From my Unpublished novel X-Mas

Chapter One

     Mom called me Thursday morning to tell me that Uncle Louie passed away the night before. The last time I saw Louie, Mt. St. Helens ash blew through the Rez. He told us to get our goats inside the barn as the the ash would burn the animals' eyes.
     I hung up the phone, not sure what I was thinking. Was I sad? Maybe. Was I surprised? Not really. Was I glad? Definitely not. As far as Louie's death was concerned, I didn't know what to feel.
     I did know one thing. As per Mom's request, I'd call Dad and tell him. But since I am a glutton for punishment, I decided to invite him up to Montana so he could pay his last respects.
     Louie and Dad were friends.
     I figured it was the right thing to do.

     The connection to Dad's sister's place crackled and buzzed, little bleeps and oscillating tweets covered his voice. I didn't know if he'd even hear me.
     "Dad! I've got some bad news!"
     "What is it my son."
     "Louie passed away! He died last night!"
     "Ohh." A pause. "That's too bad. Where was he?"
     "In Denver!"
     "Denver, huh? Not to far away from here, is it?"
     "Yeah! So anyways, I was wondering if you wanted to go to the funeral!"
     "The Funeral?"
     "In Denver?"
     "No! In Mission!"
     "In Montana, huh?"
     "Yeah! I'll fly you up! It's no problem!"
     "For how long?"
     "A few days!" I was beginning to feel like Gordon from Twin Peaks. Dad paused. For a few moments. "Dad?!"
     "Yes my son. I'll go."
     I filled him in on the details and told him when to meet us at the airport.
     I knew Mom wasn't going to like this and Jennifer felt uncomfortable around him. Anne and Gabriel wouldn't mind seeing him for awhile, and I thought Dad could see all his friends, let the Montana relatives know he was still alive and visit some of his old haunts.
     My family and I didn't have any thing planned for Christmas except for the annual present-opening thing. I know Jennifer will feel jealous that we aren't going to put him through the same trials and tribulations that we put her through when she visited in Montana during Thanksgiving break. She said she felt better as a person, but it's a hell of a way to gain permanent sobriety.
     I figure: It if works, it works.
     Still, going to the a funeral on the first day of Christmas break seemed like an omen. Usually, when Christmas season begins, I like the whole thing to be uneventful and stress-free. Kick back, drink alcohol-free eggnog, sing carols ad naseum, and watch the cartoon specials.
     I love Christmas.

     I hail from western Montana on the Flathead Indian Reservation, technically the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, but I attend art college at the Native American Art Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico and that is where I met Jennifer. Jennifer and I were friends up until Thanksgiving, when, after learning about my family's activities, she joined us and we decided to give a relationship with me a shot. It's one of those relationship out of duress situations. We like it so far, so we don't complain.
     Jennifer snoozed away, fully clothed minus socks and shoes, half curled up in my dark blankets and grasped the pillow in a slumbered tackle. I was cold all night. Her legs and arms twitched and she grunted.
     I opened the white vertical shades and I slapped her butt a few times. "C'mon! Wake up!"
     "Rrgg! No!" She rolled deeper, somehow, into the blankets.
     "C'mon. You can't sleep all the time."
     She rolled over and stretched her arms, her legs shaking. "Oh yeah?" she yawned, "how long did you sleep yesterday?"
     "Fourteen hours. C'mon! You can't sleep your life away!"
     She laughed. "Goddamn. It's early. I've had only five hours of sleep."
     "And you better get an A on that project. We worked hard on that."
     She yawned again and looked at the red digits next to the bed. "What the hell are you doing up so early?" She sat up and flexed her toes.
     "Mom called. My Uncle Louie passed away last night."
     "Oh wow. I'm sorry to hear that."
     "It's OK. I haven't seen him for awhile. The funeral's this weekend."
     "Hmm," Jennifer said, trying to take a shifted tie from her hair.
     "Anyway, I called Dad and he's going to fly up with us. Pay his last respects."
     Jennifer lowered her arms and crooked her neck. She gave me that look which there are no words to describe. It was a steady even look, like I had told her I was the smelly kid who used to pull her hair in first grade. "Your Dad." She squinted at me. "In Montana." She bit her bottom lip. "With your mother there."
     "I thought you said that they'd kill each other, or at least your mom would."
     "You're not the least bit worried."
     "No. It's a funeral. Killing another mourner is not very respectful."
     Jennifer slapped my back. "And you, drama king, I thought you had issues with your father. Doesn't this bother you at all?"
     "Yeah. But he behaves around us. It's the clean up I don't like. He's a nice guy to us kids. Besides, it's Christmas; can't kill people on Christmas."
     Jennifer squinted. "I see your gears clicking away." She pointed me. "You're up to something."
     I shrugged.
     She grabbed my brush off the shelf at the end of the bed and shook her head. "Anyway, I've got to go back to my room, air it out and change my clothes. My pants feel dirty."
     "If that's so, you've got it all over the bed."
     She put her socks on. "I had a dream about Gabriel."
     "Is that why your pants feel dirty?"
     Jennifer threw a pillow at me. I ducked successfully.
     "No," she said. "It was cool though." She covered her yawn with the back of her hand. "It was like he was a statue make of bricks and all these bricks were flying up at him, becoming part of him. Inside was all lava. He had his arms stretched out and his hair was down. The sky was black with rolling ash clouds and all around was fire on the ground. Sparks would fly off the spots where the bricks would hit the body." She eased the brush through her brown hair and over her shoulder. The strands fell to her stomach.
     "It's like that big Christ statue in Rio De Janeiro, only it's not filled with lava. You should try painting that dream. Sounds like that'd be a cool painting."
     "Yeah," she said, staring off in to memory.
     There came a knock at the door. "Just a minute!" I said. "Jennifer! Stop dancing and get your clothes on!" I successfully missed the other pillow. Jennifer straightened herself up and gave me the OK sign.
     I opened the door. "Well speak of the Devil."
     The tall, lanky, black dressed Skin smiled. "Hey bro."
     "Gabriel!" Jennifer exclaimed.

     Gabriel and I joined Jennifer at her final final critique. She and I made a half-scale model of Darth Vader out of cardboard, wire, clay and paint. It was light and she carried it to the modular dorm by the admissions portable. I explained to Gabriel that this was the last class she needed to pass; she'd passed all her other classes, barely with C-minuses. Her grades had plummeted from events earlier this semester, but since we'd been back from Thanksgiving, I'd been helping improve her grades.
     The tan portable mirrored another with a wooden deck in between. I opened the heavy blue door and Jennifer said thanks. A few students shivered outside, warming themselves up with trembling cigarettes. I introduced Gabriel and he joined them for a smoke.
     I smiled; Jennifer looked green under the eyes and breathed like she had the wind knocked out of her. I touched her sleeve. "You OK?"
     She gulped and looked at me. "Feel sick."
     "A little."
     "It's just like drawing and history class. Just don't puke like the last one."
     "I'll try."
     I wanted to laugh, though it was mean; she'd been getting ill every critique. Her one afternoon critique was okay; 2-D design didn't have to suffer her vomiting in the class trash bin. "I'm going to see if we can sit in."
     The instructor, Maxx Stevens, Native American and chemically blonde, sat with several students at a table, talking stuff about the situation of the school. She laughed and then looked up to me. "Hey, you're not in this class. What's up?"
     "I was wondering if my brother and I could sit in?"
     "No. This is final critique and I don't want you two to bother the class."
     "Well," I thought, quickly, "he's a prospective student. I'm showing him around."
     "Is he? Well, okay, but sit in the corner and don't say a word. How much of Jennifer's project did you do?"
     Mighty presumptiuous, I thought. "Not much. I helped hold stuff together while the glue dried, but that was about it."
     "Hmmp." The she said quietly, "She's lucky I didn't drop her from the class."
     "I'm proud of her."
     She snorted and said, "We're about to start." She told another student to tell everyone outside to come in.

     Jennifer's critique went smooth. Maxx asked about the structure underneath, the armerture and Jennifer answered without sparing a beat. Jennifer then went on about how she built up the arms and legs, how she sculpted the head, made the cape from starch and cloth and what anchored the feet to the base.
     Jennifer smiled and performed nicely; she built an impressive model and she knew everything she could to make it. She passed around photo's she used for the model and then some drawings of the armeture that was done in her distinctive style. By then end, she got thumbs up from everyone, an offer of purchase (a lousy one at that) and finally, her grade.
     I smiled at her when she grinned wide, and especially when Maxx applauded her for sticking with the class, working hard and finally putting most of everything she talked about into use.
     When class was over, Maxx wished everyone a Merry Christmas. Some students trashed their projects, others carried them back to the dorms and one left it in the building.
     My ton of fun walked silently in front of Gabriel and I, gulping in the winter air and staring straight ahead. She carried the sculpture around it's waist.
     We stopped an the north wing of Kennedy dorm, the girls side, and Jennifer handed me the statue. "Hold this." I did and she went to the trash bin, leaned over it, and added a gastral contribution to the garbage.

     After we left the Darth Sculpture in her room, we walked in the chilly overcast morning to the restaurant, chatting about the funeral and the happenings up yonder. All sort of relatives were coming out of the wilds.
     Sadly, Uncle Frannie took the death of Louie hard, crying and weeping uncontrollably. Gabriel said someone had to be with him all the time. Of my grandmother's eighteen natural children, there were now three left.
     "Man," Jennifer said, pulling me close and tightening her squeeze on my hand, "that sucks." She still looked a little green.
     Phillip, the mustached twenty-something waiter, sat us at a window table. We ordered three Country Morning Breakfasts (home-made biscuits with a sausage pattie and egg on top smothered in sausage gravy with a side order of hashbrowns) and a round of V-8's. "I've never tried it," Jennifer said. "He orders it all the time."
     "Cool," Gabriel said. "Are you guys packed?"
     "No," we said.
     "Jeez you guys."
     " I have too much stuff," Jennifer said. "I'm leaving most of it here."
     "I'm going to fill up my suitcases."
     "You are aware that the plane leaves at nine in the morning?"
     "Yeah," I said. "We'll be ready. We're both done with school now so were pretty much just hanging around."
     Gabriel nodded and stuck out his bottom lip. "Alright." He stirred his coffee. "Did Mom tell you how the weekend is going to shape up?"
     "Kinda'. His body isn't there yet, right?"
     "Yeah. Denver is sending it up. He'll be there Saturday morning. We're to take him some clothes and then after they make a memorial card, they'll move him to the long house. The wake will go all night, then Sunday, they take him to the church, priests do their thing, then we take him back to the Earth."
     "Sounds like a plan." I sipped my coffee.
     "Do you think I should go?" Jennifer asked. "I'm not family, in a sense, and I don't want to intrude."
     Gabriel smiled and shook his head. "You are family. You've slept with with one of our family members, and in the traditions of the old country, you're practically married."
     I looked over at Jennifer. "He said members . Since when have you been sleeping with members of my family?"
     "Well," Jennifer said, looking down, "remember when your Dad came to visit..."
     Gabriel bunched up his eyebrows. "You two haven't slept together?"
     "That's awfully personal, don't you think?" Jennifer said.
     "We sleep together, but no," I said, "we haven't done the..."
     Jennifer moved her right finger in and out of the circle made with her left hand and shook her head.
     "What the hell have you two been doing?"
     "Sorry to disappoint you Gabe, but Santa Fe's had a shortage of aspirin. There's no rush."
     "You're not cheating on each other, are you guys?"
     Jennifer and I looked at each other with wide eyes, then turned away shaking our heads. "Nah."
     Gabriel stared at us for several moments. "Odd," he said. "Strange and peculiar. Anyway," he said to Jennifer, "you are a part of the family, even if you haven't been playing hide the salami with my brother." Jennifer blushed.
     "Don't worry about it." I said. "There will be plenty of people there, many kids who never saw Louie in their lives. You'll be my guest."
     Jennifer squeezed my thigh, sending a tickle to my stomach and knee. "Can't you take me to the movies like everyone else?"
     "When's the feast?" I said.
     "After the burial."
     "Feast?" Jennifer said.
     "Yeah," I said. "The feast afterward. You know?"
     Gabriel and I looked at her. She shrugged and shook her head. "I guess. A feast for what?"
     "For the family and friends." Gabriel crooked an eye at her. "Kind of a celebration that everyone's gotten together and the dead going on to the rest of the family in the great beyond. Haven't you been to a funeral?"
     "A couple, but we never had a feast afterwards. The last one I went to, we went to JB's, had a hamburger, then Mom and I hung out."
     "That's weird," I said. "I've been to a several funerals and you always feast afterwards. They did it in 'Life goes on.'"
     "That's Ohio I guess," said Jennifer.

     A slicing chill cut passed our legs as we walked back to the campus, through an empty lot behind the natural foods supermarket. The clouds drifted low and lazy over the city, muffling the direct sunlight. The patches of snow clung to dormant clumps of sod and grass, circling the bases of standing weed shells and discarded bottles left by college students, homeless people or strangers passing through. Jennifer bounded sideways down the trail, stopped, waited for Gabriel and I to catch up, then took off again. He told me that Anne had noticed someone following her at the University of Montana. She hadn't been able to see him clearly, but he was there. She'd seen several times since, always leaving when she'd turn to face him. This started a few weeks ago, after Jennifer and I came back to New Mexico.
     "Well," I said, "just hope he doesn't start some shit. It's Christmas."
     Jennifer reached the small drainage ditch dividing the college property and the empty lot. Water coursed through it, about ankle deep, but over four feet across. Chunks of ice and snow flowed south, down toward an arroyo off the side of a street a quarter of a mile away.
     "C'mon, let's go!" Jennifer jumped in a sideways circle.
     "Jenn, no more coffee for you."
     She said, "Yeah!" with wide eyes and an open mouth grin. We walked up to the ditch bank. Long brown grass bowed on both sides to the water; young scrappy trees grew on both sides as well. I could smell the garbage tainting the water. I pointed to a narrow part just off to the side of the submerged trail. "We can cross there. That way we won't fall in."
     "Oh you wimp," Jennifer said. She stopped jumping and stood by me. "Just jump across right here."
     "You wacko. That the widest part and it's muddy." I saw several elongated shoe prints trailed into the water.
     "Bullfrogs. Just jump."
     "No thank you," I said. "I'll cross over here."
     "Me too. I paid too much for these shoes."
     I crossed and grab onto the small tree to strengthen my balance. Gabriel followed my example, and we both stood on top of the bank. "OK giselle. Leap."
     "You have no faith." She stepped back and leapt off her left leg. Her left foot landed on a gravel part of the bank, but her right fell on some mud. Her shoe slipped down and her toes when into the water. "Whoa," she said, falling on her hands.
     "See? Lucky, lucky, lucky."
     Jennifer pushed herself up, but her left foot slid off the gravel and to the side. Her other foot followed and Jennifer tried to catch herself, but her arms rolled off the angled bank and she rolled back first into the stream.
     Gabriel and I stared for several moments as Jennifer dunked under the water and rolled on her side to push herself up. The water poured over her, soaking her coat through, dowsing her pants and hair. She screamed like a B-movie. "COLD!!!" Gabriel helped her out of the stream and kept a hand on me to keep from falling in himself. The ditch didn't seem that deep.
     The only thing I could think to say was, "I told you so!"

     We rushed back into the dorm and to her room. By the time we closed the door, Jennifer couldn't hold onto her zipper. "I-I c-can't keep m-my han-nds still." I took off her coat and with Gabriel turned, peeled off her pants, parts of which were already frozen. "Get on the bed."
     "Should I put a note on the door?" Gabriel asked.
     "Can't stop shivering," Jennifer's fingers turned purple and her face a blue tint. She moved her arms so I could pull her shirt off. I wrapped the blankets around her and rubbed her shoulders, then reached around and unbuckled her bra with a squeeze of my hand. "You're t-taking advantage of me." She wrapped her arms over her chest.
     "Shah." I threw it on her other wet clothing and Gabriel turned to the Star Wars poster on the ceiling. "You're going through hypothermia."
     "I-I know. It's sucks." I grabbed the dorm issued heater and placed it on the desk across from Jennifer and set it on high. "I can't believe I f-fell in. I crossed it fine on the way there."
     "I told you. I told you."
     She reached from her blanket and punched me on the arm.

     Gabriel and I went back to my room so I could pack while Jennifer showered. I had two large suitcases, black and blue, and usually fill them up. For Thanksgiving, I filled one up, and it barely hit seventy pounds, the weight limit of airplane luggage. When I go home for Christmas, I fill them with my CD's, paints, small art projects, VCR and clothes. These and several carry-on bags I take.
     "You're as bad as a woman," Gabriel said.
     "Oh yeah, wha'd you bring?"
     "Just me and my good looks." Gabriel took some dirty clothes and papers off my desk chair. "Goddamn, the only place that's clear is your bed."
     I stepped over a pile of books at the base of my bed. "I know. I had to fire my maid."
     "And she's still dating you?" He gave me a sneaky grin.
     I opened my black case and took out the rolled up drawings. "Uh, Gabriel, I have to tell you something."
     "She's not pregnant, so whatever you have to tell me can't be that bad."
     "Well, Dad's coming with us."
     "You should have bopped her buns and knocked her up. Why in Hell is Dad coming with us?"
     "You invited him, didn't you? You bought him a ticket and you invited him up to Montana." Gabriel sat down and dropped his arms on his knees. "What in the GOP possessed you to invite Dad?"
     "Louie and Dad were friends. I thought he should say goodbye, and he's wanted to go back to Montana for awhile."
     "There's one thing you forgot to think about, when you bought the ticket."
     I bit my lower lip. I turned away and continued to fold and pack my clothes.
     I could see Gabriel crooking an eyebrow. "You had Mom on your mind when you did invite him. I thought at first..." He he made such an ironic laugh, it almost didn't happen. "You, in a way, are counting on Mom's reaction."
     "If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. I can't sit and wait for it and clean up the mess afterward. If Mom kills Dad, then it'll be a big load off my mind."
     "What about me and Anne? Have you thought about our reactions?"
     "Gabriel, you don't know Dad any better than you did ten years ago. Part of that is because he hasn't changed. I figure this'd be a big chance for Mom and Dad to finally clear the air."
     "You can't clear the air with gunsmoke. Besides, I'm trying to keep Mom from killing Ivy. I don't bring her around much. And she's not in as much trouble with Mom as Dad is."
     "If Mom doesn't do anything to Dad, more power to him and her. If she does, then it's better waiting or putting it off or not letting it happen at all. I just want it to be over."
     "If they fight while they're up there, it will be over. Mom's not the same since they last were in the same room together. And Mom's much more capable of killing Dad than she was even a year ago. Are you sure you know what you are doing?"
     "No. I'm not. I don't know if I'll chicken out at the last minute, or Mom will even give Dad the cold shoulder, or if anything will happen at all. All I know is is Dad and Louie were friends, and I thought it'd be good for Dad to say goodbye to the only other Little Money who liked him."
     "I think you're more affected by Louie's passing than Dad would be."
     "Every time I visit Dad, he asked he how Louie was doing. It was the same every time. 'I hear he's OK. I hear he's not doing so well. I don't know.' In my mind, Dad wanted to know how his friend and ex-brother-in-law was doing. I think he at least be allowed to say goodbye."
     "I don't feel like saying goodbye to either one. Dad's our dad, bro. Flesh and blood. Split right down the middle. Mom has a beef with Dad, fine, and so do you, but if you wanted to clear up this strife, then you should kill Dad and not let Mom do your work."
     "I can't. I couldn't. It's like with Jennifer at Thanksgiving. I don't want to do it."
     "It's funny you say that, considering what our cause is, despite how noble, and how much you like Exterminating, you can't kill the one's that matter the most. And this is out of character, even for you."
     "What's that mean?"
     "Jeopardizing Christmas. I know you bro, and you don't like anything getting in the way of your Christmas spirit."
     I shrugged. "I'm a coward."
     "No," Gabriel said, "you are afraid, but not a coward. You don't want to give up your hate. If you did those vile things to Dad and Jennifer, then you'd have to face what you're really feeling. If some else does it, then you can lose the weight without the work. It won't happen that way, bro."
     I tossed in my socks and underwear. I thought about the size of my trunk, and how in the heck would I get it in Jennifer's car, but then... "Did you get a rental?"
     "Caddy or what?"
     "Y'know," Gabriel said, "I think I know you pretty well, which then means I know how much you hurt because of Dad and alcohol. If you faced Dad with all this anger, whether you tell him or kill him, or even let Mom do it, you'll lose the heart of our cause. All that we do this because you started it. I'm not trying to talk you out of it, but trying to make you aware of it."
     I disconnected my VCR and set it between my pants and shirts. "I'm not looking forward to any of this weekend. I just want to celebrate Christmas, and not worry about Mom, Dad or the cause. But it's not that easy. Part of me wants this whole Dad issue taken care of, part of me doesn't. And another part just wants him to pay his last respects."
     "You're starting to sound like cement mix."
     "The damage is already done," I said. "I bought the ticket already, and Dad is coming. We'll just see what happens."
     "Don't make a habit of this. Thanksgiving, it was Jennifer. Now it's Dad."
     "Worry not, my brother. I can't think of anyone else who I care for that compromises my beliefs."
     "Good," Gabriel said, "We're also running out of holidays."

     Afterwards, we went back Jennifer's room. On the way, I grabbed a cup of coffee and some cookies from the Residential Assistant's office.
     "So you guys aren't having sex, huh?" Gabriel snickered and shook his head.
     "Why? Is that hard to believe?"
     "Bro, it's the nineties."
     He was right. It's not usual to hear couples pounding the walls, moaning and groaning and giving details that we, as persons walking by, didn't want to know. How many babies were created here in this dorm? I am a NAAI baby. My parents met here in the early seventies. Not this dorm per se, but they were in school.
     I didn't think it was strange that Jennifer and I never thought to get it on. We, or at least I, never thought about it. Everyone else thinks it's strange. I do admit, she is sexy. But now that everyone mentions it, is she not enough sexy that I don't get turned on? And, why should I?
     I knocked on her door. "Who is it?"
     "Come on in."
     Gabriel and I opened the door and saw Jennifer turned away from us in her thin white underwear. She was putting on a matching bra. "Yikes!" Gabriel and I said. We slammed the door shut.
     We stood in the hall for several moments. "Have you ever seen her do that?" he asked, not turning to me.
     "No, not yet."
     "She's lost a lot of weight. I didn't see any cottage cheese."
     "I guess."
     Jennifer opened the door, hiding herself behind the edge. "Where'd you go? Come in."
     "Are you sure?"
     "Yeah," she laughed. "I'm just getting dressed. It's not like you haven't seen it before."
     "Last time I did, I was hauling your ass out of the snow. And when you were topless in Montana, he was sleeping."
     Gabriel snapped his head to me, then at Jennifer. "You were topless and I was asleep? Argg, the cruel humanity!"
     "Regardless, I have faith in you two not to do anything weird."
     "Like what?" I said. "Counting backwards in Swahili while hanging rubberbands from our nostrils?"
     "Besides," Gabriel said, "this always the part in bad pornos where sex ensues. I ain't too keen on threesomes."
     "Don't worry. I'm out of Vaseline."
     "What kind of pornos do you watch?"
     She pulled us in. Gabriel sat down and tried to decipher the Japanese credits to one of the Star Wars posters on the ceiling. Jennifer shook her head.
     I gave her her cookies and coffee. "Ah, thank you."
     I sat on her bed and leaned against the wall, leaving my feet off the edge. "I packed one of my suitcases. It's full of clothes. I'm almost as bad as you are."
     "I don't pack a lot of stuff." She pulled up a pair of acid wash jeans, and buttoned it.
     "No, I mean my room's a mess and I didn't pack everything."
     "Oh." She laid on the bed with me, leaned back on my chest and put her feet up. Her damp hair smelled of Head and Shoulder's shampoo and her skin like Dove soap. "Where's room service when you need it." She dropped crumbs on her cleavage, and wiped it away the best she could. She sipped her coffee.
     She looked at Gabriel who still tried to figure out what all the Japanese words meant. "You don't have to be embarrassed, Gabriel. You see this sort of thing in Sear's catalogs."
     Gabriel snickered. "No thanks. I like having a sore neck."
     "So I'm not Stephanie Seymour, but still."
     "No, you're not. If you were, I'd still not look at you. There's something too psycho about looking at your brother's squeeze while she prances around in her underwear. Now if you were Pamela Lee..."
     "No thanks. I like having a brain."
     We laughed.
     Jennifer's hair soaked into my shirt. Her heat traveled through my skin. "I still can't believe you fell in."
     She giggled. "I can't either. I'll probably get a cold." Jennifer ate the rest of her cookie and sipped her coffee. "Adam made this," she said.
     "He's the only one who can make gamy coffee."
     Gabriel tired, rubbed his neck, rolled his head around twice, then went the other way, stopped and faced Jennifer's cluttered dresser. He looked at all the knickknacks, then picked up a round object. "Jennifer, what's this?"
     She nearly flew off the bed and snatched it away from his hand. "That's Renee's eye. I took it from Nigel."
     Gabriel put his hands behind his back. I could see part of him want to run to the bathroom and wash his hand. "Sorry. I didn't mean to... you know."
     "I don't want anyone touching it. It's the last thing I have of her." She placed it back on the purple velvet material where she had a gold pen and picture of the rambunctious three year old. "I took this from Nigel." She handed the pen to Gabriel. "A memento of my first murder. Expensive really."
     I said, "Extermination, Jenn. Extermination."
     "Whatever," she said.
     "You people..."
     Gabriel held it in his hand. "Nice balance."
     "I loaned it to Sarah, the ASG president. She said writing with it was orgasmic." I looked at Gabriel and this time he stared at Jennifer's bust. "What?"
     "That's a honey of a scar. Your heart, right?"
     Jennifer looked down. "Yeah." With the capped pen, she traced down the rosy line into her bra. "It's still really apparent. Like your scars."
     "I can't brag as easily as you can. You have heart surgery. I have shotgun blast."
     "True. I didn't think of that."
     "So," I said, "what's next?"

     Gabriel took Jennifer over to Jewel Osco supermarket to get some snacks and feminine supplies. So while they did that, I called Mom. I told her about Dad and she was less than excited.
     "Why in the GOP did you do that for?"
     "Dad and Louie were friends. I figured he should be able to say goodbye."
     "Bullfrogs. You're dad is no more affected by Louie's death than Minnie Pearl's. I know your dad. He's in trouble."
     "He didn't mention any."
     "Trust me. I know he is. I felt a tremor in the Force."
     "Well, he'll be arriving with us tomorrow afternoon."
     "That wasn't very smart. You know how your dad and I get. Or could. I've got better weapons than a frying pan."
     "I know. I just, I think...he needs to get out New Mexico. He's just so unhappy down here."
     "That's his own choosing. He made that decision a long time ago, and that's where he is. If it's any one's fault, it's his own. You can't expect to save him because that's what he wants. He can't do it himself because in order to attain the glamorous success as a world famous artist, he's going to have to stop drinking and change his views and clothes. If he comes up here, he may not get a chance to do that."
     She was right. "Well, yeah, that's true. I just thought it'd be good for him to say good-bye. Louie was the only one who understood Dad because he was Navajo."
     "And also because they could drink together. If your dad realizes that Louie died because of drinking, maybe it'll scare him into thinking about his life."
     "Or sobering up."
     "Don't expect miracles, even it if is Christmas. Your dad doesn't learn lessons very well. And if you are the one who's bringing him here, you better keep him out of my way. It's been a long time since we last talked and it was at 10 decibels. I don't think I'll be able to control my anger with him. So what I'm saying, he's your responsibility."
     "Please, write this down, tattoo it on your hand if you have to: No more surprises."

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1996-98 Sam "Twain" Sandoval.
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