“Let’s keep looking,” Dad insists. His ruddy, calloused thumbs peel through a bouquet of antique vinyls, smearing each contact with a greasy residue.
It’s Christmas evening. A rich, silver tinsel drenches aged pine, each sparkling foil reflecting the warm glint of lit candles and evening chatter. Gifts passed from hand to hand—father to mother, Brother’s tokens to me—speckles of ash hover in misty air as burning firewood overtakes a dimming sun.
Pacing along, Dad grunts to a halt, dusting the pale yellow face of a record’s creaseless slip. It is the record, no oil smudge humbles its value.
John Lennon; War is over. On repeat.
Dad’s christmas anthem, his artistic hymn, carries away the day. Memories of roast turkey, apples pies, stocking with oranges, all marinated in the lyrical swing of Lennon’s harmonic motion, the punctuated injections of Brother’s whimsical laughter. Memories of the setting sun turn a flaming red, then purple, then black--a visionless night for all but the glistened scattering of ice-crusted snow.
I lay lengthwise along the couch, its warm surface growing crisp with the wickering fireplace, jittering flames succumbing to a cold wake. My eyelids are heavy, heavier, and the moment drifts. I am carried away.
I look back, gripping to this glorious unreality. I cling to this time, wishing for it to be true again, it is warm. But I am plucked finger by finger, War is Over still a fading hum in a spectral distance. The air is icy.
My hands are tired, frost-bitten and ruddy like Dad’s. Like Brother’s. I release and dissolve, the moment setting like the sun until it does not exist. I settle along the clustered path of prior memories, skimming, slithering. I cannot attach to any particular one.
Darkness lifts, a faint light detectable behind the blank canvas of closed eyelids. Opening, the living room forms hazily back into view.
Same living room. A different year, a different Christmas.
Candles are still lit, but they are not projections of elucidating glow of comradery. They have turned foreboding, expanding as though inflamed, sagging and weeping as they overpower a singed woodwork and rob a stuffy room of its oxygen. Mother is rustling in the kitchen, breathless. I look over.
Mountains of unwashed dishes litter the sink, the outline of a turkey, uncooked, lay dethawing in the microwave. Dad mumbles under his own strained breath. He is sitting next to me. His eyes are glazed over, draining the life from a spastic, spindly white Christmas tree. The room is voiceless. War is Over cannot be heard over scratchy, indiscernible white noise.
Slowly, rising above all other chaos, a click, at each passing second, draws attention to the single un-variable constant: a woodwork clock, candle flames threatening to cut short each hammering tick. Passing second pierce deeper, and deeper.
I lean into Dad, and in this moment, I realize I am small. I glance at my stubby, untainted fingers. They look mismatched attached to my spider-limb forearms, like the hands of a clock. I grasp and inspect Dad’s thick, muscular hands, running my touch along each ridged nail, but I cannot hold on. I begin to sink through, melding to his frame. Our thoughts are one. Time is changing, I am leaving this moment. Still, the clock’s pulse carries on, growing louder and faster with each passing tick.
We look up.
Dad’s eyes are lost in its cheap metallic rouge. Mother and I keel to its visage. The clock is smaller now, a metal or plastic. Each second passes quickly, my Brother unable to speak clearly behind the muffled double-protection of landline and windowpane. We are separate. Above him, the jail visiting hours, an imposing sign posing as an imposing shadow, its darkness leeching and consuming Brother in undefinable weight.
I stare at him, straight in the eyes. Two inmates move towards the chairs beside him, he shrinks in his seat. He is dwarfed, fatigued, measuring to no more than a sick child. He is wasting, and he is staring too.
He bolts upwards, sitting straight. His shirt is wiry, gauzy, I think he is even thinner. His ribs are cracked outwards, like a second shell, with nothing underneath. His smile is meak, Brother’s smile has always been meak.
We are at home, our woodwork clock is back. Its pulses are slow, agonizingly slow. Another Christmas, or Good Friday? Is this the last supper? Brother giving whatever he still can give before we betray him?
Mother fans the smoke alarms. We are quiet, the room is quiet. I look only at him, memorizing his face, before I am lost again. He did nothing wrong.
He did nothing wrong.
I wander through these halls. The clocks fade away. My fingers brush the warm, vintage guild of crowned tables, like Roman statues, and I see him, shuffling through Dad’s cabinets. The pills rattle and clank—the cupboard’s creaks, its marble structure is in mourning.
It was temporary, unhinged by the ticking, pulsing pressure.
Our house is unhinged. De-staked, the foundation uprooted. Erosive, the waste clogging and seeping through each fragment, shambling across time and space. The candles are wailing, sagging into their dewey puddles.
I am lost.
Our family is severed. In each candle’s dying flicker, few and far between, I scour. The clock is still ticking, the hands have caught fire. They are melting, slowing down, slowing down.
It is Christmas Day. The sun has set, dinner is served, but none of us are really here. Mother is two weeks post trial, her frame riddled, she is shaken with endless court briefings. Dad is alone, dazed, a drowsed tyrade of rambling hostilities.
No voice is heard, the room is tired. My eyes race the hands of a clock, religiously tied to the checkpoints of each Roman digit. It strikes five, another mark of dread encroaching, spirits driving dimmer and dimmer from a brighter past.
The turkey is dry, lights flicker, music null. The familial skeleton is skinned, weeping. Cold to its touch, the foil tree sheds its tinsel and gleam, holding its form only by sheer commitment. I reach for one, sparsely-dressed branch. Midway I am caught by the inexplicable reach of a dying candle’s flame. My vision blurs. The fail shrub fades from view. I am submerged in the fleeting lull of a wilting light.
Like scratches on a record, a grainy moment rises from ahead. A new moment, unrecognizable. I look down, I am again fully formed. Mother is whistling, Dad mumbles sweet nothings over spiced eggnog. Brother is here(!), he sits watchfully in the corner.
He is humming; a familiar tune. He pulls a vinyl from the collection.
Slowly, music accompanies us—an undefined melody. My hands reach out, ruddy like Dad’s. The record player is beside me. I steady the disc, the song strengthens, grows louder. Grain dissipates, harmony is evident.
War is Over.
The memory floats freely, spacing in and out of view.
Brother arises from slouch. We rummage through old vinyls. He places his arm on my shoulder.
He is back.
Whether this moment may stick, or be but a brief interlude—but here, now, he is back. We grab the record, together. War is Over, it crowds out the worry.
Peace will extend for three minutes more. War is Over, on repeat, on repeat. Christmas will end, and reality floods back. But in this moment, we escape time.
War is Over, on repeat, on repeat.