Vera rummaged in the wood crate overflowing with fluffy moss she and her brother had collected that morning in the pine woods behind her parents’ riverside home. The moss’s cool softness dampened her fingers. After careful inspection, she found a wide patch of greenery to cover the refuge of stacked pebbles and slate roof she had assembled on the fireplace mantle. The refuge, in reverence referred to as the Holy Cave by her mother, would shelter the clay figure of Baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by Mary, Joseph and the cows. Through the moss an oak seedling thrust upward, lending a realistic touch to the miniature world Vera had created. She stepped back to evaluate the effect of the green Nativity scene growing over the smooth white marble of the fireplace, the hills where the shepherd with the dusty pink beret still insisted on playing the half-missing recorder, his brown-painted trousers showing more chips than trousers. From an original herd of twenty-faithful surrounding the shepherd, three sheep now listened, miraculous survivors of years of dives onto the tilled kitchen floor after slipping from rabanada-greasy little fingers. Strangely, it still seemed that nothing had been added, nothing taken, in this nativity scene. As if no time had passed.
“Christmas isn’t Christmas without the laughter and commotion of children,” Mother said, her eyes anchored on the bowl where baguette slices drowned in a mixture of sugar and Port before the final splash into the deep fryer. “Children bring joy to the world,” she added.
“Not at all. It’s headaches they bring. The parents I know act as if they can’t wait for their children to grow up and leave. Many don’t even pay attention to the children now, skypeing, texting or tweeting on the phone while their kid throws a tantrum.” Vera spoke in a loud, dry tone. Her father, in the rocking chair, lowered the newspaper and peered at them over his reading glasses; her brother, standing next to her, stopped unwrapping a Wise Man riding a camel and cleared his throat. She regretted her barbed pitch.
“I know you think we didn’t do a proper job of raising you,” Mother said, fetching additional cinnamon from the lower cupboard.
Vera bit her tongue and focused on placing the last patch of moss on the floor of the refuge in order for her brother to complete the Holy Cave scene.
“I didn’t say that. But it’s the 21st century and women can choose whether to have kids or not. And from what I see, a lot of people should choose not to.” Vera strove for melody in her words while stacking another hill of flat river stones for the castle to stand upon.
“Delfim loves children,” Mother said dryly.
“Enough to quit his job in the see-saw of the sky and dedicate himself to raising them?” She lifted her eyebrows with sarcastic inflection.
“We could look after the children. And now that we are retired, we would like a little distraction. It’s been terribly empty since you kids left home.” Mother sighed, wiping her hands on her apron, then continued, “I’m so sorry I told you that I couldn’t wait for you to leave the house. But it was so long ago.”
“I’m not having children in order for you to raise them.”
“Alright, alright then.” Mother turned the propane setting on the stove top higher and the oil sizzled, spraying over the rim of the deep fryer. “Ouch,” she said theatrically, licking the top of her hand to cool the stinging.
Tomé hummed an upbeat version of “Oh Holy Night” to remind everyone of the spirit of the season. The sizzling rabanadas perspired their cinnamon, perfuming every pore of the kitchen. This sweet and pungent scent of oil penetrated their clothes and skin and transported them to an exotic land of spices and colour; it mitigated the fustigating rain on the window panes, punctuated by the occasional thunder.
“When are we going to see grandchildren in this family? It isn’t something you leave for retirement,” Father insisted in a sharp tone from behind the newspaper, this time without bothering to surface for eye contact.
“Well Father, perhaps kids arrive the day they trust their grandfather will begin to pay attention to what they are actually saying, no?” Flustered, Vera picked up the empty wood crate and slammed it against the tile floor. Pivoting on her heels, she prepared to exit the kitchen, perhaps even the house once more in the middle of another Christmas, when she inadvertently elbowed Tomé and sent the Baby Jesus in his hand flying.
In horror, the four stared at the swift ascension of the clay figure before its even swifter descent to the tile floor where it crashed with a loud snap. Before their eyes, Baby Jesus bounced in a trinity of separate parts, severed at the head and waist.
They stood motionless, the sizzling of the oil interrupted by the occasional prolonged sigh of someone finding their breath again. Her father, steadying himself on his cane, rose from his seat in slow motion and shuffled to the base of the fireplace. He struggled to lower himself to his knees and collected the dismembered Baby Jesus in the tender weave of his fingers.
He evaluated the unexpected scene on his hand. Baby Jesus’ face appeared unperturbed.
“Nothing crazy glue can’t fix these days.” He raised his head and smiled, to the relief of the family.
from: The Green and Purple Skin of the World, Freehand Books 2013