Chinese on Christmas

Today’s Christmas dinner is not like the previous years. Usually, it was lobster, some years it was also crab. but this year…

I hear them scuffing up the stairs and I see Matt’s silver hair spilling around the right edge of the window frame that borders the front door. The door opens. “Eeeeeeeeee”.

Matt’s bright teeth offer a smile more suspicious than usual. Danny, Matt’s brother who’s shorter in both height, brawn and looks, walks in bearing no smile.

From the kitchen, Wendy calls out: “What took you guys so long?”

Matt calls back–in his well-branded raspy drawl–”Well!..”, his head bobs, “we didn’t quite get it all.”

The hair on the back of Wendy’s neck sends lightning bolts across the room and I feel the tension in my stomach, the knots of white light, now turn to what feels like gray. I stand still, throw a glance towards Danny, now kneeling beside his nephew Zac who sits in the middle of the living room floor. All still, we observe husband and wife, in what looks likes a face-off.

“You didn’t get the lobsters?”

No answer.

“Hello…, did you get the lobsters?”

Danny, stands to move closer to his brother. And it’s the two women in the kitchen, the men at the front door and Zac with Max the dog sitting in the middle.
Frozen.
Silent.
Matt breaks the spell with his million dollar smile, the cheshire grin that pulls back the curls framing his face to reveal a widows peak fit for a pirate.

He announces his booty: “4 lobsters, and 2 crabs and …4…frogs”

“FROGS!”

“Frogs?”

“Yes…Frogs”

Chuckling at our disbelief, Matt saunters over to grab Wendy’s waist. Pulling her in close from behind, he explains how the frogs were seasonal…and a special delicacy according to the Chinaman at the fish market.

Danny inputs: “We got everything Chinatown had to offer.” Somewhere between proud and apology, he adds, “Well, not ‘zactly.  But Matt got 2 chickens for the snake. We already put em in the tank.”

Wendy interrupting.  “How are we gonna cook frogs?”

Matt swiftly volunteers Danny, who’s forearms are lumpy from his years of dialysis.

“Uncle D will handle it. Go ahead D, you clobber ‘em.”

Standing at the dining room table, Danny slowly unwraps the layers of white paper, as Zac’s 5 year-old eyes get bigger and bigger as as the frogs begin to reveal themselves with their yellow eyes peering back through the plastic bag. Danny’s feet start shifting, getting faster as he looks around for the next step of the job. He grabs the knife and the camphor cutting board.

The phone rings.  It’s Shawn, my boyfriend. He won’t be joining us ‘til maybe later. He’s going on a motorcycle ride.

In the kitchen, the water boils; we hear the rush through the pipes as matt showers.
The big deep black pot only used this once every year, salt added, is on the O’keefe & Merrit stovetop. Wendy gets ready lining up the crustaceans on the counter.

Back at the table, on the other side of the island, Danny holds the big butcher knife flat against the first frog, and he starts pressing into the frog, harder and harder into the camphor wood of the cutting board in what looks like an effort to suffocate them.
His feet move faster and faster.
As wendy sets the first lobster into the pot and then the second one in, she slides the rubber band off, freeing the red claws.
She puts the lid on.

As danny presses harder

his breathing and the boiling water, combine into a orchestral hum with the rattle of lobsters and I stand there taking in the sound of the rattle getting louder as I stir the butter in the small sauce pan and add parsley and a dash off salt. I notice the kitchen lights dimmed brighter.

While Danny pressing, and Zac…
Wendy lifting off the lid,
the lobster snaps
and we scream and
Danny gasps,
letting go of the frog
Zac now shrieking
his 5 years of full boyhood curiosity peaked by thrill that is now upstaged by the panic of two women screaming in the kitchen while Danny chases the the gigantic green bullfrog now jumping around the oak floor.

Matt comes out from the bathroom, freshly showered, naked, dangling, flipping back his silver locks, and seeing the frog on the floor–calls over Max the dog.

“Get ‘em, Max.”
and the foot high gray schnauzer scampers toward the frog that now lies still in the corner where the island meets the dining room wall, all green and bumpy against a white back drop of cabinetry. Max lunges tentatively towards the reptile, it’s yellow eyes staring back at the pup and praying for it’s life.
Our mini schnauzer bounces in excitement as the men and Zac gather around cheering on.

“Matt!!!”, Wendy hollers.

Instantly, our naked circus leader throws up his hands, kneels down beside the proud canine, and tucking Max under his left arm, reaches toward the bullfrog, whose green barrel chest expands with quick inhalations.

Matt picks it up: “All right, here go Danny. He’s yours now. Smack him on the head first.

Danny gets back in position with the captive frog and my back tenses as I hear a dull thud. I turn my face away from Danny , who’s now stretching the frog’s legs open in preparation for chopping them off.

From the corner of my eye, I see Matt sit down with a filet knife. Making the first incision, he pulls back the skin from each leg until it peels off.

Finally sitting down to dinner, the phone rings again. It’s shawn.  
“Anyone there eat squirrel?”

In my moment of hesitation, he begins to sell me…he’s found the most beautiful squirrel. It’s roadkill, was not him but the car ahead… “It’s gorgeous, the most beautiful silver coat.”

I make the offering to the family, and Matt’s smile declares his boyhood thrill and insistence to bring it over. He gets the knife and camphor board ready.

When Shawn arrives, we all huddle together on the front porch for the unveiling. And it’s true, this is the most beautiful squirrel I’ve ever seen. And the surprise for me is the reverence pouring through the softening bodies and open hearted stares of the men as Shawn holds in his outstretched hands this limp dead animal. Bright silver in the moonlight.

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