The text message is nearly incoherent.
Either her mother has accidentally switched autocorrect to some previously undiscovered dialect or she’s thoroughly plastered already. Madison’s betting on the second. Mom doesn’t usually descend into wheedling territory until she’s well lubricated. And apparently there’s a crisis at hand — they’ve run out of ice.
Maddie shakes her head slowly and stuffs her phone in her pocket | mixes a dry martini up with olives | swipes a credit card | wipes down the marble bar. Christmas Eve at the domestic terminal, and she’s not sure where she wants to be less — here at work or headed for this family “soiree” when her shift is over.
The outbound passengers are staring into their drinks and studiously ignoring each other.
She brushes back her bangs with a tired tentacle | rings out the register | stacks the dirty glasses in a rack.
The PA barks, and the last of them shuffle off to gates. She shrugs off her uniform and pulls on six gloves. It’s cold out. The cheap knit is frayed, and some of her suckers poke out. She tucks them tight to her body for warmth and makes her way to the staff parking lot.
Her keys are buried in the depths of a fringed hippie-throwback hand-woven bag, its fabulousness offset by the mundanity of the frozen 1987 Toyota Corolla that may or may not start. Her parents had offered her the old Audi, but no, she had insisted on earning this piece of crap herself. Just like her rent. And tuition. And everything else this job barely pays for.
She gets in, stashes her purse | clicks the seatbelt shut | inserts the keys, and isn’t sure which outcome she’s hoping for.
She thinks about her little brother there alone with them, gives in to the prickly guilt of familial duty, and turns the key.
The Point Grey mansion is a little too black. The streetlights illuminate the front door, but just barely. There are no lights on in the house, and the doorbell button does nothing. Candles flicker through the windows.
The strains of an out-of-tune violin crying “Silent Night” drift through the darkness, with some of the notes in the correct order. The Corolla looks sadly defiant parked between the aging Mercedes and Land Rover.
Madison pounds on the door and waits for an eternity for the violin to stop. The front door crashes wide open.
Edward Rafael Reich deHuitbras III balances a crystal glass of scotch | props himself up | tugs his bathrobe closed | seizes the bag of ice | embraces his daughter.
“Madison. Come in.”
He pivots and strides towards the salon, a wayward tentacle drunkenly sending something antique and expensive crashing to the floor. Delicious smells of roasting meat waft through the air.
“Dad. Why is the power off?”
Edward waggles three arms nebulously, batting away her question.
“It’s of no importance. Peasants.”
The salon glows richly, firelight reflecting off precious objects and luxurious fabrics. Madison’s mother is draped on a chaise lounge. She examines a flute of lukewarm champagne in the firelight | taps the ash off the glowing tip of a long brown cigarette | trails several tentacles elegantly across the oriental carpet. The ashtray is overflowing and the carpet is pocked with circular burns.
“Darling. Merry fucking Christmas.”
The aroma is coming from the fireplace. A roasting pan is propped precariously on a burning stack of wood that probably used to be the dining room table.
“Mom. Where’s Eddie?”
Madison’s mother gestures vaguely in the direction of the hallway.
“Probably still playing those stupid games.”
“But the power’s off.”
Madison goes in search of Edward Junior. She knocks on his bedroom door.
“Eddie. It’s Maddie.”
She pushes the door open. Eddie’s sitting cross-legged on the floor, holding a useless Xbox controller | pushing a truck around on the floor | picking his nose and inspecting the results in the candlelight.
“Eddie. What the . . . ”
Madison storms back into the salon. Edward Senior raises a topped-up glass of scotch | dons oven mitts | prepares a white china platter. Madison’s mother downs her glass and flares her nostrils.
“Dad? What exactly are you cooking?” Maddie peers at the roasting pan.
A tentacle, a small one, simmers in its own juices. A smattering of dried herbs speckles the surface and a few shriveled potatoes and carrots are browning nicely alongside. The suckers have shriveled into crunchy rosettes.
“Are you shitting me? Eddie?” Maddie’s tentacles hang limp at her sides as she stares at her father in disbelief. Her mother looks pointedly in another direction and exhales a noxious plume of smoke.
Edward Senior raises a defensive tentacle.
“What’s the problem? He’ll grow it back.”
“He’ll grow it back? You cut it off him and cooked it and all you have to say is he’ll grow it back?”
“So we wanted a nice evening. What’s wrong with that? It’s been a little tight lately. It’s not like it’s permanent. Stop being so bloody dramatic and show a little goddamn gratitude for once.” Edward stalks out of the room with a dismissive gesture.
Madison is speechless.
“Mom?” Maddie turns at the sound of Eddie’s small voice. He’s standing in the doorway, still clutching his truck, one sleeve of his Christmas sweater hanging limp and empty. Their mother lurches up from the chaise, tentacles flailing drunkenly, scattering lit candles and glass in every direction. A flame licks at the curtains.
“Eddie. Come to mother. We’ll have a lovely Christmas dinner.” She’s slurring.
Maddie shoves her mother out of the way | scoops up Eddie | reaches for her bag and runs for the door.
As they pull away in the Corolla, she can see the windows of the house in the rearview mirror, the flames growing hungry red and orange, and the black silhouette of Edward Rafael Reich deHuitbras III as he lifts the battered violin to his shoulder and screeches out the opening bars of another carol.
She wraps a tentacle around Eddie to hug him close | wipes away the tears blurring her vision | dials 9-1-1 | shifts into second gear and steps on the gas, hard.
RACHEL CASSIDY was raised semi-feral on the back of a horse in the Rocky Mountains, lived long enough in Portland, Oregon and Mexico to call both home, and now writes from Salt Spring Island, BC. Her short fiction has appeared online in The Molotov Cocktail, Out of the Gutter, and Cat on a Leash Review. She can be found online at www.facebook.com/readrachelcassidy.