by Raymond Cothern
Hey, Sarah. Just me, kiddo. I hope you’re okay, and I know you didn’t expect a call from me this evening. Just wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas, and my family says the same. Hope you’re enjoying the Christmas Eve festivities with your family. Us, too, kind of, but we knew the first Christmas after my Dad’s death would be rough. Strange, you there, me here, not being together after so long, making the rounds to both houses. I just needed to talk for a minute. I miss you.
Anyway, all the usual trappings of the season around here have a hollowness—us deciding to separate and Dad dead not a month. All the good will among us is sincere but tinged with loss and a sense of defeat, a door flung open and something allowed in that we can’t talk about—no remember when, no he was a good man and did the best he could for all of us, no love expressed or the ache of absence, and certainly no fifty-eight was too Goddamn young to die. And when our eyes do meet, the acknowledgment of feelings and knowing all things have changed comes with a slight lifting of eyebrows, a slight tightening of lips in something less than a smile.
But we’re carrying on and avoiding the obvious and eating good food and talking of inconsequential things and doing what we can for my mother—she sends her love, by the way. She’s the bravest one in the room. It was when the keys to the old Volkswagen my Dad used for work—trips to and from the docks—it is when those keys were given to Dennis, the oldest grandson, that emotions began surfacing.
The gifts I gave my mother and brothers and their wives were 25 photographs of my father, three framed collages of his life: as the first child held in the arms of Papa Macauley and him next to my grandmother and all three standing in the dirt yard in front of their farmhouse; photographs of my father as a schoolboy, a freckled Mississippi Huck Finn; of him older and lanky in a basketball uniform with a ball held high over his head; one of him and my mother posed in the side yard against the Bernardo Street house; a photo in a pith helmet in the wooden bateau he built, the 10 HP purple Mercury engine on the transom pushing him up the Amite River toward his catfish lines; one of him the previous Christmas in his recliner, his jaw cocked to one side as he opens a present.
When the Christmas paper was torn open on the collages at the same time, when the rips were large enough to reveal some of the photographs, emotion came with thank you from choked voices and there were no dry eyes around the Christmas tree and the white tissues suddenly appearing in the hands of my mother and sisters-in-law were flags of surrender.
But we made it through the evening.
So, okay, I hope your evening was fun. I mean that, not my usual sarcasm and downbeat crap. I do miss you terribly. With us apart and Dad gone, I’m like those people who lose an arm or a leg and can still feel them. Kind of hokey but with you it’s my heart, and no matter what, I wanted you to know I’ll always love you.
Merry Christmas, kiddo.
You take care of yourself.
I’ll do the same.
Raymond Cothern studied writing at LSU under Walker Percy and Vance Bourjaily. He is winner of both the Deep South Writers Conference and the St. Tammany National One-Act Play Festival. Two of his plays have been produced in New York City , The Long Hymn of Dilemma as part of the DTE New Play Festival, and Fat Girl From Texas in the Distilled Theatre Company Short Play Festival. He was also a 2011 semi-finalist in the Playwrights First Award sponsored by the National Arts Club of New York City and a finalist in the 5th Annual Play Tour sponsored by cARTel Collaborative Arts Los Angeles. His fiction, poetry, and essays have been published in Manchac, Intro 8, Two Thirds North, American Antheneum, Burlesque, EWR: Short Stories, and in the book Meanwhile Back at the Café Du Monde. He recently completed work on a memoir, Swimming Underwater, about growing up in Louisiana and framed by the story of the devastating effects of viral encephalitis on his daughter and of her triumph in achieving a normal life.