Tag Archives: family

The Holiday Shakedown

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“Let’s cut to the chase,” JJ said. “How much do you want?”

“You’re pretty bold since winning that lottery,” Betty said.

JJ’s sister, separated from her husband, had come to town and forced a meeting. He couldn’t hold her off forever. JJ thought a public place would be best, to reduce the chance of bodily harm. So they sat in a crowded café on a Saturday morning. He was hoping she wouldn’t make a scene.

“That was two and half years ago. And you can’t get your mind off my money.”

“Well, look at you, all happy up there in that ridiculous farmhouse. No farming. No actual work. Money will do that for you.”

JJ looked out the café window. Something about the winter before the snow, everything looking cold and brutal with the leaves gone and the grass dead. Maybe that’s why Christmas decorations took hold; so people wouldn’t kill themselves before Christ’s birthday.

“I’m happy for the first time in years,” he said.   “The money helps, but it’s not about the money.”

“So your girlfriend is back, is that it? Lulu or whatever?”

“Lila.”

“So she’s back in the picture since the lottery?”

“She could care less about the money.”

“Couldn’t care less, you mean. Couldn’t care less.”

JJ felt the heat rising, the coals of resentment fanned towards rage by this money-grubbing harpy who happened to be his sister. “They’ll dangle the bait,” Professor Tom, his sponsor, had said. “Family will do that.” And here she was, separated from her husband, dangling a big fat worm in front of his stupid trout mouth. “Oh, fuck it,” he thought.

“Dad can’t stand you,” JJ said. “He’s never liked you. After mom died, he told me.”

“Funny,” she said. “He told me the same thing about you.”

Touché.

“Bullshit,” he said.

“Don’t you ever think why we all hate each other?”

“Betty, we all hate you and you hate us.”

“You can’t stand Brian.”

“We bond over mocking you.”

“He calls me just to wonder why you’re such a loser. That ‘dumbass loser’, I think was the exact term.”

Professor Tom had said it would go like this. “They won’t want you to get away. Even if it’s what’s best for you. It will unbalance the mobile.”

“The mobile?” he had asked.

Families are like mobiles. Every member has their part to keep the balance, even if it’s all dysfunctional. If you leave the mobile, it will get out of balance.

JJ looked at his sister. “I’m leaving the mobile,” he said. “You guys will have to rebalance without me.”

“Don’t give me that shit about the mobile,” she said. “I know all about the mobile. You won’t get away now that everything’s going good for you.”

How the hell did she know about the mobile?

“Anyone who’s been in therapy since 1990 knows about the fucking mobile,” she said. “And you’re not leaving. At least without buying your way out.”

So this was it. She was shaking him down, offering to let him off the mobile for a price. Ok, then. Back to the beginning.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” he said. “How much do you want?”

“I’ll be in touch.” She rose and stalked away, leaving him with the check.

“I’m sure you will,” he muttered. “Happy holidays.”

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Lila and JJ in the Fall, Part 2: A Close Call

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Except for an increasing rain, the omens seemed to stay at bay. They ran, holding hands and laughing, from the car to the porch and entered the house.

“This is awkward,” JJ said.

“Just kiss me,” Lila said. So they kissed right there in the kitchen. So far, so good. They parted, hands held between their bodies.

“Come upstairs with me,” he said.

“Let me go to the bathroom first.” She pulled away and turned with a sassy skip, looking back at him over her shoulder as she walked down the hall.

When the bathroom door closed, JJ turned to lock the outside door and something caught his eye in the sloping field. There was a group of wild turkeys in the grass. A gaggle? A flock? They were strutting and pecking their way across the field, taking their time. This farm with no crops and no animals. It’s a farm of the world, JJ thought. It’s just here and the turkeys are here and this is the way it’s supposed to be. “And I’m here with Lila,” he thought. “Finally. And it’s all ok.”

To the right he heard, then saw, a car coming up the road. It slowed and turned into his driveway. A black BMW, like an adder entering a henhouse. Alarmed squawking in JJ’s brain.

“No. No. No.” He didn’t recognize the car but he knew who it was. “No,” he said again as he watched Betty, his sister, emerge from the driver’s seat. She deployed an umbrella and peered around at the barn, field, and house. An intruder in nature. The land itself seemed to grow still, aware of this foreigner, knowing that people from Away never brought glad tidings. Betty started walking toward the porch.

The sound had all sucked up into JJ’s head and he was frozen by her approach. A sense of being the prey shuddered his body back into movement. She hadn’t yet seen him yet. His hand was still on the lock bolt and he turned it, the click breaking the spell. He moved quickly away, down the hall, crouching, and pushed his way through the bathroom door.

Lila was rising from the toilet, pulling up her jeans. “JJ, what the…”

“Shhhh. She’s here!”

“Who?”

“Betty.” JJ jostled past to the little window and pulled the curtains together tight. The bathroom was only a WC, just a toilet and a sink. He shifted back to the bathroom door and latched the hook into the eyelet.

“JJ, really.”

“She’s here to ruin my life.”

Then came the knocking, four hard raps. He could picture her there, all consternation and intent. He quieted his breathing and waited.

“JJ,” Lila whispered.

“Shhh.”

Then, his sister’s voice, muffled but too close. “Jason!” For a moment he thought she was already in the house but, no. His mind was messing with him. They stayed quiet, waiting it out. JJ’s phone vibrated in his pocket. Caller id: “Betty (Satan)”. He refused the call. Four more hard raps on the door, a turning and shaking of the doorknob, (“Thank God I locked it”).  Silence for a moment, then steps retreating, car door chunking shut, the engine, tires on gravel, and an acceleration down the hill.

He realized he was clutching Lila’s hand. He was clutching her whole arm.

“Kiss me again,” Lila whispered. “She’s gone.”

“But she’ll be back,” he said. He looked at Lila’s wry smile, the twinkle in her eye, and realized she was amused, enjoying this. Then he kissed her, cowering in the little downstairs bathroom of the farmhouse he bought with his lottery winnings. He felt they were in a sanctuary, spared and chosen, the overlooked survivors of some freak disaster. A close call and very exciting

He pulled her closer and let his hands roam down to her waist and hips.  Her noticed her jeans were still unbuttoned from when he barged into the bathroom. He never wanted her more.

But a voice, insistent, in his head. “She’ll be back,” it said.

“Oh shut up,” he said out loud.

“What?”

“Come on,” he said and led her into the hallway and up the stairs.

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Thanksgiving Plans, JJ Style

“It’s pretty late notice,”  JJ’s brother Brian said.

“It’s three weeks from now,” JJ said.

“These things are planned months ahead.  And it’s two weeks from now.”

“You haven’t even been out to see the place.  The girls will love it.”

“I’m sure they will but it’s not easy to change plans like this.”

“You just said you didn’t have any real plans.”

“I have to talk to Jane,” Brian said.  “She wants to serve the meal at the shelter.”

“Plus, Kari and the boys are coming.  I saw them at a soccer game.”

“I thought they were going to the Cape.”

“No Cape.  Betty and Barry are going on a cruise,” JJ said.  “I actually sent them on the cruise.”

“Over Thanksgiving?  How did they agree to that?”

“I said I booked it for myself and a friend but that fell through and they could take it or leave it.”

“Brilliant.  But, wait, were you really going with someone?”

JJ paused.  “No, it was a whim.  But then it seemed perfect for getting Betty and Barry away from us for Thanksgiving.”

“Are you still seeing that girl? Lily? Lori?”

“Lila.  No.  It looked like we might get back together but then a deer got impaled and that seemed a bad sign.”

“Umm…ok.  Well, I’ll talk to Jane but I’m leaning towards coming out.”

“Really? Great.”

“Do you know how to cook a turkey?”

“Turkey?  Don’t you have ham on Thanksgiving?  Or lasagna?  Just like the pilgrims.”

“This oughta be interesting,” Brian said.  “I’ll text you later after I confirm with Jane.”

JJ hung up and looked out the window and down the hill toward the road then up to the hills across the valley.  The leaves were all down and things were revealed, the bones of the earth picked clean and exposed, cold and gray.  William Bradford, a real-life pilgrim, once said of the New England fall, “All things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country full of woods and thickets represented a wild and savage hue.” JJ liked those pious badass Pilgrims and their savage new world.

He dialed the phone and asked Carl, “How do you cook a turkey?”

“It’s gotta be dead first.”

“I’m having Thanksgiving.”

“We’ll come over and help you.”

“Both of you?”

“Yup.  We’ll be there at 8:00 to start cooking,” Carl said.  “That’s 8:00 in the morning.”

“No shit,” said JJ.  “But were you invited?  I don’t recall…”

“No.  But that doesn’t matter.  We’ll go shopping next week.”

“Ok,” JJ said and hung up.  He stood and looked out the window.  He felt like he was on his own pilgrimage, navigating a new world of family and friends who actually wanted to be with him.  But he couldn’t shake the feeling of something lurking in the thickets, some savage, some Wampanoag maybe, ready to strike with spear or arrow.

The other shoe, ready to drop.

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The End of a Season

JJ just watched his nephews lose a soccer game.  The end of a season.  “They expected to win,” his sister said and JJ heard a voice in his head.  It was a guy named Doc the Painter from an AA meeting in Sacramento who said, “Serenity is inversely related to your expectations.”  Man, that recovery shit never leaves the brain.

A couple kids on the team cried, at least those kids with the congenital drive to win and step on the necks of kids from other towns.  Most kids seemed relieved and wore rueful smiles.  Lollipops had appeared from somewhere and JJ thought, “That was me.  I would smile and cry later, alone.  Then resent the whole thing for the rest of my life.”

His sister came over and put her arm around him, drawing him into the family.  “Well that’s over,” she said.  People were milling, saying farewell and have a good winter.  November was here, hibernation coming soon, and JJ could feel it.  The sun was warm but the breeze came from somewhere with real cold.  Like Canada.

“Aren’t you sad,” JJ asked.

“Nah,” she said.  The kids approached, sheepish but not defeated.  “It’s all in good fun.  Sports are fun.”

Not for me, JJ thought.  Never for me.  I like Wiffle Ball in the yard and football on Thanksgiving with the cousins.  I like watching on TV.  Or seeing the lights of a night game from the highway, a world illuminated as he passed in the dark, there and then gone, not too close.

“Hi, Uncle Jason.”  Nephew One said.

“Thanks for coming.”  Nephew Two said.

They came to JJ together and gave sideways hugs, one on either side, pressing their heads briefly against his ribs.  “You guys are fantastic,” JJ said.

“Coach said we’ll get ‘em next year,” Nephew One said.

“Let’s get something to eat,” Nephew Two said.

JJ bought hot dogs and sodas for his nephews as his sister talked with some other parents.  Nephew One said, “Can we come to the farm for Thanksgiving?”

Nephew Two said, “I want to play football in that side yard.  We were talking about that.  Can we do that?”

“Yes.”

“And don’t you have a turkey on your farm we could eat?”

JJ thought of his hot tub and basketball court in the barn.  He thought of the native forest he was planting in the old fields.  He thought of his lottery money and how he hadn’t thought of his lottery money during the whole game.  It was time to button up for the winter and get closer to these family people.  Thanksgiving would be a good start.

“It’s not that kind of farm.  I don’t have any animals,” JJ said.  “But we’ll definitely get a turkey.”

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