There’s nothing less than a relationship at stake, when one opens a package of LED white star lights on green wire from Target, and another opens an identical package, and both get frustrated trying to untangle the strings. One walks over to another, says, This is what we get for twenty dollars. Another says nothing, just holds up the lights in their massive knot, and to one, it looks like the lights are being weighed atop another’s palms, and one immediately regrets saying, This is what we get for twenty dollars, because another stays like that, weighing the mess, palms up, more depressed than the frustration of cheaping out on Christmas decor seems to warrant.
One is clumsy with another’s sadness. It’s always been this way. Another gets sad, of course not about whatever task is at hand, but about what can’t be tasked, how the couple’s child has missed out on childhood, how it’s been so different for the couple’s child, compared to one’s, and another’s, life as little kids. One says, It doesn’t matter, it’s more than we had last year. And, while true, is not a thing another wants to remember. Because remembering that these shitty blinking pentagrams will make the child happy, is to remember earlier Decembers, when the child was an infant, then a toddler, and to not have a good reason for why lights were never hung, then.
Of course, there were reasons. Just not explanations another can envision telling the child, when they are no longer a child, in the future. Another imagines the son, grown, looking at photographs, from this decade, and he asking, Why didn’t we have a tree that year? Or, Did I ask for birthday cake? And how another would mutter, The pandemic. But what about before? And how to explain to him about lead, or about sugar, or about the million other things one and another anxioused themselves about, and then got into the habit of not having.
One is not only clumsy with another’s sadness, but has bad balance, which is a bad thing to have when standing on a spinny old barstool hauled up from the basement, in order to reach the ceiling. One hears another say, as one is forging ahead, ripping open adhesive packaging, holding the glue to the wall, I don’t know how to be a person, anymore. And one believes this is something that can be immediately solved, so steps off the chair, as the backrest swivels into one’s perineum, which one calls a taint, saying, Fuck, my taint, after falling.
It’s not a bad fall, and it’s not too late at night, but one and another keep the floor lamp off, which was off in order to highlight the holiday glow. One lands near the plug, for the stars, and rips it out of the socket, and one and another sit in darkness, until another gets up and goes to bed. One brushes teeth, another doesn’t. One says, through spit and foam, Tomorrow we’ll try again. Another says nothing, but thinks, No. One scrubs each tooth, and decides to brush for a long time, in order to make up for another not brushing. One thinks, Why not practice hygiene, even if despairing? It doesn’t make any sense to one. One’s teeth are brushed too hard, and gums bleed.
Another doesn’t pretend to be asleep, but one assumes they are asleep, even though another never sleeps curled sideways. Another thinks, One knows this, right? If there was one thing one should know, out of anything, right now, it should be that I lie on my back when I’m really ready to go down. One reads a book, but keeps flipping backwards.
In the morning, the child wakes up before one, and another. The cord is a dangling invitation. The child lines up the prongs with the contact openings, and gasps when the polygons come to life, on the floor. Another hears the gasp, makes it out into the living room before one. Another is embracing the child on the floor, while one yawns a path down the hall. Another hugs the child, and says nothing. One makes coffee, and says, Tonight we’ll put them way up high. The child cries, and says, They need to be on the floor. Another says, I don’t want you tripping on them. The child gathers the bulbs into his arms, and says, I can’t, they belong here. Another looks at one, who refuses to look up from the carafe. One is putting an insane amount of effort into the French press. Another leaves the child on the floor. Quietly, to one, another says, Let’s bring this up during the eval. One asks, Can you write it down?
On the yellow legal pad, on the counter, another writes, Has a tendency to want to keep objects exactly where they were first found, example, LED white star lights. Then, further down, Reminder, Target refund. Then, because another has a pen in hand already, and because if another puts down the pen it’s not clear what will be picked up, but it won’t be good, another transcribes what the child says, in real time, which is, We can have night time all the time, that’s why I say that, before. One says, Brush your teeth, it’s morning.
While the child brushes, another doesn’t. Another holds the pen, and writes something illegible, then crosses it out. Then writes something different on top of the redaction, and crosses that out, too.
THOMAS MIXON has poetry and fiction in Lover’s Eye Press, Grim & Gilded, At Length, The Broadkill Review, and elsewhere.