by James Tate

Justine called on Christmas day to say she
was thinking of killing herself. I said, “We’re
in the middle of opening presents, Justine. Could
you possibly call back later, that is, if you’re
still alive.” She was furious with me and called
me all sorts of names which I refuse to dignify
by repeating them. I hung up on her and returned
to the joyful task of opening presents. Everyone
seemed delighted with what they got, and that
definitely included me. I placed a few more logs
on the fire, and then the phone rang again. This
time it was Hugh and he had just taken all of his
pills and washed them down with a quart of gin.
“Sleep it off, Hugh,” I said, “I can barely understand
you, you’re slurring so badly. Call me
tomorrow, Hugh, and Merry Christmas.” The roast
in the oven smelled delicious. The kids were playing
with their new toys. Loni was giving me a big
Christmas kiss when the phone rang again. It was
Debbie. “I hate you,” she said. “You’re the most
disgusting human being on the planet.” “You’re
absolutely right,” I said, “and I’ve always been
aware of this. Nonetheless, Merry Christmas, Debbie.”
Halfway through dinner the phone rang again, but
this time Loni answered it. When she came back
to the table she looked pale. “Who was it?” I
asked. “It was my mother,” she said. “And what
did she say?” I asked. “She said she wasn’t my
mother,” she said.

“Making the Best of the Holidays” by James Tate, from Return to the City of White Donkeys. © Ecco Press, 2004.

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