and style of holiday decor. And here, next to the house, was the Luxembourg Inn, all half timbering and balconies and genteelly crumbling away under a quantity of evergreen swag.

As Jill’s headlights illuminated the potted Christmas trees along the driveway that looped around to the inn’s carved doors, the first snowflakes began to fall. “Welcome home to Luxembourg,” she thought. “Ho ho ho.”



Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Great start! I think I'm gonna love this.

Antoinette said...

Wonderful start. I'm looking forward to more.

CJ Sweet said...