Merry and I were sitting around in her room listening to Rolling Stone’s and Marianne Faithfull albums. Merry was sitting on her bed with her legs tucked up under her, a magazine in her lap, her head bowed over it. She looked either as if she were praying or about to go off on the nod. Her anorexically thin arms were scarred over from where she had etched Nazca like lines. The Stones and Marianne Faithfull were two of her obessions. I could only guess at the others.
I was sitting on the floor, picking at the label on my beer, watching her not talk to me, wondering how I got myself into this. It had been my idea to get together. I wanted to tape some stuff off her albums, I’d finished that, but that was only the reason I got in, the excuse. I’d been trying to figure out what her trip was for a while. Was I her boyfriend? Did I want to be? I wasn’t sure. She alternately attracted and repelled me, and at the moment her personality was the diametric opposite of her name. But I didn’t really care about that or any of the other things. What I wanted to do was get up on the bed and fuck her, but she was never interested in sex, which had got me wondering about her in the first place. Then there were her parents, out there, looming somewhere beyond the closed door. In my imagination her mother was right outside the door ready to pounce at the first untoward sound.
My imagination was starting to get the better of me. It was beginning to feel as if time had stopped in here, you couldn’t tell it was Christmas Eve. I was intent on escaping a family gathering and the intrigue it included. I’d heard all my uncle’s stories and what they thought of each other, and it was starting to feel like the hypocrisy of the season. I took a final swallow of my now warm beer that I had been nursing for an hour, or at least what had felt like an hour.
“You should try Sushi,” she said, suddenly.
“What?” I asked, the words felt foreign, then I recognized what the words meant. “Oh, yeah, I’d like to…some time. Do you want to get another beer or something?” I asked, now not really concerned if her mother was right outside the door or not, I just needed to get out of that room to make sure the rest of the world still existed. It was beginning to feel like a matter of survival. She picked up her glass that had contained Jack Daniels and looked at it and made the major discovery it was empty.
“Yeah, sure let’s go.”
When she opened the door there was a moment of decompression, relief. In the living room, everything was as I left it when I had come in. The Christmas tree stood blinking and glittering in a far corner, with a nativity scene under it, the presents set around it with care. Manufactured frost limned the edges of a bay window. Facing the tree and the TV her father sitting in a brown recliner watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for god knows how many times that night, a highball on an aluminum TV tray at his side.
‘The perfect Christmas scene,’ I thought to myself. It looked like he hadn’t moved since I’d gone into Merry’s room, or maybe it was a remnant of the time distortion I’d been feeling. He didn’t say anything as we walked by and into the kitchen.
The kitchen was warm and filled with the smell of golden baking breads. I had brief flash of my mother baking for a Christmas past, the smell of cinnamon and yeast in the air, her hands dusted with flour and the sticking remains of dough. Merry’s mother was preparing their Christmas dinner. I quickly sat down at the kitchen table not wanting to take a chance that Merry may want to beat a hasty retreat back to her room. She took the bottle of Jack Daniels off the top of the refrigerator.
“You want some?” She asked me.
“No, just a beer would be cool.” She handed me one of the beers I had brought with me, put some ice in her glass and poured herself another Jack Daniels. I had planned on being drunk by now, but thanks to Merry’s preoccupation with whatever magazine she had been reading I fell behind. I took a couple big swallows of the beer not only to catch up but to relieve some of the tension, or at least something that felt like action.
“So, John,” Merry’s mother said, “what are you doing for Christmas? Are you having any relatives over?” I wondered if she was just being conversational, or was it a subtle motherly hint that I should be leaving soon?
“No,” I said, starting to pull nervously at the edge of the beer’s label, “on Christmas Eve we all go to my grandmother’s, all my aunts and uncles are there, we have dinner.”
“Oh, what do you have?”
“Uh, usually roast, shrimp, lots of baked things.”
“That sounds nice. Merry’s aunt Susie is coming tonight.” Merry finished her drink and got up to get another.
“You want another beer?” She asked from the refrigerator.
“No.” I said, tilting up the half filled beer I had left. Her mother looked concerned.
“Merry, shouldn’t you go easy on that, you’re starting to get drunk, what’ll John think?”
“Mother, it’s Christmas, and this is only my third one.”
“And the two before John got here.” I felt the room pressurizing.
“Haven’t I given up everything else?” My ears perked up, I was pretty sure the “everything else” was heroin. Merry had always talked about heroin like she had some personal experience with it. She’d get this faraway mystical look in her eye like she was recalling some long lost love. When I’d ask Merry about it specifically, she’d become elusive. “This is the only thing I have left.”
“Yes, honey, I know and we’re all proud of you, but it’s not polite to get drunk in front of your company. And you don’t want to be drunk when your aunt arrives, do you?” Her mother looked more concerned than angry, but Merry was glaring at her mother. Was this a last stand, or just another clash in a continuing war between them? When had it started? When Merry was a child? When her main armament became heroin? I tried to fathom what pain had caused Merry to try and numb it out with heroin. Her family didn’t seem that much different from mine, a comfortable home, and nice things, and her mother seemed caring. The room was quiet as they stared at each other in concern and defiance. I was afraid to move for fear the chair might squeak, and their attention and stares would focus on me. I was starting to feel trapped again, with a door in plain sight, but so far away. If I could make a break for it could I get through the door before they wrestled me back into the chair? I downed the rest of my beer so I would have a reason to get out of there. I realized I didn’t want to know the answers. Better my family, and skirmishes I understood. My family seemed downright functional to me.
I put the empty beer down HARD. “Well,” I said, awkwardly, “I better go.”
“Are you sure? You don’t have to go.” Her mother said, “you’re welcome to stay, Merry will get out of this mood.” Merry stood there defiantly.
“No, really, I have to go,” I said, “to my grandmother’s, they’re expecting me.”
“Here take the rest of your beer,” she said, opening the refrigerator.
“No, that’s all right,” I said, just wanting to beat a hasty retreat.
“Well, have a Merry Christmas, John.”
“You too. Merry Christmas.” As an after thought I added “I’ll see you later Merry.”
I walked out into the yard. The world was different now, it was snowing hard and had been for a while everything was covered with the first snow of the year. I tilted my head up and watched the snow falling out of the void of the night, it was dizzying. I felt the cool flakes as they landed and dissolved on my skin. There was preternatural silence as if nature itself realized the solemnity of the night. I felt warm, I wanted to run, make snow angels, build snowforts, have snowball fights, the pressure that was inside had lifted. It felt like the moment existed outside of time, if I just stayed here time would stand still and the moment would exist forever, but I realized it couldn’t, sooner or later reality, time, life would reassert itself. I walked to my car, and stopped wanting the moment to last just a bit longer. I listened to the silence of the falling snow. It was Christmas.