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What I Did On My Holidays
"Pass the peas please, brother," Uncle Fred asked me above the noise of Christmas dinner. With one hand outstretched, and the other preventing his robe from dipping into the stuffing he looked at me and gave me a conspiratorial wink.
"O.K. Uncle Fred," I said, fulfilling the request while wondering to myself why my bald uncle both called me brother and winked at me every time we spoke.
"Please brother, I do not go by that name any more. My new name is One-Hand-Clapping."
"O.K. Uncle Fred," I repeated. Dismissing his kookiness, I turned my attention to my mother who was trying to feed Grandpa. This looked a little difficult because one was full of wine and laughing while the other was asleep and drooling.
"Grandpa Fred!" My mother giggled as she leaned over to shake him, tipping his prune juice over.
"Whut?" He wheezed as his crusty eyes opened and his wrinkled skin tried to form a face.
"Mum, can I trade you seats, Uncle Fred is really…"
"Freddy! Don’t interrupt, it’s rude!" My dad scolded, tossing a pea at my head. Smash, my little brother with hair still wet from his bath, copied him and whipped a potato at Uncle Fred. "Trevor," my dad called my brother by his given name, "don’t throw food."
Grandpa turned his milky gaze towards me, which was a feat in itself because he had cataracts on top of cataracts. Maybe he could smell me somehow. The only thing I thought of when I looked at Grandpa Fred, was that his head resembled a peanut.
"How old are you now Trevor? Nineteen is it?" He croaked to me.
"No, Grandpa. I’m eleven and a half and my name is Freddy." I answered.
"Whut?" He slobbered.
"Fre-ddy." I said slowly, putting both thumbs to my chest.
"…" He said, now asleep.
I changed my mind. A peanut would make better conversation.
Christmas this year had lost all its romance. It had started the evening before, on Christmas Eve. For some reason, Santa had neglected the milk and cookies laid out for him on the coffee table beside the hearth and made his way to the liquor cabinet instead. After lingering with his friend, Mr. Daniels, he stumbled to the tray of cookies, wrote a note saying "Meri Crismas, Love Satan" and fell over. There he slept on the rug, using the coffee table as a blanket, until Smash and I found him Christmas morning still clutching at our stockings. We played with our new toys on my father’s face for almost half an hour before my mother saw him and dragged him from his drunken slumber.
Now my father sat at the table staring at the peas with his party hat askew, nursing a nice little hangover. The table was arranged beautifully, the paper napkins were folded neatly and everything looked pristine. Everything except Smash’s corner. My four year old brother, having already tried putting a fork into his ear, was in the process of dismantling his napkin and scattering the confetti-like proceeds onto the dog who was lying beneath his seat. Flash, our seemingly-comatose dog, didn’t seem too concerned with the paper, as he was used to collecting dust for sometimes days straight.
Meanwhile, across from Smash, Uncle Fred was engaged in making paper cranes out of his cracker wrapper. Uncle Fred noticed my interest in his activities and gave me a wink. Without warning, Uncle Fred stood and cleared his throat.
"And now I’d like to recite some Haiku," he said and began.
It was evident by everyone’s state of restlessness that dinner was over. Unanimously, we left the table and Uncle Fred’s poetry recital and assumed our positions around the Christmas tree. When my monk uncle sulkily joined us, the gifts were distributed, and soon there was a symphony of rips and tears. This was a climactic affair for my brother and I. When the wrapping paper settled and our pulses leveled off, we sat back and inspected our gifts.
Generally, I was not disappointed with my presents, although confused may be a good adjective concerning a few of them. I had received a construction set from my dad, a box of Havana cigars from Grandpa, sandals from my uncle, a sweater from my mum and wrapping paper from Smash. Smash, on the other hand, got everything he had asked for Christmas. Action figures and a snorkel mask, but what appealed to him most was the hammer he had received from Grandpa. He promptly took to hitting the book, "Buddhism For Beginners" that Uncle Fred had got him.
It was at the point when my uncle began meditating that my parents got into the fight.
"I don’t understand you George, I really don’t!" my mother said, holding up the lingerie my father had bought her. It looked more like a boot lace than anything that could worn for a practical reason.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
My father didn’t answer, instead he was sheepishly inspecting a tie that I had bought him. Smash hadn’t given him anything, so I said it was from the both of us.
"Well what do you have to say? Even a salad shooter or pressure cooker would have been better than this!"
"Please brothers, be tranquil. Do not forget this is a religious festival."
"Does anyone hear that dripping sound?" My grandpa gargled.
"Well, what is it George? We have sex twice a week, is that not enough for you?" My mother said, ignoring my grandpa.
"Please brothers, not in front of the children!" Uncle Fred pleaded. It seemed that fighting was a little too much for his peaceful nature.
"No, never in front of the children. What kind of parents do you take us for you bald little yoga flier!" She yelled.
"Now Marsha, you don’t have to drag my brother into this," my dad said, confiscating the hammer from Smash who was eyeing the Christmas tree lights.
Suddenly and without warning, Flash the dog, got up. He walked stiffly from the dining room up the steps into the living room. He stood there looking back at the dining table intently.
"I still hear it dripping," Grandpa said as urgently as one would take a stroll in the park.
Everyone had stopped and was watching the dining room. Slowly, the dining room ceiling started to bulge and the chandelier began to shake. Quicker than one can say "I can see my toilet from here," the ceiling fell in. A big cloud of plaster billowed out and water poured in from the bathroom above.
A strange sound, like somebody strangling an armful of guinea pigs to death, could be heard. Everyone looked around for the source of the odd noise. It was coming from Grandpa. He was laughing.
"Merry Christmas." He chuckled.
Through the haze of plaster and under a chaotic pile of damp timber, a cast iron bathtub could be seen now sitting on the dining room table. The dining room was ankle deep in water, which had been reduced to a trickle from the hole where the ceiling once was.
"Smash," my father growled dangerously, "did you happen to leave the bath running again?"
Smash gulped audibly, and ran and hid behind my shaking Grandpa.
My parents were in a state of open mouthed astonishment, Uncle Fred had fainted, and Grandpa was laughing hysterically. Taking a quivering Smash in one hand and Flash, who was drinking the bath water, in the other, I dragged them out of harm’s way. We watched TV and ate chocolates in the basement for the rest of the night, although at one point, Smash wanted to try out his snorkel mask in the dining room. In the end, Smash gave my father a nervous breakdown for Christmas.
I can’t wait till Easter.
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Rolling thunder rises into the clear salmon sky, but it is not a storm. The tepid breeze cannot sweep away this sound. The sound is of a countless number of drums beating in union, producing a low thrum that gently ascends above the still grass of the lilting plains. At the source of the drum beat, ebony figures whirl, stamping their feet into the warm, tanned earth. Crimson light from a fire paints each face. Each face shocked by flashing whites, glazed, entranced. This is the summoning of something indigenous in all of us, a primeval emotion native to the soul.
In a breath, like the swell of wind in the trees, voices raise their exhalations into the darkening skies. Choruses undulate to the throbbing drums. Beaded hair whips in turmoil as muscles pump, swaying beneath hidden southern constellations. This is the primitive voice of civilization’s cradle. This is human instinct immortalized.
The chant increases in intensity, as dancing silhouettes spin and weave flawlessly. An occasional white man, obviously a tourist or traveler, can be seen amongst the dashing forms, synergistic phantoms in synchrony. It is a passage to a higher state of awareness, a vessel to naturalization. Coursing like blood, the beat leaves none untouched. This is not a religion. It bears no prejudice.
The drums cease. The chants cease. The silence is deafening but the dancing forms flit unheeding, oblivious to the peace. Slowly, a solitary voice rises above the throng. A second voice, slightly lower in pitch, joins in to orchestrate a harmonized melody. This soulful wail fills the spicy air for a brief moment… and then expires. Silence again, this time to be punctured by the drums. As if feeding the dancers, the rhythm sends them into a frenzy. Eyes roll as feet rise and fall. The drums stop, and the singing once again can be heard furling in waves. Waves that bring the gathering towards the quietly encroaching shores of dawn.
As the golden light expands and the fingers of heat grip the land, the singing wavers and the dancers begin to drift from the popping embers of the fire. Relaxed smiles grace the features of all as the congregation begins to dissipate. The odd individual can be seen drinking from a glass bottle. Obviously refreshed by this elixir, the dancers hold the bottles at arms length, giving the impression that they carry something of religious magnitude. The drugged atmosphere, that briefly possessed and elevated the spirits of all, corrodes as reality once again regains tenure of the plains.
The next commercial glorifies the driving of a new Japanese car.