We’d just watched the fireworks. Same as last year. Mom, Dad, Michelle and the kids. And me. I was there, rubbery and bleary after a day with the old man.
It was after ten as Ally set the table. Schedules were like the wallpaper at my parents’ house. Layered and outdated. Mostly ignored.
“I’m not using this flimsy thing,” Dad grumbled, tossing the paper plate like a Frisbee. Ally froze. His hair was all over the place. His ears hung crookedly and his face was balled up in disgust. Confusion.
“What are we doing?”
“We’re eating dinner, remember, Dad?”
“I want tacos.”
“I made tacos, Frank.” My mother said. She sounded like a first grade teacher after a long field trip.
It was always tacos. Dad ate them for breakfast. As a kid I’d never seen him touch anything spicier than ketchup. Now he ripped jalapenos off the plant and plopped them in his mouth. Chewed them up and spit out the stem. Ally ran to the kitchen. Michelle shot me a look.
I shrugged. We did this every year. And every year we vowed not to stay overnight. Guilt held us captive. We always stayed. But two days there is torture. Our backs were twisted from the saggy mattress in the guest room. My old room.
Mom came out with a tray. “Okay, everyone at the table. Let’s eat.”
“I need a beer.”
Dad the teetotaler. Now he drank Coors Original in the mornings. We took our seats. Jackson fussed about the taco shells. He wanted a hamburger.
“The show seemed shorter this year. Seems like every year it gets smaller and smaller.”
My mom’s attempts at normalcy were medal worthy. Outside a bottle rocket screamed. Dad perked up, then loaded his plate with three shells. His back was hunched over and his shirt was unbuttoned to his belly. He scared the kids. Shouldn’t be like this. He was too young to scare the kids.
“Frank could you pass the taco sauce?”
Ally sat across from me, next to my mother. Her headband made her look prim and proper, angel like. I smiled at her and she stuck her tongue out at me. Maybe not so proper.
“So what did you ask Santa for Christmas?”
Another bottle rocket. Ally shot my father a look of horror. She didn’t understand. I tried to explain but she just thought it was weird.
Mom cleared her throat. “Frank it’s the Fourth of July, not Christmas.”
“It’s Christmas somewhere,” he grumbled. Michelle did one of her yoga breaths. She took a bite of her taco. The shell split open. I’d owe her big for this.
Last night we’d stayed up talking. Maybe it was time for Dad to live somewhere else. For Mom to enjoy her golden years. Eat something besides tacos. Michelle thought she’d never go for it. I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. Dad sipped his beer.
When he belched Ally giggled. Mom scolded him. He was down to one taco, his mouth a smear of grease. It was both hilarious and tragic to watch the man who’d taught me how to ride a bike lose his shit while singing Jingle Bells at the dinner table on the Fourth of July.
When he finished every face at the table was equally horrified. Another whistle outside. Dad wiped his mouth and looked at me with an eyeful of clarity.
“Merry Christmas son.”
“Merry Christmas Pop.”