My brother Johnny is tearing a phonebook in half, his face twisted in a mock grimace of effort. He sets both halves down and winks. "The trick," he says, "is to start with just a few pages and then don't stop." He drains his beer can and sets it on the floor in preparation for his next parlor trick. He plants one foot atop the can. Wobbling with careful balance, he stands precariously, slightly bent with his arms outstreched and his free foot floating behind him until he gets stability. Then slowly, slowly, slowly, he bends over and taps the side of the can with his finger. It collapses instantaneously.
Johnny triumphantly holds up the result of his effort--a perfect solid aluminum disc.
"If you're going to write," says my grandfather, "get the seat of your pants in the seat of the chair."
Gram is lighting a huge purple candle that houses ten wicks. She is surrounded by beautiful glowing candles.
Dad is laughing and laughing and splashing whiskey over ice. "Oh, Christ," he says, smashing out a cigarette. "Those are one-cigarette steaks. I've got to go flip them right this minute or your mother is going to kill me." The barbecue smoke perfumes the air.
My strapping red-headed cousin asks, "Come on, now, who wants to arm wrestle?"
Twinkling Christmas lights.
"It's okay, honey," says my other grandma, smiling.
"It's all just fine," says my other grandpa.
Hidden Easter Eggs.
And we are all laughing and laughing and laughing.
Then I drift out of my slumber and my reverie floats just above me, a delicate, glistening cloud.
Smiling, I reach out, but at once, the dream has faded to a dull fog and then it disintegrates all together.
I am in bed, in the darkness. No barbecue tempts. No Christmas lights promise. No laughter blooms.
Instead I am left with the business of correcting the tricks of my own mind. It is a task to which I am accustomed.
(They're all dead, Erin. Your grandparents are dead and your brother is dead and your cousin is dead and your dad is dead. Dead. You're the last O'Brien. Remember? All the others are gone. They died.)
Grief, my familiar companion, constricts around my heart.
I place my hand on my husband's back and verify the warmth of his flesh.