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Christmas in July

Christmas in July. How silly. Yet, in grocery store entrances there was need for red, metal coffers and ringing bells. Dust kicked up and settled as snowfall making tracks. Cold, blustering wind. And this summer, plenty of I.C.E.

In the cool, purple lit underside of dark, the dogs heard their scrambles. Clicks and scrapes. I flicked the flashlight upward. Babies precariously grasped the underside of the barn roof. The dogs began to bark and I led them away. It didn’t feel my place to scare them.

“Paul is having a party. Always a great time. Plenty of food. His herdsman is Mexican and they do all the cooking,” Dad mentioned the neighborhood event with no follow up. He wouldn’t have expected me to want to go. I never showed any interest before.

I didn’t think about it much until the day before. Then, somehow, post new job, my risen self-esteem combined with newly assigned organizational direction to reach out to Latinx audiences forced my question on Saturday afternoon. “Dad, what time do we leave?”

Dad parked his car on rolling grass careful not to bottom out. Higher truck beds surrounded our sedan. The event was inside a metal pole building. Long tables were set in two parallel rows to hold food. Two other sets of long tables were perpendicular to hold people. The drink table was nestled in the left hand corner, the massive grill on the right. Dad was right. The neighbors clustered around the drink table. The Mexican employees buzzed as they laid out the food .

I didn’t eat the parts of the meal that required more of me than my fingers and a napkin. Too much plastic. I hesitated. The food was not Guatemalan. Anyway, I reminded myself, Mexicans and Guatemalans were not the same, despite the usual clumping by too many of Spanish speaking brown skin. We could still have common likes, but maybe not. I glanced again over at the tortillas reheating on the grill. I couldn’t determine a reason to talk to anyone. Perhaps, there was a need for a translator?

Dad, perpetual icebreaker, warmed the winter chill. The herdsman stumbled a bit over his English. Dad’s hearing failed him. I had an opening, one comment, a subtle joke, but I didn’t pursue a phrase long enough to confirm my fluency. I didn’t really help either side. I hovered to the side of the grill until the man cooking asked where I was from. Then, what I did for fun. It took me over an hour to talk to anyone even though that was why I had wanted go. I didn’t remember how it came up that I could speak Spanish. The man behind the grill claimed he knew all along, because of the way I watched the conversation.

Slim braid, thick ponytail, the couple came up behind me just before the piñata rope went up. Again, I watched their conversation. At some point I introduced myself. Vicky had crafted the cow shape now stuffed with candy and sturdy enough for party guests to attempt to ride her. She had not, however, on this occasion, made the cake. In Spanish, we talked about how neither of us went out much and that I could find her at home most days. My mind wandered to wonder, why? No driver’s license? No car? No social security number? Or, simply, no interest. We parted with the promise she would bake my birthday cake. Wet cake, we had called it in Peace Corps. I didn’t particularly love it. Still, for some reason, I wanted her to call me to figure out its details. I had left my cell phone at home, but she dialed the number. The missed call would greet me there.

But, it didn’t. The phone screen was blank. No missed call. No number. What would she think? That I wasn’t serious. That I didn’t care. Perhaps, because I still questioned my intentions, my heart fell first to the worst of assumptions. It was more than a casual encounter teetering on the interest of friendship that churned my stomach. Anxiety as if a test. But, it was, a test.

“Some animal ate my corn.” Dad smacked his feet removing his shoes. “Bet it was a coon. Just take bites, don’t even finish it. Wasteful.” He filled his glass with water.

I didn’t say anything. I could confirm it. I didn’t know for sure, but I knew I knew enough to give him a reason. Instead, I asked, “Don’t they eat field corn?”

“No.” He drank half.

“Well, that tells you something about it.” My mind wandered back to the storm when Dad was sick. Winds pressed the corn flat and I shoved clumps of dirt underneath the roots to push it back up. He never noticed.

“Don’t know if I should catch it. I could, but then I’d have to dispatch with whatever was in the cage.” Dad dumped the rest of the water in the sink and stepped back out the screen door.

I called the neighbor who held the party to get the number of Vicky’s friend whose husband worked for my neighbor. He called me. Then, I called her. She called. I recorded the number, but I didn’t call. My dad was sick again. He hadn’t been eating. He was tired. And now, thinner. The symptoms of pesticide poisoning were nausea, coughing and muscle aches. Doctors said, It’s the flu,” to my father bent over. First, Christmas now the flu. Winter wasn’t over.

Weeks went by. In cowardice, I texted. It came back undeliverable. I had never had a Spanish speaking friend who didn’t text. Was the number wrong? I called one weekend. She didn’t respond. The next week, I dialed again and left another message. She didn’t call back. I considered calling her friend again, who gave me Vicky’s number. Yet, I stalled, because I didn’t know why. Nor did I know who, I was trying to be anyway. I hoped it was her friend, but I wasn’t sure.

Glittering lights, multicolored lights tacky crafts. Christmas in July. On Saturday, the last night of the fair, I walked to buy the ice cream cone I had almost bought more than once during the week. For some reason, I hadn’t. I turned the corner towards the grandstand stage and scanned ahead at the food truck’s line. My eyes saw her husband’s thin braid first. Vicky’s hair was now cropped short. She wasn’t hurt, nor deported. I was relieved.

“I called you,” I opened when I reached her.

“I got the message.” Her voice was even and without excuse.

“Oh good, I thought maybe the number was wrong.” I didn’t really. July had frozen over. I had feared the worst. A blizzard with ICE.

“My daughter moved out. I was upset. It wasn’t something I could say over the phone.”

It was not I.C.E.; it was heartbreak. I squinted my eyes at my own heart and the national narrative leapt from wrapping paper pages. She hadn’t been a person but her skin colored circumstances told in someone else’s words. Christmas, in July or December, was difficult when you were alone.

The next morning, I saw it, dead in the middle. Blood oozed from the gash in the raccoon’s head. Because, it’s dead in the middle of the road, both sides of traffic passed easily by, unaffected. Dad drove down that road, both sides, coming and going to pick corn from the neighbor. Was it the raccoon from the barn? I didn’t know enough to confirm. Perhaps others still climbed into the hayloft to rest. Perhaps, they needed help. Unlike my father with land and neighbors and relationships, there would be no one to help them. In less than a day, the road grew ever redder.

Then, skinned.

Then, flat.

Then, gone.

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