There must have been an angel (Bodhisattva?) on my shoulder as I set out from home this year, because somehow in spite of all the snow and snarled air traffic my flight from Chicago to Maine was a mere forty minutes behind schedule. And thanks to the miracle of Xanax, even impressive turbulence over Ohio didn't stop me from knitting briskly on a new, slimmer-fit green sock.
Maine immediately began to have its usual, soporific effect on me. The minute I smell the pine trees, my blood pressure drops and my eyelids clang shut. I barely made it through dinner before slinking off to my bed, which is in the barn.
It's not like it sounds. I'm not sleeping in a pile of hay with an ox and ass breathing on me for warmth. I've been made quite comfortable in the office, which was carved out of one corner of the barn. It's snug and quiet and offers every comfort. Susan even hung a picture of Buddha next to the bed so I'd feel encouraged to do zazen. What a good egg.
That first night, I woke up to find that the rain had stopped for a little while. The moon was shining through the latticed windows, and there wasn't a sound except a little rustling of tree branches. I adjusted my pillows and remembered lying awake like that before so many Christmasses, wondering if I might see reindeer sailing past the stars.
And then somebody threw a rock at the window.
I froze. In the next room, the three dogs began barking and howling. Footsteps came pounding down the stairs. I met, Phil, my brother-in-law, flashlight in hand, in the kitchen.
"There's somebody in the backyard," he hissed, opening the back door. The dogs charged forth. There was a piercing shriek, a cry of "Shit! Get off me, you motherfuckers!" and the sound of ripping fabric. Then a series of thwacks, and suddenly the whining dogs came running back inside as a shadowy figure tapped up the porch steps.
"Well," said Dolores, "that was some diplomatic goddamned welcome to Maine from an official representative of the state."
And she hit Phil in the shins with her umbrella.
"What the hell are you doing here?" I said. "You're supposed to be in Chicago until Christmas Day, and then you're supposed to be in Canada with Victorine."
"I have a swell idea. Maybe we could play 'Firing Line' after I get out of what's left of my raincoat," she huffed. "And I wouldn't mind a drink, either, unless you'd rather let those vicious beasts finish me off."
She pulled her leg away from Milton, the dachsund, who was amicably licking her right hoof.
Meanwhile, my sister had come warily down the stairs. "Everything okay?" she called.
"Sort of," said Phil.
"Is that the little mother?" squealed Dolores. "Is that her? Come here, honey! Let me see you!"
Susan stepped forward gingerly. Dolores kissed her on the cheek and then addressed her stomach. "HELLOOOOOOOO, BABY! CAN YOU HEAR ME IN THERE? IT'S AUNTIE DOLORES! DADDY TRIED TO FEED ME TO THE DOGS BUT I WAS DETERMINED TO BE HERE FOR YOU EVEN THOUGH IT MEANT SUFFERING MINOR FLESH WOUNDS! DON'T WORRY, I'LL HEAL EVENTUALLY! AND WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE THE DARLING LITTLE MARTINI SHAKER I BOUGHT YOU AT TIFFANY! HELLO! HELLO!"
Susan clutched her bathrobe shut and ran back up the stairs.
"I repeat," I said, "What are you doing here?"
"Well, you know how Victorine is," said Dolores. "About as reliable as Mark Foley at an Altar Boy Jamboree. I was all set to go up there and then she called and said not to come because she's going to Winnipeg to hang out with some ram she met over the Internet two weeks ago."
"And Harry," I said. "Where's Harry? How is he going to get back and forth to the theater?"
"I know that," she snapped. "I took care of it. Half the sock yarn went to Aidan's, the other half went to Meg and Jonathan's, and Harry is staying with Mrs. Teitelbaum in 1507."
"Mrs. Teitelbaum? You left Harry with Mrs. Teitelbaum and her cat?"
"Yeah," said Dolores, dropping into a chair and tossing her soggy hat on the table. "It's so cute. By the time I left they had already made friends. They must have been playing hide-and-seek, because Tinkles was trying to drag Harry out from under the sofa."
"I have a question," said Phil. "Why didn't you just come to the front door and ring the bell?"
"I didn't want to wake up the whole house," said Dolores. "I thought that would be rude. Kind of like turning one's dogs on a visitor and then not fixing her a nice cosmo by way of saying you're sorry."
"I'll get right on that," said Phil, going upstairs.
"You know," I sighed. "You might have called and told me you were coming."
"I thought about it," she said. "But then I decided I'd rather be a great, big holiday surprise."
"You've succeeded with flying colors."
"Monsieur is too kind. Merry Christmas, Cupcake."