It is Christmas Day, and we are driving to the place where my brother Gavin died in a car accident three years ago. In the car there is my father in his new suit, driving with hands firmly at 10 and 2. There is my mother, straight-backed in the passenger seat with her hair freshly curled. There is my sister, Millie, ears plugged with earphones, stretched out across the backseat, one leg bent so that her bare knee is touching my elbow. She and my mother fought about this before we left.
"It's December, Millie. Put on some stockings fortheloveofgod."
"Fuck you," Millie said. Millie has an extensive vocabulary, she is fond of telling us. She just chooses not to use it.
Then there is me, in a too-thin t-shirt, not thinking about Millie's knee, about the layers of skin pressed between our bones, not thinking about Gav, not thinking about anything, really. Just staring out the window so I don't get carsick.
It is six o'clock. I wonder how long we will have to stay. Gav was my brother but I'm thinking about turkey. My mother says I should have grown out of this by now, that I am no longer a Growing Boy In Need Of Constant Sustenance but a Young Man Who Should Practice Restraint. But I am hungry all the time, and still too skinny, even though it seems like all I ever think about is food.
"Look," Millie says. "They put up a guardrail."
In the rearview mirror I can see my mother is beaming. "I wrote a letter," she says. Millie rolls her eyes and sticks her earphones back in her ears.
I'm too old for all of this family shit, anyway. I'm not a teenager anymore, even though my mother says I still act like one. Even though I still live in the same room, decorated with the same Foo Fighters and Our Lady Peace posters, my one hockey trophy sitting on a bookcase, an Anna Kournikova calendar from 2001. I am now 23, which is, wait for it, the same age Gav was when he died. Twenty fucking three.
"You're younger than Gav ever was," Theresa, Gav's wife, said to me once. "He was an adult before he could even walk."
I want to tell Theresa that soon I will be older than Gav ever was. But Theresa isn't here. After the accident, she moved to Vancouver. As far away from us as she could possibly get.
"Don't tell me these things, Jeremy," she would have said to me, anyway. "You make it sound as if this is all about you."
Gav died in the summertime. He and Theresa were on their way home from a party. Theresa was driving. It was raining, and the car hydroplaned off the highway. Theresa was wearing her seatbelt. Gav wasn't. This is how these things go.
I don't know why we always make these trips on Christmas Day. "Gav loved Christmas," my mother would say when Millie or I complained about having to get out of our pajamas and leave our Christmas presents and the shabby-sweater comfort of the family room. "Gav loved Christmas!" she would wail, and my father would glare at us, and we would drag ourselves out to the car.
"It's not true," Theresa said when I called her that first year to tell her where we had been. Her voice was flat, bitter. Far away. "Gav didn't love Christmas. He just loved the presents. Almost as much as he loved himself."
"You loved him, too," I said. And so did I, I wanted to say, but the words stayed unformed in my mouth. So did I. So did I.
We're coming up to the spot when my father starts slowing down. Way too early. "Bob," my mother says. "What are you doing? Don't you remember the spot?"
"Of course I remember the spot," my father says. He puts on his blinker.
"Bob!" my mother says, a little louder. "You're confusing the car behind you!"
"They can go around," my father says.
"But this is a no passing zone!" My mother takes out a wad of Kleenex from her pocket and begins to shred it in her lap. "See? It's a solid line. It's a solid line, Bob!"
My father mumbles something, but he turns off the blinker and speeds up.
"Bob!" my mother screeches. "Slow down! You're going to miss it!"
My father slams on the brakes and jerks the wheel to the right. The car behind us honks and rips out into the opposite lane. The Rabbit skids across the gravel shoulder towards the ditch, scraping along the new guardrail. My father spins the wheel, and the Rabbit veers back towards the highway. We are now half on the shoulder and half on the road. My half is on the shoulder. I watch the trees whiz by, the gravel spitting out from under our wheels. Finally, my father gets control of the car and eases it back onto the shoulder.
"You didn't put your turn signal on," my mother says.
My father says nothing.
We all get out of the car and trudge to the side of the road. My mother is carrying a giant wreath made out of fake brush and pine cones painted silver and covered with fake snow. She thinks it is beautiful. She leans it up against the guard rail and then starts to cry. My father places his hands on her shoulders, at 10 and 2. Next to me, Millie shivers in her bare legs. I push my hands into my pockets and try to remember Gav's face, try to picture him as a kid opening his presents on Christmas morning, his excitement, his wicked smile. But no matter how hard I try, my mind wanders back to turkey dinner, and I wonder how long it will be before even the trying stops.
Amy Jones is a writer and MFA student living in Halifax. She likes to think she has a rather extensive vocabulary herself.