by Sam N. Yago
A family's Christmas eve tradition is a little too much to handle for its newest member.
|The one-month-old Labradoodle trotted up to my mother as soon as she stepped into the foyer. He was a bundle of energy and wet kisses, and the matriarch nearly tumbled backward from the warm welcome. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree blared from the living room where my father and his wife of two weeks sat by the roaring fireplace, sipping my wife’s homemade eggnog.
“And who might you be?” my mother asked the family’s latest addition, addressing the puppy as if it had the capacity to respond.
“That would be Potter,” I said, grabbing her suitcase and setting it next to the staircase. “He’s a rescue.”
“He’s adorable!” she said, as she stood back up to give me a light peck on the cheek and a gentle squeeze on my midsection. “Quitting smoking has done wonders for you, I see.”
I chuckled. “I’d rather be fat and alive than skinny and slowly dying.”
“That’s my good boy,” she said, as my wife drew in to offer an embrace. “Radiant and flawless as always, my dear Laurie.”
“You are way too nice, Gayle,” Laurie gushed, gleefully accepting the compliment and scooping up the enthusiastic pup. “Taylor should be back soon from the store.”
“And how long is that restless grandson of mine sticking around?”
“Through the twenty-sixth. Then, it’s off to Beijing where he plans to ring in the new year.”
“Can we get you a drink?” I asked.
“Just water for now, please.”
“Comin’ right up,” Laurie said and disappeared into the kitchen. My mother entered the living room and regarded her ex-husband who looked up at her smugly.
“Harold,” she said simply, and settled into the wingback next to the Christmas tree, crossing her legs at the ankles as any self-respecting Southern woman would. I sat in the recliner next to the baby grand piano, grabbed my mug of eggnog from the side table, and leaned back.
“This is Jenna,” my father said.
“That’s nice,” replied my mother, coldly. The woman who was nearly four decades my father’s junior sat quietly next to him and kept her gaze at the crackling flames. Potter ran back into the living room and hopped onto my lap. From the stereo, a young Michael Jackson claimed to have seen his mother kissing Santa Claus.
Laurie entered the living room and handed my mother a glass of water. “Here you go.”
“Thank you, sweetie.”
“Anyway, Nick and I chatted this morning and we would like to do the ceremony prior to dinner. We can do it as soon as Taylor gets back. Is that alright with you?”
“Harry? Jenna?” Laurie said, turning her attention to the other side of the room. “Sorry, we should’ve asked you earlier.”
“Fine by me,” my father responded.
Jenna looked up and shot my wife a confused expression. “Wait, what ceremony?”
“Just a little something we do on Christmas eve,” Laurie said.
“He didn’t tell you?” I asked Jenna and shot my father an accusatory look. The young woman shook her head then looked pleadingly at her husband.
“Oh, this’ll be good,” my mother said and flashed a malicious smile. Just then, the front doors threw open and my son rounded the corner. His eyes lit up at the sight of his grandmother, who had since stood.
“Grandma!” Taylor yelled, then rushed to give his grandmother a big hug.
“Oh, how I’ve missed you! Let me look at you,” my mother said, breaking away from the embrace and stepping back a little. “You look taller.”
“Pretty sure I stopped growing after my senior year.”
“Well, you’re still as handsome as ever,” my mother cooed.
“Stop it—you’re making me blush! Be right back, Grandma,” Taylor said as he made his way to the kitchen, toting two bags of groceries.
“I guess we should get ready,” Laurie said.
“Yep,” I said, rising. Potter fell off my lap and onto the seat where he resumed his nap.
“Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?” asked Jenna, concern building in her voice.
“Don’t worry about it, hon,” said my wife. “It’s only awkward the first time.” At that, she began undressing. I and the rest of the family started removing our clothing as well.
Jenna gasped, wide-eyed. “What in God’s name are you all doing?”
“Oh, you guys started already?” asked Taylor as he reentered the living room with a large bowl of Doritos in hand. He held a chip between his teeth, set the bowl on the coffee table, and kicked off his shoes.
“Take off your clothes, babe,” my father told his young wife. “It’s easier this way. C’mon, we have to get it done before midnight.”
“You are out of your mind if you think I’m going to get naked in front of all these people!” yelled Jenna. Her hands were shaking as she set her mug on the coffee table. Around her stood five people who were completely in the buff. She picked up her handbag and started to walk across the living room. “I’m leaving!”
Taylor moved with uncanny speed to block the archway leading to the entry foyer. “You’re not going anywhere.”
My mother walked up to a trembling Jenna, gently laying a hand on a shoulder. “Listen, Lenna—”
“It’s Jenna!” said the younger woman, her voice cracked with fear. “And, don’t touch me, you freak!”
Gayle slapped her youthful replacement across the cheek. “If you ever have any chance of truly being part of this family, you will do as you’re told, especially tonight. I will not stand idly by while you disrespect our ways.”
Jenna stared at my mother with childlike innocence, then looked to her husband for support. He rewarded her with an absent gaze.
“Jenna, Jenna, Jenna,” I started, and the others soon joined my chant. Tearfully, the woman who was technically my stepmother, started to undress. Within minutes she, too, was fully naked.
“Wasn’t that simple?” asked my mother. “Now, let's begin.”
Written for the 2018-12-22 prompt of "The Writer's Cramp is 19!" by Sophy v.2021
Prompt: The holidays are about traditions. What traditions run in your family, or in the family you married into (or, perhaps, merely adapted because you liked the idea?) Write a poem or story about those traditions. And to make this a greater challenge – you must include a grandmother and a puppy. Poem or story . . .
Word Count: 997