The Martins are good people - they come from good stock. Their scorn for us is completely justifiable; we have no prejudices, and not much money. But a common bond has risen between our families - the annual Christmas get-together. This event allows us to bandy about new words, circulate gossip, and even make polite political observations. It's too bad that we know virtually nothing about politics and the evening news; but the Martins tolerate our ignorance, and we admire their obvious superiority.
This past Christmas we enjoyed a gala affair at the Martin estate. We spent the whole day in preparation - studying books of quotations, perusing the dictionary for big words, honing our wit. Alas!, these efforts were all in vain. For without some higher intelligence to guide us, nothing remained of our day's diligence. And if there's one thing that the Martins fail to comprehend, it's the kind of misguided thought that leads to a misquote, such as the one my youngest sibling Toby blurted out over dessert: "I eat rice pudding, therefore I am."
Ah, but I am getting ahead of myself. (Hopefully the Martins will never read this; they deplore faulty chronology.) We spent the day beforehand in a stew, worrying about the wringer we would put ourselves through with our friends. Knowing full well that our socio-politico-literate efforts would most likely pale before the towering Martin intellect, we thought to spend some time on our - appearance! Ha! That's where we'll catch them off guard....
So there was the curling of hair, the adjusting of ties, the shaving of faces, the polishing of shoes. My, but we seemed to be a fine, meticulous family! Fortunately, our annual confrontation with the Martins takes place on "neutral ground," as they call their estate. I'm afraid the inconsistencies of our apartment (the cracks in the plaster) would meet with their hearty disapproval.
We set ourselves to go. Pops hitched the horses to the sleigh, while Moms and us kids slugged down some warm spiced wine. We need these diversions to interact with the Martins; plus, we like hot spiced wine. A prelude to the bacchanalia of the intellect at the Martin home.
Brrr!, it was cold, but if all went well, our arrival was timed perfectly. Over the river, through the woods, to neutral ground we went, as scheduled. Until - oh Pops, you've fallen asleep at the reins again! - until we found ourselves in the frozen marshland alongside the road. Little Toby mumbled something about divine justice, and a heated argument ensued. Was it really divine justice, or simply justice, or was it divine? We lost ourselves in revelry, until someone remembered our appointment with the Martins. A sobering thought; we scurried up the ravine to the road, grasping at weeds and dead branches that snapped off in the cold.
The tundra spread out before us, chill winds nipped at our earlobes and extremities; we had no choice, for the Martins beckoned us. And, faithful friends that we were, we always answered. Off we went, step step step, step to the tenth power, logarithms of steps. The crunching underfoot tipped us off - there was snow, lots of it. All the way to the Martin household, we looked upon ourselves as winter's henchmen. We didn't know why we looked upon ourselves that way, we just did it. We only warned ourselves not to mention any of that to the Martins. They know us as their friends the Mortons, and not as winter's henchmen. They wouldn't approve.
Oh, how we relished the warmth we would find inside! We traipsed through the open gate and paused at the door, admiring the taste and delicacy of the Martin mind, which had been so delicately tuned that it extended down to the polished brass knocker on the door. We cleared our throats; Moms passed around a bottle of mouth freshener. Little Toby grasped the brass doorknocker; he knocked. We had arrived; we were there. This was it.
The door swung open; it was the middle daughter, Omni. What a name! Who could have thought it? Only the Martin mind, so attenuated to nuance, to shades, to hues of human coloration.
There were hugs, kisses, inquisitions: "How has the year been to you?" "Still in school, huh?" What joy emanates between the Martins and the Mortons, what a smorgasbord of human affection! Hugs and kisses all around; Omni (whom I've always had my eye on - so supple, so coy, so unattainable - so Martinesque!); Millie Martin, the youngest; Minnie Martin, the seductress; precocious Edgar Allan Martin, the only son and heir; and of course, the elusive 'Mr.' and 'Mrs.' Martin - no first names necessary! Moms and Pops choked with emotion as they hugged 'Mr.' and Mrs.,' although it may well have been the heat. It soared well above a hundred degrees in the Martin home. But, as I've said, what warmth! what drama! what finesse on the Martins' part, and what stupefaction on ours! We finally felt the joy of life, or as Minnie the seductress says about us, the joie de la vie! We were in our element, we were home, so to speak.
The festival of the senses and of the mind began with dinner. Course after course of physical pleasure dueled with metaphysical pleasure beyond measure. The calm Martin grace contrasted brilliantly with the coarseness of us Mortons, at least from our point of view. Then dessert, where Toby, with his mouth full of rice pudding, uttered his mangled sophistry, as you already know. Our senses nullified, we retired to the den. All, except for Omni, who grabbed my arm and hustled me to her room.
What a room! So minimal, so tasteful, so barren. I stared at the walls as at the works of the masters of the museums, lost in revelries at this aestheticism so foreign to a Morton. I heard the rustle of clothing - fine garments from faraway lands, no doubt - and, when I turned around, there stood Omni up against the wall, so supple, so...so...naked! Ah, I thought, the Martin attention to detail extends even to here. The design of the Omni body, its placement on the wall as upon a canvas, the dynamic sense of proportion, of order; all of this a treat for the mind as well as the senses.
Omni approached, breasts delicately arranged. My blood quickened, to the point of pain. But what a pain! Our embrace, and all that went with it, lasted for hours. So sonorous, so provoking, I thought. Interrupted only by a tap at the door - it was too much! The Martin mind had conceived of every circumstance, down to the punctuating tap at the door! It was timed perfectly so as not to disturb the ecstasies of the flesh, but also as if to say, "No extended dallying!"
Omni and I returned to the bosoms of our families, who were engaged in the traditional joy of caroling around the hearth. What rapture! Really, different as we are, our families complement each other in the most edifying way.
As we made our way home that night in the cold, lost in thought and in snow, I imagined that we all looked forward to the next Christmas get-together at the Martins, and that all the Martins looked forward to our arrival.
-originally appeared in Vice Versa, January 1989
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