|Death Of God
© Copyright 2002 by Dan Berkey
My father snowblowed the driveway and hammered in his shop while my mother cooked. I cleaned, watched TV and played in the snowbound backyard with Rig, my dog. It was unusually peaceful. For several days, I reveled. It was the time of year for me as it was for many people for rejoicing and being glad to be a child of god. Christmas.
Till the One, 1963, Excelsior, Minnesota when everything changed, I was almost a happy kid.
The kitchen bubbled and fumed, flour flung the air, sweets abounded, heavy pots clanged. By the morning of the day of Christmas Eve, the long kitchen table was crammed with racks of cooling loaves of Stollen, a traditional Nordic Christmas Bread, hundreds of many colored cookies, and bowls of steaming hamhocks, for ‘silta’, all ready for the grinder. The air was sweet. My father did the grinding at my mother’s bidding.
"He makes the greatest Silta!" she said. I hated it. A gray, gelatinous meat pudding. My father made it every year. I never ate it. He and my mother loved it.
At Christmas my mother moved into the kitchen. She even slept there, and everything temporarily changed. The Nutso hysterics that dominated the household year-round suddenly dwindled to minor tiffs.
My mother’s schizophrenic.
It was weird. "She probably wouldn’t go off if left to her cooking," I thought, but, my father and I operated under the assumption she might, at any moment, so we attended to the fear accordingly. She conducted the Christmas operation & we danced...to any tune; before the music hit...we danced for silence...like deranged marionettes on eggshells. We careened through the house with our supplies for cleaning, or repairs’, trying to accomplish whatever was needed, as quickly and quietly as possible. We spoke in whispers, if at all, and only when we passed each other outside, or in the basement, or upstairs, never in sight or ear-shot of the kitchen.
Culinary appliances clattered and clanked, intermingled with mutters, shrieks and maniacal laughs that made us nervous and kept us back, while the sumptuous odors drew us in. But we knew better. We stayed away.
There was always something to keep my father and I busy. Either the long, winding driveway needed to be cleared, or the roof or walk did, or the car needed attention, or a birdhouse needed fixing, or...something. My father made it his business to stay busy in the basement. He sang Norwegian Folk Tunes while he worked. I took over most of the cleaning...dusting, vacuuming, laundry, whatever.
We moved like two silent tornados around a threatening thundercloud. We did what we had to do to prevent the storm...to keep the silence on the plain...
"We were like two racing rodents in a drought!" I thought, "and that made me laugh.
We gathered quietly at the door of the kitchen every evening, at 5:30, to be handed our dinners. Mom ate in the kitchen. She came up with the most bizarre looking plates of food. We could never tell what they were, meat or vegetable or...whatever? It was anyone’s guess. I remember being seriously suspicious till I tasted the food. It was always so delicious, I forgot about my suspicions and gobbled it up. My father never flinched. He swilled.
I got bad gas. He never did. That made me angry.
The last two days before Christmas ticked laboriously as the odorous hubbub rose steadily. We scurried, watched and worked till the early afternoon of the day of Christmas Eve when the clamor reached its zenith in a riot of shrieks, smells and knocks. Wherever we were and whatever we were doing, we just stopped and waited till the cacophony ended, stark as a jackhammer jamming.
I jumped. My father rumbled.
"Thank the Lord!" we muttered together like two lone survivors in a foxhole after a terrible firefight, "The cooking’s done!"
We sat awhile, breathing like Dolphins in the thick palpable stillness you could taste. The sudden silence in the house was luscious.
My mother quickly retired upstairs. We heard her shuffle up the steps. She padded quietly around in her room, while we retired to the Dining Room where we sat in silence, waiting. We waited for hours. We didn’t mind.
We enjoyed the peace.
At about 5 o’clock, when the sun was down, and we had lighted all the candles in the room, she reappeared in a long, colorful, flower patterned dress. She sacheted in, a transformed woman. The perpetually twisted, shifting face was now serene. Her eyes were bright. Her voice was soft. She moved with grace and excitement. There was a quiet joy and expectation about her. It amazed us. She giggled and pranced about as she showed off her culinary creations ...hundreds of many colored, oddly shaped sugar cookies, sweet cakes, baked meats, including the ‘Silta’ my father helped to make, the 25 to 30 loaves of Stollen and the dozen or so fruitcakes, heavily doused with Whiskey and Rum. She was a very proud little girl.
We applauded. She curtsied. My father patted her lovingly on the head. I hugged her. She smiled.
We played Old Christmas Albums on the Hulking Stereo, and listened by the Fire in the Living Room, or my mother played the piano and sang in her high lilting voice. My father sang along. I jumped around the Living Room and clucked. We watched Christmas TV Specials, like The Andy Williams or Perry Como Shows till about 11:30 and laughed and nibbled cookies and had a very warm time...an Island of Calm on an Ocean of Chaos. It was real, though. In the dark with the music playing and the sumptuous odors and tastes intoxicating us, we were able to forget the chaos for a day.
Till the One.
Fresh Stollen slices, steaming from the warming pans, slavered with drawn butter, and a huge tureen of Spicy Oyster Stew with fish crackers bobbling, was the midnight meal, served in the Dining Room under the flickering lights of a dozen candles. A big Fire crackled and roared, unseen, in the Living Room Hearth. Christmas Carols from the stereo floated in on the Chestnut Roasted Airs. We were very solemn around the table. As the bowls of stew steamed at our elbows, my father began a reading from an Old Norwegian Text of the Nativity translated into English. We passed it around, reading a paragraph, each. When it was done, my Father lit the fifth white candle in the center of a round of candles mounted on an Advent Wreath he’d made three days earlier in his shop, and said a prayer. My mother said, "Amen."
We ate in silence.
Soon thereafter, I went to bed with wonderful lighthearted feelings of anticipation and joy. It felt odd to be so at ease, but nothing crashed into my consciousness to say "NO". Everything said, "YES". My father sat with me awhile, in the snow-felted silence. I knew he was as grateful as I, and just as amazed.
The tree was his chore. He set it up and decorated it overnight by himself. I don’t know what my mother did. She probably went to bed. The Stereo was off. Snow pattered the roof and scratched the windows. I heard my father clump through the doorway as He hauled the Tree in. I smelled the Tart Pine Needles, and smiled. I heard the scuffling of the branches on the door and the clanking of the heavy wrought iron mount being erected on the floor of the front room, and laughed. I saw it all. Inside my head. I watched the clumsy, determined man. He did it up, meticulously, from the base to the tip, which was topped, as the final touch, by four Antique Porcelain Angels, and the ‘Silver Star of the Child’ that his mother had made for him when he was a Boy...a ‘Star’ that "looked over us all", I was told, that "kept us out of harm’s way," I was told, that "gave us all our lives back" I was told. As I sleepily watched the steadily falling snows tuft on the Window and glisten by the distant lights of the Highway, I believed it somehow, that that very ‘Star’ was shimmering there, in that very Window watching over us all, at that very Moment.
I awoke in a gleeful State and bustled out of Bed. My feet tingled on the Cold Wood Floor. I hastily dressed and shuffled to my folk’s Room. It was just 7 o’clock, and they were still asleep. I stood at the foot of their bed. I heard their heavy breathing.
"Merry Christmas, Dad, Mom!" I chirped.
My father rumbled awake. "O, Hi, Dan! Merry Christmas!" My mother didn’t move. She muttered something. "Merry Christmas, Ginny!" My father said and kissed her on the cheek. "Don’t do that, Bob!!" She snapped in a voice that scared me. "Merry Christmas, Mom!" I chirped to cover the outburst while I moved to her side of the bed.
"Let’s go see the tree," my father said in a slightly cautious tone. He gently touched her shoulder. She shook him off.
"O, pooh! I want to sleep!" She said.
"Come on, Mom. Let’s go see what Santa brought," I said playfully.
She turned over on Her stomach and muttered something. My father and I waited a moment, then shouted, "MERRY CHRISTMAS!"
"Goddammit!" she screamed, and clouted me on the face, hard. It knocked me over. I cracked my head on the windowsill, and then I was on the floor. My head hurt. I felt blood in my hair.
"A blizzard’s in the room," I thought.
An obese half-naked woman was jumping around screaming. I listened, but I couldn’t hear. Her words were sirens. There was a terrible Wind in the room. It stank. It picked me up in its fury and threw me against the floor, repeatedly. My arms bled from its fingernails gouging.
"Goddamn you Goddamn you Goddamn you"...she screamed..."Leave me alone Goddamn you..." and the air itself became a wind of feet that kicked me under the bed. My nose bled. I vomited.
"Let’s go see the tree, Mom!" I screamed. Blood dribbled off my chin.
My father was nowhere to be seen.
The furious wind howled. Leave me alone Goddamn you Goddamn you..." It howled down the stairs that banged. Rig barked, then yelped, then He was gone. I followed, in a haze, in a dream.
"Let’s go see the Tree Mom, " I heard myself say, as I padded down the creaking wood staircase. The tree was in the fat woman’s hands. Her eyes blazed with fear. Blood was on the Stairs and Walls. My face hurt. My hands hurt.
She swung the heavily ornamented tree at my father. He disappeared through the door to his basement shop. The door slammed. ANGELS shattered. STAR was smashed. She waved it over her head, with the Tree, almost triumphantly.
"The Little Baby Jesus wants you dead! She screamed, as the Nettles came whipping down. They scratched my face and stuck to the blood that was everywhere.
I sat on the Lower Steps, muttering, ‘let’s go see the tree, mom," through a thick fog. The room was a whirling tree in the Large, shrieking woman’s hands, scraping, slapping, and pounding the walls and me. A window shattered. A branch smacked me from a distant place. I moved. The tree followed and the HOWLING "...Little Baby Jesus wants you dead..." followed. I licked the blood off my hands. The cookie table shattered. Cookies were in the air. The air was a torrent of cookies, blood, the whipping tree, and the fat woman screaming, "Little baby Jesus wants you dead!" In a heap she sprawled facedown on the tree. She flailed her arms and shat bubbles from her fat behind, bubbles of shit that splattered off the walls and floor. I laughed. I cried. I smeared myself with the shit, and then I became a torrent of blood and shit and laughs and screams. I cried through the laughs, "let’s go see the tree, mom."
The room was suddenly still.
It stank. OK. Shit bubbled out of the Heap that Babbled on its Bed of Blood,
nettles, smashed Angels and cookies. Ok. It lay there Babbling, bubbling,
stinking and I curled up close beside it. I put my arms around It. I cried.
I laughed. OK. I went very far away...to take care of it...OK...I went
very far away to become it...
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