He hated to leave Florida, the dogs, and the warm weather to trek through hostile airports only to spend time with her folks in Minnesota for Christmas. But what’s a guy to do. It wasn’t like he could claim they needed to start their own Christmas traditions. No children romped on their carpets—only dogs. They’d spent nearly forty grand on fertility treatments, which only served to turn their lively sexual pleasures into dutiful chores—like dishes after staying home to cook.
He planned to ignore his own family successfully by not telling them he’d be staying forty-five minutes away with her dad.
On the day, he kept himself from being bored by drinking anything alcoholic that was offered. First he finished off the last of the spiked eggnog then hid rum in his replenished cokes. The wine at dinner had to be shared with a bunch of her relatives. He tried to think of himself as generous as Santa Claus, but every lifted glass left less for him.
He’d just drifted off into a comfortable haze, when his wife shook him by the shoulders to give CPR to her nephew. The kid was white and cold but he went through the motions taught to him years ago in the Navy. The louder she screamed the harder he pushed on the corpse.
At the hospital the emergency crew informed them the young man’s ribs had broken under the recovery attempts. One splintered rib punctured his heart too. They tried to comfort her as she pounded on Sylvester’s chest and clawed at his numb face. The boy had not been found for two hours after his drug overdose. He was dead before Sylvester’s first attempt to revive him.
She stopped her attack but wailed on and on, “My boy, my boy. I loved him more than anything on earth.”
He believed her. Actually he doubted this male child, older by ten years than the rest of her sister’s kids, was her nephew at all. Probably a love child born before he ever laid eyes on her at work when she was forty-six and he’d just turned forty.
In Florida they took up life again like a security blanket he’d hidden from his mother who always wanted everything to smell good and clean. In fact the very thought of his mother made him wretched. He avoided her phone calls. Didn’t send her Mother Day cards anymore. Christmas was the worst when her cards and presents arrived with the imbedded hooks to reciprocate. His mother was awarded Motherhood while his poor wife had to bear the stigma of being barren. Maybe.
They moved and changed their telephone numbers, but Mother never gave up. Sometimes on a perfectly good day, he’d pick up the phone without bothering to check the ID and it would be her. Mother didn’t chastise him; even spoke cheerfully of loving to hear his voice as if he’d called her.
After he hung up, Sylvester relived each minute of that terrible Christmas. So he kept his defensive silence for going on eight years. His marriage had turned platonic. He trained dogs for the military’s broken vets to love on their way to recovery. He ignored his wife’s business trips to Minnesota, where she still worked for their old boss. If he thought about it too long with her cheerful return, he often entertained dark thoughts. Was their old boss the father of the lost NEPHEW?
His own dad died before he arrived at the sick bed. His only hope was that his mother would have the grace to do the same. But he knew her too well. She did love him warts and all. She’d hang on defeating death’s prodding until he showed up so she could say she forgave him.
Life is hell when you can’t feel love and then you die.