Only in My Dreams

With his electric screwdriver, my big brother Lyle is tightening the hinges on the saggy composite doors beneath the sink in the kitchen of the minimalist apartment I rent from Barbi. One of Lyle’s cast-off high school love interests, my landlord harbors few ill feelings toward the person Lyle was twenty years ago. For me she has only sisterly affection, a lavish wardrobe of hand-me-down T-shirts, and expert haircuts strictly off the books.

“I’m pretty sure,” I say, “that the guy is gay, anyway.” I watch Lyle sweep a messy bundle of paper bags and a pair of tatty purple tennis shoes from beneath my sink. “What are you doing?”

“Bonita. Lib and Bobby didn’t set you up with a gay guy.”

“I’m saying I don’t think they knew.” I sit down beside my brother and make a neat stack of the bags. “Why are you cleaning my cupboards?” Because they need cleaning, he’s going to say.

All of Bakerville believes the members of my family, abridged as it is to Lyle and me and our dear Aunt Amy, are a pickle or two short of a barrel. My darling engineer of a brother is Mr. Clean, fussy as a housewife about what’s lurking beneath my sink. Our Aunt Amy hasn’t cut her hair or missed an episode of General Hospital since before I was born twenty-seven years ago. I’m the mechanic who gets dragged into blind dates with gay guys. An outsider would need a concordance to make meaning of our family narrative.

“Because they need cleaning.” Lyle touches his hand to the P trap beneath my sink, studies his fingers for damp. “Libby would know something like that.” Lyle can say so because my failed matchmaker, in this instance, is yet another of his long-ago girlfriends, a smart woman who leapfrogged her heartbreak over Lyle to find and marry a chunk of coal turned forty carat. “Libby knows better.”

“What if the guy himself doesn’t know?”

Lyle holds up a wad of petrified dish towels.

“Yeah, I had a leak. Or something.” I take the towels and lob them through my bedroom door. “ So I forgot.”

“Sister most beloved, the secret slob.”

“Ain’t no secret no more.”

Lyle’s going to make me swab out the darn cupboard, so I unroll some paper towels, run them under the tap, and make a show of wiping down the cupboard floor while he watches. For dark reasons unknown to modern psychiatry, I can’t abide a dirty bathroom—my own is spotless—but entropy claims everything else in my modest home. Being a recovering alcoholic takes a lot of energy. I can’t afford to waste worries on whether or not my linoleum shines.

“You think a person that old can not know?” I ask again.

Dating prerequisites and housekeeping standards are just two of the ongoing conflicts Lyle and I cherish, but I do depend on my brother’s wisdom in certain matters. By his lonely self, Lyle chose to attend a vacation Bible school his sixteenth summer, all the more amazing when you consider the Tones have been heathens for as far back as written records have been kept. Christianity didn’t take, though, and now Lyle tends to speak in the jargon of Buddhism, a tantalizing philosophy even when it challenges the core tenet of my existence: attachment to that which is forever lost.

“I think,” says Lyle, “that most of us remain mysteries to ourselves.” He takes the dirty paper towels and installs them in a makeshift trash bin he’s made by folding the edges of a grocery bag. “All is delusion, Sissy.”

“It’s not like I care. It’s not like I intend to have some kind of…romance.”

“Was he a nice guy?”

“Nice enough, whatever he was. He smelled kind of musty.”

Lyle laughs. “You got close enough to smell?”

“Yeah.” I punch Lyle’s shoulder. “At Lib and Bobby’s kitchen table. With the girls there. I got close enough to smell.”

Across the tiny cement patio separating my apartment from Barbi’s, the strings of too many starry Christmas lights festoon Barbi’s slider and illuminate her living room. I don’t have any lights up; I don’t own a single CD of Elvis crooning Christmas carols. And I don’t have anywhere a facsimile of a tannenbaum. What I do have is a carton of eggnog Barbi gave me as part of her ongoing campaign to fatten me up. Two decades ago, when my mama died a surprise death on a freeway down in awful Los Angeles, Barb and Libby appointed themselves stewards of a broken seven-year-old. They didn’t resign when I became the youngest drunkard Bakerville ever produced. They have their own lives–good, full, adult, post-Lyle lives–still they don’t let go. Now I’m sober, Libby’s trying to marry me off and Barbi’s trying to grow my womanly curves. Their meddling is love incarnate. Their delusions deserve indulgence.

I pour a glass of eggnog for each of us. Lyle’s sitting on the floor, his back against the hand-me-down plaid love seat that constitutes my living room, Mister the rescue cat nestled in his lap.

“Infidel,” I say to Mister.

My beautiful brother’s eyes are closed. The dark curls on the crown of his head are thinning.

I sit on the love seat and nudge Lyle’s shoulder with my knee. I hand him his glass.



“Work. The drive, maybe.”

Lyle has his own firm fifty miles away from Bakerville in Stockton. He’s here with me because we’re in the first stretch of the holiday stakes. Tomorrow we head over to Aunt Amy’s for what will be an unorthodox reenactment of the Jesus myth: wise men bearing gifts and so forth.

I pet the top of my brother’s head, messing up the curls to cover the thinning. I would turn myself inside out to make my brother’s life flawless; I would sell every one of my own delusions down river to keep my brother safe and sound in a way that I can never hope to be. If anything ever happened to my Lyle, the disciplined, conscientious practice of alcoholism could not contain my heartache.

I want to rock Lyle in my arms. Instead I set my eggnog on the floor and head to my bedroom to get a pillow and some blankets. The least I can do is give him a place to sleep.

The only other adult in Bakerville who’s going to be alert at 5:12 A.M. on Christmas Eve day is my dead mama’s older sister. So it’s my Aunt Amy I call when I concede it’s going to take more dedication than I can muster to master the fine art of lying abed. I’m wearing mukluks and two layers of sweats, but it’s still colder than it ought to be. I grab the phone from its cradle on the kitchen counter, step over my sleeping brother, and nudge my two-timing cat into my bedroom. When Mister and I are both under the covers, I dial my aunt’s house.

“Aunt Amy, it’s Bonnie.”

“Of course it is.”

I hear water gurgling down a sink.

My aunt is already on the job. Lyle and I begged her to let us take her out to dinner, but Amy’s root bound to her house and garden. She wouldn’t entertain the thought of transplanting our festivities to any kitchen but the one in which they’ve been held for the past ten years, ever since I graduated high school and told my Daddy that new wife or not, the people living under his roof—what once was Lyle’s and Mama’s roof, too—did not a family make. Now Daddy’s dead, and Jantell and her demented son Razor, Tones by civil ceremony only, celebrate their own holidays in the house in which we grew up. Lyle and I are quietly grateful for our aunt’s rejection of our pro forma invitations. We hoped she’d say no when we asked; we count on our traditions, too.

“I’m making Mama’s lace cookies.” I will, when Lyle’s awake and my baking won’t disturb him.

“As it should be.”

“You’re not doing too much?”

“Remember how you loved green been casserole?”

“I do.”

“You used to pick the crispies off the top.”

“I did.”

“The turkey’s almost in the oven.”

“We’ll head over when Lyle wakes up.”

“See you when I see you, Bon Bon.”

“Love you, Aunt Amy.”

Lyle is a person who surfaces from the deepest slumber fully equipped to meet his fate. He doesn’t need two cups of coffee or a half-hour of sour muttering to get himself moving. By the time I awake from a second sleep I didn’t expect to find, his blankets are folded and he’s pouring hot water over tea bags into the mismatched cartoon cups from my Burger King collection. Barbi’s seated on the love seat with her legs drawn up under her checkered nightgown. She has the saddest face.

“Hey, Barb.” I set Mister beside her. “You want a sweatshirt?”

“Season’s Greetings, kiddo.” She straightens her legs to make a lap for Mister and pats the cushion beside her. “For days they’ve been promising snow. It’s raining.”

I unfold one of Lyle’s blankets and drape it over both our shoulders as I sit beside her. Barbi tucks one of my hands between hers.

“Your mitts are freezing!” I blow on her hands until Lyle gives her a cup of tea. “You got plans for today?”

Lyle gives me my tea: my favorite cup, Garfield from a zillion years ago when my mama was alive, salvaged by Aunt Amy from my stepmother’s looting and pillaging. My brother lowers himself to the floor and sits, Indian-style with crossed legs, facing us. His cowboy boots have been buffed to a soft gleam. Lyle was never one for tennis shoes. He’s worn Levis and boots for as long as I can remember, which may account for why women fall in love with him. Slow and steady wins the race, my brother’s boots pledge. Ready for whatever comes.

Barbi sighs. “My dad wants some hair done.”

“Your dad wants his hair done on Christmas Eve day?”

Barbi owns her own shop on Main Street, Miss Barbi’s Hair Palace. If I’d heard she was spending Easter or the Fourth of July making house calls, I would understand. She’s a sweetheart any way you cut it. But Christmas Eve day?

“Not his hair. His girlfriend’s.”

“Your dad wants you to do his girlfriend’s hair today?”

Lyle pinches the toe end of one of my mukluks.

Barbi sniffles. “How do you say no to your dad?”

“How indeed,” Lyle says, which means I’m not supposed to express outrage. “Come over to Aunt Amy’s when you’re done.” He hands Barbi a Kleenex.

“Lyle, I can’t.”

“When you’re done.”

“I can’t just do her hair and leave.”

“Sure you can,” I say. “Aunt Amy would love it.”

Barbi sips her tea. “Her sons and their kids will be there.” She pouts. “The whole family, her side.”

“All the more reason to eat with us,” I say.

Lyle and I know a thing or two about interlopers. And Barbi’s own mom is not even dead; she’s just living in Jackson, going about her own business, doing her best to ignore what’s happening between her soon-to-be ex-husband and his girlfriend over here in Bakerville. At least Mama never had to witness regime change.

“When do you all eat?”

“The turkey and the green bean casserole?” I’m proud of Aunt Amy for reviving the green bean casserole. There’s not another cook in Bakerville who’s made green bean casserole in the last thirty years. “We usually eat, when, Lyle?”

“Four. Five.”

Barbi brightens. “She’s doing something earlier. Chi-chi. Avant garde. Not turkey.”

“Then you’ll come?”

Barbi smiles. “Two Christmas Eve dinners.” She smoothes her punked-up hair. “It would make the whole set-up bearable.”

I try not to watch the look she gives Lyle. I hope I’m not seeing a flare-up from buried tinder. I hope she’s not reading my brother’s generosity for anything but what it is: compassion for all sentient creatures.

“Goodie.” I interrupt the look. “I’m making lace cookies. You want to take some to your dad’s?”

“Sure.” Barbi stands and tousles my hair. “Looks cute a little longer, Bon.” She pats Lyle’s back as she passes. “Thanks for the tea.”

My brother watches Barbi cross the patio. She doesn’t hang her head or try to dodge the rain the way most women would. Instead she stands for a sliver of a moment, palms uplifted, before she opens the slider to her apartment and slips inside.

I don’t know nearly as much about Islam and Judaism as Lyle does, seeing as how he’s an engineer by day and a philosophical explorer of the first order by night. I don’t know if the seasons of Ramadan or Chanukah spike the suicide rates the way the winter solstice does for Christian cultures. With all respect, it’s not Jesus’s fault people fall apart on the holidays. Even for a faithless tribe like ours, family patterns accrue their own meaning, habits of doing whose repetition is welcome because it is just that: the same time, the same place, the same people, the same green bean casserole. It’s change that wrecks people, that I do know. It’s trashed delusions of hearth and home. The Jesus story is incidental.

I am certain when Barbi was a little girl, she never foresaw her family’s Christmas corrupting itself into the affair she must attend today in her dad’s house: plying her trade for the vamp who ousted her mother, breaking bread with virtual strangers and their offspring, trying to save some little piece of the lovely past when everyone around her seems more than happy to make of it a funeral pyre. We three, Lyle and I and Aunt Amy, though she hasn’t yet set an extra place, have enough tradition to share, secular and small though it may be.

Sleeting rain follows us out of town to our aunt’s house. I could be living there, Aunt Amy likes to remind me. I can’t because I need to get better by myself, without my aunt or my brother holding my sweaty hand day in and day out. I work my nine-to-five’s at the Tune-Up Shop. Nights I spend studying my own mysteries, the hungry ghosts that drove me to drink. Lyle understands this; Aunt Amy pretends to.

My aunt’s house is not shabby. That’s not a word well-suited to the genuine ranches surrounding Bakerville, built sturdy when practicality made barns just as important as houses. The flatlanders imported frills when they sold out of the Bay Area and bought into their rural retirements on their five-acre mountaintops, cloistered from their neighbors by electric gates and motion sensors. I shouldn’t be snooty: the incomers pay my wages and Barbi’s too. Libby feeds them at the Home Run Café. Bobby, Lib’s husband, makes a good living scalping their pads and digging their ponds. They want ducks, they tell him. They want a rowboat for the grandkids. When the grandkids visit, they complain about algae on the mucky beaches and save their new swimsuits for the chlorinated pools back home.

My aunt hasn’t exactly let her house go, but beneath the dark rain, the clapboard siding looks more stained than painted. Water slides off the roof and sluices through the canted gutters, bending last summer’s zinnias into the dirt of the flowerbeds to either side of the porch.

“You forgot your slicker,” Lyle says when we’ve parked under the Catalpa tree in the front yard. Sad seed pods hang from the bare branches. My brother and I used to crack them open, stamp them with our boots.

“Don’t own one.”

“Does Santa know?”

“Lyle. We said no presents.”

“Right. The campaign of non-consumption.”

“I don’t want anything. Aunt Amy doesn’t want anything.”

“She’s trying to divest.”

I wince. “I know.” I balance the platter of cookies on my knees. “Set?”

“Good to go.”

Aunt Amy doesn’t meet us at the door when we clomp our muddy feet on the wooden porch and holler. She doesn’t meet us in the front room when we pull off our shoes and turn on the lights. I put my cookies on the kitchen table and look at Lyle. He shrugs. We can smell the turkey baking.

“Aunt Amy?” I call from the foot of the stairs. “Auntie?”

My punishment, I’m thinking. Retribution for years spent in selfishness while my aunt and Lyle cleaned up after me, repairing what I’d rent, loving me without cease until I could become a better Bonnie. Lyle touches my arm. I know he can feel my heart jack-hammering the blood through my veins.

The kitchen door opens. Aunt Amy backs in, rain dripping off her blue rain hat, a basket of winter squash in her arms. I take the basket from her and hand it to Lyle. Then I hug my aunt so hard the hat topples from her head. Her long braids, nearly as dark as my hair and my brother’s, fall like ropes against her shoulders.

“Bon, Bon, Bon,” whispers Aunt Amy. She’s probably making cuckoo eyes at Lyle behind my back. “It’s not my time to die.”

“How am I supposed to know?” I loosen my hug so my aunt can shed her dripping raincoat. “You putting a public service announcement in the Courier?”

Lyle stoops so Aunt Amy can give him a good kiss on the cheek.

“That’s not necessary, Bonita,” she says sternly and hands me her coat. “I got to thinking that squash soup would be a nice first dish, and of course just as I went out the sky let loose—there you have it.”

For someone who thrives on General Hospital, my aunt tolerates precious little drama on the stage of her own kitchen. Wait, maybe that’s me remembering wrong: maybe I’ve provided enough in-house theatrics for the duration of what she promises will be an extra-long lifetime. She’s had her share of bibulous Bonita Walker Tone, the drama princess.

Lyle fetches an armload of wood from the back porch and stacks it neatly beside Aunt Amy’s woodstove. The fire doesn’t need stoking. My aunt’s kitchen is toasty.

“Barbi needs to eat with us,” I announce to prove to Lyle my powers of recovery. “Is that okay?” I pull the foil from the lace cookies, sugary golden crackers.

Aunt Amy wraps her braids into a knot at the back of her neck. “Barbi is always welcome here,” she says. “Aren’t those beautiful.”

“Try one,” I say. “Both of you.”

We have milk and cookies for a late breakfast because Aunt Amy says the turkey will be hours yet. Lyle tells Aunt Amy I had a blind date at Lib and Bobby’s. I roll my eyes and pick a new topic: the sorry strip mall going up outside Jackson. Aunt Amy asks how Barbi’s mom is doing. I want to know how the General Hospital people are bearing up during the holidays. The report is not good. Lyle reminds us of the Christmas Santy Claus brought me a Radio Flyer wagon. Daddy wanted to send it back to the North Pole because my mama broke the speed limit driving it down our long driveway. I remember the ice cracking beneath the wagon’s wheels, my mama’s sweatered arm tight around my tummy, her warm breath next to my ear. Our mittens nearly froze.
Take away drink, and the anticipation of loss is all you have. Sometimes loss is all there is to wrap yourself around.

We are each of us easy keepers, so when Barbi hasn’t shown by five, we swap the unfinished five-hundred piece Poinsettia plant puzzle for the Scrabble set. Lyle wins, of course, but Aunt Amy and I give him a good run. I’ve set the kitchen table pretty as I can with a cloth bordered by embroidered holly berries. I alternated cloth napkins: red, green, red, green. We lined up our Scrabble pieces like place settings, the board as our centerpiece.

“Was this tablecloth ours?” I ask Aunt Amy as Lyle tallies the points from our second game. “I recognize it.”

“Your mother made it.” Aunt Amy traces a sprig of holly. “Waiting for Lyle to be born.”

I begin to put the board and the letters into the Scrabble box. Its corners are split, tired out from a lifetime of Christmas tournaments. My brother excuses himself from further allusions to the past, goes off in search of duct tape. He’s escaping, my dear brother, a long distance runner jogging from instead of to.

Aunt Amy calls after him, “Hall closet, honey. In one of those plastic tubs at the back.” To me she says, patting the table cloth, “Take it home with you, Bonita.”

“Don’t have anywhere to put it.”

I know that refusing my aunt’s bequests will not prevent her decline. That stubbornness is the magical thinking of a recovering alcoholic arrested in her emotional development. Whether the holly tablecloth stays or goes won’t change the fact that my aunt is almost seventy. Receiving her gifts won’t make me any more equipped to live without her.
When Barbi’s knock at the front door distracts us from our war of mortal wills, I’m the first to reach it.

“Hey, kiddo.” Barbi’s arms are full. She turns her cheek for a kiss. “Sorry I’m later than I thought.”

“The Huns?”

She shudders. “Second generation Huns.”

I take a platter from her. “Christmas layer Jello?”

“Just for you.” Barbi bends to pull off her boots. Lyle appears beside her, steadies her arm. “Look,” Barbi says to him. “Our socks match.”

“It’s me,” I tell them. “Last year’s presents. I gave in bulk.”

“Before the boycott,” Lyle tells Barbi. He rubs his fingers in the moneylender’s gesture. “Before Bonnie’s sanctions came down.”

“It’s not about money, Mr. Manners,” I remind my brother.

“I know it’s not, hon,” Barbi says. “They’ve worn well, haven’t they, Lyle?”

“Yes, they have,” I use my snot voice for Lyle’s benefit. “Very well.”

We usher Barbi into the kitchen where Aunt Amy is ladling her squash soup into bowls. The turkey has replaced the Scrabble board. The green bean casserole sits at my place, Aunt Amy’s joke.

“Thank you so much for having me, Amy,” Barbi says. “I’m sorry I’m late.”

“We don’t stand on ceremony, sweetheart.” Aunt Amy puts the soup pot onto the wood stove and turns to Barbi and opens her arms. They have a good long hug. My aunt’s arms make you feel better because you don’t have to make conversation after, how do you do or you’re looking well. My aunt saves her words for what really needs to be said, as if she’s extending your play in a Scrabble game, supplying the vowels, building up points, making the board mean what it should have been meaning all along.

“And Bon got to eat all the crispies,” Aunt Amy says, her arm around my shoulders, her fingers styling my Kewpie doll hair. “Barbi did a nice job here.”

I made Lyle postpone the dishwashing until our dinner is digested. Barbi wouldn’t even eat one of my lace cookies after dinner. She said she’d had some at her dad’s, but she’s just being too nice, the way she always is. Stuffed and slow-witted, we make our own nativity scene in Aunt Amy’s front room: my aunt and I on the couch, Barbi and Lyle and their matching socks sprawled on pillows on the carpet, the hostile world and its sorrows howling like banshees outside, kept at a fragile bay.

I snuggle closer to my aunt. “I’m going to have to let it grow,” I announce. I take the end of one of her braids and pull the plastic bauble off. “Lyle says.”

“My wish is your command, sister most beloved,” Lyle answers. He keeps winding the snowman music box Aunt Amy’s had since forever. It sits on his chest playing a tinkling version of “We Three Kings.” “I’m used to the Bonnie with long hair.”

“Did you ever think about cutting yours?” Barbi asks my aunt.

I’ve got one of Aunt Amy’s braids almost undone. “Look. Not a strand of grey.”

“It’s beautiful hair,” Barbi agrees. To Aunt Amy, “If you ever cut it, you could give it to Locks of Love. The little kids with cancer who need wigs?”

Aunt Amy kisses my head. “Would you cut it then, Barb?”

Barbi looks at me. She looks at Lyle. We erase the expression from our faces. “You want me to cut it now?”


“Right this minute?”


Barbi didn’t expect this. But she’s not put off. She jumps up from her chair. “I’ve got my things in the car.”

She doesn’t pull the front door hard enough to meet the latch on her way out. A wet gust blows it open so it hits the living room wall hard. Not one of us says a word. Not one of us makes an effort to keep the storm out. Somewhere on the hills behind the house or maybe down the river grade, a steer is lowing. Its calls are cheerless, steady. You’d think it would find a barn and hole up out of the wet. People can freeze to death in air this cold—they have–but cattle don’t. They put their backs to the wind and hunch up against each other, building themselves into a wall of warmth. Snow would be better for them, though. They can’t stay wet forever.

Aunt Amy leans against the sofa back, humming the music box carol in her own key, her impossibly long hair a shawl around her shoulders. Lyle looks at me. I look at Lyle.
My brother pulls his lanky self to standing and waits for the wind to blow Barbi back inside before he latches the door shut. He stands with his back to us, studying the lock fittings. He’s wishing he had his screwdriver, I can tell, holstered against his hip like a six-shooter. Barbi starts unpacking the tools of her trade and laying them on the cedar chest that is Aunt Amy’s coffee table: her scissors and combs, her clips and her spray bottles, the shiny, shroudy thing she uses for covering shoulders. When Lyle goes into the kitchen, I follow him.

“Averting your eyes?” he asks as he begins stacking our plates.

“Getting a chair,” I answer. Sometimes whatever language into which my brother lapses needs to fall on stone deaf ears. “For the haircut.”


“I’ll help in a minute.”

“No.” Lyle touches a dishcloth to my shoulder. “Go forth and give witness.”

I invest so much time and energy with my own misery that I forget my brother has his own. A daughter can lose her mother at seven and turn out one way, say, as a recovering alcoholic. A son can lose his mother at seventeen and turn out another way: a stress proof scaffolding for those around him, somebody who doesn’t ask nearly enough for himself, a speaker of koans who doesn’t trust his own answers.

“It’s just hair, buddy,” I tell him.

“Aunt Amy’s hair.”

“We can make you a hair shirt.”

Lyle gives me a slight smile, part sardonic, part sympathetic. He lifts the casserole dish, puts it down again. “She’ll give it to the kids, the way Barbi said.”

“I’ll grow mine.”

“The braids of old.”

“Yep.” Then, before he can say it and to show him I do understand, “Life is suffering.”

“Amen.” My brother turns to the sink.

Barbi has turned on FM radio in the living room, the better to cut hair by. Some pretend cowboy is chanting that he’ll be home for Christmas. I heft the kitchen chair and carry it to the front room for Aunt Amy’s haircut, marching to Lyle’s voice, pitch perfect with the radio: only in my dreams.

Barbi’s right when she tells Aunt Amy the short style makes her look younger. That is delusion, but we claim it, all of us, just as we claim the early nightfall our heavy storm has made of Christmas Eve proper. Barbi respected my wishes and left my aunt’s hair long enough for a clasp or a clip. Aunt Amy will still be able to use the mismatched collection of plastic barrettes left over from my childhood when she needs to pull her hair back from her face pulling weeds in her garden or baking chocolate chip cookies for my brother and me. The long pony-tails which came off first are coiled neatly into tissue paper in a department-store box imprinted, coincidentally, with garlands of Christmas trees, triangular and impossibly symmetrical.

After waking from naptime decreed by Lyle, we debate turkey sandwiches over Aunt Amy’s rhubarb pie and let the pie win. Barbi and I finish cleaning the kitchen and stoke the woodstove and the fireplace both. After much discussion, Aunt Amy and Lyle insist on resurrecting a manzanita tree skeleton from a 4-H project that earned a younger and far braver me a blue ribbon in the county fair. Together, my mama and I worked a whole day blowing eggs and painting them pastel colors, then threading them onto the manzanita branches we’d stripped of their sticky leaves. Lyle’s just spent hours fixing shorts and ribboning our aunt’s ancient Christmas lights up and down the manzanita branches. Now the bony tree shimmers modestly against the window of the front room. Neighbors and wayfarers will be able to see my crazy, heathen family can ante it up, after all.

“Hey!” Barbi calls from the kitchen where she and Lyle have retreated to sidestep induction into the Monopoly game I’m laying out.

“Amy! Bonnie!”

My shorn aunt takes my hand and pulls me up from the floor.

Barbi and Lyle are standing at the open kitchen door. Aunt Amy and I move between them. I take Lyle’s hand. Barbi takes my aunt’s.

We make a chain of bodies as we file across the porch, down the stairs, and onto the inch of snow which has fallen just as we, imperfect and desirous, had all been hoping it would.


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