>>> The Lady's Shave
By staff writer NG Hatfield
December 2, 2007

I admit it. I was drunk before the family Christmas Eve party. I had six cups of homemade wine with my father and sister, Ashley, and before that, two shots of stolen whiskey from my father’s liquor cabinet.

“Boy, you look out of your head,” my father said, sipping parentally on his second cup of wine—alcohol he had proudly received as a Christmas gift from his friend Junior. He hardly ever smiled but a slight smirk rose up in his cheeks. I attributed it to the wine, but come to think of it, we were enjoying the Christmas season.

I lit a cigarette in the kitchen to keep my mind off my bubbling stomach and heard my mother call out from her bathroom, “Who the hell is smoking in the house?”

It was a physical impossibility that she had smelled the smoke—a longtime smoker herself—but I figured she had heard the few abrasive snaps it took to get my lighter going. I said, “Nobody,” and took a long drag.

“The patio started spinning as I thought of touching her fat-laden, sweaty body.”

My sister was closer to my mother’s bathroom and yelled, “I bet you can guess who‘s smoking!” She smirked across the counter at me and waited for a response. She got none and then answered herself with, “A disrespectful bastard, that’s who!”

Even after twenty years of being on this earth together—aside from the ten months that I had been alive before her—she still got enjoyment out of not only causing me strife, but also out of being the only child who could cuss around my parents and not be dubbed “a disrespectful bastard.”

Hunter was in the kitchen then and fidgeting with his tie; we had been at St. Patrick’s before the wine and all of us were dressed up, the men in navy blue sport coats and matching ties, and my mother and sister in their respective business suits. “I thought you were going to quit that sh– stuff,” Hunter said, then looked fearfully at my father, who hadn’t caught the near swear.

“I thought I told you to stop giving me shit about it,” I said, and smashed the loose end of the cigarette into my wine glass.

“Can we just have a pleasant Christmas for Christ sake?” my father asked. All the siblings nodded. He wasn’t much for getting along at other times; he generally ignored fights in the summer, for instance. But during Christmas, we were obliged to be nice or shut the hell up.

So, the kitchen went silent for awhile. All that was heard was the sizzling hum from my mother’s hairspray can across the house. We were always late for her hair, and my father—a punctual man since birth—was already impatient.

Mom finally appeared from the bathroom with a new coat of lipstick and her hair looking quite like it did during church. She asked, “How do I look?”

Hunter said, “Great!” and we all muttered our agreement.

The Christmas Eve party was a family staple during the holiday season. All relatives made dishes—ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, various salads, etc—and set them on my grandmother’s long and particularly gaudy redwood table so that the feast could begin. I was usually first to eat, but this year I had been in a bathroom washing my face so that I would stay conscious. If I had been caught drunk, my grandfather would have given me lecture #45822 or #34996-C, as he called them, about the perils of drinking. I just didn’t have the patience for it. Especially being drunk.

I had a small plate of yams, bread and turkey, and kept my head down to the thick blue-glass plate as the family discussed their dealings from the last year. I wasn’t asked what I had been doing, and I enjoyed the privacy.

After eating, the men headed from the kitchen to the basement to watch football or a gangster movie and talk about their jobs and golf. The women sat in the family room and discussed babies and gossiped. The children—a mob of eleven pre-teens ranging from my Hunter’s age of eight down to two or three—rumbled through the house and begged my aunts and uncles for their Christmas presents. A family friend, Karl, who wasn’t my friend but was my boss, dressed up like Santa and handed out cheap gifts to the kids. He was much too skinny to be Santa and didn’t even wear a mustache, but I thought that his get-up was really for comedic purposes.

Because I was of their generation, it was thought, apparently, to get something for me. So, Karl approached me, the stereotypical beard dangling off his face like a shoddy bush of cotton swabs, and asked, “Have you been good this year?”

I said no and took a cigarette out of my pack and placed it behind my ear.

“Well at least you’re honest,” he said, “and I guess that counts for something!”

He handed me a yellow and black flashlight and bent in to whisper, “In case you need to find that girl’s panties when your room is dark.”

Karl usually wasn’t a dirty old man. In fact, he was my grandfather’s best friend and they went to church with their wives on a daily basis. His perversion scared me a little, and I wondered if I was being tested. Also, that he mentioned “that girl” meant he was being specific; he was referring to my current girlfriend and that upset me. I then thought that the strangest stuff only happened to me when I was drunk or high.

“Oh,” I said, “well…I don’t do…that.”

He laughed, “Of course you don’t, my boy. Of course you don’t.”

I felt strangely relieved and said, “Merry Christmas to each and every all of us,” and headed outside for a smoke with my shitty flashlight.

Another three or four cigarettes later, it was midnight and I had regained stomach control and, more importantly I guess, near complete consciousness. Still, that didn’t deter me from smoking another cigarette on my grandparent’s patio. I lit one and drew in the sweet smoke a few times. The moon above shone through a thin layer of cloud and gave a circular gradient of pale yellowish-green. I enjoyed the sight and stood on a stoop of concrete blocks wondering if the forecasted snow was coming or not. I thought about the benefits and negatives of snow on Christmas until the patio door opened and my father and Karl stumbled out.

They weren’t smokers and it was cold, so I asked, “What are you two doing out here?”

“We need to talk to you,” my father said.

I hadn’t done anything wrong, besides drinking too much, and I knew my father hadn’t come outside to berate me for that. He drank enough in his day to understand my need to drink on, or better yet, for the holidays.

“What’s up?” I asked, and snuffed out the cigarette.

“You might want to sit down.”

I sat down on the stoop and became nervous. What needed talking about?

Karl finally spoke, “You know your Uncle John isn’t quite able to produce…”

“Children? Yeah, I know.” I had heard it in passing through the family room to the bathroom earlier that night. He and my particularly unattractive aunt, Lorrie, weren’t able to have kids. At the time, I was relieved; my Uncle John and his newlywed wife were the members of my family who disgusted me, and if they had kids, I had a feeling that they would disgust me too. It made me feel a little guilty, but they were both working menial jobs and both significantly overweight and littered by acne. Lorrie moreover, reminded me of a near-mentally challenged girl named Stephanie from my past. This girl was my age but used to visit my little brother—who was two or three—during the summer for what my mother lovingly called “play time with little Stephanie.” They would jump on the trampoline or play in his room and everything she touched I’d scrub until I broke into a thick, uncomfortable sweat. I don’t know why, but she sickened me more than anybody else had, and now, Lorrie was just a fatter, more mature manifestation of that feeling.

“Well, they asked all of the family,” my father paused, “if we knew of anybody that could provide the…semen…for a baby.”

I began to understand his need to talk to me but laughed a little at his awkward description.

“Can’t you do it?” I asked.

“No. You remember?” He pantomimed as though his guts were tied in knots. I then recalled that as a child I would tell random strangers that my father had his “tubes tied.” That past embarrassment, I figured, made it easier to just act the saying out for my benefit.

“Oh yeah,” I said, then sat for a moment and tried to think of other fertile men in the family. “What about Uncle Henry or Uncle Pat?”

“Henry can’t either,” he pointed to his stomach again, “and Pat isn’t in the family bloodline.”

“So, me.”

“Yes, you. They asked for you. They said you‘re the best looking, most intelligent guy in the family, and they wanted you.”

Compliments aside, I began to feel ill and then lit another cigarette. Karl, who had crossed his arms and was leaning against my grandfather’s hot tub, said, “They’d really appreciate it…and I think they’d paid you.”

“How much?” I asked, almost instantly after hearing the word “paid.”

“We don’t know,” my father said.

“Well, there seems to be a catch. Right? I mean, I can shoot off into a vile or something like that and that’s it?”

“No,” my father said, and strangely enough, asked me for a cigarette. I gave him one and watched him light it. “That’s not exactly how it’d go.”

I felt angry about his subtlety and finally just told him to tell me straight up what the hell they wanted.

“They want you to…directly…give it…to her.” My father realized that in his explanation he had a bit of an innuendo and smirked.

The patio started spinning as I thought of the process of touching her fat-laden, sweaty body; I began to feel more and more ill.

“They don’t have the money for the process and it would take only a few seconds.”

“A few fucking seconds?” I asked, “what do you take me for?”

And then, as I thought about the touching, I began to think of more—the insertion, the thrusting, and then, the not-so-inevitable finish—and the patio spun faster and faster. And as Karl came to pat my shoulder, I keeled over and vomited my Christmas meal up in a bright green soup—freely—upon the trashy red velvet.

The family was somehow notified of my violent display and then rushed out to the patio to my aid. My mother, my sister, Hunter, all the little cousins, my grandparents, Uncle John and his wife, all came as the vomit kept coming.

“Don’t think it’s food poisoning, do you?” I heard my Aunt Melissa ask somebody.

“No, no. I cooked everything all the way through,” my grandma said, and threw a baby blue wool blanket over my back. It reminded me of one of those maternity blankets and made me feel all the more ill. Another rush of vomit tensed my neck and I could taste a bitter hint of wine.

“That don’t smell like just food, Grandpa,” my sister said, and bent down to examine the puddle. It was all a performance; she had seen me drinking. “Looks like he had been drinking…maybe a little too much, huh?”

“Goddamnit,” I said, and looked up. My family was the type to take any hint of anger as proof of guilt. “No, that‘s not it,” I said, and looked to my father.

His eyes were pleading behind his glasses, “Keep quiet.”

“Well, yes.” I said, and bent over for another rush of wine-flavored puke.

The family grumbled in a collective sigh and filed their way back into the house. The party went on as I stayed outside cleaning up my vomit. The men inside continued to talk about golf, and the women, who check on me from time to time, resumed their conversation on babies.