The advent presents from my mother arrived in a shiny red paper bag.
The bag was nearly as tall as my son Bing, and it took him most of the afternoon to inspect and play with everything inside. There was a nutcracker from Sweden. A foam rubber boomerang shaped like reindeer antlers from Australia. An ostrich egg with a cunning little nativity inside and a hole to look at the figures through. A Navajo blanket in red and green and mustard yellow. A big colorful book filled with fantastic illustrations that we didn’t realize were pornographic until well into the new year.
The Boy came separately, stuffed into a brown grocery sack.
“Oh God,” said Layne when I pulled it out. She stalled out there, and we both stared at the thing in silence a moment. It was smaller than Bing, about the size he’d been last Christmas. Limp and soft in my hands, The Boy was sort of like a doll: it had a flannel checkered shirt, and what had once been real jeans with real red fleece slippers sewn to them. They dangled at a weird angle, jointless, boneless looking. The snowman head dangled too, plump and white with an orange Styrofoam carrot nose.
It had no hair.
“Wow,” said Layne, and stalled out again. Bing was in the room, looking at his book, and anyway it was the first day of advent. A time to be grateful, charitable. To not make wry comments about my mother and her bizarre ranging to inappropriate taste.
The phone rang.
“Your mom,” said Layne, and fled the room with a grin, leaving me to answer the phone and play the good daughter.
“You should see him,” I exclaimed before my mom had a chance to so much as draw a breath. Before she asked about The Boy. She’d already told us his story: she’d found him at an art festival, she said. The same one the reticulating wooden pull toy alligator had come from. “He’s sitting on the floor right now, playing with those…”
“Singing prayer bowls. From Tibet. I ordered them on the internet. Did you unpack The Boy?”
Crap, I thought. “Yes, I–
“You have to call him The Boy. That’s his name. That’s what we called him. Suzanne and I could barely give him up.”
I wish you hadn’t, I thought. It took me a moment to come up with “I can see why,” instead.
“Where is he going to go? He needs a special spot. Did you see the carrots? There are extra carrots for the nose in there. It kept falling off.” I could hear her cleaning out the fish tank of the old folks’ home she ran in the background. The familiar scrape of pebbles being pushed back and forth to get the algae off.
“Nose came intact,” was all I could say. Layne was back, sitting on Bing’s bed, laughing at me.
I poked at Bing with my toe to get his attention while my mom told me again how The Boy had had a place of honor in Pine Manor’s lobby, in a chair next to the front desk. “Everyone just loved him,” she said. Bing looked up from the prayer bowls, which he had just discovered made a particularly cool and irritating sound when you dropped matchbox trucks in them from a height of a foot or two.
“Thank your grandma,” I whispered at him, gesturing to the phone. “For all the nice presents.”
“–practically a celebrity–”
I put my hand over the mouthpiece. “Thank your grandma for the nice presents.” I handed Bing the phone, even though he was already screwing his face up. He looked over to Layne for succor, but she was hamming up a big smile and mouthing THANK YOU at him too.
“Thank you for the nice presents, grandma,” he said. Then, listening, “What? Who?”
“Shit,” I said, before I remembered not to, and grabbed for The Boy where he was draped over Bing’s camping chair. I waved it at him, pointing meaningfully and mouthing THE BOY at him. He studied The Boy carefully. I could hear my mom in the background, along with the hose filling up the fish tank, tinny and distant.
“What child’s clothes are those?” Bing asked.
There was a thump as Layne collapsed over on Bing’s bed, hand over her mouth so my mom wouldn’t hear her laughing.
I shook my head, waved my free hand. Bing shrugged at me and handed me the phone, my mom still talking to him earnestly as he walked off out of the room to find more matchbox trucks.
“It’s me,” I said.
The sound of the water stopped. “Oh,” said my mom. Plop went one fish. Plop went another fish. “Well, I should be going. Suzanne and I are going out tonight. Girl’s night on the town.” Mom and Suzanne went out drinking every night, which was probably the only reason they’d stayed in the rest home business together for so long.
“Well, thank you again,” I said. “Really. You do too much.” That, at least, was true.
“So you’ll be with Layne’s parents for Christmas,” my mom said. She’d stopped working, and there was an odd silence in the background now.
“Yes.” We’d fought about this every year. We could only travel to visit them when we had vacation time, and that was over the Christmas week. Mom knew it. But she always had to ask. And I always told her what she wanted to hear. “I’d rather spend it with you. But you know… they’re getting older, and…”
It went on like that. Layne was watching me from the bed still, laughter gone from her pretty chocolate brown eyes, long legs folded under her.
I expected her to say something when I hung up. For every fight I had with my mom about this, Layne and I had three or four. Useless fights, both of us feeling guilty, both of us feeling wronged and indignant and never really sure what about in the end.
Layne didn’t say anything. She took The Boy from where I still was holding him, somewhat too tightly in my hand. “Where are we going to put this?”
“Him,” I said. Maybe hoping to provoke her into saying something, start something, at least for the honest relief of hearing how I already knew she felt.
“Him,” was all she said.
The Boy resided on the porch. We put him there in the chair that had been Bing’s favorite before he got the camp set. Despite the red fleece slippers and snowman head, The Boy didn’t look very Christmassy. He looked limp and lolling and awkward. One black bead eye stared up at the porch light, one stared out onto the lawn.
We’d stop, walking in the door, Layne and I. We’d stop, and we’d stand there and stare at The Boy, and for some reason neither of us said it, maybe because Bing was usually there too. What we were thinking was that The Boy was ugly. Strange.
More than that. Creepy.
We never said anything, though. On the fifth night of Christmas Layne wound the chair with fairy lights, hoping to make The Boy more festive. But that made him look even worse, washed pallid and even more lifeless in their cheerful glow.
I think we both wanted to take him down, put him away. At least to joke about how awful looking he was. But we didn’t, and The Boy remained on the porch and Bing must have taken a cue from us because he didn’t say anything about The Boy either.
Although eventually he took to going in and out of the house by the back patio door.
On the ninth day of Christmas, I lost my job. Or rather, the small press I worked for announced that our competitor had bought us out and we would be working for them starting January first. Or rather, those of us who still had jobs would be working for them.
Layne and I had known this was coming eventually. We’d talked about it already, about my going back to school or teaching high school English. We had options.
“We have options,” I said to her. Bing had gone to bed. We’d decided that Bing acted up less when we didn’t fight or argue around him, and especially during the Christmas season, we’d said, it was worth trying to shield him from that. So we waited to talk until he was down and we were sitting in the living room. Layne had made tea. Not sweet enough, as usual, but I didn’t mention that, and she didn’t mention the fact that she could tell what had happened the minute I walked in the door.
“I know,” she said. She turned her mug in her hands, slowly. “And it’s not like we didn’t know it was coming.”
I thought I should be relieved. She was taking it well. I should be grateful. “It will be all right,” I said. We had so little money set aside. We didn’t save well. Usually when we fought, each of us blamed the other for our spending habits.
That didn’t come up, though.
“We’ll be fine,” she said.
It seemed like there was nothing more to say. So we didn’t say anything. We washed the tea mugs and the teapot and turned off the fairy lights on the front porch and went to bed.
The next morning Bing came in and woke us up to open Window Ten on his advent calendar. “The house is freezing,” he announced.
“Fifty two,” Layne said from the thermostat in the hallway when we all had gotten up. I scratched futilely at Window Ten with my fingernail. Then Layne’s voice came down the hall again. “Well, no wonder. The front door is wide open. Didn’t you lock it last night?”
It was Layne, I thought, who forgot to lock up when she unplugged the fairy lights. “I guess not,” I said.
Bing abandoned the calendar for the more intriguing mystery of the open front door. We all stood there, looking out at the dewy lawn and our neighbor’s cat, who was busy spraying the hydrangeas. On the wood chair The Boy was still sprawled, looking wan.
“We should be more careful,” Layne said. I thought maybe she meant me. I should be more careful, she meant.
But all I said was, “let’s make pancakes,” and we came back inside and Layne closed the door and it didn’t go any further than that.
On the fourteenth night of Christmas Layne had to stay late at work for a meeting and I kept Bing from having a tantrum about it by reminding him about Santa and the whole naughty versus nice present to behavior ratio.
“We’ll be fine. We’ll start decorating the tree without her and she’ll be home to help us before you know it.”
“But mommmmyyyy,” Bing started, in that thin high voice that lit the fuse of my temper like little else could.
I breathed deeply, contained my wrath and said “who’s going to make that list?” in what I hoped was a reasonable and chipper voice.
He stared at me in silence a moment. “Me,” he finally said.
“Good,” I enthused, and we went and decorated the Christmas tree and made the best of it without Layne for a while.
I got up that night because the house felt like we’d moved to Finland or Norway, and Layne was muttering something about warm woolen mittens in her sleep. The thermostat read forty-six. I stifled a curse over Layne’s carelessness and headed for the front door.
The door, of course, was wide open.
And The Boy lay in the foyer, sprawled bonelessly pale, both bead eyes staring in different directions and his fleece slippers turned impossibly around.
I didn’t tell Layne. What was there to tell? I didn’t tell Layne or Bing and I didn’t get rid of The Boy, which was probably the most reasonable thing to do.
My mom called the week before Christmas. “Layne said you lost your job,” she said.
Fuck, I thought. Fucking Layne. And you, you’re just thinking about your home shopping network and the yearly rest home profits you never manage to invest. And you know we won’t be able to go see Layne’s parents now and you’re feeling smug as hell. I was only silent a moment or two too long. Then, “We were expecting this, mom,” I said. “It isn’t a big deal.”
“Of course it’s a big deal,” she said. “Suzanne says-”
“We’ll be fine,” I interrupted.
“But you–,” my mom said.
“We’ll be fine.”
“Fine,” my mom said, and I couldn’t tell if it was agreement or argument. Either way, she’d hung up.
Layne had come in, and was looking at me curiously. You didn’t need to tell her, I thought. You didn’t need to tell her at all. It wasn’t your right. “She’s concerned about us.”
“She means well,” Layne said.
We spent the night writing succinct what and we hoped sounded heartfelt messages in all our Christmas cards.
I got up late that night, and wasn’t too surprised to find the front door open.
Nor too surprised either to find the form of The Boy, lying on the carpet midway down the hall.
Eight more days til Christmas, I thought to myself, as if that had anything to do with anything. I bent down, and bracing myself for something, I didn’t know what, didn’t want to think what, reached down and resolutely picked The Boy up by the foot.
He hung from my grip, inert and soft, and I felt one of his mittened hands brush my leg as I walked briskly out the open front door. “Fuck!” I hissed, and snatched him up into my hands, balling him up tight so that no limbs were free and his stitched mouth and Styrofoam carrot nose were covered.
I stood there with The Boy in my clutched fists, looking at our lawn and the street and how as usual Mr. Moreno had managed to park his Impala a good foot and a half away from the curb, dead in front of the fire hydrant.
And how the Tong’s Christmas lights had developed a short of some sort and were blinking erratically, like some strange Christmas code. Blink-blink-blink. Blink-blink.
And how Bing had left a Tonka truck in the middle of the sidewalk again and someone someday was going to trip on one of those and we would be bankrupt from the lawsuit.
It all looked so normal. Peaceful and pleasant, just like Christmas should be.
“Listen, you,” I said to The Boy. “Listen, you little fuck. You’re a Christmas fucking decoration and you’re going to fucking stay on the front porch where you belong. No getting off your chair, no dancing on the lawn, and absolutely under no fucking circumstances coming into the fucking house. You got it??”
He remained balled in my hands, only a single soft mitten poked free between my right thumb and forefinger.
I was breathing hard, breaths coming out in puffing mists in the cold air. But I felt better, and I unrolled The Boy and sat him down hard in the chair, like I do sometimes when Bing’s been really outrageous and is on serious time out.
Then I wound the fairy lights around him. Around his legs, around his arm, around his middle, around his neck, and all that around the chair. Tight. Knotted with a bowline around first one arm of the chair, and then the other.
“Goodnight,” I hissed, and went back into the house, making sure both the front door and the back patio door were firmly locked before I went to bed.
When Layne called me outside the next morning, I had a story ready to go. It had been some of the neighborhood kids. A prank. Or I’d done it to keep him from flopping over in the wind. Or–
“Would you unpark my car?” She tossed me her keys. “Mr. Moreno’s about two millimeters away from my back bumper.”
I stood there in my bare feet in the cold with the keys dangling in my fingers for a moment. Maybe she hadn’t seen. Maybe she hadn’t noticed. But when I got in her station wagon and started the fifty-point turn it was going to take to get it out, I caught Layne staring at him. At The Boy and the fairy lights and the chair on the front porch.
“Have a good day,” I said when she came around to the driver’s side and I slid out. I kissed her cold lips once, twice.
“Thanks,” she said, then “don’t forget the bag of cans for the food drive at school.”
‘I won’t,” I said, and she drove away and left me standing there on the curb wondering what conclusion she’d arrived at and how she could leave without even mentioning it.
But of course, I hadn’t mentioned anything either.
That night we made Christmas cookies and decorated them. When Bing started to whine and fuss about going to bed, I mentioned Santa’s ‘Nice’ list and presents, and he fell straight into line.
After Bing was asleep, Layne and I worked on the Christmas cards we knew we weren’t going to get out on time, drank tea and listened to our considerable holiday music collection. It was pleasant, and by the end of the evening I’d all but forgotten what had happened out on the porch sometime before dawn.
As we worked, I surreptitiously watched Layne stuff envelopes and write addresses. She was beautiful. Especially somehow in ludicrous red footie pajamas, with her long hair caught messily out of her face with a rubber band. We hadn’t fought in over two weeks, I realized. Not a harsh word, not a snarl, not a glare, nothing.
Eventually she felt me watching her, and looked over and smiled. “I love you,” she said with a wink, handing me the envelopes to lick.
We hadn’t had sex that whole time either.
Layne went back to addressing. I sealed envelopes and we finished our tea and the CD of the reggae “Messiah” my mom had given us two years ago ended.
We went to bed.
I woke up and walked out twice to look down the hall to the foyer, but the door remained closed. The Boy stayed where he was, and I was content to assume everything was, and would be fine from then on.
On the twentieth day of Christmas, we ran out of money. Just like that. Layne went to take some cash out of the ATM and there was nothing there. Nothing in the checking account, and barely enough in savings to get us through the next week.
Any other month and we’d be going at it tooth and nail, each accusing the other of writing the fatal check or making the fatal withdrawal that had caused the overdraft. And then we’d fight about my mother, who had bailed us out in the past and continued to rake in emotional interest long after the debt was repaid.
But it was almost Christmas. So Layne didn’t say anything about the gifts we still hadn’t bought, or the fact that my mother could make the difference between us financially making it until the new year or not. She didn’t mention the fact that we wouldn’t be visiting her parents and how that was my fault too. She just left the statement and overdraft notices on the kitchen counter with all the other bills.
“I think we can do this without my mom’s help,” I said as we were trying to get the house cleaned for the small party we were having in lieu of being at her parents’ on Christmas eve. Which we probably now couldn’t afford. “I’ll figure something out. We’ll be fine.”
Layne knows that when I say I’ll figure something out it means I’m not going to do jack. But we still had a three day backlog of dishes to do and the entire house needed vacuuming. She said “okay,” and then nothing, and three days later when I hadn’t done jack remained just as quiet about it.
She did, however, finally call me out to front porch the morning of Window twenty-one.
“The neighborhood kids-” I had already started, and then stopped right there.
The Boy was still bound to the chair, strands of fairy lights making dents in his clothes and white cloth skin.
But the chair was slid all the way back against the door, and where it rested against the door’s white paint was a series of gauges and scratches. As if it had been banged and rubbed there. Over and over again.
“Neighborhood kids?” Layne repeated.
We would fight, I thought, almost with a sense of relief. She would tell me I was out of my fucking mind and I would yell and she would yell and one of us would throw that monstrosity away. Maybe put it in the Safeway dumpster like we did the time Bing threw up all over the bathroom rug and neither of us felt like cleaning up the mess.
I realized too late I was smiling at the thought. And Layne had clammed up. I looked over, and her full lips were squeezed shut, as if keeping the words back were a real effort.
I was having the same difficulty. More than anything, I wanted to tell her, to confess and explain. But it was three days before Christmas, and I felt like shit about the money and not calling my mom, and she was already turning down the walkway to her car.
She drove away again, and neither of us said a single thing.
Not even I love you, or goodbye.
That day I called all our friends and told them Bing was coming down with something and the Christmas party was cancelled. Everyone was concerned and solicitous and understanding. The way you’re supposed to be around Christmas. Concerned, solicitous, and understanding. Generous, thoughtful and kind.
If Layne was mad about my canceling the Christmas party, she didn’t say anything about it. We spent the next couple of days getting packed to go to her family’s and sending out the last of the Christmas cards. There was a lot to do, even without the party to plan for. We decorated, we cooked Christmas dinner. We managed to do a lot, and say very little.
It was tranquil and harmonious, in a heavily quiet sort of way.
At night I took to wedging a chair under the front door knob and locking all the windows, although in general Layne liked to keep one or two cracked open for the fresh air.
We ate Christmas dinner in seventy-five degree heat, with the duck and Christmas pudding steaming up the windows. Bing went to bed, and Layne and I sat down to wrap what presents we had.
It wasn’t much. I don’t think either of us realized how little it was, until we sat down to wrap and there was only one box for Bing, which was a snowsuit that was too big for him last year. Not much of a present, and the odds and ends we cobbled together for Bing’s stocking only came to its heel.
“I’ll put in an orange,” Layne said, and I knew she was furious. One call to my mom could have solved this. I knew it. She knew it too. I sat in silence, wretched and caught between wanting to yell and wanting to burst out in tears of defeat and shame.
Then Layne came back and the orange filled it up to the ankle, and she said “there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ll make it up to him later.”
And I said “sure,” when I should have said “I’m sorry,” or really anything, before we turned off the lights and turned down the heater again and went to go to bed.
“I’m opening the window,” Layne told me. She padded across the bedroom floor in her bare feet–it was far too warm for the footie pajamas–and slid the window partway open before I could protest.
And I didn’t anyway, didn’t say a thing until she’d turned off the light and crawled into bed. I just watched the dark rectangle of the open window and wondered why I didn’t say it, say anything, right there. Anything, like the obvious. “Merry Christmas,” I whispered.
“Merry Christmas, Lee.”
And we rolled over and before I drifted off to sleep I watched the open window for a long, long time.
It woke both of us up, and probably saved us. It was the sound of something dragging, slithering light and plastic across the hardwood floor.
“Lee.” Layne lay utterly still beside me, hand tight on my arm under the covers. “Lee, what’s that noise?”
I knew. I knew and didn’t want to know. I knew and didn’t want to know and most of all didn’t want to tell her.
And there, in the darkness, it hit me that getting killed by a rag doll with red fleece slippers was a really, really stupid way to die.
“Fairy lights,” I said, already on my way out of bed and shoving her with me. “It’s The Boy. Get Bing. Get out of the house–”
But she had heard and understood–and more miraculously still, believed–and was already long gone.
The room was silent then. Light came only from Bing’s bathroom with its Buzz Lightyear nightlight down the hall: I stood, waiting to hear the sound of the Christmas lights, the scuff of a slipper or a mitten on the floor, anything.
Get out, I thought. What I should do is just get out. We’d practiced this, in our family emergency drills. Two exits out of every room. Look. There was the door. There was the window. Get out.
Then I saw The Boy in the wardrobe mirror. He was behind me, scaling the covers onto the bed. He was rapid and nimble, though he still trailed the fairy lights in a tangle behind him.
I turned in the same moment he leapt at me, jovial smile stitched silent on his soft white face. His little arms went around my neck, mittens gripping in an embrace that became too tight too quickly.
I battered him against the wardrobe. I tore at his flannel shirt, at the fairy lights, his encircling legs, trying to pull him off me. The embrace got tighter and tighter, and at the same moment I was reasoning with myself that hysteria wasn’t going to help my situation any, his soft cloth face pressed against mine.
I thought of those stitches, black yarn on cotton.
I thought of what might lie behind those stitches, and was glad such a mouth was sewn closed.
What might lie behind those stitches.
What might lie behind them.
I opened my mouth and bit. Bit and tore and shredded, and instead of trying too pull The Boy away, I grabbed his head in my fist so I could better sink my teeth in and mangle him.
It was then I felt him struggle. Not to choke me, which was good, because I was starting to see spots. But to struggle away, feet kicking at my chest, soft arms stretched out rigid, trying to get loose. Yeah, I thought. Yeah you little fuck. Be scared. Be scared. I kept biting and ripping, and didn’t let go.
So when the three cops burst into the room, this is what they saw:
A big fat lesbian in nothing but a pair of holey sweats, gnawing a rag doll and making snarling and growling noises, thrashing it back and forth while Christmas lights whipped and snapped and crackled through the air.
It was Christmas, an hour or so before dawn.
The three cops had been mollified with cookies and apple cider and surprisingly few explanations, and gone off in their cars admonishing us to have a good evening and to get some sleep.
Layne and Bing and I stood out on the front lawn, with a Duraflame log, The Boy and a lighter.
“Mom,” said Bing, “was it really alive?”
“Not really–” I started to say, and then stopped. “Yeah, for a little while.”
“Is it dead now?”
That was the important question. I bent down and lit the log.
“Yes,” Layne said, “It is.”
The Boy was a mess, soft face ripped apart and stuffing puffed out in all directions. A mitten had come off, but I made sure it was in the pile now, along with the two extra noses and the one we’d found–after some searching–under Layne and my bed.
As the log caught, The Boy subsided slowly into flame as well, until the air between the three of us filled with acrid smoke.
“Don’t ever keep something like that from me again,” Layne said.
I nodded. It hurt, but it was also a relief, nothing I didn’t know already. “But ask me next time. If you’re wondering. If you suspect.”
“It’s your responsibility to be honest!” Now she sounded like I knew her to be. Angry, and with an annoyingly valid point. I looked over at Bing, who was looking back and forth between us.
“Mom’s mad because I didn’t tell her the truth,” I said.
“I’m mad too,” Bing said.
Smoke coiled up and The Boy became melted polyester and cotton cinders. Dew had soaked through my socks, and the log was starting to sputter.
“Why are you mad, Bing?” asked Layne.
“Because Gramma gave us a bad present!” He started to cry. “And now it’s all burned up!”
“Oh, Bing,” I said, and Layne and I sat down on the wet lawn with him and we all hugged each other and cried and apologized.
Sometime later we got up and stomped out the embers and Bing helped me douse what was left with the garden hose. “Am I still on the Nice list?” he wanted to know as we were going inside.
“You were always on the nice list,” I said. I looked at him a moment as we stood on the front porch. Layne was wrapping the fairy lights around the rubber tree, and as we stood there she plugged them in. The rubber tree looked cheerful and festive, in a kind of deserty, southwestern way. “You know, the truth is, Bing, you’re always a Nice child. Whether you do naughty things or not.”
Later that morning, my mom came over. She wanted to know why there was a big burned patch on the front lawn.
“The neighborhood kids–” I started. Then I looked down at the burned patch and up at my mom, and thought back to every present I’d ever gotten that I’d pretended to love, and every time I’d omitted details of our lives that were difficult or uncomfortable to explain.
“That fucking doll,” I said, not caring for once about my language, “that fucking doll you called The Boy animated and tried to kill us.”
“Well, I’ll be darned,” she said. “So, anyway–”
“Mom!” I stamped my foot. The lawn squelched. “Mom. Listen. The Boy tried to kill us. We had to tear it apart and burn it up. The police were here.”
“Really?” she said finally. A little faintly.
“It tried to hurt you?”
“Yes,” I said. Then my mom started to cry, which I couldn’t remember her having done for years. I brought her inside and we gave her heavily spiked cider and eventually with Bing on her lap and enough cider and cookies and some gamelan Christmas carols, she recovered enough to say, “well, now I’m not sure what to do with all the presents in the trunk of my car.”
Presents, I thought. Oh God, more presents.
“There’s only one thing to do with presents from Grandma,” Layne said. We all sat looking at her. Burn them? I thought. Drop them off a cliff? Get a big rocket and blast them into orbit? Layne caught my look, and grinned. “I was thinking we should unwrap them,” she said.
So in the snug warmth of our living room we unwrapped bead ornaments from Kenya, a chicken drum from Yugoslavia, batiks of pregnant ladies from Somalia and a completely impossible wood puzzle from Japan.
There was also a T-rex that doubled as a Matchbox race course and car shooter, and several dozen Matchbox cars, which Bing played with for an hour and then abandoned for a handpainted children’s tea set from Germany.
“Maybe,” Mom started when Layne went with Bing to the kitchen to fill the teapot and creamer and sugar bowl. She sounded chagrined and subdued. “Maybe next year you could just tell me what you want.”
I sat in silence for a few moments. I considered the pregnant Somali ladies and bead ornaments. I considered the T-Rex and the puzzle and the drum. “We could,” I said finally, “but we’ve come to expect a mixed bag. Good, bad, scary, wonderful. You know?”
“I know,” said my mom. She smiled. Then Layne and Bing came back and we ate cookies and played with our presents and drank very very tiny cups of tea.