by Julie Hutchings
Two huge boxes loomed from under the tree. One as red as glistening blood, the other silver like an ice pick.
Uncle Ebner hung over my shoulder, whiskey pouring off his breath, excitement shaking his words in my ear. “Which one you want, son? Which one has your name on it?”
“Ebner, shut the fuck up! Let Roy pick in peace!” Ma yelled at him from her armchair.
“You can’t have both, Roy,” little Chrissy whined from a pile of wrapping paper, sucking on a candy cane, red goo smeared on her cheeks and hands. I frowned at her and she stuck her gooey tongue out at me.
Pa pounded in from the kitchen, taking over the doorway in size and ugliness. “Roy! Pick one, now, boy, or I will make you wish you were never born.” He raised a dirty glass of something to his mouth, wetting his massive beard and dripping it on his flannel shirt sleeve and overalls. I shook looking at him. “You are a part of this family, and you will do as we do.”
“I…I don’t know which one. Maybe you should give them to Cousin Willie or Jenna.” Even my voice cowered under Pa’s glare as his boots slammed across the room, killing ribbons and wrappings in their path. He snarled in my face, worse than that coyote that grabbed Chrissy’s arm last summer, eyes glassy.
“You are fifteen. You have waited long enough. This is the year you pick one.” Each word was a death sentence, each syllable punched me with ferocity. Pa’s eyes got colder with every passing second.
Ebner’s laugh screeched through the room. “Your time has come, Roy!” He jumped up from the floor and did a barn dance, arm in arm with Chrissy. She laughed, dirty, tangled hair trailing behind her. “Merry Christmas, son, your time has arrived!”
The silver box whimpered.
Pa kicked it hard, ripping the paper in one corner, exposing the cardboard box underneath. “Shut the fuck up!” Sobs rolled out of the box, and a moan from the red one.
“Careful, Pa, don’t ruin Roy’s gift, now, it took me days to get them in the house,” Ma nagged, still in her armchair.
My knees buckled, but I caught myself on the edge of the red box. When I touched it, it screamed. I smelled sweat from inside it. My stomach lurched. “I don’t know which one to pick,” I said so softly, I couldn’t believe anyone heard.
“I don’t know which one to pick,” my brother mocked. “Just pick one! It don’t matter, they all look the same in the end!” He threw a tennis ball at the boxes, hitting the silver one hard, and making it scream.
“You want a hint, boy?”
“I guess, Pa.”
“Straighten up, boy! Be thankful for what we got you!” he yelled, shaking the room as much as he shook me. “The red one you know. The other one you don’t.”
I felt my eyes widen in fear, and tried to stop them before Pa smelled it on me. “I….know…one of them?”
“OOOOH, Roy! That’s right special!” Chrissy said, running to my side. “I wish I knew mine!”
Pa’s laugh was as terrible as the rest of him. “Hahahaha! That’s my little girl!” Chrissy smiled wide at his approval.
“Stop being a pussy, Roy, pick one.”
“Shut up, John,” I said meekly to my brother.
“Take the red one, it’s prettier!” Chrissy squealed.
“Not for long.” John loved how afraid I was. He swaggered over to me, meat on his face and breath. “Take the one you know, Roy, or I will get it, and I’ll make it stick around longer.” His grin exposed gristle in his teeth and evil in his soul.
“ENOUGH! PICK!” Pa bellowed, making Chrissy cry and me shake.
I reached forward, John giggling wildly next to me, my hands trembling, and touched the red one. It was as warm as an infection.
“Yes! Good choice, Roy, good choice!” Ebner patted me on the back.
“Bring it downstairs,” Pa spat.
I tried to budge the box, but it was too heavy. “No, no, no,” it cried from inside, fear making the voice unrecognizable. John’s laugh made it cry more.
“I can’t move it.”
“You’d better get that thing downstairs, boy, or I’ll tan your hide!”
I pushed up the bottom with the toe of my shoe, and wrapped my arms around it as far as I could, jostling it here and there. It was crying uncontrollably now. My eyes clouded with tears, and I pushed them back.
I shimmied it across the old rust-brown carpet, unable to pick it up. The eyes of my family bore into my back. When I opened the basement door, the stench of blood and rot met me. I retched. Pa slapped me in the back of the head.
“I can’t, Pa.” Tears coursed down my cheeks.
“Disgraceful.” Pa kicked the box with one mighty foot down the basement stairs, shaking the tools hanging from every inch of wallspace; saws, hammers, picks, machetes, screwdrivers, knives, hacksaws, chains, all rusted with blood. The box smashed, spilling its contents.
Patty Ann Riley. She sat next to me in Geography.
She fell in a heap of bruises and broken bones at the bottom of the stairs, crimson box underneath her stained with her blood. She was soaked in it already. Her right arm had been hacked off. Blood streamed from the ragged stump into a puddle of gunk in the wrapping paper. More bubbled and seeped from countless punctures and cuts all over her. She groaned through semi-consciousness.
“We gave you a head start, Roy.”
I sighed deeply, my shoulders curling, my back weak.
It was time to start unwrapping.