The Holidays by Lis Anna.

Christmas blocks the view.  It’s hard to see around it.  When my sister Pam is in the middle of singing Jingle Bells I begin to think that all of this togetherness is just an excuse for unoriginal people to have something to do. I am watching three drunk cousins careening through outer space sideways to the bleak edge of the Universe and no one is willing to give up their grip on the J & B bottle. I am singing off key.  Bleak and crappy.  Like the flat cinnamon cake on the buffet.  Cold. Flat. Compressed. 

When I go out to the dining room I pass on the punch.  Please do not pass the holiday cheer.  Tinsel smiles.  Plastic trays of polite.  It is dollar store cheer.  It goes on for hours.  The fakest people have the most to say about the most trivial subjects. Take Aunt Ida for instance.  God help her.  She still talks about the Civil War.  When I was fourteen years old my cousins and I taped a photograph of her in the dictionary next to the word wicked and drew a line to her face.  No one has ever publicly admitted to this travesty even though we are all adults now.  Uncle Martin calls her Ida B. Tight Ass.  By his own admission he has a drinking problem.  On his fifth martini he shoves his hand into the big barrel of caramel popcorn and falls over.  My Mother rushes in to make sure he didn’t break the crystal.  Family heirloom.  “I hope he doesn’t pee in the potted plants again,” I overhear Daisy say.  Daisy is a cousin.  So are Rose and Iris.  They look like weeds.  Ida is a horticulturist. Tight ass plant people.  Obviously Ida and Marvin are no longer married.  They divorced ten years ago.  He attends every family function to watch her face pinch up in that horrible way.

The kitchen is Switzerland.  A neutral territory in an otherwise Holiday war zone.  We come and go. Cranberry Chutney, baskets of cheese biscuits, sausage balls.  The evil eye is not allowed in the Kitchen.  A pack of Lucky Strikes is hidden in the back of the junk drawer behind the insurance papers.  If you’re lucky enough to know where they are you may steal one. The living room is more like Nazi Germany.  Everyone is trying to cross the Alps to get back to Neutral territory.  More battles have been fought in our living room than in all of ancient Greece.  My sister Pam thinks the problem can be reduced to bad Feng Shui.  Last year while everyone was loading their Christmas loot into their cars Ida hit Marvin with her new floor pillow so hard it knocked his highball of scotch through the living room window where it almost killed Pedro the cat. 

My father is a friendly warrior.  He rubs his temples or clamps down on the bridge of his nose.  He hands out his Origami gifts made with the patience of a saint.  He practically lives in the kitchen.  My Mother always runs for the back patio which Daisy calls The New Wilderness.  Last Christmas Uncle Ted showed up with a stripper.  It was her part time job.  Still, it wasn’t the profession that bothered everyone.  It was the sheer volume of alcohol she consumed.  Pints of bourbon went into her mouth and came out the same way on the back lawn.  This year Tom is having a mental breakdown. The Crack up.  I sit in the kitchen with him for hours as he crams mini cheesecakes in his mouth and sobs.  He sobs for the animals, sobs for the injustice, sobs for the panic attacks in the shower every morning.  When my Mother comes in to get more vodka for the plum punch, she eavesdrops for only a second, then blurts out, “For crissakes Tom, quit your job.”  Angels drop down out of the sky.  The Ghost of Christmas Present appears in his eyes.  Clearly Tom has never thought of this before. 

Back in the living room, Rose and Iris have not lived up to their potential.  They smoke cigarettes and have sex with boys and hang out with punk rockers at the Doughnut Shoppe up in the front booths by the window where everyone driving by can see them.  This announcement is made by my Aunt Ida.  In the soft, glittering glow of the shimmering icicle lights she says, rather loudly, “Seems my girls are not living up to the potential of their very expensive education.”  Uncle Buck snorts, “They attended Joeleen Community College.  I think potential is relative.”  Every year the tree and the wonderful village that winds beneath its branches is forced to endure the totalitarian regime that is known as my family.  Elves dangling from the tree contemplate suicide.  The Christmas Knomes become frightfully pale. Golden tinsel shimmers in the candlelight. We shall prevail. It only comes once a year.

Lis Anna’s short fiction, films, screenplays, and novels have all been nominated and won awards. She is a five time WorldFest winner, a Wurlitzer Grant recipient, a New Century Writers winner, Second Place Winner of the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Award, First Place winner of the 11th Annual Poet Hunt Award, a four time Accolade Film Competition winner, and a finalist in the Nicholl Fellowships, the Doris Betts Fiction Award, Chesterfield Film Project, and the William Faulkner Competition. She is the 2011 Readers Choice Award recipient from Fiction Fix and the Second Place 2011 Winner of the Hint Fiction Contest. Her fiction has been published in Word Riot, The Blotter, Petigru Review, Hot Metal Press, The Smoking Poet, Eclectic Flash, Paper Skin Glass Bones, 491 Magazine, Fiction Fix, The Monarch Review, 5x5 Literary Magazine, Red Booth Review, Hint Fiction Anthology, Prick of the Spindle Literary Journal, Chamber Four Literary Magazine, Literary Laundry, Emyrs Journal, Flashquake Literary Journal and The MacGuffin Literary Review. or


Jaie D. Maclane said...

Holy shit. Great slice of life authentically catching the drudgery and madness of family life during the holidays. These people could have easily been MY family. Great. Now I’m suffering from a mean case of anticipatory anxiety. Thanks. LoL.

ajhayes2 said...

The eternal annual war -- complete with cats names Pedro under direct highball attack -- described vividly, complete with sound effects and peed in potted plants and lives. Stereo sound. I could feel the pine needles flying. Cool. And, everybody? FOR CRISSAKES, QUIT YOUR JOBS!

AK Dawson said...

Hi Lis, amazing story! Loved the style, your choice of metaphors ('The kitchen is Switzerland'), the way it flows, the tone of voice, the realism - pretty much everything about it. It feels as if you've condensed an entire Russian novel's worth of family drama into five paragraphs. Think my favourite characters are Rose and Iris - they sound cool, and I loved joke about their potential being relative. Uncle Tom is great too.

Madam Z said...

Cousin Lis! Long time no see! Thanks for bringing back the memories of all those memorable family Christmases in Switzerland and Nazi Germany. Do you remember the time Uncle Alexander the Great skewered your dad's origami and drowned it in the punchbowl? And if you don't tell about the time I peed in the punchbowl, I won't tell about what you did to Aunt Ida's fruitcake...

Seriously now, dear cuz, I absolutely love this story and you write like an intergalactic wizard!

Mike Miner said...

Gorgeous writing, a winter wonderland of a tale. Pleased, and not surprised, to see there's much more of your writing to catch up on.

Robin Billings said...

The kitchen is Switzerland.

That's the holiday world in a sentence.

That and the Flower Girls, 'pronounced upon' by the irritating parent.

Enjoyed this well-written diatribe!

Harry said...

This was just awesome! There are plenty of dysfunctional family Christmas stories but I don't think I've ever run across one as clever as this. Bravo!

Absolutely loved this> " It is dollar store cheer. It goes on for hours. The fakest people have the most to say about the most trivial subjects."