It’s a little early for a Christmas party. But who’s counting. We’re in my sister’s backyard. There are twinkling lights hanging over a fenced area. The whole family is here.
My sister’s neighbor is performing minor surgery on his Harley. It’s loud.
My mother is drinking a beer. I am, too. We are humble, working-class people. If we’re going to have a Christmas party with loud Harleys, by God, we might as well have cheap beer, too.
There is a kid running around. A girl. She is my alleged niece.
She calls me “Uncle Sean.”
My sister talks to the girl in a high-pitched voice. “Tell your Uncle Sean you love him.”
The kid remarks, “UNKO SUH WIGBSKGH SWERW
Now the kid is on my lap. Her diaper is wet, she has green snot running from her nose, and she smells like a pot of collards.
I could just eat her all up.
She looks like her mother did at this age. She has the same eyes. Same personality. It’s a get-your-hands-off-me-I-can-do-it-myself-thank-you-very-much personality.
And I’m going back in time. Decades back.
If I close my eyes, I see my baby
sister on her rump in a big hayfield. She’s five. She’s got a dog with her. An outdoor dog, with ticks and fleas.
She’s staring into space. It’s cold. She’s got yellow snot on her upper lip.
“Is Daddy really dead?” she says.
Her face is big. Her cheeks are clammy. My father’s untimely end is fresh on her mind.
“You’re gonna catch a cold,” I say. “Let’s go inside.”
“Why would Daddy kill his own self?”
“You’re gonna get fleas if you—”
“What if YOU die next? What if MAMA dies?”
And the tears come. They’re hot tears. I remember this because they were all over my chest and shoulder.
“Nobody’s gonna die,” I tell her.
“I’m scared. What’s gonna happen to us?”