By Sabina Fickenwirth
Third Place, 2010 Fluency Factory Summer Fiction Competition
Bang. Bang. Bang. Ba-clunk.
“Ah– not again!”
Rubbing his thumb and muttering angrily.
“Just keep putting down those nails!” Alicia,
hollering from the kitchen, burning turkey.
“Are you burning the turkey again?” Roland,
hurrying to save the turkey. Tripping over Derek crouched on
the floor, sending dirty looks at the hammer.
“Why do we have to live in this old house,
anyway?” Derek, rubbing his bruised thumb. “Too many nails
popping up all over the place!” Indeed, many of the old floor
boards had nails protruding slyly.
Roland, picking himself up. “We live in an
old house because we live in an old house,” he said, trying not to
let his annoyance get the best of him and strangle his brother.
“Now keep working.”
“Why do I have to do this? Let Alicia do it!
She’s no good at anything else!”
“I heard that!” Alicia, from the kitchen.
Sounds of the fire extinguisher. Muffled yelling.
Roland sighed and trotted over to the kitchen,
rolling up the sleeves of his drab olive shirt. “Is it awfully
“Um…not really. Singed is more of a word I
Roland, trying to ward off the oncoming headache.
The turkey was more than burned. “How do I salvage this?”
“Don’t,” advised Derek from the living room,
banging down protruding nails. “Get take out.”
“How are the dumplings coming?”
“Terribly. Why don’t you do it? I
can’t cook worth my life.”
“So pretty awful life, eh, Alicia?”
“Shut up, Der.”
Alicia, wondering where she put the steak knife.
Roland, telling her she didn’t need a steak knife.
Derek, yelling that he was going to die of internal hemorrhaging if
he kept hitting his thumb with the hammer.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
“Do we have any peppermints? Chocolate?”
“Yes.” Roland said absently, tying an apron around
his waist and feeling like a housewife.
“In the–…nice try.”
Roland, scraping the worst of the burn off the turkey. “Make
yourself useful and light the candles.”
Derek, flinging the hammer aside. “Done!
Am I awesome or am I awesome?”
Roland, feeling his migraine coming on, and
hoping, hoping that just because Mum and Dad weren’t here
that this one Christmas wouldn’t go to the dogs.
Dumplings– so. Gravy–
needs more salt. Turkey…never mind.
Record player. Derek wanted music.
“Derek…that’s not Christmas music…”
“Be cool, Roland! This is my favorite band!”
Roland, running a hand through his blonde hair.
“No. Put on something nice.”
“DERRRR! RELATIVESSSSS!” Alicia, screaming
and running to answer the door.
Derek, quickly switching to more traditional
carols. Trying to get his spiky hair to lie flat.
Roland, hastily taking off the apron and wishing
Alicia could cook without setting anything on fire so that he didn’t
need to wear an apron. Knowing it was a ridiculous wish.
Alicia flung open the door.
A tall, darkly-colored man, next to him, a shorter
woman. Both of them in long overcoats, rubbing their hands and
breathing out long plumes of silvery breath that spiraled upwards
like columns of bygone days.
“Theo! Elizabeth!” She beamed at them.
“Come in! Derek’s fixing his hair and Roland’s trying to fix
the turkey. Which I burned.”
“Hasn’t he learned not to let you near the stove
yet?” the man, Theo, smiling.
“I am not fixing my hair!” a yell from the
indignant Derek by the record player.
Entering, with much stamping of boots and shaking
snow off jackets. “Are we early?”
“No, you’re relations.” Alicia, firmly.
Theo taking his wife’s coat for her graciously.
“I can’t believe you kids…all grown up and running the place while
your parents are away.”
Alicia, grinning; “Someone had to keep the annual
Christmas party up. Tradition an’ all!”
The bell went again just as soon as the two
newcomers sat down.
Derek went for it this time.
Paul, mumbling grouchily that he wouldn’t have
come, but blah de blah and Derek escorted the disgruntled cousin
into the living room, kicking the door closed with his foot.
By this time, Roland was juggling the dinner,
dusting, and dealing with Alicia nagging him about chocolate.
One man, however capable, can only do so much. He would never
have the desert ready at this rate.
Theo, playing the piano.
Paul, studiously ignoring Derek, who was rattling
at length on something or another.
Opening the door; an angry ice-blonde being
dragged along by a brunette with a permanently apologetic
expression. “I said, for the last time, Terence, I hate
Roland, and if Aunt and Uncle are away I do NOT WANT TO GO TO THIS
“Come along, Johann, Christmas is a time for
family!” Derek, cheerfully from the doorway.
“ALICIA! WHERE IS THE GRAVY?”
“Ah, my brother needs me. Sorry, Theo,
excuse me.” Strolling leisurely to the kitchen. Roland,
tearing at his usually immaculate hair.
“I think I put it in the microwave to heat it up…”
“Alicia.” Roland tried to breathe.
Failed. Tried again. “We. Do. Not. Have. A. Microwave.”
“Erm…we don’t? What’s that, then?”
“That, my dear sister, is a toaster oven.”
Roland, gritting his teeth, reminding himself that it was Christmas,
and fratricide on Christmas is generally frowned upon.
Theo; Beethoven’s fifth rising in majestic chords;
lost entirely in his piano playing.
Roland, searching fruitlessly for aspirin and the
chocolate (which he had a feeling that Alicia had got to) and
murmuring in distracted German to himself.
Elizabeth, trying to cheer Paul into a smile, and
eating chocolate cookies that Terence had brought and had said were
Derek, hiding under the bench in the dining room
until Alicia walked by and grabbing her foot, causing her to trip
and send an entire set of silverware flying.
Roland, of course, cleaned up the silverware, with
the well-meaning but somewhat mistaken help of Derek and Alicia.
When the table was finally set, one chair kept disappearing and
reappeared in the manner of the paper puzzles where in one
arrangement of the pieces there are twelve men and in another
Alicia hadn’t managed to ruin all the
Sauerkraut was brought out from the kitchen, and
Theo complimented Roland (through a mouthful of turkey) on being
able to get edible food out of a kitchen that Alicia had passed
After dinner, several pies were produced (quickly
demolished), Derek’s eyes grew heavier and heavier with tiredness,
but he refused to give in and go up to bed.
Alicia, offering around cinnamon candy canes.
There was never enough room in the old house, but
still, sleeping places were found, with some difficulty, for each
and every person.
Altogether, not as bad as it could have been,
though next year they were going to have to beg their parents not
to leave right before the huge and complicated affair.
Candles, burning low, sending flickering shadows,
like lost memories across the walls. Torn wrappers and empty
A whole big mess for Roland (who never found an
aspirin) to clean up in the morning.
Welcome to Christmas with the Edelsteins.