"Gloria," someone whispered, and took me by the shoulders and turned me around. It was Aldo Ray. "I'm Sasha. I just wanted to introduce myself."
I said, "It's nice to meet you. I already know who you are. Cake was telling me. About the night you stayed over? The honking and snoring. Not that shethought you were, by any means."
DAD FOUND ME IN THE DINING ROOM, on one of the spindle-backed chairs at the banquet table. Before me were ice buckets, and the girls' new pairs of tongs, many kinds of liquor, glasses, and drinks paraphernalia.
"I did a terrible thing," I said.
My dad said, "I heard."
"Oh my God, no. He's telling people?"
"No, I overheard," said my dad.
He sat across the table from me. He said, "I finally found a remedy for that jumpy stomach of yours. It's a tumbler of gin. You get into bed, you're half lying down, you gulp the whole glass, you're cured."
"No, Dad, that's being unconscious. It's not a remedy for anything."
"It works, little lady. I ought to know."
"Of course it works! You're passed out!" I said. "You're in a coma!"
After a bit, he said, "One evening, I remember coming home from work. You must have been in your room upstairs. A banana peel shot straight out your window and landed on the roof."
"Those were the days," I said.
"Well, it took me all next morning to get it down. Assembling the ladder, crawling out on those old shingles. Some of them loose."
I said, "Dad, you choose now to reprimand me?"
"No. I'm saying, Gloria! There's a point at which your kids aren't who they were anymore. They aren't even kids. They're over there, a couple of people."
IT WAS CAMMIE WHO JOINED US AND warned that we were abandoning too many traditions. She said, "This is why tribes die."
"Which traditions?" asked my dad. "Cultural? Religious ones? Our family?"
"Those're they," Cammie said.
Cake was there also. She said, "You're going to have to be more specific."
"Okay, Easter dinner. It used to be a ham covered with pineapple rings and cloves," said Cammie.
"Even if I didn't think this idea dangerous," Cake said, "I wouldn't eat ham."
She said, "And you're not going to get me out caroling. Nor do I see myself wearing a hat in church."
"Not rules, you're thinking rules. More like customs. Like holly. Or breaking the wishbone on Thanksgiving," Cammie said.
"Spankings on my birthday," said Dad.
Cammie said, "Or how about quarters under my pillow? I just had this wisdom tooth yanked."
"You floated through that on Percodan. You weren't even there," said Cake.
"Cards," Cammie said. "I will buy you all gift boxes of greeting cards to send to me."
"I like jelly beans and Easter candy," my dad said. "Not marshmallow chicks. Nobody likes those, they're always stale. Though they look good."
"Hershey's a decent company," said Cake.
I said, "Maybe you're right about traditions. What I missed in Mexico was anything familiar."
"Live at Five,"Cake said. "Denny's."
My husband and his woman friend entered the room. My dad sought to distract me by starting a loud complaint about the wine in my glass. He said, "Gloria, honey, stop! I tasted that wine you're drinking. It's gone bad. And besides that, the girls say it's all full of sulphitates. You better excuse yourself immediately. Take a word of advice and go heave."
"I'm fine," I said. "Let me finish."
I said, "You know, when you're a kid, how you want everything to move really fast. So you can grow up, or get to change classrooms, or you want to have more gears on your bike. Plus, the bad things. You chip a tooth, or the way the UPS man ran over Pumpkin."
Cammie looked deep into me. She said, "You were a piece of wood when that guy killed Pumpkin."
"No, no, that's just what you saw. I was devastated," I said.
Now Cake was crying and writing our dead dog's name on a table napkin.
"Aw, little baby," my dad said to her, or to any of us, or to all.
He removed his war shoes and moved them along the carpeting and presented them to me. "Gloria," he said, "put these on."
He said, "I'm serious. Just try them."
"All right, I have to admit they're pretty good," I said.
He said, "I want each and every one of you to wear them."
The girls were nodding. Cammie said, "Me, next."
From Tell Me, published by Counterpoint. Copyright 2002 by Mary Robison.
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