At the sagging table of the two-turkey dinner of ’92, Ahmed Collins heard his Aunt Nura say something that changed his life. Ahmed (Meddy) heard Nura say, in a stage whisper, out the corner of her mulberry mouth, which was shielded by a theatrical hand with rings upon every finger, “If women liked sex they’d do it with people they respect.” Ahmed remembers the statement provoked laughter among the adults but his memory of the laughter sounds uncannily like canned laughter for the sitcom Cheers (amiable, knowing, coerced) so he wonders.
Nura isn’t really an aunt: she had come to the dinner with Meddy’s Uncle Ginger.
Uncle Ginger is the one whose right arm got itself sheared clean off across pink-tinged bone by a stainless steel food-processing machine in a factory producing vegetarian chili. Meddy remembers feeling weird (at the age of nine) about the notion that the arm Uncle Ginger used to use to pretend to lose-at-arm-wrestling-against-Meddy was gone. Relatives under a certain age claimed it was buried in an arm-shaped coffin while relatives over a certain age insinuated chili and Meddy had not nearly the balls, dropped or not, to ask his Nana Bubbi which.
He felt weird.
As though it was the arm, as distinctly separate from Ginger, that had always been playful with and kind to and respectful of Meddy. Now the arm was gone so who was this entity no longer supporting the arm yet claiming the name the arm had once gone by?
The very next Xmas, when Meddy was ten, Nura showed up (the Lord working in mysterious ways) instead of the prayed-for LED roller blades or Radioshack computer one could assemble oneself, sort of creeping self-consciously across the threshold.
Yep, winked a relative.
Twenty six years later Uncle Ginger was richer by an undisclosed amount everyone had more or less guessed correctly he would get. Uncle Ginger borrowed so much while waiting for the case to cash-out that he probably, suggested Meddy’s mother, walked away with less than half the lump sum before paying the last lawyer and tipping the cab driver home. Still. Contractors showed up at Ginger’s place the day after. They tore his back yard the fuck up in preparation for the L-shaped swimming pool Meddy cannot stop from visualizing as arm-shaped, breaking the frosted ground for a rush fee in the middle of winter. Ginger’s dream was to float in a heated pool in snowfall at midnight blasting Lyle Lovett while paddling languorous circles.
Meddy (M), 36, asked Nura, 48, to pass the gazpacho.
“Molded tofu duck and gazpacho,” cracked Aunt Nura. “All we need now is a free range Tiny Tim.”
“Tiny Tim is busy with the leather-bound collection of National Enquirers in the upstairs reading room,” retorted Meddy, before realizing the suggestive significance of mocking his crippled uncle to his crippled uncle’s attractive, much younger and receptively-amused lover’s face, “Scrooging a tough one down.”
“We are awful,” said Nura, for like the fifth time.
She was still what strangers called fetching when compared to all the other women assembled in the house that day. Both sides of M’s biological family were full of fully capable women (women who could pour cement for a garage foundation or file error-free state and federal income tax forms a month early using a dollar-shop calculator) whom no one from the increasingly illiterate dating pool seemed to care to mess with fucking. They looked too much like people. People are boring; why look at one? Nura had a touch of the unearthliness of the TV and Magazine races. Her trademark lipstick made her lips like something to chew and lick and suck very nicely off her vase-colored face to Lyle Lovett.
“We really are,” she reiterated, “awful.”
Everyone else was in the kitchen, in a graceless line for more dessert, or out on the back porch, overlooking the resentful backyard, hatching plots and telling tales of plots long hatched and stymied. The electric lights in the dining room had been snuffed by M’s mother on the way to the kitchen with her LED-festooned walker. The penis is a marvel of disinterested engineering; it is the only human organ with key features which appear to have been named by adolescent boys, the Roman tourist board and a creative ghetto mother, respectively: the meatus, corpora cavernosa and urethra.
M leaned in.
There was a high shelf to the right upon which burned seven red evenly-spaced candles, the first of which was positioned at the mouth of an inch-ajar, porthole-shaped, window through which moonlight got raked by the flurries-agitated branches of a Douglas pine. M noticed that the line of flames ascended in height, from the shortest, two inches tall, nearest the window, to the tallest, which had barely burned down an inch, through a straight line at a man-made-looking 45-degrees. Though it had only been shaped by natural forces.
M’s mouth hung.
“Hm?” said Nura. She pulled his head to the pulse of her bosom.
Ahmed, at bosom, looked down and saw the flames reflected in the ruby depths of a cylinder of de-canned, gelatinized cranberries on a silver tray, on white tablecloth, in front of Nura’s barely-touched plate. The tiny flames appeared to be in the cranberries. He saw that they were as torches held aloft by a procession of hooded marchers ascending into the glory of the darkness of a high mountain pass with business beyond understanding.
Cousin Edna came in the room with a mistletoe sprig and saw Ahmed’s head on Nura’s bosom and cleared her throat and pointed at the candles exclaiming sadly Inverse square of oxygen distribution through a demand channel of evenly distributed dependents.
Uncle Ginger had a brand new state of the art right arm that would never die, had cost as much as a late model Subaru and could punch through cinder blocks. He came very slowly down the stairs from the second floor bathroom clutching a burning roll of National Enquirers like some kind of alpine tradition.