Annus Horribilis: Prologue

The actual Annus Horribilis was 2013. But horrible things don’t just emerge out of nowhere so we begin in 2011, during a freak October snowstorm.

Julia had come down from Park Slope with her fiance, George. We had invited Ted, her older brother and my second born to dinner. She and George loved to put together videos for their WordPress blog, George and Julia Eat Manhattan, so our kitchen became their television set. George filmed with his iphone while Julia thoughtfully gave the audience instructions on the cooking of quinoa.

I looked at George, he looked at me and we could barely stifle our laughter. The more she spoke, the tougher it became to suppress our chortles until both George and I howled out loud. Tears streamed down my face, I was laughing so hard. Julia looked up quizzically, suddenly jolted out of her very serious instruction.

“It’s Keen-wa,” George told her. “Not Kwin-oh-ah.”

Outside, the temperature had settled into an uncomfortable borderline position, not quite winter, too cold for the Fall, so the snow came down in heavy clumps. It stuck to the branches until some of them started to crack. The sound of cracking and the howl of the wind became the soundtrack for the evening.

The five of us sat down to dinner by candlelight. My husband, Rod, joined us after his typical late afternoon nap. I always ascribed these naps to be a result of his medications for Polycythemia Vera. But he liked to bring up stories of his Viennese grandfather coming home from work in the afternoon, putting on his pajamas, sleeping, then dressing for work once again. For all I know, it might have just been heredity or perhaps genetic memory rather than the drugs.

At the end of dinner, Ted brought out a little cannibis. I was the only taker. In a few hours, the house will be cold, I thought, and so I smoked myself into a hazy place where I stared at objects and listened to them speak.

Ted left. Rod went upstairs. George, Julia and I sat in the darkness of the den in front of the silent television. The branches outside cracked on. I watched the snowy pine trees doing their hula dance. Their faces were ferocious.

Julia’s dog Bodie, the cairn terrier and my dog, Shaq, the chihuahua beagle mix, rolled on the floor doing their homosexual thing, unfazed by the dramatic power outage.

George was a big guy, at least a foot taller than Julia. They sat holding hands quietly when he turned to me.

“Does it bother you that Julia is engaged to a guy fifteen years older than her?” he asked.

“No.” I answered. “It bothers me that she’s engaged to a guy with cancer.”

I probably should have left it there, but no, I kept talking, “I guess people die in car accidents all the time. We just know to expect one.”