The Angels Tinkle
A Christmas vignette
Three brass angels fly in a circle above a red candle, golden light reflected in their wings, their cherub bellies. Each holds a tiny wand that rings a delicate bell as they pass.
If I could just hold my hand above the flame long enough, their flight would end. I try again and again. The angels slow, almost stop, my palm almost burns.
From out of nowhere, Aunt Betty smacks me across the back of my knuckles. “Stop it,” she hisses. My hand recoils and I step back to lean against the wall. Aunt Betty sits back down at the long, dining room table and I’m forgotten again.
I watch my mother light a cigarette, red lipstick staining the brown filter. Through laughing lips, she blows smoke toward the ceiling, tap-tap-tapping a teaspoon against the rim of a china teacup. Her eyes scan the room but she doesn’t see me.
My younger brother is hamming it up at the far end of the table, behind the empty chair where Grandma sat, before she started clearing away plates dirty with congealing gravy and cranberry smears. He plays with a small football attached to a key chain, the prize from his cracker, tossing it hand to hand, feet shuffling, offering up an imagined play-by-play in his best Howard Cosell.
He winds up for a forward pass and releases. The hushed spectators watch wide-eyed as the ball sails the length of the table. It hangs in the air, suspended for a micro-second, then lands with a slurpy clatter in Uncle Roy’s freshly poured cup of tea.
And the crowd goes wild.
Even Aunt Betty.
The angels continue their flight, still glinting in candlelight. The tiny bell still tinkles, though with a little less magic.
I slide my back down the wall until I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor.
My grinning brother crawls into my mother’s lap as Uncle Roy shakes a pie fork at him, then tousles his hair with a chuckle. A green paper crown flutters from his head to the floor beside me. The colour matches my plaid jumper.
I take the crown and turn it in my hands. I notice a white glob, grease spreading out around it, staining the paper. I taste it. Almond paste.
Aunt Betty reaches down and snatches the crown from my grasp. “Don’t eat that,” she hisses.
My mother laughs. The angels tinkle. I disappear.
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