Mom, Christmas 1985
by Allie Scully
On Christmas Eve in 1985, our front lawn caught on fire and our house almost burned down. According to my mother, this was completely my dad’s fault. This is how I imagine she would narrate the story:
Twas the night before Christmas and all though the house not a creature was stirring except for my husband, he is an idiot who is obsessed with composting. He is in the living room, setting out some presents. I can hear him gnawing on the cookies we made the kids leave out for Santa. This is annoying to me on so many levels. Now he is in the kitchen, digging through the trash. Now he is in the pantry, pouring sprinkles into his mouth. I'm going to pretend to be asleep so he doesn't try to talk to me.
Of course, I am awakened at midnight by a banging on our door. The only voice I hear is my stepdaughter's. I just ignore her, as usual. Also, to be honest, it's hard to hear much of anything over my husband's snoring. He has a breathing problem.
I don’t go back to sleep, though. The banging is really invasive. I begin to make out that my daughter, Elizabeth, is also outside the door. She is 10. She is screaming that everyone's going to die, but she always does that. She scratches at the door. This morning I painted her nails, one hand red, one hand gold. It was the only way I could convince her to go to the church service. The last time we made all the kids go to church, it was a disaster. They stole the Sunday school donuts and ate them behind the dumpster like fucking pagans.
“Richard”, I whisper, poking my husband in the butt. I slightly push him off the bed. He jerks awake as if he has been electrocuted. His hair sticks straight up in gray wisps like exclamation points on top of his head. I AM ELECTROCUTED. He runs to the door. My 12-year-old son is now also outside the door, ramming it with his kneecaps shouting obscenities. No one else would ever do that.
Richard unlocks the door. All the pagans come tumbling in. There are only 3 of them this year – my oldest stepdaughter is in the mental hospital. We are bringing her a stocking tomorrow. Anyway, I am still pretending to be asleep. Elizabeth pounces on the bed and hits me and shakes me. “Mom,” she says. “The lawn is on fire. The house is on fire.”
I sit up, groggily, and stretch my arms. “What do you mean?” I ask. My son is just hopping around the room. He offers no explanation. “What, what, what are you doing?” I ask. My stepdaughter eagerly chimes in: “Vicki, the lawn is on fire. It really is.”
I immediately have visions of driving through New Mexico on Thanksgiving: Richard liked the luminaries. He thought they were pretty. Elizabeth said, “that is fire in a bag, that is a bad idea,” and Richard said, “If I weigh them down with water instead of sand or cat litter, that will be fine,” and I was just like, “whatever, I really don’t care.” Suddenly I know that the lawn really is on fire this time.
We all run to the front window. Richard is calmly spraying down the lawn in his underwear, talking and laughing with our neighbor, who is also spraying down the lawn. The grass is completely black. I can see a few remaining embers, still burning amidst the ash and smoke. The luminaries are destroyed. I don't care.
I draw the blinds. I put my arms around my daughter and son. I purposely edge my stepdaughter out of the circle. She smells like a basketball court. “Lets open presents,” I say. Why not!
We gather around the mantle. I hand out the stockings. This year we put fruit, walnuts and dental floss in the stockings to encourage healthier habits. Elizabeth pulls a banana out of her stocking and gasps. Someone has carved a penis into her banana. My son bursts into hysterical laughter.